English

The Books We’ll Need to Survive a Trump Presidency

(That is, in addition to Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984 . . . )

My general mood post-November 9 has been more or less like this:

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To be fair, I have a certain amount of privilege that will mean I come away from this election cycle (mostly) unscathed. It is such an  English-major-white-girl thing to write about how we can fight fascism with ~<3*books*<3~ rather than doing the dirty work of putting our money where our mouths where our safety pins are. The only thing I can think of that’s more English-major-white-girl-y than this is a toss-up between getting drunk at a party and arguing over who started reading The New Yorker the youngest (“I started at 14!” “Well I started at 13!” *clueless bio major walks over and thinks you’re talking about when you started your periods*), or writing about the ennui of being a sexually liberated young woman, complete with droll descriptions of past lovers, for a creative writing class.

But I digress. When our President Elect attacks the fourth estate, it’s hard not to let one’s mind wander to what else he wants to censor. It doesn’t become a question of if the world will turn dystopian–it becomes a question of which one. Will all our homes be fitted with “parlor walls” à la Fahrenheit 451, with one wall showing nothing but our President’s tweets? Should I get used to the fact that I’m no longer in “Georgia” but rather “District 11”?

So here are my picks for books we need to read before our Orange Overlord–or, more likely/worse, our peers who voted for him–take them away:

John Lewis’ March Series

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This recommendation is actually divorced from recent events, though they provide a context for Trump’s unfounded “all talk” comments. They cover Lewis’ time as a Freedom Rider, lunch counter-sitter, speaker at the March on Washington, and Edmund Pettus Bridge march participant, among other things. There is no excuse for people to not read these books.

“But I don’t like to read.” They’re graphic novels and they read fast.

“But I don’t have time.” You’re reading this, ain’t you?

“But I don’t have money.” Libraries, or shoot, borrow my copies. (Give them back, though, they’re signed.)

It’s also very important for liberals to read these books, too. No one is saying your safety pin over your heart isn’t in the right place, but real change takes real work, like what Lewis and his peers did. So most of us didn’t vote for Trump, okay well . . . where are you? Hopefully not buying one of these shirts.

The Wave

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The number-one question following the election was how?!? and the answer lies in this book a lot of us read in middle school (. . . but apparently didn’t retain). Based on true events, a schoolteacher creates an experiment to illustrate how people fall for fascist movements, only the experiment spirals out of his control.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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You know Mike Pence masturbates to the thought of the government in this book. You know it like you know the sky is blue.

To distract you from that deeply disturbing mental image, for which I apologize, I would like to nerd out and point out that time when the new Hulu show’s Twitter account followed me:

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“But you could have easily Photoshopped that.” Bih take my word for it. And, for what it’s worth, they have since unfollowed me. But I wonder what drew them to me–my profile says I’m a book lover and I tweeted something pro-IUD three years ago that had conservative women breathing down my neck, so maybe that? Well, whatever it was, it worked, because you bet I will be watching, and reading, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Cosmos

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You guys, Trump’s cabinet picks really depress me. Somewhere along the line during this past election, raging against “elites” translated to raging against genuine experts and professionals. It begs the question of where the line is drawn on who is an “elite”–do you not listen to your plumber because he’s a “butt crack and water elite”? Is your hairdresser a “cosmetology elite”?

The “elites” that seem to consistently draw the most scorn during a Republican presidential administration are scientists. My retired public-school science-teacher mother didn’t watch The Day After Tomorrow monthly during the wane of the Bush years because of a love for Dennis Quaid, y’all. So in addition to social justice-minded texts, I read scientific texts during these administrations as well. Carl Sagan’s is my favorite because his storytelling is so accessible (to everyone, not just scientists. Recall, I was an English major) that you forget you’re reading about friggin’ astrophysics. Nah, he’s just taking you along a journey of wonder for exploration and how amazing our universe is. So pick this up and learn how to make an apple pie from scratch. Just remember kids,

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. . . and literature isn’t either.

Books by and about people who aren’t like us

The cruelest thing we can do to another human being is say we don’t relate to their experience, yet we do this all the damn time with the media we choose to consume. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the “echo chambers” both sides have created politically, but this goes beyond politics. Several years ago, I laid into a friend of mine who said he didn’t listen to female comedians because he couldn’t “relate” to them. Sure, as a cisgender heterosexual male he couldn’t relate to some of their experiences, like what it’s like to date men or problems with one’s vagina or such, but to shut out their voices based on this alone, to not give the female comedians a chance to show that he and they might have some experiences in common is, frankly, sexist. He could have “related” to them on gender-neutral matters of, for instance, annoying coworkers or nagging parents, but what matters is that he didn’t want to stick around to find out.

Let me illustrate this with another example. I watched a couple of episodes of Insecure when I was at a conference. Yeah, I didn’t relate to Issa’s issues with race, but I also wasn’t meant to. I did relate to her awkwardness, her friendship with Molly, her desire to find an “out” for her job. I am not, nor was I ever, saying you should stick with a story you don’t genuinely relate to, I’m saying you shouldn’t write anyone off because you think you might not relate to them. “Echo chambers” may come from unfollowing all your Trump supporter friends, but they also come from the realization that the last five authors you read were all white men. The post-election narrative was at first that Trump’s victory was due to poor white people screaming to be heard, but then it came out that the victory was secured by well-off, educated white people who want to keep narratives that are not theirs subdued and quiet. So really, seek out any narrative that is not like yours to throw a Molotov cocktail into their efforts.

People can surprise you; I’m hoping Trump surprises us and does well. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Dear Everyone, Stop Correcting Grammar Mistakes. Sincerely, an Editor.

PLEASE CHILL OUT ABOUT GRAMMAR ON THE INTERNET. Good God, have we been taken over by the grammar National Socialist party (more averse to book burning than that other National Socialist party).

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Here’s the thing: I’m all for the preservation of the English language. I was an English major in college and I would have majored in English in preschool had that been an option (I think the only degrees offered at mine were Coloring and Keep Your Hands to Yourself). People should know correct grammar and usage if they want to sound smart, capable, and attentive. Think of all the times one wants to use correct grammar: resumes, cover letters, term papers, smutty fanfiction . . . really, in all of those cases, the only person who’s harmed by your poor grammar is you. This is true of your off time too. Your grammatically poor tweets are only making you look bad. It is your right as an American protected under the First Amendment to look as stupid on a public forum as you wish, and that is what makes this a beautiful country.

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You can have poor grammar on the internet, just own up to it. Own the fact that people might not take you seriously.

But this isn’t about you, my dear straw man. This is about those internet hordes, who comment “*you’re” and get more “likes” than your incredibly witty status, those jealous bastards. You grammar SS officers know who you are, and now I’m addressing you:

If you are not currently employed as an English teacher, English tutor, writer, or editor, why do you care about correcting people’s grammar mistakes, especially on notoriously colloquial internet forums such as Buzzfeed, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or Tumblr (oh, dear lord, Tumblr . . .)? Yes, even if you’re an English major in college I’m not letting you off the hook, because a.) you might need to listen to me the most, b.) re-read that “currently employed” part of the previous sentence because, while correcting someone’s grammar is a service you can offer, it has to be solicited for you to be exempt from my forthcoming tirade, and c.) you’re still learning the rules of style and grammar yourself. I don’t care if you sleep with the Chicago Manual of Style under your pillow (which can’t be good for your neck), there’s at least one rule eluding you.

So, yes, you know the proper rules for writing and speaking, good for you, you want a medal or something? It is really a very trivial thing to act superior about. “But I vant to meek zure zet peeple know ven dare beeng stoopid!” (Fine, I’ll stop making “grammar Nazi” jokes.) (Though I think that accent I just replicated was not German but was actually Pavel Chekov’s.)

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To which I say, and that’s your job, why? Were your parents murdered by split infinitives when you were younger and you troll Facebook for incorrect uses of “their” to avenge their deaths? I don’t want to live in a world full of stupid people either, and as implied before I want people to take ownership of what they say on the internet, but this thirst for blood that so many grammar Nazis/Batmen is way too intense for the infractions committed. If you, grammar Nazi, are tired of being accused of not seeing the forest for the trees, then stop clear-cutting forests because of a couple of rotten trees.

I mean, how many math- or science-oriented people snootily correct their friends when they start to tip incorrectly at a restaurant or forgot that it’s Saturn then Jupiter in the order of the planets? The math people I know will politely correct your mistake and then move on, because they understand that the human brain has blips every now and then. And, let’s be honest, math mistakes are often more detrimental to the world than grammar mistakes. Most grammar mistakes I see online are people who are intelligent enough to know most of the rules and maybe just don’t know one or have temporarily forgotten one, couldn’t proofread under deadline, or most likely are writing in intense passion or rage.

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We all know that spell check won’t detect homophones and that sometimes you just have to tell a bitch off so bad that you don’t care about dangling modifiers. The grammar police, on the other hand, will lock you up in grammar prison for a grammar misdemeanor without possibility of parole, because once you make a mistake in front of them, you’re considered stupid for life.

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Some have said that caring about grammar is elitist, classist, xenophobic, and ever so slightly racist. There has been a pushback from the online social justice community to show this to people when they correct someone’s grammar. I won’t delve into this too deep because I can’t explain it that well and then Tumblr will be all like,

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“But you’re an editor,” says the devil’s advocate I just made up (who apparently paid attention to the title of this piece). Yes, grammar is how I bring home the bacon, which is how I’m surprised at how people have the energy to care about grammar in their downtime. I guess if I was a retail associate I would be surprised that people have the energy to stock shelves and fold clothes in their downtime.

“You’re just writing this so people will be more incorrect and you’ll always be employed!” Um, why would I make more work for myself? I love my job. It’s awesome. But not working always beats working. Editing is a thankless, tedious job by nature, but editors aren’t going away so long as there are pieces of writing that need to be polished. I’m referring to social media and other internet bastions. Can you be employed as an editor for those institutions? Like a social media editor intern? If so, I definitely have my work cut out for me. I’m only concerned about my own grammar and the people for whom I edit, so when I come home to Facebook and I c ppl rite like dis, I could really give less than three shits. Maybe I can give two whole shits if I can’t understand it and it seems like it contains important information, which, being Facebook, it almost never does.

Another thing I wanted to address is how so many people on the internet see correcting grammar as a power play. The notion that someone’s entire argument should be negated because of an errant “their” that should have been “they’re” is ridiculous. At least this person created an argument instead of unhelpfully bringing up non sequiturs. I see this often on Buzzfeed, and I think this is due to a subliminal desire to be a content creator rather than a content consumer. We all want to be Buzzfeed writers, but only a select few of us can be, and when these gods of Gifs and lists slip up, we mere mortals go, “AHA! You said ‘literally’ when you meant ‘figuratively!’ In this tiny regard I am better than you and more qualified to write for Buzzfeed than you even though I know nothing else about you!” Yes, I’m calling you grammar Nazis jealous.

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If you care a lot about grammar you probably fancy yourself a writer, so, you know, actually write something and put it out there rather than being the world’s most eloquent bully. If creating internet content is scary because you’re afraid people will critique it harshly and correct your grammar, then . . . oh, hey there, circle, consider yourself full.

Look, I used to be the sheriff of the grammar police. When I was in high school and early college, I was intimidated by the intelligence of other people, so I corrected their grammar if they slipped up because it was a brief hit of confidence in my own intelligence. Correcting someone’s grammar rarely comes from a place of wanting to help him or her. Instead it comes from a feeling of “I know something you don’t, nana nana boo boo.” Oftentimes it’s not even that; like I said before, sometimes the person is quickly typing her Facebook status on her phone. We all know how notoriously tiny those keys are and how the iPhone autocorrects “its” to “it’s,” “were” to “we’re,” and “well” to “we’ll”. The iPhone means well, but context is lost on it. Don’t be an iPhone.

Of course, like I said earlier, if you’re an English teacher or an editor and you’re correcting your student or author, by all means care about grammar. And if your author or student complains about you on social media while using atrocious grammar, PLEASE correct him because of the delicious, delicious schadenfreude that makes for good graphics on our favorite procrastination websites. If mistakes get past us, it’s we who look bad in the end. If you are not an English teacher or editor, why do you care? If you really cared about preservation of a more pure English language, then get off the internet and buy a classic book from your local bookstore. Read Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens and learn how much the “pure” English language has changed over the centuries, and feel really silly.* In fact, Chaucer, one of the champions of the “pure” English language back when English was the language of the peasants and French was the language of the nobles (hey, the French have always been snooty), wrote in English that is nearly unrecognizable from our modern English. Also, his most famous story is about farts. What a legacy.

The language is always changing, always flowing. But people, I guess, can’t live like that. We all must pay a price.

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Did you know that as recently as fifty years ago, “like” was considered grammatically incorrect in a simile? People went nuts over that, much in the same way we now go nuts over the correct use of “literally.” In fifty years the colloquial version of “literally” will most likely be taught in schools much in the same way we teach schoolchildren that a simile has “like” or “as.” We will literally die when this happens, but the world will go on without us.

So always ask yourself, do you genuinely want people to be better writers and speakers, or do you want to be right? Check within yourself to see if it is the latter, because it is almost always the latter.

Finally, correct my style and grammar in this piece as much as you’d like. This will just go to show that you’re as dense as lead without the added benefit of protecting people from radiation. In fact, you’ll probably correct style mistakes (“You use too much hyperbole,” “you start some of your sentences with conjunctions,” “the passive voice, OH GOD, ALL THIS PASSIVE VOICE,” etc.) and have the nerve to call them grammar mistakes.

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I am quite aware that my style in this piece is so colloquial that it’s making Strunk and White turn over in their graves as if they’re rotisserie chickens (note all the contractions, as if I’m going into labor–oh, look, just used another one). But I’ve seen that some people are positively aroused by the irony of correcting an editor’s grammar, and I must say it’s a lot less dangerous/racist/sexist than many other kinks.

*If you’re the special type of fool who corrects people’s grammar but refers to Shakespeare as “Old English,” PLEASE read a bunch of classic books for all our sakes.

 

Note: You may notice that I have used the singular “person” and then followed it up with “him” or “her” as opposed to the plural “they.” I am not being sexist, and I would like for you to refer to Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style: Fourth Edition,” page 60. Note that I match “person” with “her” occasionally, because I heard somewhere that women are people. Whaaaaa . . . ?