Critical Linking: September 29, 2012


Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style,” one of the most popular usage books of all time, is short and pithy and by and large a good guide to good writing. But where Strunk and White went wrong was in prescribing from their own intuitions rather than — what else am I going to say? — accurately describing standard English. Sometimes you join them.

Some rules are meant to be broken. Even the rules of grammar.


And so we come to the winner: “Harley was our dog. She is dead now. I want to get a cat.”

At last. This is art. This is pathos. This is story. And yes, this is also my own entry. But can you not see the difference between this small gem and the earlier (failed) attempts of Mr Goldfarb and Ms Ryan? Here we have sadness and rage and pain and even, yes, in the very last sentence, a flicker of hope for the future. A beginning: Harley was our dog. A middle: She is dead now. An ending, a ray of light: I want to get a cat. A simple story, but a deceptive one, for the main character has changed, has he not? He is hardened now, slightly older and more knowing of the vicissitudes of life.

I wish the judges of other literary awards were this forthcoming when they explained how they chose the winners.


An acknowledgment in the back of a book is different from a quiet thank you note that arrives in a mailbox. It’s a very public thank you, and in some situations, it might not be comfortable for the person being thanked.

I hope, for the benefit of all the aspiring authors out there, that there is a guide to author etiquette.


A.S. Byatt once charged Rowling with writing children’s fantasy that lacked “the shiver of the sublime.” Byatt was right about that: For all its magical high jinks, the strongest parts of the Harry Potter saga are its social comedy, its depiction of everyday life and its travails, albeit infused with wizardly whimsy. The series is remarkably unmythic in its resonance.

This is the reason that I resisted reading Harry Potter for so long. I wanted those shivers. But I ended up loving it. Maybe I’ll love Casual Vacancy, too.


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