Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Notes: April 1-7 and April 8-14

I will admit it:  I needed a break from the Russians.  Nearly 500 pages into Doctor Zhivago, and I still do not like anything about it.  So, a break was in order.  My dad suggested the book he was in the midst of: That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz.  I enjoy books of this type.  A similar one that I read last year was Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us

Happily, I was able to obtain it quickly from the library.  And, it was OK -- fairly entertaining; somewhat enlightening.  I made the mistake of returning it to the library before attempting to write about it, so everything here is from memory.

Two things stand out.  The first is that when Ms Herz was writing about the newly awakened feelings of revulsion in pregnant women, she never once used the term "baby".  It was always "fetus".  Which really, really, really sounds unnatural to the ears of this formerly pregnant woman.  I do not know if I ever once thought of Sadie-in-the-belly as anything other than my baby.  I suppose it is a convention of women of a certain ideological stripe never once to concede what most women instinctively know: even before birth, it's a baby.

The second thing I remember is that Ms Herz goes to great pains to inform and convince the reader that disgust is a mechanism of evolution.  She posits that it is the last of our emotions to have developed.  This is interesting stuff.  Basically, she notes that for creatures that eat a wide variety of foods over the span of a large geographical region, disgust is a life-saving expression.  It allows others in your tribal group to know immediately if a newly tested food source is good or bad.  Disgust with diseases and filth are also potentially life-saving, as members of a human community will be more likely to survive away from germs and grime.  Then, she goes on at the end of the book to give readers self-help tips for overcoming their natural aversions to certain things such as homosexuality.  So, disgust is a positive evolutionary trait until it clashes with fashionable social mores.  Eh.

(By the way, I tested very low on the disgust-o-meter -- especially for a woman. I don't get grossed out by too many things.  In fact, though I did not test him, I am certain my husband would test higher than I.  But here's an interesting thing:  I know I have a higher level of moral disgust than Jason.) 

Last Friday, Jason called me in a mild state of panic.  "Tell me," he begged, "if I want to make a name that ends in 's' possessive, where do I put the apostrophe?"  Ah.  Well, I have about twenty books on English syntax, so I pulled two off the shelf while saying, "I think the rule is always to add an apostrophe and then an 's'."  "Even when there is an 's'?"  "I think so . . . let me look here . . ."  And back and forth we went, as I furiously flipped pages, looking for that elusive, definitive rule. 
Opening Lynne Truss's (!) book to The Tractable Apostrophe chapter, I began to read: Current guides to punctuation [. . .] state that with modern names ending in "s" [. . .], the "s" is required after the apostrophe: Keats's poems; Philippa Jones's book; St. James's Square; Alexander Dumas's The Three Musketeers.  With names from the ancient world, it is not: Archimedes' screw; Achilles' heel.  If the name ends in an "iz" sound, an exception is made:  Bridges' score; Moses' tablets.  And an exception is always made for Jesus: Jesus' disciples.

If the preceding paragraph got you giddy with excitement (my heartrate definitely accelerated a bit just typing that lengthy quote), then you really ought to read Ms Truss's (!) treasure trove of a book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.  What I quoted above might give you a sense of the author's clarity, but it does not give you a sense of her supreme sense of humor -- making this book laugh-out-loud funny over and over again.  Truly.  My father gave me this book a couple Christmases ago, but it had sat upon the shelf until last Friday.  Shame on me!  After helping Jason out of his pickle, I turned back to the beginning and read the entire book straight through.  How seldom it is that such good advice can be mixed with a caustic and prickly sense of fun!  I will never look at a bag of Starburst Fruit Chews the same way again.

So, that's what I have been diverting myself with instead of finishing off Doctor Zhivago.  Yuri just got back to Lara, and she's spilling the details of her sad, sordid former life as love-slave to Komarovsky. And, I don't really care.  I hate them both.  But, I will finish that durn book, so help me.

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