December 20, 2010

Best of 2010 - 1st place: Erase and revise / Love to hate

As promised I will present the most popular blog posts this week, and who would have guessed, we already have a tie. The two posts who got the most clicks also got the exact same number of clicks: Erase and revise and Love to hate.

Anyone remember the song "Erase and Rewind" by the Cardigans?
...
Erase and rewind
'cause I've been changing my mind
...
Even though this song has a different meaning compared to what I'm just about to get to, those two lines really hit a nerve with me. The one that's dealing with revising a text.
In short: I hate it.
Not so much rereading something for the 137th time to make sure there are no logical errors - after all the mother should keep her green eyes and not change their color through the chapters, though in case she decides to wear colored lenses that'd be fine, but that's not my point here. Anyway. My stories need to be consistent and I'd rather check on certain facts once too often than having an obvious error that'd make all nitpickers scream out in delight. The whole thing is further complicated by the fact that sometimes I change bits here and there and need to go way back in the story to align every tiny little word or line or paragraph that refers to the change I needed to make. Still, no complaint from my side, because when I decide some details must be slightly modified (or axed) it's done for a reason. And I'd never argue with myself about my reasons. It's enough to constantly quarrel with the characters I created. Anyway (again).
What it all boils down to is my own little Achilles' heel.
Proof-reading.
I've never been too good with punctuation and orthography. This might be shocking, I know. I think I rarely make mistakes, but that's because I look up things. A lot. I'm pleading mitigation here. German is not the easiest language that will ever come your way. Not even if it's your mother tongue.
Oh and let's not forget the German spelling reform several years back. That certainly didn't help much either. On the contrary. At first people were allowed to use both the old and the new rules and obviously I decided to stick to the old ones. I even wrote my thesis using the old rules. But now. Well, it's all about progress, isn't it?
And now consider this: I always had a bit of a hard time with questions like "Do I have to put a comma here?" and "Do I have to write this in one word or two?" and "Does this word come with a capital letter?" and now all of a sudden a whole lot of these questions lead to a whole lot of different answers. This reform should have come with a warning label!
Old habits have proven to be helpful for me though. I look things up. A lot. I usually won't do that while writing something, because the act of telling a story is something I don't like to get mixed up with the horrors of proof-reading. But at the end there's no way around it. I just wish it were easier and that I wouldn't feel like a comma could go anywhere after revising several pages. Seriously, after a certain amount of time (and pages) I couldn't tell you whether a comma is in the right or the wrong place. Not even if my life depended on it. In fact, now that I think about this, maybe it is some kind of safety feature of my mind. It shuts down before my head explodes. The most obvious warning sign is hearing the tune of the "Erase and Rewind" song in the back of my mind. The louder it gets, the closer I am to imminent brain freeze. Not the one that involves eating ice-cream, but the one where you need to reboot your harddisk.
That said I shall now face the inevitable. Do the unspeakable. I will erase and revise.
-------------------------------------------

I have always loved to read. Just wanted to get this straight, before I get to the matter at hand. The matter of how schools seem to have the goal of making children hate reading. Yes. Hate.
I don't know about you, but I remember how we had to read the most boring books that have ever been written. And the reason we had to read them, was because someone decided they would be classical, or in some cases not so classical, literature that usually already made you choke after the first page. In some unfortunate instances already the first paragraph made you want to run for dear life.

So, as much as I loved to read in those days, I hated the books we had to read for class. I remember that we had to read a lot, even though I couldn't give you exact numbers now, and there were only two, yes two, books that I actually liked. If you keep in mind that I'm talking about eight years of high school, this tells you a lot. I'm sure other students didn't feel that much different.
Not sure why, but it was a wee bit better in English class. Maybe because we didn't have to read as many books there, I honestly cannot tell. What it all boils down to, be it German or English class, was that we were not only forced to read all those books, we were analyzing them to death too. Sometimes dwelling on one f...ing paragraph for a whole 50 minutes. And, you may have already guessed – this made me seriously consider making a little bonfire with certain books.

Looking back now it comes as no big surprise that I never attempted to read another book by any of the authors that passed my way in those school days. I remember when I registered at university there was this girl in front of me and the guy behind the counter made a comment about her last name. A name of an author I probably came to hate the most (had to read two of his books, not just one, which would have been bad enough) and she said that he'd be her uncle. I nearly strangled her from behind. No kidding. I had been so traumatized that I could have killed an innocent bystander. Yet I think, considering the trauma of all those books they made me read, I could probably have gotten away with it. A good lawyer might have helped to.

Just a week ago or so, I read that said author – which for his own safety and my own sanity shall not be mentioned here – just published another book. People are thrilled. I'm not. Don't get me wrong, it's great for him that there actually are people out there who like his books and are eagerly waiting for new ones. Tastes are different after all. And I'm just making a wild guess here, but those readers have probably never been forced to read his books at school. So maybe you need to be of a certain age to “get them” or it's enough not being forced to read them, but doing so voluntarily. Who knows?

Quite a number of years have passed since I've been to school and I do wonder whether they still force the exact same ol' books down those poor students throats. Probably. And I'm praying that they won't take these horrible experience as a reason for not touching any books when their school days are finally over.

Trying to find out a bit more about how many books the average person reads, I found some numbers:
Roughly 75% of Europeans only read 8 books a year. Eight. That is awful.
The average amount of books read by Germans is 10 a year. Only 5% of the population read more than 20 books a year; 10% read between 10 and 20 books; and 85% will read less than 10 books. That's equally sad.
The worst statistic I came across was this – one in four Americans will have read no book at all the previous year. That leaves me just utterly speechless.
Of course statistics can't always be trusted, but I've heard this in similar variations before.
Obviously I'm not counting the number of books I read per year, but I estimate it to be around 50. Sometimes I will read up to three books a week, then I won't touch one for a month, because I spend too much time on writing during that time. It fluctuates, but about one book a week is pretty much on spot.

And yes, I really do wonder if there's ever going to be a survey dealing with the correlation between hating reading in school and subsequent avoidance of books. I bet there really might be one.

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