The Pointless Rules of English

I wasn’t really taught grammar at school.  Not in English lessons, anyway.    A friend who knows about such things explained that this was actually good practice, that English is not an inflected language, and that grammar is best taught when studying an inflected language such as German.

I think they’re probably right.  I seem to have absorbed the rules of grammar from somewhere, I rarely get corrected by sub editors.

So I approached this book with a certain amount of suspicion.  Yes, I’m interested in linguistics (as many coders are), but no, I’m not interested in the difference between the subjunctive and the indicative mood.

Or so I thought.

I can’t remember enjoying a book so much in ages

This would be a good book to dip into, but as I’m the sort of person who reads everything from beginning to end (including, when I was a child, a dictionary) I did just that.

And why not?  Everything from coordinate adjectives to the vowel quadrilateral is explained clearly and simply.  There are lots of top tips and random language facts to think about.  The book even manages to squeeze in a brief history of language itself.

Not only that, the book is funny.  Genuinely funny. Who’d have thought a passage on contrastive focus duplication could be so amusing?  I even finally learned how to capitalise properly, something I’ve always been rather ashamed to admit I couldn’t do.

Oh yes, and I rather suspect this may be the first book on linguistics to feature Droylsden market.

The chances are if you’re reading this blog you’re either into coding or writing.  I’m recommending this book to both techy types and writers.  So much so that its now number seven on my list of Six Books Every Writer Should Read.

The Pointless Rules of English by M. Amelia Eikli and Lindsey Williams

The Model Railway Men

I stumbled across the ebook versions of the Model Railway Men novels on Amazon and bought them for old times sake.

I loved the Model Railway Men books as a boy, I suspect anyone who loved reading and had a model railway would have done the same. They tell the story of Mark who finds a group a tiny people living their perfectly scaled lives on his model railway layout.

On rereading, I found the books a little dated, but well written and surprisingly well observed. I find I receive constant reminders of how much of the "wisdom" I’ve accumulated through the years had its seeds in the books I read as a child. These books were just such a reminder.

With the reminders came a realisation. My wife was a big fan of the Chalet School books as a child and, (just like Chaz Brenchley), she still is now. I read a couple of the Chalet School books and found them tedious: completely devoid of incident; they seemed to me nothing more than a recounting of day to day manners.

My realisation was that the Model Railway Men books would be just as tedious to an outsider, something I didn’t understand when younger. There’s a chapter in the first book where Mark is helped by Telford – the leader of the Model Railway Men – as he works out a timetable for his layout. A discussion follows featuring such details as to when to run the milk train and how many coaches the express should have. As a boy, I loved that passage in all its mundane detail. As an adult I still do, but I can now recognise that others might not.

One last point. I grew up before there were computers in households. If games consoles had been available back then I’m sure I’d have spent most of my time on one, but as they weren’t I found other ways to amuse myself.

My friends and I were train spotters in those days. Whilst that was never cool, it wasn’t as odd as it maybe appears now. We used to ride our bikes to a nearby railway bridge and write done the numbers of the engines that ran past on the London to Edinburgh route. At home, I’d design model railway layouts and work on improving my own real one. In those days, trains and SF were practically all I thought about .

And then when I was 14, I got my first computer. I lost interest in railways virtually overnight.

I stopped designing layouts, I stopped making models and scenery. The track on my layout was ripped up. I still have two suitcases in my garage full of engines, carriages and other paraphernalia, but they’ve never been opened.

There are still people who love railways, but I suspect not so many as there once were. There will be many people like me, for whom railways once half filled a need, who found something far more satisfying in programming.

10 Books I Couldn’t Put Down

I don’t know what my favourite book is, but the following are books I read at various times of my life that, at the time, I couldn’t put down. Most of them I finished in maybe one sitting – definitely no more than two or three – perhaps whilst lying ill in bed or on holiday.

Some of them I’ve read over and over again, two of them I’ve only read once (one of those because it’s not yet available on Kindle and I don’t buy paper books any more)

Most of them are expertly crafted, one of them is appallingly written. All but two have very good stories, half of them are strongly plotted, three of them are character driven, three of them made me laugh out loud, three of them made me smile, four of them had me on the edge of my seat, none of them made me cry. Maybe three of them would get into my top ten books ever.

In no particular order…

  • Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keys
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Complicity by Iain Banks
  • A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
  • The Rainmaker by John Grisham
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown