COLUMN: Almost back on reading schedule thanks to small book

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In case someone is wondering, and I hope someone is, I’m doing better on my goal to read a book a week in 2022.

I had been behind, but now I’m almost on schedule. We are 18 weeks into 2022. I’ve read 16 books. Not too bad.

A couple of easy books have helped get me almost back on schedule, including “Chenango County,” a small book, just 72 pages with many pictures, which I read in one sitting, but I’m calling it a book.

There are 22 chapters. Each town historian in Chenango County wrote a chapter. This was to celebrate the county’s bicentennial in 1998. 

I was surprised by the chapter on Otselic. There is no mention of Grace Brown, who was from there.

Chester Gillette, who went to the electric chair in 1908, was convicted of killing Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake. It made national news and even all these years later people are interested in the case, the biggest thing ever in Otselic. 

A book that slowed me down was “Maybe,” by Lillian Hellman. I had a tough time getting through the memoir. 

I bought “Maybe” because I was intrigued by the title. Maybe what? I’m still not sure.

Another reason for buying the book was that Lillian Hellman was from New Orleans, a city I enjoy, and was quite the character in a city filled with characters. And she moved to upstate New York and lived with Dashiell Hammett, a great writer of private detective books, including “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man.”

Once I knocked on the manager’s door at the apartment house at 891 Post Street in San Francisco.

I wanted to take a look at where the great Dashiell Hammett had lived and worked. The manager told me to go away or he’d call the police.

Hellman and Hammett were very heavy drinkers. Alas, I should not have used the word “very” in the previous sentence. This according to another book I’ve finished on my goal of reading 52 books or more in 2022.

“Dreyer’s English,” written by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief of Random House, is “an utterly correct guide to clarity and style.” He advises writers to stay away from using words such as “very” and “actually” and “in fact” and “really.” 

Oh, and Dreyer had something to say about Hellman on page 217: “Playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, of whom writer Mary McCarthy once commented, ‘Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

Hellman sued. Dreyer added, “wouldn’t you?” He also points out that there is only one n in Hellman. “Hellmann’s, with two n’s, is a brand of mayonnaise.”

Dreyer, in the same chapter, points out many mistakes writers make with names, including the pen name for William Sydney Porter. It is O. Henry and not O’Henry.

“The candy bar is ‘Oh Henry!’” and “was not, as many people think, named after baseball player Henry Louis ‘Hank’ Aaron.”

And there’s “tenant” and “tenet.” As Dreyer writes, one is a rent payer and the other is a belief, a principle.

Don’t even get Dreyer going about “its” and “it’s,” which are my pet peeves, too.  

Now I’m reading “Life is Messy” by Matthew Kelly. This sentence just jumped out at me: “Nobody’s life turns out the way they expect it to.”

Just the other day I was thinking the very same thing.

I’ll have to consult Dreyer on whether the above “very” is permissible.

Anyway, as Frank Zappa, the musician, once said, “so many books, so little time.”    

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