Sunday, April 9, 2017

How to improve writing (no. 71)

From an appreciation of a poet:

[O]f course the codex form was a primary affinity, as all of his work and life indicates.
This partial sentence made me stop and want to improve it. Notice the inflated diction: “the codex form,” “a primary affinity.” I’ve used the word codex when teaching about ancient texts. It’s a fine word. But there’s no question here of preferring codices to scrolls. As for “a primary affinity,” notice that a form of to be precedes the words, removing any strong sense of agency. The form was an affinity? And a primary not secondary affinity?

And now I think of Richard Lanham’s command in Revising Prose (2007): “Find the action.” And I think of Michael Harvey’s explanation of basic sentence structure in The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing (2013): “who (or what) does what.” And I realize that “a primary affinity” is not only an instance of inflated diction but a decidedly indirect nominalization. Who did what?

A possible revision:
As his life and work attest, he loved the printed book.
I chose “the printed book” to suggest a love of the object, rather than a love of reading. I think that’s what the writer means to suggest.

Which sentence do you find more convincing?


An afterthought: I now realize that it seems odd to think of someone’s life as attesting to that person’s affection for x. I can’t see any difference between, say, “As his life attests, he loved his family” and “He loved his family.” The second sentence clearly implies that the evidence of love is to be found in the content of the person’s life. So a better revision:
As his work attests, he loved the printed book.
Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 71 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

comments: 5

Slywy said...

printed book vs. ebook or audiobook?

I have no idea what the original sentence is saying.

Michael Leddy said...

I keep going back and forth between “the book” and “the printed book.” I think the second is probably better to suggest the object in general (as opposed to, say, the poet’s publications).

Fresca said...

??? The codex . . . as opposed to a scroll?

I don't know. "He liked hard copy"?

I do enjoy how you untangle these garbled sentences. Thanks.

Michael Leddy said...

Now I want to go with my first thought: “The guy loved books.”

Frex said...

That's it!