Book Corner: the end of dog-ears?

There was an interesting piece in The Economist a couple weeks back about digitized books. As you probably know, Google has been scanning books and putting them on this corner of their site. But what you probably didn't know is that they're doing this at a rate of something approaching 3000 books a day or 10 million a year. Apparently there are approximately 65 million books in the universe right now, which means the whole job might be done before the icebergs melt completely and Google's server slides into the Pacific.

From the piece:

As books go digital, new questions, both philosophical and commercial, arise. How, physically, will people read books in future? Will technology "unbind" books, as it has unbundled other media, such as music albums? Will reading habits change as a result? What happens when books are interlinked? And what is a book anyway?

Change is least likely in the physical medium of books. Electronic books do exist; the best-known is the Sony Reader, a book-sized gadget made by the eponymous consumer-electronics company. Sony currently makes 12,000 books available online for download, but "our mission is not to replace the print book," says Ron Hawkins, the Sony Reader's marketing boss.

There is an obvious analogy between what Apple's iPods have done to CD players and what electronic books may do to the printed page, but the shift is unlikely to be quite so comprehensive. The simplest difference is that transferring one's old music CDs onto iPods is easy, whereas transferring one's old books onto an e-book is impossible.

The Economist then asks a question I thought I'd pose to you all, just to get a sense of what the smarter population thinks on the subject. As an author, I'm of course curious about my books' respective futures, and therefore ask:

"So who is going to read the millions of pages that Google and its colleagues are so busy digitizing?"

The Blogger Abides: Words and Phrases I've Misused

Have you ever wondered what it's like to interview famous people who are intimidatingly awesome and/or rude? Have you asked yourself, "Do bloggers wear pants?" Have you mused aloud, "How can I write words, using a computing device, for small quantities of money?" I thought so. Read on for an excerpt from the book -- this is from Frequent Offenders, which is chapter seventy-seven (I'm not kidding) in
my new opus.

Frequent Offenders

Here’s a list of words and phrases that are problematic and/or commonly misused. I hope these explanations save you from embarrassing yourself someday.


“A lot” is two words. If you write “alot” you are either misspelling “allot” (synonym: allocate) or you’re about to get kicked out of Professional Writer Club. (See also: the Alot, Allie Brosh’s imaginary creature/)

Could Care Less

A lot of people say “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.” Think about it. Think really hard. Then start saying “couldn’t,” unless you don’t care about sounding like a doofus. (Practical note: commenters will nail you on this one, and there is no defensible case for the “incorrect” form. So, really, this one is a slam-dunk.)

Baited Breath

Imagine my surprise when I wrote a sentence like, “I’ve been waiting for the new Neal Stephenson book with baited breath,” and commenters dryly informed me that the correct spelling is “bated.” Look it up. It’s “bated breath.” Who knew? (I didn’t.)


The word “moot” is deeply problematic: part of the world thinks it means “open to debate,” the rest of the world thinks it means “not worth debating.” There is no proper way around this, so I suggest you try to stop using this word, if you intend to write for a broad audience. I wrote a post about it entitled The Meaning of the Word “Moot” is Moot. People still argued with me.

Graduated High School

You graduated from high school. You did not “graduate high school.” (Or college. Or clown college. Or whatever.) Use the “from,” otherwise people will rip you a new one.

Needs Fixed

This colloquialism (omitting “to be” in the middle of a statement) is controversial because part of the English-speaking world thinks it’s perfectly fine vernacular (which could mean it’s part of using your voice), and the other half is baffled about why you’re omitting a seemingly crucial verb. I never encountered this construction until I moved to the west coast, though I gather it’s a regional thing in many places. Anyway, I’d suggest you include all relevant verbs in your writing to avoid confusion.

Tough Road to Hoe

A lot of idioms don’t seem to make sense, particularly if you (like me) never really heard them right, and just said what you thought you heard. It’s “a tough row to hoe,” not “a tough road to hoe.” Hoeing a row is something you do in a garden. With a hoe. It’s tough. You don’t hoe a road. I think maybe I thought it was “a tough road a-ho” for a while, which also seems to mean nothing (unless perhaps that’s short for “ahoy”), but maybe in some old-timey slang from my primitive brain it means something…anyway, pro tip: when using some seemingly nonsensical idiom in your writing, Google it first to figure it out what it really is and how to write it properly.

Sewing Confusion

Sowing is another garden idiom–you sow seeds into the ground. I’m not sure if this happens before or after hoeing the row. Probably after. Anyway, watch out for the easy misspelling here–“sow” is easily mistyped as “sew.”

Myriad Plethoras

The word “plethora” traditionally has a negative connotation–so you’d say something like, “I’m pretty sure she’s crazy because she owns a plethora of cats and also never wears shoes.” In modern usage it’s often used much like “myriad,” just meaning “a lot of something”–but some readers will freak out, because of its traditional use as “a problematically large number or amount of something.” Further, the word myriad actually has a positive connotation–so you’d say something like, “Myriad stars shone from above.” (Note: debate rages over the possible uses of the word myriad. In the example just now, I used it as an adjective. It may also be used as a noun, just like plethora: “A myriad of stars shone from above.”)

In short: myriad good, plethora bad (due to quantity).

Proffered and Preferred

To proffer is to offer; to prefer is to favor. It’s easy to mistype these or have auto-correct mess it up for you.

Literally the Best Tip Ever

The word “literally” roughly means “actually.” It has a convenient antonym: “figuratively.” So while I would literally pitch a baseball, I would figuratively pitch a fit. Somehow, these two terms get mixed up in people’s brains (and to be fair, this has been going on for centuries–the word “literally” is misused in Little Women). There are whole websites devoted to the misuse of these terms. In short, if you use the term “literally” solely for emphasis, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Hopefully I Hope

This is pedantic, but get used to it–pedants will comment on your blog posts. “I hope” means what you think it means. For example, “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” However, “hopefully” is an adverb. Thus, technically speaking, “Hopefully it won’t rain today” is nonsensical. A proper use of “hopefully” would be: “The boy gazed hopefully at the bag of Halloween candy in his mother’s hands.”

Technical note: because of overwhelming common usage, “hopefully” is arguably valid in its non-adverbial form; it occupies a similar linguistic space as terms like “interestingly,” “frankly,” and “unfortunately.” I freely misuse all of those terms, but for some reason, “hopefully” does bug me.

Different From/Than/To

There are some instances of “different than” in American English, and “different to” in British English. In general, however, the best and most common form is “different from.” For example: “Joe’s haircut was different from Steve’s.” In general, I always try to use “different from,” although such esteemed authorities as the Oxford Dictionary Online suggest that all forms are equally valid. Be aware that if you write for American pedants (I mean readers), “different to” will catch the most flak.

What Did I Leave Out?

I'll eventually have to "revise and expand" this thing to cash in on lucrative paperback sales. What would you add to this list?

Now the Hard Sell

The Blogger AbidesThe book is available now for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, consult my website for the answer to the oft-asked question I don't have a Kindle. How can I read this? (Short answer: on your phone, tablet, web browser, Mac, PC, or smart fridge.)
Pro tip: if you're an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can "borrow" the book for free from your Kindle. You should do that. There's also a free preview available for anyone -- grab that from the rightmost column of the Amazon page.

The Late Movies: Ray Bradbury, Interviewed

Today we learned that we had lost Ray Bradbury. Tonight, let's listen to the author speak about his life and career. If you watch nothing else in this list, scroll down and pick one of the short clips from 1968 -- they're all terrific.

On Books, Literacy, and Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury interviewed in a short film for the National Endowment for the Arts. This is all about the library.

Sample quote: "We should learn from history about the destruction of books. When I was 15 years old, Hitler burned books in the streets of Berlin." Also: "That's the great thing about our country: we are a democracy of readers. And we should keep it that way."

On Writing, Rejection, Death, and Persistence

"Slowly, one by one, you sell short stories, and even one sale in a year is enough to keep your spirits up." Check out the short around 1:40, when you get to see what's inside Bradbury's kitchen: Coors!

"Day at Night" Interview

James Day interviews Bradbury at length on public television circa 1975. Just wonderful. Sample quote: "You must never think at the typewriter; you must feel. Your intellect is buried in that feeling anyway."

Bradbury's Office, 1968

He has thirty years of Prince Valiant comic strips (!) in his office. You may also want some context on this interview -- it was part of a longer CBC program, though I have not found the entire program online.

The Illustrated Man Movie Adaptation, 1968

"We need artists, we need people like myself, who take hold of a piece of reality and say, 'This is what it is.' We've saved up a tension for tears. So I, as a writer, come along and try to help you to cry at the right time."

Life, Love, Work, and Books, 1968

"The man who cannot laugh freely is a sick man."

Waukegan Public Library Interview

Filmed towards the end of Bradbury's life, this interview shows the author discussing childhood in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. Discussed: the movies, the carnival, becoming a writer, the local library, malls, and literacy. This looks like it's extra material from the same shoot as the first video above.

Sample quote: "I ran down the hill, toward the lake, toward the carnival. What was I doing? I didn't realize: I was running away from death, wasn't I? I was running towards life."


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