Book Reviews — Grammar and Art

On our recent vacation (CLICK HERE TO READ ALL ABOUT IT) I spent many hours in airplanes. The flight to London was nine hours, the flight back was ten and a half hours, plus two hours to and from Reykjavik and London. That is a total of twenty-three and a half hours on planes. You know what that means, right? It means I got two books read in between naps, crying babies, and dodgy baked chicken.

The first was a fun little grammar book called Rebel With A Clause by Ellen Jovin. It is 374 pages long, divided into forty-nine easy-to-read chapters, and includes an index.

I heard about this book in several media formats and the subject peaked my curiosity. I don’t always speak proper English, but I do try to write it, especially since the writing of words is a big part of what I do. No one is perfect, and we can all learn to do it better.

The book has a gimmick to it and I am still not certain whether I enjoyed the gimmick or not. Jovin has developed what she calls The Grammar Table, which is a roving pop-up booth where she encourages random passers-by to engage her in conversation about grammar. She then uses these conversations she’s had around the country as a springboard to her chapters on elements of grammar. I don’t know how well this works, to be honest, as a device. I enjoyed the grammar and her perspectives on it, but by the end of the book, I didn’t care what the drunk guy in Alabama thought about apostrophes. So, in short, the grammar part is good, pop-up table bit not so much.

I also thought it was interesting that she calls it The Grammar Table and not A Grammar Table. There can only be one, apparently, and she has it.

Jovin is a modernist through and through. At any place where she could argue for a traditional approach to something like the Oxford comma or not ending a sentence with a preposition, she always opts for the recent innovation. But for the most part, her book is a handy help for things like farther, further, past, passed, lay, lie and a host of other grammar and vocabulary issues.

I was disappointed she didn’t include the torment of my soul in her chapter on spelling, which is to say, the spelling of dilemna (read her for more). I may message her about that.

Be warned, she uses dirty words, which is not surprising given she is from New York City. I’ve never met anyone from that dark city who knew how to speak without vulgarities and blasphemy.

Her book should be in anyone’s library who enjoys nitpicking over grammar and writing, right along side Strunk and White, Warriner’s, and a good dictionary.

The second book I read was much more uplifting and enjoyable to me. It is Russ Ramsey’s excellent Rembrandt Is In The Wind. This book is about the intersection of art, faith, and history. I loved it. The book is 256 pages with notes. It is divided into ten chapters and three brief but helpful appendices. The chapters focus on specific artists and tells their story: Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bazille, Van Gogh, Tanner, Hopper, and Lilias Trotter.

Each chapter is a work of art in its own right, and Ramsey’s pen skillfully ties together the work of art, the artist, and the issues of faith for those of us who follow Christ Jesus. Caravaggio was a sinner so close to truth yet unwilling to change. Van Gogh forever longed for peace in his heart. Hopper was isolated and hateful but knew the existential anguish of the human condition. Tanner’s art and career challenge the notions of racism and expectations. Trotter loved serving Jesus more than art.

Rembrandt Is In The Wind, though nonfiction, would be a great book club selection or a launching point for a Bible study that uses the arts as a meeting point of faith and life. The prose is accessible and Ramsey doesn’t make it hoity toity. He keeps it at the place where art should be, in the vernacular of every day living. A friend recommended this book to me, and I am grateful. I am recommending it to you.

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