Have we stopped reading? Becoming a post-literate society

National Gaming Day. post-literate society

National Gaming Day at Monterrey Public Library, 2009

Have we become such a post-literate society that it even extends to how we use libraries?

I just read another tiresome puff piece about how the library isn’t obsolete.

This one especially highlights how millennials (people ages 18-35) visit the library more than any other generation.

But do they read? The article gives only passing notice to books. I don’t find “read” or related words anywhere in the article. Continue reading

Library makerspaces challenge imagination

Cincinnati Public Library Makerspace

Cincinnati Public Library Makerspace

Does it look like we have a whole generation glued to their smart phones and disconnected from their surroundings?

Makerspaces encourage collaboration and make learning fun.

Among other institutions, libraries have begun to embrace the “maker movement.” Continue reading

Should passive voice be used or banned?

I submitted an article to a magazine, and the editing came back with this awkward passive voice construction:

“Shopping bags are just one type of plastic film used regularly by Americans.”

Ouch.

Someone submitted an article to me that had one particularly awkward paragraph with too many sentences in passive voice. I have trimmed it to bare bones, but it contained all these passives:

It is not forbidden to want to look beautiful, but living an ethical lifestyle is encouraged. Buying clothes is permitted, but you shouldn’t buy clothes you don’t need from a retailer known to oppress its workers.

And I finally had my camera with me when I saw the sign ubiquitous in North Carolina restaurants. It has always made me wonder: if I were an employee there, how am I supposed to get my hands washed? Whom should I get to wash them?

So I thought it would be fun to write a post about avoiding passive voice. Upon further investigation, I can’t do that. Too many other authors over more than a century have devoted really bad writing to that task.  Continue reading

To be or not to be? Use it as little as possible

Hamlet wondered whether to keep living or kill himself. Writers ought to wonder whether the sentence they’re writing needs some form of to be. It would probably be better with some other verb.

Take a look at the first paragraph of an article someone submitted to one of my other blogs:

Healthy, sustainable living might not be a new concept, but it is now shifting the face of the residential realm. Sustainable design is not just some fad, but a solution to some of the most sinister challenges that we face as a global society. The good news is that the green ecosystem is growing ever larger in the heart of our concrete jungles. When superior knowledge and technology meets the care for the environment and human well-being, great things are bound to happen.

Doesn’t that make you eager to read on? No?

Amazingly, it contains hardly any finite verbs except “is” and “are.” It has a couple of present participles. “We face” appears in a relative clause and “meets” in a dependent clause, where the plural form belongs, by the way.

The author also chose a couple of stilted noun phrases and relies on adjectives and colorful imagery. for impact. At least she didn’t load it with passive voice. The best way to fix this paragraph is to make something happen with strong verbs. Continue reading