Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Powell's, and holiday gifts

A little bird tells me that Powell's City of Books is among the many booksellers who have suffered from the 20 percent drop in book sales this autumn. While the big-box booksellers like B&N and Borders may have gotten what's coming to them for their meat-market business practices, the independents like Powell's serve their communities by keeping the profits local.

When you're buying holiday gifts this year, think of supporting your local bookseller--in fact, Portlanders, go to Powell's TODAY--and buy some books. Aunt Frieda got a lame tin of popcorn from you last year, and your expensive friend Michael can pick out his own tea towels. And you can tell your sweetie that books are better than sex, anyway.

Not sure what to buy? Look no further than Editorial Ass's recommendations.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Words matter.

Here's an example of what I sometimes call "familiar text" or "received text" my editing.

I often hear "compassionate detachment." I wouldn't say it's a cliche. Yet drop "compassionate detachment" into a conversation and you're more than likely to get a sage nod from your listener. It's often said as though it's a directive, or a goal. It got me thinking. What does it mean, really? Is the inverse true, i.e., can you feel chilly attachment? Is "friendly distance" a synonym? Either one is a bit absurd, so outside of a Buddhist koan, the original phrase is suspect.

Compassion is an emotion you feel toward the suffering and helplessness of another person. Feelings are spontaneous. You have to actually feel compassion first, and then show it if you can. To say compassion is a directive or a goal is emotionally dishonest--the word to use is mercy, or piety. You don't have to feel anything to do a merciful act, nor to behave dutifully.

And there is the danger. To be merciful or pious is to set yourself above the person who is suffering, and claim certain powers--to grant the mercy, to perform righteously (or self-righteously). The phrase cloaks and condones a sense of superiority, or egotism at the very least, in a situation where egotism can do harm.

Words matter. Looking for the right one matters. So does being suspicious of the pieces of language that come prepackaged.