The world is becoming less literate all the time. Have you ever read the ads on Kijiji? People don’t know how to spell the word “table”. And forget about the difference between “your” and “you’re”. And the apostrophe? I was in an office corridor last week where I noticed a sign designating a plastic bucket “for can’s and bottle’s only”. So, while I am very pleased to see that Helen Weinzweig’s work has been reissued, and I truly appreciate Emily Keeler’s astute assessment of this important early feminist author, I am dismayed that the editor of the books page of the National Post doesn’t appear to understand how to write a sentence in grammatical English. In my twenty years of teaching first year English at U of Calgary, I made certain that my students understood how to avoid a dangling participle or misplaced modifier by identifying the correct subject of any modifying phrase. In short, the subject of the gerundial modifier that begins “Growing up in a poor Jewish neighbourhood” should be Weinzweig, not her “unconventional… upbringing”. Think about it – can an upbringing grow up? Likewise, the subject of the phrase “Considered one of Canada’s first feminist novelists” is, once again, Weinzweig herself, not her “absurdist take” on things; a “take” on something can’t be considered any kind of novelist. I also used to remind my students of the saying “a preposition is a lousy thing to end a sentence with”. Well, Keeler writes a phrase that ends with “to” – as in “the man who our narrator has lustily given herself to” – and I can’t help thinking that surely there’s a way to rewrite the sentence to avoid such awkwardness. Finally, the paragraph describing Weinzweig’s background contains this embarrassingly tangled sentence,: “Her mother, a hairdresser, lived independently, taking occasional live-in lovers and openly having abortions as she made a home for her family and daughter in a new city.” The mind reels to imagine a woman openly having an abortion while making a home – what, does she do dusting or needlework during the D&C? – and who for? Isn’t her daughter her family, or part of it, whether in a new city or an old one?
This letter is not intended as a personal attack on an obviously bright and accomplished young woman. Far from it: I wish Emily well in her new role. But proper grammar and careful attention to sentence structure matter. So please, powers that be at the Post: show some respect for your readers and for your staff writers by spending a buck or two and hiring a competent proofreader. I repeat: it matters.