Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lessons In the Attic with a Borzoi

My parents are remarrying at the end of the month after being divorced for many years. In the process of recombining their households (Dad's moving back into the house) they have started clearing out closets, old trunks and the long-lost boxes in the attic.

Among the dust and debris are memories my sisters and I stored away in cardboard boxes eaten up by mold, mothballs & the occasional rodent no one dares admit to existing in my mother's pristine home. Today, I returned to look through dust-ridden boxes for memories from my youth. Among them were my marching band hat (the marching Grenadiers) along with my officer tassels and spats. Buried under TONS of dust-covered notebooks were some of the reference books I completely forgotten about. Among them my World Book Encyclopedia (c) 1986 and The Borzoi Handbook for Writers, (c) 1985.

The Borzoi is more than a dog Do any of you remember this book? It was a required textbook for my Freshman Comp class in 1991and I can't even remember how much I paid for it at the time. But like my World Book Encyclopedia, also dust-ridden sitting beside my old college textbooks, these reference books are ones I treasure above everything else. (Yes, even among my hideous marching band hat; the black Q-tip!) These books were my best friends when my mother would ground me for reading inappropriate material at a young age. (Damn you Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell!) My mother dictated what could be read and not read under her roof and she had no problem with my immersing myself in a reference tome. These reference books were my key to a brand new world... or worlds of my own making. With these reference books, I learned to write.

With gems like: Do Not Overuse the Verb to Be, Convey Action through a Verb, Not a Noun and Avoid an Unnecessary That or What Clause I learned how to communicate in prose. The Borzoi book in particular has advice I have used and shared with my clients and friends when helping to edit their works.

From Do Not Overuse the Verb to Be:
"Correct" But Actionless
It was clear that the soprano was no longer in control of the high notes that had been a source of worry to her for years.

Stronger:
Clearly, the soprano had lost control of the high notes that had been worrying her for years.

From Avoid an Unnecessary That or What Clause:

Don't:
At the present time, the realities of nuclear terror are such that countries that possess equal power find, when they oppose each other, that the weapons that carry the most force are precisely the weapons that they cannot use.

Do:
In this age of nuclear terror, equal adversaries are equally powerless to use their strongest weapons.

Here thirty-nine words have been compressed into sixteen, and a slack, cud-chewing sentence has become tight and balanced.


Thank you traveling World Book salesman My encyclopedia taught me about the world beyond the Bible (I was born and raised in the Baptist church). Every night, I would read about the nations whose religions and cultures appeared foreign when spoken of from the pulpit with pity or disdain. When my mother would throw away my Dean Koontz books or make me throw away my romance books, she would give me two options for reading material: the Bible or the Encyclopedia. I'm not a preacher or a priest, though I'm a huge fan of their wardrobe, so I'm sure you can guess which good books I chose to read. The wealth of information contained in these tomes, coupled with my very active imagination, helped shape stories of tribal princesses captured by tyrannical Spaniards, priest-turned-vampire searching for his soulmate for centuries through Eastern Europe and Latina teenager coping with a friend's cystic fibrosis diagnosis.

Now, if I could only find the actual manuscripts to those stories... perhaps in another box!

3 comments:

  1. I STILL HAVE MY COPY OF THE BORZOI HANDBOOK! They just don't make 'em like they used to! Thank Kira Stam for bringing me here. Great blog. molly PS I also have the Borzoi College Reader

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  2. My Mom turned over the ancient boxes some years ago and now and then, I'll dig into them and find tidbits of old writing... Amazing stuff and I usually impress myself with the imagination I showed, even then.

    I was raised Catholic but was allowed and encouraged to read anything. Just had to put a plain brown wrapper cover over some of the steamier ones when I went to class...with the nuns.

    I was sneaky in grade school!

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  3. Wow -- eerie -- my parents are divorced and getting re-married in December. I am ... of course ... "matron" of honor. Let us know how it goes!

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