Someone in my house, I won’t give away names, likes to use the pronoun “myself” as a subject. For example, if I ask, “Who was at the meeting?”, he’ll say “Henry, Patrick, and myself.”
This reply always makes me twitch. Although I suspect he’s using myself this way because it’s sounds formal or proper, my Word Nerd intuition tells me it’s grammatically incorrect. I’ve finally done the research to figure it out.
Some tips on reflexive pronouns
Reflexive pronouns end with -self (e.g. myself, yourself, itself). There are, according to my reference manual Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman, only three situations when we should use reflexive pronouns:
1) When the subject and the object of a sentence are the same and reflect each other:
You take yourself too seriously. (subject = you, object of the verb take = yourself)
He spoke critically of himself (subject = he; object = himself)
The radio turned itself off. (subject = radio; object of turned = itself)
2) When you need to clarify that the subject did something alone or without help:
She did all the laundry herself.
I can’t line the fields by myself.
Can’t you talk to him yourself?
3) When the pronoun emphasizes another word. (Then it has the fancy title of “intensive pronoun”)
I myself would never do that at work.
Patrick himself has no idea where he left his phone.
I insist on speaking to the doctor himself.
So, when I ask, “Who was at the meeting?”, the proper answer would be, “Henry, Patrick, and I.”
Word Nerd Workout
Choose the correct word for each sentence below:
Stacey and (I/myself) went to the movies on Saturday.
The doctor spoke directly to Bill and (me/myself).
Today is my 46th birthday. I won’t lie, the occasion strikes a bit of concern, especially as my vision has grown noticeably worse just in the past two weeks. Even with multi-focal contact lenses, I must squint and strain to read labels in the grocery store, and yesterday I finally caved and set the text on my iPhone to a larger size. And then there’s the fact that it has taken me over a year to recover from a hamstring strain. 🙁
Conversations with my friends these days often revolve around health issues, like how I can expect my metabolism to slow to a near halt as I approach 50 and how arthritis might pop up in my hand joints. However, as I discuss knee replacements and shoulder surgery with my contemporaries, I realize I have quite a bit to be thankful for.
We had a very serious scare last fall: a close family member near my age suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and spent two frightening weeks in the ICU. She has had a truly miraculous recovery, but it’s caused big changes in her life and a sobering realization for me: there are no guarantees. Every day, including every birthday, should be spent not mourning what I’ve lost but celebrating what I still have.
In the powerful novel Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, one of the main characters is a spy who is captured and tortured by Germans during WWII. As she approaches her eminent execution, she says something I think all people who traditionally mourn birthdays after 30 should hear.
I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant.
But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.
Growing old, my friends, beats the alternative.
I love working with teens, and in the past I’ve had a habit of saying to them, “Don’t get old, it stinks.” But the right advice, the thing I will say from now on, is, “Love yourself and take care of your body, because hopefully you will need it for a long time.”
I’m 46, firmly planted in middle age, with wrinkles spreading around my eyes and hands that look more like my mom’s than my own. But that’s okay. Because I’m here, with good health, a wonderful family, and dear friends. With the right habits and God’s blessing, I will be for many more years.
If you’re one who usually sees birthdays as a cause for dismay, will you please join me in celebrating the gift that each day, and each year, brings, even if wrinkles come along for the ride?
I know, you’ve read enough WWII novels, but The Nightingale takes an approach I haven’t seen before, showing how women resisted the Nazis in occupied France. It’s a good “girl power” story. 😉
Sisters Vianne and Isabelle approach life differently. When their mother dies, their father, emotionally devastated by WWI, abandons them to the care of a cheerless woman in the French countryside. Vianne falls in love and marries young, embracing a quiet rural life, while reckless Isabelle gets herself thrown out of multiple schools, always rebellious and desperate to find the love she didn’t get from her family. As WWII escalates and Nazis take over France, the sisters resist the evil growing around them in ways that fit best with their opposing personalities. The Nightingale is a story of family bonds, broken and reformed, and strength in the face of terrible loss.
What I liked
The narrative alternates between the two sisters, and I liked the juxtaposition of their stories and the different ways they fought against the horrors of the war. Once the story takes off, this alternating narration adds pace and suspense. I also enjoyed reading about the courageous things women did, like leading groups of Allied pilots out of France over the Pyrenees mountains.
I’ve never read a novel about a country occupied by Germany, and it was interesting to learn about what life was like for the French living with German soldiers in their midst. Hannah shows how Nazis manipulated and bullied innocent people into their master plan. For example, French citizens were asked to name their Jewish countrymen before they knew why that would be dangerous. It made me thankful to live in a time when our omniscient social media would make it nearly impossible for hundreds of people to be bused out of Paris to an undisclosed location for unknown reasons.
German soldiers billet in Vianne’s house, one of them a sympathetic character and one of them a monster. I liked how the first one, despite his status as a Nazi officer, displays compassion and concern for Vianne and her family. It is a nice multidimensional depiction of a character in complicated circumstances.
What I didn’t like
The opening chapters, which lay the groundwork for Vianne and Isabelle’s personalities and family dynamic, felt slow. (My fellow book club members suggest getting that early section done in one sitting). Also, as to be expected with a war novel, it was very sad, and things get increasingly worse for a long time before there is a flicker of hope at the end. Hannah’s writing style seems heavy on description and felt slow compared to the quirky and sparse voice of the last novel I read, A Man Called Ove.
For lovers of historical fiction and war stories, The Nightingale is a good pick. However, I prefer All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for a WWII read. I liked the characters better, there is a more equal depiction of both sides of the war, and All the Light did a great job of detailing the brainwashing and bullying that went on in the Nazi regime. Also, All the Light culminates with riveting chapters from multiple perspectives that made it impossible for me to put the novel down.
Another favorite WWII novel of mine is The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It has an unusual style and narrator (Death) which I enjoyed but puts some readers off. I adore the overriding theme of The Book Thief: the power of words and books to bring hope and (literally) save lives.
Notes on content
Hannah does a good job of depicting the horrors of the war without getting too graphic.
If you have you read The Nightingale, what did you think? What are some other books about WWII or war that you would recommend?
What do Lego pieces have to do with spelling? Not much, unless your son is doing a school presentation. Child number four had to teach his classmates “How to Build a Lego Bug”, complete with visual aids. He looked up the proper names for Lego pieces and found things like “2×2 slide plate” and “2×4 brick”. The real dilemma came when he had to write down the color of said plates and bricks.
“Mom, is it g-r-e-y or g-r-a-y?”
Good question son, and one that’s bothered me before, as I have seen both spellings in different places. The Word Nerd did some research.
According to Dictionary.com, gray and grey are adjectives that describe a neutral color between white and black. They can also mean gloomy or dull. Both words come from the Old English graeg, however, the gray spelling is used most often in America and the grey spelling is used more in England. If you need help remembering, think about a for America and e for England.
The EL James novel Fifty Shades of Grey may add to the confusion. Also, comments on the Dictionary.com site suggest that some people prefer one spelling over the other when it’s used for a name. There doesn’t seem to be a style guide for this, just personal preference.
By the way, son and I weren’t the only ones confused. A vocativ.com piece reports that, according to Google data trends, “grey” was a frequently Googled term (for spell checking) in twelve states, including Virginia (my home state), California, Florida, and Illinois.
How do you spell gray, and what is the reason for your spelling?
It’s February, and a post about love seems timely, except this isn’t about Valentines or kisses.
Last December, to calm holiday nerves, I assured Word Nerd readers that there was no such thing as a perfect Christmas. Little did I know my words would be prophetic; my holiday was far from perfect.
My aunt, my mother’s oldest and last living sister, died early Christmas morning. The news hit me hard, not just because Christmas is supposed to be happy, but because my mother died when I was 25, and every death I’ve experienced since then reopens the hurt of losing her, especially this one, since it was her sister.
I have many fond memories of my aunt. As a child, I spent weeks during the summer at her house in New Jersey, going to swim lessons with my cousins because my mom was confined to a wheelchair and had no way of getting me to lessons at home. For a few glorious days, I knew what it was like to have siblings and a mom who could drive us to the mall or McDonald’s. I’ll never forget my aunt racing up a hill to the lap pool, holding nose plugs high, delivering them to me just before my final swimming test. (I was just eight, and I needed those plugs. I do fine without them now.)
At my wedding, my aunt took care of my mom so my dad could participate in wedding festivities, like walking me down the aisle. While Mom waited for us to finish taking photos after the ceremony, my aunt stayed by her side, keeping her calm in the July heat.
My mom died before I became a mother, but my aunt attended the baptisms of my children and sent them presents at Christmas. She remembered me on my birthday with beautiful cards and loved to see pictures of my kids as they grew. We didn’t speak often, but I knew she cared and wanted to hold the threads of our family together.
Five years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer and began a series of rigorous treatments with awful side effects. It became my turn to send cards and encouraging words. Again, we didn’t talk often, but I hope she knew I loved her and prayed for her.
So, of course, when she died, I traveled to New Jersey for the funeral. I wanted to be there for her three daughters who are now part of my special club of loved ones who no longer have mothers to guide them in this world. I held it together pretty well until I arrived at the funeral home and saw the pictures my uncle had gathered to commemorate my aunt’s life. There were group shots of my mom, who died in 1995, her younger sister, who died in 1994, her mother, who died in 1999, and of course, my aunt. Seeing their smiles, so long gone, broke me, and it took a long time to pull together again.
My youngest cousin had the difficult job of reading the eulogy. As she recounted her mother’s life, I learned things, like my aunt loved to write but had sacrificed a career in journalism to follow her husband and raise her family. Her pastor spoke of her works of service in her community and her key role in growing her church in its early years. Friends recalled her kindness and willingness to help, and her daughters expressed thanks for her many acts of love. As I listened to this celebration of a life characterized by charity, I felt like my aunt was giving me one last gift, a precious piece of wisdom.
I, too, gave up my career to focus on my family, and I have often struggled with feeling worthless, without professional title or income. But at the funeral, I realized, with a peace and certainty I’ve never had before, that a quiet life, lived in service to strangers and loved ones, is one well lived. All of us, whatever our calling or vocation, are never too big or too small to bring light and kindness into this world.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa.
In this season of political change and international instability, we need people like my aunt, to steady and assure us with small acts of love. And all the work can’t be done by other people. I must act as an instrument of kindness every day, no matter my title or income or emotional state.
Connections to other people are what make life wonderful, but they are also what make it hard. The novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman explores the complicated relationships between people and the importance of looking beyond first impressions to understand the layers incorporated in each of us.
Set in modern day Sweden, A Man Called Ove (pronounced “oo-va”) introduces us to Ove, a cranky older man who slams doors, checks locks, and performs a daily inspection of the trash room. As the narrator puts it, “Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.” He’s also the kind of man who “just thinks that right is right. Is that such an unreasonable attitude to life?”
But as the opening chapters unfold, we realize that Ove is more than just cranky, he’s tired of life, and he’s ready to take steps to end his weariness. But his carefully laid out plans are continually disrupted by his neighbors, a parade of unique and quirky characters who slowly learn that there is more to Ove than a swift kick and an abrupt retort.
What I like about Ove
A Man Called Ove is an excellent example of character development. Backman presents his protagonist with a vivid blend of dialogue and action. The tone of the writing is choppy and spare, perfectly matching Ove’s disposition and tendency toward reticence.
There’s a lot of miscommunication between characters, which is often comical, and a great counterbalance to the darker themes of the novel. Another example of balance is the outgoing personality of Ove’s wife Sonja, who bears her husband’s stubbornness and rigid ways with loving acceptance. As Ove thinks back on his years with Sonja, the narrator says, “People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” Although I have a soft spot for Ove, I adore Sonja. Here’s what she says about marriage:
Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you… Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections.
What I don’t like about Ove
Backman is big on metaphors and similes, and while most of them are unique and creative, I found the excessive use of them, sometimes over five in one page, to distract me from the story. In the novel opening, we get two great examples:
“He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight.”
Backman goes on to describe an Apple store salesman as
“a young man with a single-digit body mass index”.
These are great, right? But six “as if” later, I’m tired of the literary devices and just want Backman to give it to me straight. It’s a good lesson for an aspiring writer – don’t overdo it. However, this book is a New York Times bestseller, so it’s yet another example of how breaking the rules must work sometimes.
A Man Called Ove would appeal to readers who like interesting characters and thoughtful reflections on life, with a little bit of humor thrown in. It would also appeal to any man who knows that a Saab is the only car worth owning. 😉 Warning: it’s bittersweet, and I cried more than once. But I’m a sap.
One of my book club buddies listened to the audio and said it was fabulous.
Have you read Ove? Share what you think about it! Feel free to share any other books that are good character studies.