When Ray crosses the road to eyeball the competition, he encounters a barista he can’t quite size up. First he calls the barista “sir,” and the barista balks, “Why’d you feel the need to call me ‘sir’?” So Ray tries “female?” and the barista says: “Oh, ‘female’? You a biologist? You a biological essentialist? Are you a detective?” So Ray asks, “What’s going on here?” and a second barista steps in to explain: “What’s going on here is that you offended they, and you offended me, so I think it’s best that you leave.” He does. The baristas embrace.
This little volume has several things going for it: it’s compact, bound in the style of an industrial manual, so it can take a lot of punishment. It illustrates points about grammar and punctuation using examples drawn from newspapers and magazines all published – online or in print – on December 29, 2008 (hence talk of the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, strife between Israel and Palestine). And its author, Frank L. Cioffi, who teaches writing at Baruch College in New York City, is humble. His aim is not so much to enforce rules as to provoke debate. He wants you to look beyond the meaning of the sentence to the choices made by the writer and the editor.
Vladimir Nabokov once observed that “a writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” The geobiologist Hope Jahren possesses both in spades. Her engrossing new memoir, “Lab Girl,” is at once a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants — a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.
One of the central challenges society faces is how to improve opportunities for those who have had a difficult start.