One-Minute Book Reviews

January 14, 2009

Where to Find Answers to Legal Questions About Blogging – ‘The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law’

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How much of a poem or song can you quote on your blog? Is it okay to use your Facebook page to describe all the annoying things your co-worker does, in enough detail that people will recognize her, if you don’t use her name? If another Web site libels someone and you repeat the offending material on yours, could you get sued?

A good place to look for answers is The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law ($18.95, Basic Books, 432 pp., paperback), edited by Norm Goldstein — specifically, its media-law section with chapters on many topics that apply to bloggers, including copyright, privacy, and defamation (which generally includes both libel and slander).

The legal portions of The AP Stylebook have two advantages over much of the similar material you can find on the Web. First, they have a reader-friendly – that is, nonlawyerly – tone. Second, they cover the major areas that apply to Web content producers and give clear examples of things that can get you into trouble.

The copyright-law section of my 2000 edition notes, for example, that “no mathematical formula” can tell you whether the text you want to use from a poem or song amounts to “fair use.” The stylebook instead offers four general guidelines that apply to quotation. One says that any use that decreases the potential market value of the copyrighted work tends not to be fair: “For instance, if a literary critic reproduces all five lines of a five-line poem, the potential market value of the poem will be diminished because any reader of the critic’s piece can obtain a copy of the poem for free.”

The book also notes that crediting a source doesn’t turn an infringement into fair use. If you have questions, all of the contents are available by subscription to a searchable online database.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

January 5, 2009

What’s Wrong With All Those Exclamation Points!!! In Books or E-Mail!!! (Quote of the Day / ‘Send: The Essential Guide to E-Mail for Home and Office’)

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:13 pm
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At the end of February, I’ll announce the finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. And if tradition holds, some will read like a screenplay called Attack of the Killer Exclamation Points.

What’s wrong with overloading a book with exclamation points besides that it looks — well, dippy? David Shipley and Will Schwalbe respond indirectly in Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Home and Office (Knopf, 247, $19.95).

They note that in e-mail the exclamation point has found new life as a surrogate emoticon:

“The traditional rules allow for an exclamation point only after an actual exclamation – ‘My Goodness!’ or ‘Good Grief!’ Few abide by this any more.

“Exclamation points can instantly infuse electronic communication with human warmth. ‘Thanks!!!!’ is friendlier than ‘Thanks.’ And ‘Hooray!!!!!’ is more celebratory than ‘Hooray.’ Because e-mail is without affect, it has a dulling quality that almost necessitates kicking everything up a notch just to bring it to where it would normally be. If you try saying ‘Thanks’ or ‘Congratulations’ in the flattest voice you can muster, you’ll notice it sounds sarcastic. Without an exclamation point, these may read the same way on the screen.”

The catch is that while exclamation points are an “effective way to combat e-mail’s essential lack of tone,” the authors say, they’re also lazy: The better your choice of words, “the less need you will have for this form of shorthand.”

That comment suggests why a blizzard of exclamation points hurts books more than e-mail: We know our electronic correspondents don’t always have the time to refine every word. Authors do have the time. And unlike e-mail, books have tone, the psychological cast or shading of their words. If the tone is well-controlled, a book may succeed even if other aspects of it fail. Authors who substitute exclamation points for the right words are defaulting on a vital task: control of tone helps to set the mood much else in a book.

Have you read a 2008 book by an author who abused exclamation points or another punctuation mark? If so, you can nominate the book for a Delete Key Awards by leaving a comment.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 21, 2007

What to Say When Uncle Elmer Burps at Thanksgiving Dinner – And Other Holiday Dilemmas Resolved by Judith Martin, Miss Manners

The syndicated etiquette columnist tells how to deflect rudeness without being rude

Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. By Judith Martin. Crown, 179 pp., $17.

By Janice Harayda

Judith Martin has written more than a dozen etiquette books under her nom de guerre of Miss Manners, but this is the one you need this week. The Right Thing to Say is a brisk field manual for anyone who wonders how to parry to all those rude questions and insensitive remarks that can occur in any season but peak at events like Thanksgiving dinner. As in her syndicated column, Miss Manners typically offers ideas that are witty, apt and polite, all dispensed in a question-and-answer format.

Are you single and wondering what to say to say when Cousin Herman asks you why you haven’t married? Miss Manners suggests, “Oh, Cousin Herman, you know I’m waiting for someone just like you.” Would you like to know how to silence an aunt who tells you that you’ve gained weight or gone gray? Miss Manners recommends, “Oh, thank you; how kind of you to notice.” Or perhaps you’re pregnant again and have heard too many comments like, “I’m glad it’s you and not me!” Miss Manners advises you to try, “I’m sure you mean to wish us the best.” And if you don’t know what to say when Uncle Elmer says “Excuse me” after burping, she offers the comforting: “No reply is appropriate.”

Miss Manners’s answers are entertaining even if you haven’t weathered the insults heaved at her correspondents. And if you get through Thanksgiving needing her advice, just wait. The office Christmas party is coming up.

Best line: “Why would anyone say ‘Congratulations’ to a couple who has just announced an engagement or the expected birth of a child? Congratulating people is what is now done at funerals. Anyone who has suffered a loss can expect to be told: ‘It’s really a blessing, you know’ … Those who are most skillful at comforting the bereaved with such congratulatory statements are able to go for a second round, Miss Manners has observed. When they have elicited a fresh outburst of woe, they congratulate the mourners again, this time for ‘dealing with’ or ‘working through’ their grief, or tell them what stage of grief they are at, as if grief were a subway stop. Thus they have the enormous satisfaction of having done something for their friends. Driven them to tears.”

Worst line: None, but the structure of the book is confusing. Instead of being grouped together, for example, related questions about dating and marriage appear on pages 79 and 109. And the index is so inconsistent, it’s all but useless.

Published: May 1998 www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Martin

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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