Monday, November 30, 2009

A Fiery, But Boring, Debate

A tour through Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, turns up a link to this Evergreen Review article, "The Electronic Book Burning"--an over-the-top cri de coeur by Alan Kaufman on the decline of books and bookstores that features paragraphs such as this (as excerpted on Sullivan's blog):

The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now Der Book. Hi-tech propogandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better-off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle.

My goodness. I'm as passionate a book-fondler as the next guy--hell, I'd rather spend a lazy afternoon in a thoughtfully-curated bookstore than an evening of debauchery in a cathouse--but I think I would stop short of comparing enthusiasts of electronically-delivered literature to murderous Nazis. (Although if the book is truly becoming "the despised Jew of our culture" I am currently harboring a few hundred Anne Franks on my shelves, which makes me feel rather heroic.)

But that's not the excerpt under examination today (although "propagandists" is misspelled back there--and really, you don't need a proofreader to catch that: the squiggly red line in Word does all the work.) No, the usage in question comes in this passage:

According to reports coming in from other parts of the country, the awful scene is reoccuring everywhere: venerable, much beloved bookstores closing and that portion of the populace who cherish books—an ever-shrinking minority—left baffled and bereft; a silent corporate Krystallnacht decimating the world of literacy.

Believe it or not, a lot of very passionate (but very boring) people have spent endless man-hours engaged in a very passionate (but achingly dull) argument over the word "reoccur" and its variants. In fact, those among them whose bowties are cinched particularly tightly refuse to recognize its very existence, insisting the word to be used here can only be "recurring." Then there are the moderates who argue that "reoccur" is indeed a "real" word, but that it should be used to indicate a one-time repetition ("I hope my cancer doesn't re-occur") while "recur" denotes an ongoing repeating phenomena ("Ben Affleck is a recurring cancer in American cinema"). Finally, there are those who don't give a whistling woodchuck one way or the other and declare that either is fine. In any case, I think all of these factions (and every dictionary I consulted) agree that if you are going to use "reoccurring" it ought to have a double "r."

And speaking of The Daily Dish--and of the allure of books--it was on that blog that I came across this beautifully compelling ad that says more than a thousand earnest words about the raptures of reading: