Thursday, April 07, 2011

Education and Writing, by Jess Lourey

I have two semi-related issues to discuss with you. The first is the pronunciation of the word “ribald.” Kirkus Reviews wrote of October Fest, it’s “funny, ribald, and teeming with small-town eccentrics.” (They also wrote some crap about the plot falling apart toward the end, but I can’t really remember that part—I subscribe to the ellipses method for getting the stains out of book reviews.) I was pretty happy with that little blurb and told lots of people about it, including a best-selling mystery author out in New York I was trying to impress. Here’s how my conversation with him went:

“Getting any reviews on your latest?”

“Yeah! Kirkus Reviews said October Fest is funny and ribald.”

Pause. “RYE-bald, hunh?”


It was that pause that signaled to me my pronunciation was off. Honestly, it was the first time I’d ever said the word out loud. I got off the phone and hurried to my computer. Turns out it is really pronounced “ribbled,” like how a giggling frog feels. Really. Hear it here.

I got to thinking. I consider myself pretty smart. In fact, I am an English teacher, and a well-larded vocabulary and a tight-lipped stare of derision are prereqs for the job. However, my book reviews have consistently shown me how meager my spoken vocab is. I had to look up “surfeit” when a reviewer of May Day wrote that the protagonist has a “surfeit of sass.” Another reviewer called her “insouciant” in June Bug. Now, I don’t want to embarrass you, but did you know that word is pronounced “in-soo-sient” and not “insoochiant?”

What kind of world is it we live in that reviews of my own books go over my head?

And now that I’ve established my credibility as a teacher of the written word, I am asking for your input. I’m putting together mystery curriculum on behalf of an MWA committee I’m on. My goal is to create six teaching modules: three on mystery-focused creative writing and three on mystery-focused literature/reading, each group divided by age lines (middle school, high school, and college). These modules will be available for any teacher to use, free, and will hopefully bring further legitimacy to the mystery genre as well as provide interested teachers a way to expand their curriculum. What I’d like from you are suggestions as to the “best” mysteries out there. I’m looking for mostly dead authors so there is no favoritism, and as much gender variety and multiculturalism as possible (I've already got the dead white male mystery writers covered, me and the rest of society). Within those guidelines, what should students be reading?


At 5:42 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Oh boy, I've been think-pronouncing ribald and insouciant totally wrong. What other words will I mangle? My doctor corrected me on a word recently. By the time my appointment was over I forgot what the word was, so I couldn't look it up. I hate it when I get a word wrong.
About the question: if they have to be dead - Mary Roberts Rhinehart and Agatha Christie?

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jess Lourey said...

It's so true, Nancy. Us readers have a great vocabulary, it's just all in our head.

Thanks for the two author votes!


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