There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Steven Frank wants to remind you of your favorite English teacheryou know, the one who instilled a love of the language and made you believe unimportant, mousy little you could turn out beautiful, moving prose. He’s not above using the kind of gimmicks and groaners your favorite English teacher used. And if you can forgive The Pen Commandments its deviceyup, you’ll be told, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Prose”he may even become your favorite English teacher. Writing to a presumed audience of high-school students, the veteran educator patiently and without condescension explains the fine points of punctuation (“Think of a colon as a pair of binoculars”), succinctness (“Timid words are a waste of mind”), and description (“The difference between your uncle and a cliché is that you can stop a cliché from speaking”). Hell, I’m a copy editor, and he may even become my favorite English teacher (after Mrs. “Put That Gum on Your Nose! Now!” Burgess): He inveighs against overcasual usage in e-mail, explains “Parallel Structure Disorder,” and lists “hopefully” used as a sentence adverb among his “Top Ten Grammar Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make.” Leavening his chapters with not only amusing writing samples but stories from his classroom, Frank manages to make it all sound easy, and he really does seem like a committed teacher. I can even put up with the anecdotes about the likes of “Run-on Randy.” But like all English teachers, Frank has his annoying traits, self-indulgence outweighing self-importance about 3 to 1. (Mr. “Actually, I’m Seething Inside” Ford had roughly the opposite ratio.) Really, it’s fine to suggest a diary as a place to practice writing, but must we learn about the journal he keeps “to keep [him]self alive”? (Even Mrs. “Class, If You Won’t Behave, We Won’t Get to Play Vocabo This Week” Remaly wouldn’t say something like that.) Caroline Schweiter