Invasive punctuation

I have nothing against semicolons. Or em dashes. Or parentheses or exclamation points or colons. And yet when editing, I remove them. I boot them right out of the story.

Not all of them, of course. But the thing is, it’s easy to overuse punctuation marks. Semicolons and em dashes stand out precisely because they aren’t meant to show up in every sentence. Too many of them at once and they clutter up the page, distracting the reader. (And parentheticals are supposed to convey information that’s additional to the main point that the writer is trying to convey, so it’s awkward to introduce something in parentheses and then use it in the main body of the text as though it were there all along. Yes, I’m being meta.)

Any punctuation that gets overused begins to have the same effect as someone typing in all-caps all the time; it hurts the reader’s eyes and they stop reading. For a particular punctuation mark to have an effect, it needs to be used sparingly.

So think of it as weeding a garden. Leave the good marks in place and yank out the unnecessary, incorrect, or annoying ones. The result is cleaner, more graceful, and easier to read. Your reader will thank you.

Let them read comics

A family member was waiting out the storm with us last week (two snow days, ugh) and noticed how voraciously the kids were reading comics. Before he left, the family member said to them, “Make sure you read books sometimes and not just comics.”

I said, “They can read what they want at home. Also, their grades are good and they both score well on standardized tests, so I’m not too worried.”

He conceded, “I used to read comics when I was their age.”

“I read comics now,” I said. Which ended the conversation.

Listen, I’m all in favor of book-nerdery. But I don’t like snobbery. Reading comics and graphic novels is still reading. It absolutely counts. And the kids and I have read so many good comics over the past couple of years—smart writing, beautiful illustrations, full of heart—that I can’t see why anyone would say that reading them is somehow less valuable than reading a text-only book. (Last graphic novel to make me tear up: “Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier. Last comics to make me laugh out loud: “Ms. Marvel” and “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.” On repeated occasions.)

In fact, I might argue that teaching kids to appreciate good artwork is just as important as teaching them to appreciate good writing, and conveniently, picture books and comics have both.

When I was a kid, I read whatever I wanted, mostly because it would have been impossible for my parents to stop me. Shakespeare. World mythology. My dad’s science fiction and fantasy novels. And yes, comics. None of it hurt me. In fact, given I was a gifted student, on the honor roll, and graduated college on the Dean’s List, I’d say all of it helped me. (True story: I once used an issue of “Sandman” for a paper in my Greek mythology class. So helpful, that Neil Gaiman.)

So my kids can read what they want, too. I think it’s all to the good.