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Comments: Week of February 3, 2014


1. “Parenting teenagers is definitely tough,” wrote one reader about Jennifer Senior’s cover story on the nightmare of adolescence and how it might be a bigger problem for parents than for teens (The Collateral Damage of a Teenager,” January 20–27). “My personal experience in the suburbs suggests that there’s more than selfless devotion to their offspring to explain why modern parents prostrate themselves so before their children. The quest for status must also play a part,” wrote Linda Flanagan at the Huffington Post’s Books blog. “As junior representatives of Mom and Dad, children have the power to elevate or deflate their parents’ standing. We parents are loath to recognize these baser motivations for some of our parenting decisions—those that stem from our own demons and doubts—but they play a commanding role in how we rear our children nonetheless.” A more youthful reader stuck up for the teens. “I don’t think it is fair to discount the pain of adolescence for adolescents in order to make a point. Everything is very big, very serious, and very real. When you are stuck inside that, there is no getting around how acutely every emotion is felt. That child’s pain cannot be felt to the same degree by any parent. I think that’s the part that is so difficult for parents to acknowledge. We are feeling; we are hurting; we are trying. Just like you.”

2. “The line between criminal thoughts and action is something the courts have pondered for decades,” wrote Robert Kolker in an article about the prosecution of Gilberto Valle, called the “Cannibal Cop” by the tabloids for daydreaming about cooking and consuming women (A Dangerous Mind,” January 20–27). But did Valle ever intend to put such plans into action, or did the jury convict him for pure fantasy? Readers at felt strongly that the verdict was warranted. “The fact that they were negotiating the price and he was looking into these women’s backgrounds shows he was doing more than fantasizing,” wrote one reader. This particular individual was a police officer, who knew and understood the ramifications of his actions,” added a commenter. “There must be a clear understanding that to fantasize is human but to take it to such a perverted realm is unnatural and frankly there’s no place for such freaks!” Wrote another: “Go to a website and talk about your ‘fantasies’ about blowing up a building and see how the authorities react to that.”

3. “This article gives the best account I’ve read of my experience of reading (and rereading) Middlemarch, and quite beautifully gets to the heart of what I understand George Eliot’s primary intentions to be,” wrote one commenter of Kathryn Schulz’s essay on the essential goodness of Eliot’s masterpiece, timed to a new book about reading and rereading the novel (What Is It About Middlemarch?,” January 20–27). But it was a sidebar web story, “The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature” (which includes the em dash in Middlemarch), that really drew our grammarian readers into little whirlpools of excitement and agitation. “While I love the use of proper punctuation grammatically, as a typographer, this lists kills me,” wrote one. “An em dash should never have spaces on either side of it—only if you’re using an en dash. And if quotes are at the beginning of a line, they should always be hung (outdented) so the type stays left aligned and therefore more legible. Ellipses should never have a space between the word and the start of the punctuation. Don’t even get me started on the use of double hyphens as an em/en dash replacement.” We won’t! And of course dozens of readers wanted to talk about their own favorites. “ ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Love that first comma!” wrote one. “Really?” asked another. “It actually looks incorrect to me and consequently I find it distracting rather than illuminating or clever.” A third: “Agree—and I’m not approving of that second comma either. Totally uncalled for.” And a fourth: “Sorry but I disagree with you. I have always felt that this sentence is perfect as it introduces you to the theme of the novel in a succinct manner right from the start.”

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