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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: February 2, 2011

Submitted by on February 2, 2011 – 1:06 PM12 Comments

Hi! I'm an American teaching English in Russia, and I frequently field difficult questions from my students. I can almost always find a good answer for them, but this one is giving me issues:

Why do we say, "That city has a rich nightlife"? Nightlife is uncountable, so why not "That city has rich nightlife"?

Thanks!

Jared

Dear Jared,

Neither of those sentences is incorrect; neither of them would give me pause, in any case, or suggest to me that its utterer isn't a native English speaker. "Nightlife" can be a mass or non-count noun, but doesn't have to be; the word is back-formed from life, of course, and we can talk about pleasures in life, or we can talk about a rich interior life.

Pointing your students to count-noun synonyms for "nightlife" — "club scene," for example, or "after-hours circuit" — may help them remember that they need an article with "nightlife." As for why, well, English is just weird like that.

And now, a word from a high-school classmate of mine who's in search of a book. Take it away, Pip!

I have a very random question and it is rather ironic considering I am a librarian. (Keep in mind though that I am an elementary-school librarian!)

I need the name of a book we read in high school. I started a book club for some of the teachers where I work and I want to refer to a quote from this book, but I can't remember the title. Do any of you recall the name of this book:

On the cover there was a picture of a boy balancing on top of an outline of a house. I think the word YET was in the title but I can't say for sure. Does this sound familiar to anyone? My sister remembers reading it too but she can't recall the title either. I remember there was a passage about memories — how we remember things different. Unconsciously we remember things as bigger or smaller than they really were depending on how those moments impacted our lives.

I am leading the book-club discussion and this quote is very applicable to the book we're reading. I really wanted to start the discussion with the quote. If any of you have any idea of what I am talking about I would really appreciate it.

Pip

I don't remember what Pip's talking about, but we didn't always wind up in the same English section, so she may have read things I didn't and vice versa. Our curriculum didn't vary much from what you'd expect — Hawthorne, Wharton, Dickens, blah blah — and the only thing I can remember that might fit is The Bluest Eye. But…that ain't a book you forget.

Anyone have any thoughts, based on the (maybe) title fragment and the other info?

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12 Comments »

  • Jo says:

    The book Pip is talking about doesn't sound familiar based on the cover, but not all editions have the same cover. Can she tell us what the quote is?

  • Katie L. says:

    This is pimping my workplace website, but it's about articles: we have an online tutorial about articles at the University of Minnesota's Student Writing Support. Also check out the articles "quicktips," which supplement the animation:

    http://writing.umn.edu/sws/multilingual/ (scroll halfway down the page, and use Firefox)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    She gave the gist of the quote; I don't think she knows the exact wording (or she could have just Googled on it, probably). She did just tell me that it's a white cover with the drawing in red.

  • Jane says:

    Can we have a little more information about *when* Pip was in high school? That'll help pin down edition overlap and preclude later titles.

    And if she remembers it, anything else about what happens in the book.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    I have no clue about the book but have you emailed the high school librarian? It's possible he or she might recognize the book, especially if he or she has been there for awhile and the book was used for more than one class.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Pip was in high school 1986-90. @Nanc, which librarian? The one we "had" in HS is no longer with us.

  • Sally says:

    The only book that I can think of is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. The cover of mine was the scene where Douglas "wakes up the town" at dawn on the first day of summer, so he's standing in the top gable of a Victorian house. And there's a lot about memories and such in the book.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Ah, sorry to hear your HS Librarian is no longer with you. It was worth a shot! I"m still in touch with a couple of HS teachers and I graduated in 1979. Wow, I'm old!

  • anne says:

    Is it "So Long, See You Tomorrow"? I remember it also as being a white cover, though I can only find it in color, but it is a boy balancing on the outline of a house, and the book is a huge reflection on memory (though I can't be sure about the exact quote).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @anne: DING DING DING! Pip says that's it, and thanks you in caps-locked gratitude. Good work!

  • Lis says:

    This copy of So Long and See You Tomorrow is in sort of black and white with red writing… perhaps this is the edition Pip is seeking?

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