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Rotten English
A Literary Anthology

Edited by Dohra Ahmad

      Rotten English is an anthology edited by Dohra Ahmad, a professor at St. John's University. This book is being used as a text to teach nonstandard English (a much nicer term than "substandard," don't you think?) and vernacular literature (a term I could fall in love with!). Between the introduction, the little lessons at the beginning of each section and the selected works themselves it is a mini linguistics class in and of itself.

Rotten English is full of, well . . . rotten English. But then Robert Burns's dialect has come to be studied in English lit classes and Rudyard Kipling is admired even if he does say "cheaper than them uniforms" in his poem, "Tommy." Rotten English also includes deadly English in a short story by Thomas Wolfe, and we all know what Mark Twain could do with dialogue and narrative voice (Ahmad includes his "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" in her book). She also includes short stories, excerpts from novels, poems, and pieces that use slang, Creole, patois, pidgin and just about any other variation of our language you can think of.

Rotten English is a book to savor one entry at a time. That might be something to keep in mind if you are a teacher using it as a text for a class. You might want to plan your reading time in little spurts even if you tend to enjoy a challenge. The language is not always easy, not always pretty (though sometimes it is pretty!). I found each piece worthwhile, even entertaining. The ones in which I had to struggle to adapt my reading ear to the phonetically spelled words on the page may have been the most rewarding of all.

The Book

W. W. Norton & Company
June 25, 2007
Poetry / Fiction Anthology
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The Reviewer

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Reviewed 2007
NOTE: Reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the award-winning author of This is the Place, Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered, and a chapbook of poetry titled Tracings, winner of the Military Writers Society of America's Award of Excellence and named Top Ten Best Reads by the Compulsive Reader. She is also the author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books including The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success and The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't, the 2004 winner of USA Book News' Best Professional Book of the Year and Irwin awards.
© 2007