historical-present tense for literature

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 4 19:23:29 UTC 2010

It must have been in the mid '60s when I was taught to write about
literature in the present tense.  E.g., "at the end of Herman Melville's
famous novel, _Moby Dick_, Moby gets away. That is why I will never go on a
Carnival cruise."

While reading any number of book and film reviews in the _N.Y. Times_,
however, I noticed that the paper's practice, well into the 1950s at
least, was to write summaries in the past tense, as any normal human would
be inclined to do. The _Times_ was not alone in this. Magill's _Masterplots_
(not that I would know anything about that) used to do (or still does) the
same thing.

What caused the switch? And when did it become a must?
"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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