Posted by Jerry Freeman on July 04, 2002 at 16:41:34:
A graduate degree in literature doesn’t automatically make you correct. I come from a family of writers, english teachers and editors and have worked as a professional writer and editor myself.
The time and point of view of the sentence are the distant past and the memory of something in the life of an eighth grader who has long since grown.
The book was an object encountered then, which has since gone far from reach. It’s perfectly correct and more appropriate to the sense of the narrative to refer to everything about the book in the past tense. “It had a red cover,” “It used a silly kind of word game to encourage children to look for new words,” etc.
It would be strange to say, “When I was in the eighth grade, I read a book that has a red cover and uses word games to encourage … .” That superimposes two simultaneous points of view, and they clash. “Read” in the past tense is from the point of view of the child who existed long ago. “Has” and “uses” impose the point of view of the writer in the present time on top of the narrative time of the eighth grader. It suggests that I somehow have retained the book or have kept track of where it is, which is the opposite of what I mean. The book is a distant memory from long ago, and I chose my words to evoke that sense. Using present tense may not be strictly incorrect, but keeping the whole narrative in the past tense is still correct and does read better. In an instance like this, the writer generally is allowed to make the judgment.
On the other hand, I must say that it’s refreshing to discover there are still a few people in the world who care enough about the English language to debate its proper use.