Life, death, and newspapers
5 August 2013 § Leave a comment
Today’s Journal Report (an odious section, as it displaces the Review section, which should be published every day) is titled thus. There is really nothing to add after that; or perhaps it should be “Life, death, and love.” Or “Love and death.” In any case, I’m coping with the unavoidable fact that I’ve applied to work at an undisclosed newspaper (or newspapers?—quelle mystère!) by accepting the necessity of reading the thing itself. Two weeks ago, I resolved never to read the newspaper again on the premises that it is more efficient 1) to absorb one’s ideas from actual writing, i.e., books, and 2) to hear the news from other people, whose speech is quicker than the reading of newspapers and whose interpretation more thorough than those of newspapers. So now it is my Duty to read about Life and Death and Love. How eighteenth-century Americanly moral.
The horrid part is that if I am actually hired (someone forbid this; how can I work for a newspaper?), someone will edit a tiny detail out of my writing, over and over; or, worse, I will edit a tiny detail out of the writing of others. A job will render illicit my relationship with Oxford commas.
On the topic of newspapers, though, several things remain to be said. First,—of the Review section again,—it is really unfair that one cannot read all of these books before the following Saturday’s edition. One could, but it would result in a most odd education.
For example, this week’s reviews expounded upon a book about FSG (acronyms obliterate the Oxford comma war; allez faire la fête), one about the Korean War; some books about the historical Jesus (wait, has this not been done before? cf. Spinoza); one about a fun-looking romp through a Spanish village that has witnessed the advent of tinned cheese, which is apparently a real thing (the actual article is called “Life, Death[,] and Cheese”—of course the sensible person knows that “cheese” can be subsumed into the “death” category and is therefore unnecessary); one, a novel, about violent Bogotá; and a circus romp about Topsy the elephant and how Thomas Edison filmed said elephant. Warning: there is always one article at the end of the book reviews that you may find yourself reading. Stop now. It is by Joe Queenan, and it will make you feel as though you are reading a disillusioned man’s unpleasant chronicle of his dull town.
This is an article about a book about books (and ooks). A snippet:
” . . . I’d say that any success the firm has had has more to do with its recognition that each book is a singular expression of its author. Giroux coined the term ‘ook’ to refer to a printed and bound bad thing, something not really deserving of the full label ‘book.’ Standing against ‘ook’ is what defines FSG.”
This is great—ook. Now entering into common parlance.
Second, the everyday Personal Journal is not to be borne. With regular articles about spoiled children, airlines, and gadgets that no one needs, it may indeed turn your brain to fluff before you can even reach the purgatory that is the Money & Investing section. If you make it through that, it’s either the hell of Marketplace or the heaven of the opinion page (only joking, heaven would be picking up a book). That is incorrect theology—which fits well with the whole newspaper paradigm.
Third, Peggy Noonan. Who is this woman, that she can flounce round on several subjects, stick some stars between the jumps, and call it a column? A high school English teacher would say it lacks transitions and coherence, which is true, but does life actually have transitions and coherence? It is rather composed of senseless jerks, irrational hops, and a bewildering lack of coherence—unless you’re a well-balanced, mentally healthy person, I suppose. A college English professor would say that it is inescapably conservative. Perhaps. I actually don’t know what a professor would say about it, because my English classes were, refreshingly, about people who lived four hundred years ago. Ultimately, though, who cares? Peggy Noonan writes about the pope and it’s good. Peggy Noonan writes about everything and it’s good. She manages to escape jadedness, triteness, and politics—personally, that is. She does not argue from a party point of view exactly and rather assesses her convictions and then dives into the subject. Perhaps that is why she can write whatever she wants: a solid foundation supports the thoughts she forms from her observations. She writes with honesty. And you think, this is someone with whom I could have a conversation.