I and a few other of the usual suspects get a mention in today’s New York Times. Reporter Sarah Boxer writes about literary bloggers who “review the reviews” in the major book sections of our nation’s newspapers.
In the immortal words of Flann O’Brien, they got me all wrong in that pub. Here’s the passage about Golden Rule Jones:
Most book-review reviews are summary, to say the least. Their main purpose, it seems, is to get noticed and linked to by more popular blogs. This, for example, was Golden Rule Jones’s assessment of The Chicago Tribune’s book coverage on Sunday: “What I liked: Good numbers; timely, worthwhile selections. What I didn’t like: Reviews are a little skimpy.”
One of those old fashioned sticklers for the truth — remember them? — would feel compelled to mention that my assessment ran on for another 861 words. (See for yourself here.) Longer, just for comparison, than any of the reviews that ran in the Trib that week.
As a sometime writer, I can sympathize with Boxer. I often think of my old instructor in poetic meter and form, Richard Tillinghast. When evaluating our clumsy efforts at alcaics, villanelles, or Catullan hendecasyllabics, Tillinghast eschewed the usual letter grades in favor of his own special acronyms. Most of my efforts merited an “NB” or an “NTB,” which stood for “not bad” or “not too bad,” respectively. Did others get a “B,” a “TB,” or even a “G”? I’ll never know; it’s funny to imagine they did.
My favorite notation, however, was “BBRS.” That stood for “betrayed by rhyme scheme.” As you might guess, BBRS appeared in the margin wherever you chose a word simply because of the way it sounded, regardless of the meaning or effect you were pursuing before you reached that point.
In the intervening decades I’ve discovered that the principle of BBRS applies not only to poetry, but to writing of all kinds. Sometimes a half-truth just sounds better. It fits the stress patterns of the piece. It’s punchier. And it’s completely undetectable to most readers. Half the time the matter is so trivial that who really cares?
But you gotta resist.