Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Two little pieces of prose: Cohen and McKinty

1) His picture of Abraham Lincoln's wartime military leadership is brisk and exciting, but I am sorry to say that Eliot A. Cohen is not the prose stylist that Thomas E. Ricks is. One Maj. John J. Key, Cohen tells us in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen And Leadership In Wartime, "made the greatest sacrifice a man could to the Union cause" and, on the same page, "had just made the greatest sacrifice imaginable to the Union cause."

A good writer might have avoided the overdone "greatest sacrifice" trope. A careful editor allowed to do his or her job would surely not have let Cohen use it twice on the same page. Even if the expression were not a cliché (or even if it bothers you less than it bothers me), repeating the phrasing so closely creates a monotonous effect, not to mention the unfortunate impression that author, editor, or both did not pay careful attention to what they were doing.

2) Then there's Adrian McKinty, the first page of whose upcoming novel In The Morning I'll Be Gone contains as neat a parenthesis as you'll ever see. Now, the em-dashes with which McKinty sets off the remark may become commas or even parentheses by the time the book is published, so I can't reveal details here. But the remark's commentary on what went immediately before suggests a wry, disillusioned humor that I think I will like.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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11 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

"a wry, disillusioned humor that I think I will like"

McKinty's books have many virtues. It is this quality that makes me look forward to them most. However good everything else is, they'e just so damn enjoyable to read.

October 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep. That parenthetical remark to which allude here is something I'd have been proud to say. There are certain books with which a reader feels a temperamental affinity. This may be one of them.

October 15, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

On verra.

October 17, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I think that tautology is such a part of the way human being's think it is sometimes not even recognised until it's too late.

I put up a piece of lazy writing about Alan Glynn's latest book "Graveland". I could have spent a lot more time removing repetitions and inserted some more considered phrases. However, life is short...

A book that is to go to print, however, deserves the time and attention to detail that you have mentioned, however.

October 17, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Sorry... "human beings".

I have come to despair of typos.

October 17, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian:

Je verrais.

October 17, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maria, I have a ready reply for any wiseass who points out a typo or some other mistake on Detectives Beyond Borders: Of course the mistake got it. I have no copy editor.

Attention to detail and elegant, correct expression are, to many publishers of books and newspapers large and small, increasingly luxuries, and luxuries are easily dispensed with, especially when the people doing the dispensing are not given by inclination, professional background, or education, to caring about detail and elegant, correct expression.

October 17, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I suppose I don't understand doing anything unless it is done as well as possible.
Perhaps that is why so many print publications are in danger of closing at the moment?

October 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I suppose I don't understand doing anything unless it is done as well as possible."

Then you would not understand the conditions under which copy editors work at a modern newspaper. I'm not sure abysmal standards of writing are responsible for the peril in which newspapers find themselves, but I am confident those standards are bound to drive away a newspaper's most loyal readers. It may seem perverse that an industry in trouble takes steps that seem calculated to alienate its most loyal customers, but I;m not sure enough of those customers exist to make the industry comfortably viable.

October 18, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I don't know if things are much worse now than they were in the 1980's from the point of view of stress. There were a lot of health problems among hacks then.

Nowadays the cost of paper and ink mean that some publications here are actually trading at a loss. And why buy a newspaper when most of the information is available on the Net?

Magazines are worth buying still, however, if one can afford them.

http://www.themonthly.com.au/section/monthly-essays

October 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The cost of paper and ink is no answer; on-line pubications have been in the vanguard of the retreat from literacy and careful writing, and I don't mean fly-by-night publications either.

October 18, 2013  

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