This is a composite review of "The CEO of The Sofa," by humorist P.J. O'Rourke (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001); & "The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style & Usage," Andrea Sutcliffe, Editor (HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994).
CEO is just barely a keeper, & at the time, an expensive disappointment - list price, eleven years ago, $25 (hard-cover edition). And the asinine title!
Serving mainly as a rueful reminder that great punch lines/witticisms alone can't bail out a book devoid of a coherent, compelling theme, it does have its radiant moments.
Re: President Clinton's 1999 impeachment (after which time, Wild Bill was tagged & released back into the wild, a free man):
"And some earnest souls went so far as to aver that impeachment distracted [him] from... raising taxes, destroying health care, appointing 1960s bakeheads to high political office, soliciting felonious campaign contributions, hanging friends out to dry for Arkansas real estate frauds...
"Leading foreign policy back into the flea circus of Jimmy Carterism, having phone sex, groping patronage seekers, & snapping the elastic on the underpants of psychologically disturbed school-age White House interns entrusted with the task of delivering high-level government pizza."
And in reviewing the "Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing by Marilyn Schwartz & the Task Force on Bias-Free Language," O'Row notes that Guidelines states, "Our aim is simply to encourage sensitivity to usages that may be imprecise, misleading & needlessly offensive."
We pause to admire the vigorous, sweeping title of the pencil-editing & pushing group, "The Task Force..." If you ask me, it simply radiates a muscular tone of unchallengeable authority.
Which doesn't quite square with their humble suggestion that they merely strive to provide "encouragement," because when I think of civilian "Task Forces," I associate the designation with outfits such as the IRS.
Maybe there's a footnote somewhere in the Guidelines that can resolve this discrepancy.
At any rate, PJO is stumped as to how, in accordance with Task Force rules, Schwartz can be correctly referred to. This really shouldn't take long, or pose difficulties, but you probably saw this coming down the pike a week ago:
"The principle author of the text, Ms. Schwartz - (I apologize)..." - PJO has unwittingly (yet, insensitively) violated Section 1.41, lines 4-5;
"The principle author of the text, Schwartz - (No, I'm afraid that won't do)..." This imprecise usage offputs, according to Section 1.41, lines 23-25;
"Mrs. or Miss Marilyn Schwartz (Gee, I'm sorry)..." - Ixnayed by Section 1.41, lines 1-2;
"Anyway, as I was saying, Ms. Schwartz - (Excuse me...)." Stepped in it again! "Ms." is a double no-no, a repeat offender - as stated in 1.41, Lines 7-9.
"So Marilyn - (Oops)..." - Needlessly offensive addresses are politely prohibited by Section 1.42, lines 1-3;
Oh, the hell with it.
"Nevertheless, the principle author - what's her face - "
But nothing in CEO matches the sustained comedic brilliance of O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores" (1992) or "Eat The Rich" (1998) - or has the impact of his succinct & tragic masterpiece, "An Inquiry into the Nature of Good & Evil" (in his "Age & Guile Beat Youth, Innocence & A Bad Haircut" - an otherwise empathically NOT recommended "best of" clip book).
Similar questionable guidelines can be found in the astronomically expensive "New York Public Library's Guide to Style & Usage" (1994), purchased in a moment of misguided altruism at the time I was re-attending school at NYU in the 1990's.
Being a book primarily addressing the requirements of editing, I wasn't impressed with what was immediately seen at the bottom of page 7:
"Jargon may be appropriate in specialized or technical writing where it is."
That's it. The rest of the sentence doesn't exist. (Yes, it would be a complete sentence, & a perfectly good one, if the writer hadn't tacked on the flagrantly redundant "where it is.")
Perhaps the rest of the sentence continues on the next page? No. Page 8 commences with a related subject, "The Curveball, from Six Viewpoints."
Disregarding the spectre of a baseball player with six heads swinging at a curveball, what hit me was the impossibility of - having only edited the first seven pages of a manuscript - an editor (Andrea Sutcliffe, take a bow) failing to notice what is either an incomplete sentence or rank verbosity.
But there it was - nowhere nearly as bad as, but definitely a reminder of an infamous 1980's New York Times Sunday Magazine front cover, with the first word of its text - "The" - misspelt (I so do regret that, at the time, getting that cover framed was beyond my means).
A decade later, I did change my tune about Style & Usage, at least to some extent, when I was struggling through Daniel Okrent's ridiculously verbose "Great Fortune" (2003).
S&U guided me to one reason why Okrent's promiscuous use of the phrase, "Not only... but also," was driving me nuts:
"Some writers not only get hooked on not only... but also but also overuse it, leading to a loss of effectiveness, as this sentence itself shows."
Not only do you alienate the reader, but you also alienate the reader.
Okrent isn't unique. NotOnlyButAlso Disease is just about everywhere.
(Andrea, may I tack on a "where it is," at the end of the above sentence?)
Caroline Moorehead, author of a recent, regrettable biographical mess, "Dancing to the Precipice" (2009), has never met a Not Only that she didn't But Also like.
Even one of my favorites - the tough, disciplined journalist & biographer Virginia Cowles - proved to be all too susceptible to the allure of this cheap narrative gimmick, in her "The Romanovs" (1971).
Hackers versed in the art of word & phrase reversal are encouraged to infiltrate computers worldwide, for the benefit of the following humanitarian mission:
"Also But Only Not" would look great in every book published for the next five or ten years.
Less than 24 hours after this was posted, in the N.Y. Daily News:
"Joe Girardi did the uthinkable [sic]. Raul Ibanez did the highly unlikely."
--- The lead sentence in a sports article written by Mark Feinsand about Ibanez - a pinch-hitter for the N.Y. Yankees, batting for the benched scoundrel who had bankrupted the Texas Rangers baseball franchise merely by cashing his paychecks - hitting two homers in a playoff game (Yanks beat the Orioles, 3-2, on 10/10/12).