<< "It's always so difficult to know what to do for the best," Fyne assured me. It is. Good intentions stand in their own way so much. Whereas if you want to do harm to any one you needn't hesitate. You have only to go on. No one will reproach you with your mistakes or call you a confounded, clumsy meddler. >> from Chance
<< A man who has had his way is seldom happy, for generally he finds that the way does not lead very far on this earth of desires which can never be fully satisfied. >> from Chance
Zoë Wanamaker, Geraldine McEwan and Elaine Paige in A Murder Is Announced
"What sort of a place is Chipping Cleghorn?" asked Sir Henry. "A large, sprawling, picturesque village. Butcher, baker, grocer, quite a good antique shop--two tea shops . . . Cottages formerly lived in by agricultural laborers now converted and lived in by elderly spinsters and retired couples . . . " "I know," said Sir Henry. "Nice old pussies and retired colonels. Yes, if they noticed that advertisement they'd all come sniffing round at 6:30 to see what was up. Lord, I wish I had my own particular old pussy here. Wouldn't she like to get her nice ladylike teeth into this? Right up her street it would be." " Who's your own particular pussy, Henry? An aunt?" "No." Sir Henry sighed. "She's no relation." He said reverently: "She's just the finest detective God ever made. Natural genius cultivated in a suitable soil." He turned upon Craddock. "Don't you despise the old pussies in this village of yours my boy," he said. "In case this turns out to be a high-powered mystery, which I don't suppose for a moment it will, remember that an elderly unmarried woman who knits and gardens is streets ahead of any detective sergeant . . ."
from A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie, 1950
"I write mostly positive reviews. I don’t write
about places that don’t interest me. I’ve been doing this long enough,
and I’ve closed enough restaurants. It’s very strange that forty people
can be put out of work because I make an aesthetic judgment."
from Interview with Jonathan Gold, food critic. The Believer, Sept 2012
The best New Yorker sentences of the summer appeared in John McPhee's piece "Editors & Publisher" (July 2, 2012).
<< Editors of every ilk seem to think that titles are their prerogative -- that they can buy a piece, cut the title off the top, and lay on one of their own. When I was young, this turned my skin pink and caused horripilation. I should add that I encountered such editors almost wholly at magazines other than The New Yorker -- Vogue, Holiday, the Saturday Evening Post. The title is an integral part of a piece of writing, and one of the most important parts, and ought not to be written by anyone but the writer of what follows the title. Editors' habit of replacing an author's title with one of their own is like a photo of a tourist's head on the cardboard body of Mao Zedong. >>
I chose this passage for the wonderful outlandish simile that nails it down and because I agree with McPhee in principle. He is certainly right about editors' sense of entitlement, to use the apt word. When I wrote for Newsweek, I rarely got to title any of my pieces, though I must admit that my senior editor very often improved on whatever I had proposed. The late Ken Auchincloss was especially gifted at headlines. And these are important. I have called headlines and captions the haiku of journalism, and I remember being pleased (though some associates grumbled) when Ken ordered writers to write the captions under photos illustrating their articles. (I forget what embarrassment provoked this change.) Among my favorite headlines: the sublime "Rose is a Red" (which was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when Pete Rose returned to Cincinnati in the 1980s). The Newsweek caption I enjoyed writing most was "Laurels for Mr. Warren's Profession" when Robert Penn Warren was named the nation's first official poet laureate in 1986 (if memory serves).
That takes care of the good. As for the bad, well, sometimes the bad is so bad it's good ("Though a strapping five-nine today -- closer to five-nine and a half, really -- in the prepubescent days of my love affair with sports I was a shrimp"), or it's bad on purpose ("A little history is always useful"), or it's just bad when stripped out of its context when that context consists of banal word-clusters (e.g., "in a world characterized mainly by mobility, change, and uncertainty"). The quotes come from Louis Menand's pre-Olympics navel-gazer, "Glory Days," in the issue of August 6. The last is followed immediately by this: << No matter what happens to us next year, there will be a Super Bowl. >> The statement, while not nearly as funny in context as out of it, should have an admonitory effect on writers who value their sentences as much as their paragraphs. Perhaps the magazine might use "there will always be a Super Bowl" as a tag for odd witticisms on the order of "there will always be an England." Was it the same author who, in an earlier piece, characterized his father as a snob on the grounds that he favored good grammar and correct usage? -- DL
Henry James and Edith Wharton often went "motoring" together. Wharton wrote about one such trip in A Motor-Flight Through France (1908). Here, she describes an experience with James while traveling in England:
From A Backward Glance by Edith Wharton
The most absurd of these episodes occurred on another rainy evening when James and I chanced to arrive at Windsor long after dark. […] While I was hesitating and peering out into the darkness James spied an ancient doddering man who had stopped in the rain to gaze at us. ‘Wait a moment, my dear—I’ll ask him where we are’; and leaning out he signalled to the spectator.
‘My good man, if you’ll be good enough to come here, please; a little nearer—so,’ and as the old man came up: ‘My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us where we now are in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, leads to the Castle, after leaving on the left hand the turn down to the railway station.’
I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence, and a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to have James go on: ‘In short’ (his invariable prelude to a fresh series of explanatory ramifications), ‘in short, my good man, what I want to put to you in a word is this: supposing we have already (as I have reason to think we have) driven past the turn down to the railway station (which in that case, by the way, would probably not have been on our left hand, but on our right) where are we now in relation to…’
‘Oh, please,’ I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit through another parenthesis, ‘do ask him where the King’s Road is.’
‘Ah—? The King’s Road? Just so! Quite right! Can you, as a matter of fact, my good man, tell us where, in relation to our present position, the King’s Road exactly is?’