Archive for January, 2007

ALL-REQUEST: Celebrity Books

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Way back in September, I did an ALL-REQUEST post in which I promised to answer all the requests, after having skipped a few in previous iterations of the all-request tradition. Well, naturally, I skipped one. Although, in my defense, I always intended to get around to it, but never did. Until now.

Sebastian asked, “Are there any current celebrities (not counting politicians/soldiers, we’re talking pop culture here) whose books you would read assuming they had one? For this exercise, you are cleared to use obvious examples like anything by Coach K, as well as Jenna Jameson’s How To Make Love Like A Porn Star.”

I had to stare at my bookshelf for a while to make sure, but I don’t really have any celebrity books. I bought Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Vol. 1 and Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill (how often are those two books mentioned in the same sentence?), but never finished either. I never read one of Coach Krzyzewski’s books, but I did buy one of Dick Vitale’s for a book signing once. And I never read Ms. Jameson’s book, although I’m not saying I couldn’t use a lesson.

I guess one reason I don’t read many celeb books is that the highlights have already been thoroughly aired in places like “Entertainment Weekly.” After all, the person wouldn’t be a celebrity otherwise. So many celebooks have value only for the seamy behind-the-scenes tidbits or self-serving spin. It’s hard to find a celebrity-written book that’s objective (to the extent possible), perceptive, and tells me something I don’t know. I guess that’s why I don’t read any. Suggestions?

Clerks v. Speechwriters

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Via Jeremy Blachman, I saw this Times article on Pres. Bush’s speechwriting team as it prepares for this week’s State of the Union address. I had a couple of thoughts.

First, the chief speechwriter, William McGurn, says that Bush “is the strictest editor, the most line by line” he’s ever had. McGurn compares Bush’s scrutiny with that of William F. Buckley at the National Review and the late Robert L. Bartley at the Wall Street Journal, McGurn’s former employers. But wouldn’t McGurn have been writing very different material for those publications than he is for the White House? If your editor at NR or the WSJ needs to work over every line of something you write, they probably shouldn’t have hired you in the first place. I would hope those august publications would allow a little more autonomy from their writers, even in editorials purporting to represent the opinion of the entire editorial board. Presidential speechwriters, on the other hand, have to craft a speech that essentially reads the boss’s mind, and goes out under the boss’s byline. If McGurn’s pieces at NR had been signed “William F. Buckley,” my guess is that Buckley would have examined them very closely. Is Bush even really an “editor” at all, in the sense that term is typically used in the publishing world?

My second thought is that the obvious reason for McGurn’s description of Bush as a line by line editor is his desire to perpetuate the fiction that presidents write their own speeches. By now, of course, it’s really little more than a polite lie. If people like Ted Sorensen, Pat Buchanan, and Peggy Noonan can get famous for being presidential speechwriters, there’s really no point in pretending such people don’t exist. But I suppose it wouldn’t do to call the president a mouthpiece, a karaoke artist. To be fair, presidents (to varying degrees) exert control over at least the broad outlines of their speeches’ content, as well as the general rhetorical voice. But the Times article makes much of the long days McGurn and his team have been working, which seems unnecessary if they’re mere scriveners of the president’s words.

Third, for a very good article on a presidential speechwriter, check out this New Yorker article about McGurn’s predecessor Michael Gerson. It’s a lot longer than the Times piece, but it’s a lot more interesting.

All this reminds me of the occasional debates over what role clerks should have in writing judicial opinions. The analogy is not exact, because presidents do a lot besides give speeches, while (appellate) judges count opinion-producing as their primary duty. Judges vary in their practices, but a lot of opinions are written almost entirely by clerks (with varying degrees of input and direction from judges). If Gerson can be praised for the “mind-meld” he achieved with Pres. Bush (allowing him to draft speeches that presumably needed less line by line editing), and if folks like Buchanan and Noonan can trade on their ghostwriting and not feel any shame for it, why should law clerks be so different?

It’s acceptable to acknowledge that Noonan wrote two of “the Great Communicator’s” best speeches and the most consequential speech by George H.W. Bush, but it’s not acceptable to acknowledge Clerk So-and-so as the author of Smith v. Jones? Maybe it’s a good thing if the law is clear enough that a law clerk can apply it as well as a judge. There’s also the (less flattering) possibility that a judge’s mind might be easy to read and voice easy to reproduce. Certainly, the judge should scrutinize and edit anything that goes out in the name of the judges or the court. But why is it considered so awful for a judge to work as a critical editor instead of the initial drafter? After all, that’s what presidents do.

Stayin’ Alive

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Neat story out of New Mexico: A woman who had been out in the woods for five weeks was rescued, weeks after the search for her was called off. Carolyn Dorn had planned to go camping for two weeks, and had enough supplies to last that long. But she got stuck on the far side of a raging river and couldn’t get out. She survived by drinking water from the river, building fires, and staying positive. Fortunately, some hikers happened upon her and were able to get help.

This reminded me of a book I read not long ago, Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. I reviewed it here. Gonzales discussed the psychology of survival, and I think Dorn could fill a whole chapter. She did everything right — she didn’t panic, she didn’t jump in the river and get her clothes all wet, and she didn’t waste any precious energy. Most importantly, she was prepared — she was an experienced camper who knew what to do out there. I hope I never have to be outside for two weeks, let alone five, but I hope I have the mindset of someone like Carolyn Dorn instead of the mindset of this guy.

Oil prices guranteed to drop

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Want to know how I know this? Because my energy company (whose name re-arrainged spells TUX) just sent me an offer to lock in my current rate. The locked rate has a 2 year minimum agreement.

Funny, they never offered to let me lock in my rate when prices were climbing steadily to $3/gallon.

I Survived the ’06 Blogger Massacre

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

I made it. I’m still here. I spent a week or so relaxing and doing things more entertaining than blogging, like sleeping and traveling and visiting some family. Well, some of that was more entertaining than blogging. Thanks to Encyclopedia McPanica for keeping an eye on things here. The cat in that post isn’t mine, so I won’t be joining the cat blogging legion. But I met her last week and cleaned up the mess she made of the Christmas tree.

Anyway, I’ll be back to blogging now that I don’t have anything better to do besides work. But part of me feels like coming back to blogging is a minor triumph, considering how many bloggers seem to be calling it quits. Honestly, though, every time a blog I like shuts down, it makes me that much more committed to keeping BTQ going.

So I guess that’s my only real New Year’s resolution, to keep blogging at BTQ at least until I ring in 2008. Thanks for hanging in there with me. But then again, you have fewer options than you used to.