Saturday, December 27, 2008

More of the good stuff

Every now and then a piece of good writing tickles my fancy, as the Brits say. Here are some bright passages gleaned from the last few days surfing the Net.

Sometimes it's just a clever invented word, a neologism:

"Will it be a genuine hit or will the recipient, oohing and aaahing with suspiciously loud enthusiasm, really be feigning the ecstasy of giftgasm?"

-- Joyce Wadler, New York Times, Dec. 25, 2008, in a story about re-gifting

A familiar image often makes a good comment:

"Blagojevich exuded confidence Friday, but it was the scary, look-I-can-fly confidence of a man leaping off a roof with a towel safety-pinned around his neck as a cape. Sometimes a man needs a little self-doubt."

-- Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times, Dec. 22, 2008, after Rod Blagojevich's press conference proclaiming his innocence

I particularly liked this clever verbification of a common noun:

"Ted Stevens of Alaska was caught trousering gifts from contractors. David Vitter and Larry Craig were caught with their trousers down . . ."

-- Lexington, The Economist, Dec. 20, 2008-Jan. 2, 2009

Same thing:

"A baby is born old -- not just old but downright senescent -- and youthens as he grows."

-- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 25, 2008, in his review of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Here is a master at work building a thought, winding up with a final stroke of the hammer:

"But slipping into St. Patrick's for Mass in Spanish is pretty wonderful. It's like a big family reunion at which I know nobody and so nobody is mad at me. Nothing said in Spanish offends me doctrinally or any other way. I squeeze into the crowd, under the placid stone faces of saints, the sweet smell of burning wax and a hundred varieties of cologne, and feel the religious fervor, and tears come to my eyes, and I light a candle, say a wordless prayer, and out into the cold I go.

"It brought back memories of Christmas Eve in Copenhagen 20 years ago and how beautiful the sermons were before I started learning Danish."

-- Garrison Keillor,, Dec. 24, 2008, on Christmas in languages he doesn't know

Old-fashioned invective can grip:

"But if we must have an officiating priest, let it be some dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiance and not a tree-shaking huckster and publicity seeker who believes that millions of his fellow citizens are hellbound because they do not meet his own low and vulgar standards."

-- Christopher Hitchens, Slate, Dec. 22, 2008, on Rick Warren giving the invocation at Obama's inaugural.

Subverting a cliche works, too:

"To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material."

-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, Dec. 23, 2008, on "The Spirit"

Hey, if you come across a nice piece of writing in your Internet travels, send 'em on to me. We all need a regular infusion of the Good Stuff.


  1. Here's one that caught my eye (though upon reflection, I sure hope it's not too close to your heart) from the New Yorker's recent article on Samuel Johnson:

    "Johnson has no illusions about criticism’s ability to fix or cure. Critics are to writers not as doctors are to patients but as bearded ladies are to trapeze artists—another, sadder act in the same big show."

    Find it here:

  2. Having been both a bearded lady and a trapeze artist, I gotta agree with Adam Gopnik.

    Gopnik, by the way, is one of the best prose stylists at the New Yorker, a magazine chockablock with superb writers.