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A Book That Will Live in Grinfamy

May 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment · Books, Comedy, Culture, History, Journalism, Language, News

pearl harborThis is a laugh-out-loud good time. Janet Maslin at the New York Times reviews the new book about Pearl Harbor (titled simply Pearl Harbor) by Newt Gingrich and his co-author, William R. Forstchen.

The title of her review? “An Assault on Hawaii. On Grammar Too.”

OK, I could have stopped right there, and that would have been my golden moment for the day. But Janet’s just getting started:

When the attack began, it was Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor but Dec. 8 in Japan. The book is subtly subtitled “A Novel of December 8th” to signal its attention to the Japanese point of view. On the basis of that detail, you might expect a high level of fastidiousness from “Pearl Harbor.”

And you would be spectacularly wrong. Because you would find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.

Oh, my heavens, get me some air! Thank you, thank you, Newt, for living up to my highest expectations!

Wait, let me recover a sec before I go on. Okay:

This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes.

Yes! And I can just picture the comma police manhandling Newt into the back of their squad car. They’d have little exclamation points for nightsticks!

Some of these glitches are brief, while some are windier. The long ones are particularly dangerous. Here is what happens when James Watson, an academic and a decoding expert who is one of the book’s cardboard Americans (as opposed to its cardboard British and Japanese figures), has lunch:

“James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.”

Who needs a shower when random commas fall like a blessed rain from the heavens? Oh, comma comma comma comma comma chameleons, you come and go! You come and go!

“Pearl Harbor” is of course laden — or “ladened,” as it would say — with rib-elbowing parallels to the present global crisis.”

Not just ladened! Osama bin Ladened!

Oh, bless you Janet, I needed that.

Sometimes abuse of the language enrages me. But other times, I don’t mind so much, because I know the language is laughing too.

Reading Newt and his sidekick’s literary stylings is like watching a clown try to beat someone to death with a wet noodle. Theoretically it’s a kind of violence, but it’s just too damn silly to be much of a threat. And it certainly helps liven up a Friday afternoon.

Thank you, Newt. Thank you, Newt’s sidekick. If laughter is the best medicine, you guys are single-payer insurance.

(h/t Norm Sloan)


One Comment so far ↓

  • Aaron

    “little exclamation points for nightsticks”

    Yes. And the little periods at the end would be equipped with an electrical charge. A painful one.
    Hey, it IS IML weekend after all. :-))