Monday, January 29, 2018

A page-ninety test

The first two times I looked for Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, the book was already sold out. But yesterday, there it was. I opened to page ninety:

That was actually the kind of image that Donald Trump had worked to project throughout most of his career. His is a 1950s businessman sort of ideal. He aspires to look like his father — or, anyway, not to displease his father. Except when he’s in golf wear, it is hard to imagine him out of a suit and tie, because he almost never is. Personal dignity — that is, apparent uprightness and respectability—is one of his fixations. He is uncomfortable when the men around him are not wearing suit and ties. Formality and convention — before he became president, almost everybody without high celebrity or a billion dollars called him “Mr. Trump” — are a central part of his identity. Casualness is the enemy of pretense. And his pretense was that the Trump brand stood for power, wealth, arrival.
Slack writing, even at 30% off. “That was . . . that,” “actually,” “the kind of image,” “throughout most,” “his is,” “sort of ideal,” “anyway,” “out of a suit and tie.” The shifts in tense make for slight confusion: “Casualness is the enemy of pretense. And his pretense was.” And notice how dashes beget dashes, in three of nine sentences. I’ll leave untouched Wolff’s assertions that “personal dignity” is a Trump fixation and that formality and convention are “a central part of his identity.” But I’ll offer what I think is an improved version of the paragraph:
That is the image Donald Trump has worked to project through most of his career: a version of his father, a 1950s businessman. Away from the golf course, Trump almost always wears a suit and tie, and he grows uncomfortable when men around him are more casually dressed. Mr. Trump — and before he became president, almost everyone but the rich and famous called him “Mr. Trump” — is fixated on personal dignity, and casualness is the enemy of his pretension that the Trump brand stands for power, wealth, arrival.
Original: 137 words. Revised: 88 words. And now I’m realizing that my revised paragraph sounds like capable prose from, say, a Newsweek or Time profile. Which tells me that Fire and Fury is a magazine article inflated to the size of a book. Do I need to buy it? No. Do I even want to read it? I’ll invoke Schopenhauer: “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”

Related posts
Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test, an explanation
My Salinger Year : Nature and music : A history of handwriting : A book about happiness : The Slow Professor : Shady Characters (Other page-ninety tests)

[Someday editors and publishers might realize that they should look carefully at the first full paragraph on page ninety.]

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