Here at the Trying Too Hard Sweepstakes, we’re always looking for simple answers to complicated questions.
For example, a big problem among critics is a tendency to crowd too many descriptive words into a limited space. When in doubt, the experts say, get rid of ALL ADVERBS, but this is easier said than done.
Take this sentence from a New York Times caption about a play on Broadway:
“The script is neither a dramatically shapely piece of writing nor a deeply probing character study.”
Blub, blub, blub, goodness. Now here is a Trying Too Hard cautionary tale. The unnecessary adverbs (“dramatically,” “deeply”) give the sentence a stuffed-to-the-gills feel and yet deleting them makes the sentence slightly deflated: “The script is neither a shapely piece of writing nor a probing character study.” But it’s cleaner that way, and besides, if you don’t take ’em out, nobody will read it.
Glib cocktail-party words are always surprising in a serious review. Janet Maslin has a beaut when she refers to “something funnily incongruous” in Meg Wolitzer’s novel, The Interestings.
Big cocky corporate book distributors who think publishing is so easy they can’t possibly botch it — but do — are a fine old tradition in the book trade.
Back in the ’80s, Harry Hoffman of Waldenbooks wanted to shovel the blandest of house-published genre books at customers but discovered that readers actually noticed and refused to buy them. In 2002, Barnes & Noble purchased cheapo artbook house Sterling Publishing in an attempt to undercut mainstream publishers, realized the experiment was too costly by 2012, tried to unload it (no buyers) and took it off the market “for the time being,” unsure how a chain bookstore can or should compete with its own suppliers.
And now what a surprise to hear that former Time Warner publisher and literary agent Laurence Kirschbaum, hired by Amazon two and a half years ago to create a big cocky publishing division, not only stumbled badly (the six-figure advance for Penny Marshall’s disastrous memoir was one indication) but also took another flier allegedly into the lap and down the throat of ex-lover/colleague Teresa McCoy, who’s suing him for sexual harassment.
I’ve heard that many of my old codger sisters from the ’60s are avoiding Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
For a long time, I did, too. The title is meek, the photo is Gloria Steinem Lite and the message lacks the boldness of, you know, Our Day, when tens of thousands protested in the streets, wrote our manifestos and opened our PRO-CHOICE SIGNUP tables in every downtown in America, or so it seemed.
Lean In book cover
True, we can’t claim huge victories four decades later — the ERA never passed, the military is practically a rape culture, abortion is even more despised and why we accept a Senate and House without 50% women is beyond me.
But some things did change, thanks to antidiscrimination and anti-harassment laws that still make a difference. The glass ceiling is breaking (thank you, Sheryl), and while many girls and women wouldn’t be caught dead calling themselves feminists, there are good reasons for that, as Sheryl points out (see below).
Now here’s Sandberg encouraging women to make ourselves heard, but not in a massive way, mind you, not in a historic way, nor heaven knows an impolite way. Her much-praised advice is for each of us to “lean in” to whatever conversation is taking place and quietly, softly, say exactly what we mean. That’s it.
Like Meryl Streep (see below), I could have sworn that one-time celebrities Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen wore women’s suits on the 1950s TV quiz show, What’s My LIne?
That’s why in the last post, I blithely (without checking) quoted Streep’s concern about societal pressures on today’s women to dress in sexually alluring clothes, even on a hard-news political program like Meet the Press. Streep’s point was that in a previous era, TV shows (and the media in general) allowed women greater modesty, as recalled from watching What’s My Line?
Yikes, was that wrong, and thank you, reader Ed Dravecky of Allen, Texas, for spotting the error:
“Meryl Streep lives in an interesting alternate timeline,” Dravecky writes. “Suits? On this Earth’s What’s My Line, the women on the panel wore dresses and the men wore suits in the early seasons, and formal evening wear (including tuxedos for the men) in the later ones. Just do a Google Image search for ‘What’s My Line Panelists’ and you’ll turn up dozens of images like this one from the New York Times.”
Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf wear eye masks as they question the mystery guest on What’s My Line?