Monday, July 16, 2012

Readers' responses

Last Monday I said that I thought the writing style of the historian and journalist Tom Engelhardt was boring but that I couldn’t specifically say why. I asked readers to volunteer an analysis of any of his articles. Here are the first three responses, in the order received:

Paul G. Henning, analyzing “The Military Solution,” wrote:

The introduction to the thesis is too long, with information and asides that distract and annoy the reader. Can’t the first paragraph say that “With less than 1% of Americans serving in the military today, it is not surprising that US conflicts on foreign soil hold little interest to most Americans.”?

Yet that paragraph has nothing to do with and is not logically connected to the following paragraph. (At which point you throw your hands up in the air; you must go back over what you have just read.)

He uses jargon.

He is in love with parenthetical expressions.

He makes assertions after statements with no facts, evidence or relevance.

And finally: “all enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy.” As Lewis Black would say, “Are you @#%* kidding me?”

Cheryl Stephens wrote:

Well, I lost interest too soon to be able to offer any personal opinions. But I ran [some of Tom Engelhardt’s writing] through’s review where it received 33 out of 100 points meaning it has poor style and needs revising. Reading it just requires too much effort – not because it is intellectually challenging – because it is poorly written and contains non-standard grammar and so on.

Christa Sammons wrote:

I see what you mean about Tom Engelhardt, and how it’s hard to know exactly why the articles seem less than exciting. Maybe it’s a combination of content and style. I frankly didn’t see much that was new in the articles I read, nothing I hadn’t heard before as an NPR listener and a casual reader of The New York Times. Then I got to thinking about the title “TomGram.” It made me expect something with a lot of personal voice, if Tom and I are on a first-name basis. “Gram” made me think of a telegram, so I expected something staccato and elliptical that was transmitting important news, or maybe something more essayistic and edgy. But what I got was good solid expository prose such as I would expect to find in a college textbook.

The Takeaway: Many thanks to readers Paul G. Henning, Cheryl Stephens, and Christa Sammons. It seems to me that a common denominator of the comments is that Mr. Engelhardt is putting too little diligence into his writing and therefore disappointing some readers. Please note that I am not singling out Mr. Engelhardt; we have all erred in similar ways. See disclaimer.

1 comment:

  1. Not especially in defense of Mr. Engelhardt, I hate to think what would happen if a passage from the late Henry James were put through