Monday, October 30, 2006

Skim-Reading Through the Ages

You might be interested in an excerpt from my forthcoming book: Once Lightly Over: An Illustrated History of Skim-Reading Through the Ages:

‘…skim-reading became a crucial part of Lincoln’s time-management strategy during the latter part of the Civil War. His two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, began competing for his attention by bringing him ever more documents to read and sign. It was only Lincoln’s chronic unwillingness to read anything ‘properly’ that kept his Presidency and the Union afloat.

It was John Hay, his usual speech-writer, who wrote for Lincoln a seven-hour 400-page epic which began ‘War is a really, really dreadful thing, I pray you avoid it’ for presentation at Gettysburg. Lincoln skimmed the document over his customary macchiato at Jenny’s Coffee Shop. Doodling on a napkin, he quickly reduced the speech to the following (now historically sanitized) words:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. yadda yadda

Now we are engaged blah blah blah in a great civil war… [etc]

Order your copy now and learn how Churchill balanced depression, a fondness for Gray's Anatomy and 48 different plans for D-Day by having an assistant read out 'the interesting bits'!

Notes from the class war

Proposed bumper sticker: 'Yes, the road rules apply to tradesmen too.'

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ask Whale Sushi

Q: Dear Whale Sushi. How do I become a great writer? Please note that I am 47 so I do not like the idea of a long apprenticeship. Also I do not want to work too hard or tap deep personal feelings because I find the whole idea embarrassing. Impatient of Isabella Plains.

A: Dear Impatient. It’s often said that ‘a writer writes, always.’ However I’m unconvinced by this. It’s so hit or miss. And it says nothing about greatness. I would say: ‘a great writer writes great stuff at least some of the time, frequently writes quite good stuff and hardly every produces crap or not so you’d notice.’ I think if you abide by this rule you can’t go wrong. I expand upon this in my book Simple Solutions to Difficult Problems which is available in some good bookstores.

Q: Dear Whale Sushi. I googled ‘whale’ and ‘sushi’ just to see what would turn up and your ‘blog’ appeared. What gives? Do you really make sushi from whales? Isn’t that a terrible waste of a beautiful creature? Random Googler of Reid.

A: Dear Random Googler. You wouldn’t ask your final question if you had tasted whale sushi. It’s marvellous and craps all over tuna. They’re not really that beautiful, let's face it, and speculation about their intelligence is just that. I think deep down you suspect what I'm saying is true otherwise you wouldn't be googling those two search terms. Next try 'owl' & 'terrine'.