AP? Nah. FakeAP's better
The Associated Press Stylebook is so episodic that if you were to read it for plot, as Dr. Johnson said of Richardson’s novels, you would hang yourself. Characterization is pretty sketchy, too, though a starchy authorial voice can be discerned in its imperatives.
Write More Good (Three Rivers Press, 253 pages, $13) by the authors of @FakeAPStylebook on Twitter, is not much on plot and characterization either, but at least it’s funny. (The AP Stylebook is only unintentionally laughable.)
Gag writing, like mine clearing, leaves little room for miscalculation. And while the wags behind @FakeAPStylebook are well above the level of open-mike night in the comedy club at the mall, there are misses among the hits.
Many of the entries feature a cheerful adolescent irreverence:
fiscal year Like a dog year, but for money
Founding Fathers Always capitalize out of respect for the wise men of two hundred years ago whose opinions on Internet porn and the right to own a bazooka guide us today.
objectivity Hey, it’s not our place to say if the earth is flat or not
Scientology Our legal department informs us that Scientology is just swell.
Occasionally entries rise to an actual wittiness:
Schrödinger’s cat Always simultaneously capitalized and not capitalized
The book is more, however, than an anthology of tweets. The authors have expanded the scope of Twitterature with longer entries, which, like the short ones, serve to indicate what journalists really think about the subjects they cover.*
In reviewing theater: “[J]ust write that it’s a deeply resonant examination of the fractured American family. (Someone may write in to correct you that Henrik Ibsen was Norwegian, but you can either respond that his themes are timeless and not fettered by geography or just throw the letter away.) If there’s a TV or movie star in the play, his or her performance was surprisingly nuanced.”
And about other journalists: “In reviews of hip-hop albums, be sure to use words such as ‘tight,’ ‘flow,’ and ‘thumpin’ so that readers will know that you, a college-educated suburbanite who wears Buddy Holly glasses, are down with the streets.”
Mark Hale and Ken Lowery are happily pessimistic about the newspaper industry that gave rise to the AP Stylebook and theirs. Their advice on headline writing: “Use small words, go for the cheap laugh, and don’t be afraid to utterly contradict the story. After all, Rupert Murdoch might be reading, and you’ll be needing a job when this rag goes belly up in eighteen months, tops.”
The writing is, yes, uneven. On the Web, their tweets are like psychics’ predictions; you read them one at a time and only remember the good ones. In a book it’s all preserved for examination. I wish I liked the whole production better than I do, but there’s still a good deal of pleasure in its gleeful subversion.
*Well, in the short ones, too:
folo Slang for “follow-up story,” i.e., the same story you ran yesterday with two paragraphs of new information.