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Wait five years

Once I ceased to be a graduate student in English, I was relieved of the burden of Keeping Up. Not merely of Keeping Up with publications in my field, but also of Keeping Up with What Everyone Is Reading.*

Following one’s own tastes is liberating, and I have benefited from the advice of one of my undergraduate professors, who advised me to follow Paris’s Law. Bernard Paris, a professor of English at Michigan State, refused to read any book until it had been in print for at least five years. “Now,” he said, smiling, “I no longer have to read The Greening of America.”** Thus Paris’s Law.

I make exceptions, of course. If I agree to review a book, I read it. And when an author I know produces another book, I usually read it. (How long, Jane Haddam, before another Gregor Demarkian murder mystery?) But generally I trust the reliability of Paris’s Law. In another couple of years, for example, I’ll be able to see whether there is an expiration date on Malcolm Gladwell.

There are additional advantages. After five years, you’ll either be able to get the book from the library without having to wait, or find it cheaply remaindered. And when a group starts going on about The Latest Thing, you can simply put on that mildly baffled and bemused expression that I wear when people start talking about athletic competitions and reality shows.

See if it works for you.

 

*That counts for Everyone in the pretentious classes and Everyone who reads the middlebrow stuff. I once—I think it was 1965—read every work of fiction on the New York Times best-seller list, and I would not do that again even for ready money.

**I did not actually take any of Professor Paris’s courses, after being informed that he was infatuated with the work of Karen Horney and that every work he taught was run through a Horneyan filter.*** It was then that it occurred to me that in academia, once you own a grinder, you can turn everything into sausage.

 

***If any of you are Horneyans, please don’t write. I’m sure there must be much of value in her work and much meaning derived from it in your lives. Pace.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:26 AM | | Comments (6)
        

Comments

A five year wait sounds right for books, especially fiction. For newspapers, a one day wait is ideal. It is astounding how much less alarming the news seems if it's read a day late. Yet it's fresh enough to matter. For maximum peace of mind, magazines should be read in doctors' offices. Nothing is less alarming than a three-year-old story in National Geographic.

I have the best readers in all of Bloggery, one of whom has written to say that Jane Haddam's Flowering Judas is being published in August.

Thanks for the update -- I enjoy Jane Haddam as well!

I'd never heard the grinder/sausage metaphor - that's a good one. (Similar is: "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail".)

Oh yes - keeping up: the horror of it! What a sigh of relief I gave when I did a runner from editorial work and no longer felt it necessary to know the characters in the main soap operas, who played for which soccer team, what nonsense was currently the movie to see, which spotty youth was the passing sensation in popular music. Freedom!

I wish I knew of Paris’s Law when I decided to read "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which I count as quite possibly the worst book I've read in my life.
K-

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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