Trend Stetting 10: Listful Thinking
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a numbered list. The Old Testament knew it, Letterman knows it, Cosmo knows it, and we certainly know it around here: Amazon’s editors pick our 10 favorite books each month and our top 100 annually. And every time we put a list on Omnivoracious, you guys can’t get enough of it.
Neither can I, so the first Trend Stetting of the shiny new year is devoted to a list of books that made it onto my nightstand but not into my column during 2011. To keep things egalitarian, this particular list is both numbered and alphabetized. By, hmm, author’s last name. (Yes, that was arbitrary. I’m the Decider on alternating Tuesdays.)
1. Help! for Writers, Roy Peter Clark
Clark, a distinguished scholar and teacher, has made a habit of publishing accessibly nerdy books on language. Some are wonkier than others—you might remember his optimistically titled The Glamour of Grammar—but Help! for Writers delivers on its promise with effective simplicity. It’s a light, skimmable read full of practical advice on how to turn the struggle to put words on paper into a feasible lifestyle: For example, eat out. Read graffiti. Use search engines. Revise at every stage. Index and date your notebooks. And, of course, keep lots of lists.
2. Word Hero, Jay Heinrichs
“Witcraft,” as Heinrichs defines it, is the elevation of bon mot to art form. His goal is to teach laypeople how to become masters of pith, and though I’d argue you’re either born with it or you’re not, he does a fine job of selling the possibility that such talent can be learned. “Consider it a course in self-taught heroism,” Heinrich shouts from the sidelines, “and use it to develop your own unforgettability.” If you think of him less as a wizened professor and more as a life coach, you’re likely to get a boost in confidence from this book. Remember: If you don’t wordplay the game, you can’t win. (See how I did that? Right there?)
3. Microstyle, Christopher Johnson
Subtitled “The Art of Writing Little,” Johnson’s “field guide to the age of the incredible shrinking message” stands in philosophical opposition to Word Hero, even as it aims for a similar goal: Do more with less, especially as a means of selling yourself or your product. But this time the advice stems from a PhD in linguistics, and Johnson’s deconstruction of headlines and catchphrases offers a fascinating look at human psychology and how we respond to language as a trigger for nostalgia, desire, and other emotions that shouldn’t reasonably be associated with Clairol or Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Microstyle almost feels like an evil dictator’s manual for taking over the world, one beautifully structured Apple tagline at a time.
This post is getting a little heavy, isn’t it? What with the dictator talk and all. Let’s take a break and enjoy a completely unnecessary, thoroughly entertaining book that is, in fact, just one giant list of 101 phrases that Wilson thinks we ought to excise from our cultural vocabulary. Some hail from bygone eras (cool/wicked, step up to the plate, national treasure), some are ripped straight from a Belieber’s Twitter feed (girl crush, LOL, bromance), and nearly all are best avoided. Give this mental palate cleanser to your dad and watch him guffaw; give it your tween and watch her use it as a coaster. Either way, you haven’t thought about dictators for at least two or three minutes.
5. Gobbledygook, William Wilson
It’s a dictionary! It’s a game! Thanks to the second Mr. Wilson in this list, you can have both in one cute, portable package. If you’ve ever played Balderdash or thought about naming a pet Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious—and if you read Trend Stetting, you probably have—you’ll get a kick out of this fun, informative book. Each set of three convincingly defined words contains one fake. Is it brannigan, variola, or norphite? Flype, moffan, or slavocracy? Turn the page to see the answer. If you guessed right, little Docious gets a treat.
6. The Bloomberg Way, Matthew Winkler
OK, break’s over. Time to get back to work, and one of the most trusted names in modern media is here to lend a hand. In this concise, straightforward guide for reporters and editors, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News explains how to think, research, and write the Bloomberg Way. Starting with Bloomberg’s founding tenets, the Five Fs, then navigating through the fundamentals of grammar and style, Winkler spells out the principles of financial writing that have earned his news service its reputation for clarity and accuracy. If you write about business in any form, shelve this book in your cube next to the AP Stylebook and Wired Style. It won’t have time to gather much dust.