Posted in: Books
Tagged: 20th century
, 21st century
, non fiction
, On Writing Well
Some good advice for writers who would like to get better and a comprehensive demolition of clichés by bad writers in William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. As I point out every single damn time I do a post about good writing, forty years on from this book’s original publication, people are still making all the mistakes Zinsser pointed out as ancient and trite even at the time. Many a supposedly professional author or journalist is still allowing themselves to be “a writer lives in blissful ignorance that clichés are the kiss of death, if in the final analysis he leaves no stone unturned to use them, we can infer that he lacks an instinct for what gives language its freshness. Faced with a choice between the novel and the banal, he goes unerringly for the banal. His voice is the voice of a hack.”
Old never meets old
“There are many categories I’d be glad never to see again. One is the future archaeologist: “When some future archaeologist stumbles on the remains of our civilization, what will he make of the jukebox?” I’m tired of him already and he’s not even here. I’m also tired of the visitor from Mars: “If a creature from Mars landed on our planet he would be amazed to see hordes of scantily clad earthlings lying on the sand barbecuing their skins.” I’m tired of the cute event that just happened to happen “one day not long ago” or on a conveniently recent Saturday afternoon: “One day not long ago a small button-nosed boy was walking with his dog, Terry, in a field outside Paramus, N.J., when he saw something that looked strangely like a balloon rising out of the ground.” And I’m very tired of the have-in-common lead: “What did Joseph Stalin, Douglas MacArthur, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sherwood Anderson, Jorge Luis Borges and Akira Kurosawa have in common? They all loved Westerns.” Let’s retire the future archaeologist and the man from Mars and the button-nosed boy. Try to give your lead a freshness of perception or detail…
Towns situated in hills (or foothills) are nestled— I hardly ever read about an unnestled town in the hills— and the countryside is dotted with byways, preferably half forgotten. This is a world where old meets new— old never meets old.”
Ego and egotism
“A thin line separates ego from egotism. Ego is healthy; no writer can go far without it. Egotism, however, is a drag, and this chapter is not intended as a license to prattle just for therapy. Again, the rule I suggest is: Make sure every component in your memoir is doing useful work. Write about yourself, by all means, with confidence and with pleasure. But see that all the details—people, places, events, anecdotes, ideas, emotions—are moving your story steadily along… Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all.”
“The common assumption is that the style is effortless. In fact the opposite is true: the effortless style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining. The nails of grammar and syntax are in place and the English is as good as the writer can make it… writing is the expression of every person’s individuality, and we know what we like when it comes along. Again, however, much can be gained by knowing what to omit. Clichés, for instance.”
Posted in: Back story
, Eastern bloc
, Eastern Europe
, silly costumes
, World War II
I think the internet has rewired my brain. Nowadays when I’m reading a book (you know, the things made of bound paper), I’m constantly distracted by passing references or random facts because some part of me immediately knows I could look it up. One recent example occurred while I was reading about Jewish/Zionist terrorism in Palestine after WWII, which was mainly focused on forcing the colonial British to leave. There was a fleeting mention that the Mufti of Jerusalem had been involved in recruiting Muslims into the Nazi SS. Obviously there’s “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” to consider, but Nazi Muslims? Outside of the crazed, ignorant, hateful imaginations of certain Republicans in the US, I mean?
It’s true. The 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar didn’t actually operate in Palestine, but they were mostly recruited in 1943 from Bosnian Muslims to fight on the Axis side against Yugoslav partisans. A combination of naive orientalism, pseudoscience and the good old standby of Nazi hypocrisy allowed Heinrich Himmler to convince himself and his racist idiot cronies that Bosnian Muslims fit into the nonsensical genealogy of the so-called Aryan race. They definitely had nothing to do with Slavs, oh no, definitely not. The hardline Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni– fairly indiscriminately opposed to the British and to Jews no matter where they came from– was brought in to convince and legitimise Bosnian Muslims into defying their own Islamic clerics, who had expressly and unanimously (and wisely) forbidden their communities from getting involved with nationalist causes or the Nazis.
In common with all their other Schutzstaffel colleagues, the 13th Waffen distinguished themselves mainly for their indiscriminate brutality both in battle and against unarmed non-combatants. In this case it was mainly Serbian civilians who bore the brunt of war crimes that were punished afterwards with executions of the perpetrators. And of course, much like the rest of the SS with their Hugo Boss uniforms, the horror of what they did was somehow accentuated by the fact that they always turned up for mass murder, genocide and hatred immaculately styled, covered in logos… and in the case of the 13th Division, wearing a fez.
Members of the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS. You can probably work it out for yourself, but the pamphlet they’re reading is ‘Islam and Judaism’.
Posted in: Back story
, Adolf Hitler
, body language
, Don't mention the War
, silly costumes
Recently I was looking at a book about the world’s most photographed people. The book was published by the National Portrait Gallery in London and is called ‘Knit Twenty Outfits for Pet Monkeys at Home’- no, not really. Obviously it’s called ‘The World’s Most Photographed’. It’s by Robin Muir.
Anyway, the inevitable chapter about Adolf Hitler had this fabulous picture of the Führer looking exactly like the totally camp and podgy old knob end he really was [left].
- < “Fierce”, “work it bitch”, and so forth. Hitler in Lederhosen, Munich circa 1926, camp as Christmas.