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Connections: A Blaze of Words

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 19:19

Memorial Day seems an appropriate time to bid farewell to a longtime pursuit — in this case, this: my weekly column, “Connections,” which has appeared in The East Hampton Star, come rain or come shine, come hell or come high water, since 1977.

Because I have a penchant for numbers, I’ve been doing some counting. From April 28, 1977, until this week, in our rather awful year 2020, I penned 2,232 “Connections” columns. On average, I have written about 400 words per column, bringing me to some 892,000 words in my decades of ink-stained toil.

Yes, of course, quantity rather than quality is not what we are meant to crow about, but still. “Candide,” Voltaire’s masterpiece, is a mere 30,015 words. “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand — which, by the way, is totally not my cup of tea — is 645,000 words. As I think I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve written two-and-a-half times the verbiage of “War and Peace.”

Allow me then to say I’ve done my best, and my ambitions have always been high. If somebody were to peek into a side window of the Star office, now that the coronavirus has forced a lockdown, they would spy three full shelves of books on the writing craft and on journalism.

The heaviest is “Merchants of Truth,” a 2019 tome by Jill Abramson, the executive editor, managing editor, and Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. Two other books I have kept at my right hand are E. B. White and William Strunk Jr.’s timeless 1959 guide, “Elements of Style,” and “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” by Mary Norris, who began working at The New Yorker in 1978. (Writing in The New Yorker in 2015, Ms. Norris, whom I admire, compared her first reading of “Elements of Style” to learning how combustion engines work.)

Sharing shelf space with these trusty companions are well-worn dictionaries and assorted encyclopedias — bibliographies, a dictionary of quotations, and newspapering memoirs from the 1950s and 1960s . . . all the old-fashioned hardcovers that once cluttered a writer’s life. (How strange to think that young writers and journalists starting out today may not necessarily surround themselves with actual books!)

Chris and I are now resting on our laurels, so to speak, at Peconic Landing in Greenport, but my ambition remains. I plan to get to work on a memoir of my own about the writing life. I hope you might follow news of this endeavor here, in the pages of The Star, as I check in from time to time, but readers who have stuck with me this long might have to be patient: I won’t be working to deadline, anymore, but according to my own fancy. The column ends, but the blaze of words continues on. . . .


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