Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I have never been tempted to read a book whose title starts with "The Portable". These two words, side by side at the head of a book cover, conjure up memories of assigned reading. Besides, I'm not gonna let some expert tell me which Walt Whitman poems to read! If I want to read Leaves of Grass cover to cover, by gad I will! (I haven't and probably won't.) Still, two months ago I made an exception. Partly because of my natural sympathy towards saucy broads and partly (mostly) because of the gorgeous jacket art by the graphic novelist Seth. Also, as far as I can tell, and I'm basing this statement on no research whatsoever, there don't seem to be any other books by Dorothy Parker in print other than the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker. Baby, I make rules to break 'em.

Anyway, I did what most readers dare not do. I read the whole damn thing. (I think that may have become the motto of this blog: I finish books no one else is dumb enough to.) And having done so, I'm pretty sure even the editors at Penguin didn't bother to do so either. I'm pretty sure the intern was assigned the task of putting together the last, and therefore least important, section of the book, "Letters, 1905-1962". No research was done, unless a name could easily be found on Wikipedia (i.e. F. Scott Fitzgerald gets a footnote). No thought was put into whether or not a letter was actually worth publishing. Dates are omitted, context completely overlooked. Who the hell are Betty and Tony? Who the hell cares? said the intern. No one's going to get this far anyway. My favorite example of editorial laziness (ever, not just here) is the inclusion of this note, probably written in Kahlua on a cocktail napkin, if I know my Parker. The letter is to Harold Ross, founder and editor of The New Yorker. "Ah, look, Harold. Isn't it cute?" A footnote indicates that "it" refers to a "cartoon illustration of novelist Edna Ferber, drawn in pencil by Parker". The cartoon itself is not shown. Just those boozy words. And somehow that made the cut. Thank goodness.

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