UK paperback

The best way to think of

Anthony Lane thinks better than you

New Yorker1 film reviewer Anthony Lane opens his “critic’s notebook” thus:

The best way to think of “Detour,” which shows at BAM on Nov. 16, is as a kind of anti-“Cleopatra.”

The best way to think of the strategy of opening an article with the phrase “The best way to think of x” is as follows. The writer is announcing:

Before committing forefinger to keyboard, I already saw all the ways it is humanly possible to think about this subject, and having surveyed them pitilessly in my phat brain, I am now going to do you the service, dear reader who is not as clever as I, of revealing the best way to think of it. Do not under any circumstances try to think about it in another way. You will just be wasting your time! Just sit back and observe me thinking about it in the best way. Oh, you may applaud, I suppose.

Of course you do not necessarily need to be a genius of pantactical thought, like Anthony Lane, in order to attempt this ploy. Indeed, in theory, it would even be possible for a writer to announce that what he was going to say was the best way to think of his subject even though it was actually the only way to think of the subject that popped into his poor, befuddled head three minutes before deadline.

Liberal use of the best way to think of may thus be heartily commended to all writers who would like to achieve a rarefied level of intellectual pomposity without actually being obliged to think as hard as a pettifoggingly literal reading of the phrase might indicate.

  1. Previously in “annoying New Yorker-ese”: Put it to me this way.
7 comments
  1. 1  Bart King  November 11, 2009, 8:46 pm 

    The best way to think of my response to this piece:

    Oof!

  2. 2  James  November 12, 2009, 8:21 am 

    Also in that class “The real lesson of X is …”

    http://tinyurl.com/thereallesson

  3. 3  Steven  November 13, 2009, 9:03 am 

    Yes, “the real lesson” works in quite a similar way: nice spot.

  4. 4  Degrus  November 13, 2009, 10:08 am 

    When I read this I immediately thought of James Wood. So I Googled “James Wood the best way to think”; the best it yielded was this:

    The best way to offer a sense of this writer might be to take a scene, and a sentence, from “By Night in Chile,” still his greatest work.

    (from here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04......html?_r=1)

    I’m not sure the level of conceit is as great here as it is in the Lane, but there can’t be much in it. It’s still mightily annoying. All he’s saying is: “I’m about to quote from my favourite of the author’s books”. But he can’t say this without telling us that, in quoting, he’s also doing something else – something very difficult and impressive. His “might” is neither here nor there; “still his greatest” has done for that “might”. Wood isn’t just quoting; he’s providing the best way to think of this writer. Many reviewers wouldn’t admit that this is what they’re up to every time they wield a quote, but Wood takes the trouble, just in case.

  5. 5  Barney  November 15, 2009, 3:07 pm 

    It’s good to see this blog entry now holds the number 3 spot in the Google search that Steven provided for us; and I find the use of the phrase in the very first result quite alarming:

    More than 112 million years after its death, a new dinosaur species’ head has been lifted from the oblivion of a rock formation near Harlowton.

    Tatankacephalus cooneyorum, a new species of ankylosaur, would have been a four-legged herbivore measuring 15 to 20 feet long, standing about 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing more than two tons.

    “The best way to think of it is like a horned toad,” said Kris Parsons, who along with her husband, Bill, discovered the animal in 1996.

    Other ankylosaurs had clublike tails, but the Parsons couldn’t find any fossil evidence to say if that was true of this species. Tatankacephalus did have a protective, armorlike plating and two sets of spikes on each side of its head. It was discovered in the Early Cretaceous Cloverly geologic formation.

    Billings Gazette

    Thinking of a 2 ton, 6 foot high, armour-plated horned toad may be a very good way of giving me nightmares (maybe even the best so far today), but I’m really struggling to think in what other way it could be ‘best’.

  6. 6  Steven  November 15, 2009, 4:44 pm 

    I’m now having trouble calling anything to mind that isn’t best thought of as a horned toad. “Melanie Phillips”? Check…

  7. 7  Steven  November 16, 2009, 9:39 am 

    George Osborne? Check…



stevenpoole.net

hit parade

guardian articles


older posts

archives



blogroll