The Corner

Impromptus

Mick, Moby, and More

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones performs in Marseille, June 26, 2018. (Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters)

What’s in Impromptus today? Some impeachment (with a focus on GOP senators). Some philosophy (nothing heavy-duty). Some gnashing of teeth (over Yale’s cancelation of its classic art-history survey). And more.

I quote Caddyshack and Bill Buckley. In other words, it is an Impromptus column.

Let’s have a little mail. One reader responds to an item in my column of last Thursday — this one:

On Tuesday, Jack Nicklaus turned 80. Let me give you a memory. In about 1990, some friends and I were sitting around, playing an interesting game: If you could invite three people for a dinner of four, who would they be? We took religious figures and family and friends off the table. We were talking about personages such as Shakespeare, Bach, Helen of Troy, and Lincoln.

I said that one of my guests would be — no kidding — Jack Nicklaus. To think he was then only 50 years old . . .

Our reader says — straightforwardly — “Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Mick Jagger.” That is a helluva trio, I must say. I would like to interview them all, at length (and independently).

In that same column (Thursday), I mentioned meeting a professor at Cedarville University, who reads books with his wife. They read them aloud, in the evenings — a very pleasant pastime.

A reader says,

My wife and I have had the same habit for the more than 20 years of our marriage. I regard it as one of the important ways that we spend time together as a couple. Our reading has centered on literary classics (her favorite author is Austen, mine is Dickens), but we have also read contemporary literature, history, biography, adventure stories, and much more. My wife has such a lively, insightful mind. It’s such a pleasure to share these books with her.

Our standard joke, however, regards Moby-Dick. She hated that book and cannot fathom why it is regarded as a classic. You and I may disagree, but it is certainly an independent thought. I like to tease her about her “lack of appreciation for a great classic.”

I have no opinion on the book (having skimmed it, years ago, distractedly). I recommend this 2014 piece by Rich Lowry.

Another letter — responding to my Impromptus of last Monday:

Jay,

I am not uneducated, with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. However, I have no clue what “À chacun son goût” might mean. “Déjà vu” is a common enough term that I think everyone understands.

It is not infrequent that I find foreign words in National Review articles about which I have no clue. Has anyone at NR considered the possibility that some readers don’t speak French? . . .

Otherwise, I enjoyed the Impromptus as always.

This is an old question, for a writer: How much do you assume? Do you err on the side of spelling out? Or do you err on the side of assuming (or making the reader work)? You insult some readers either way. You insult them by condescending or you insult them by assuming, or making them work (i.e., look up).

I once had an editor who made me say, “Ludwig van Beethoven, a German composer of Dutch ancestry, born in 1770 . . .” (I’m exaggerating, but the point stands.)

In an older NR — the one I read when coming of age — WFB and his posse threw around foreign phrases all the time: foreign phrases that were part of the repertoire of writers everywhere. They did it for felicity, for fun, and for other reasons. I learned a lot from them. I often had to look up what they wrote — and, you know, it was hard, in those pre-Internet days! Now it takes a flick of the finger. Or you could ask this chick named Siri.

What are foreign phrases that we may know, over the course of time? We’ve already had a French phrase, or two. Let’s take two more, from two other Romance languages: “il dolce far niente”; and “Que será, será.” (Someone made a song out of that second one.)

In any event, this issue will go on and on, ad infinitum (as WFB might say, with his penchant for Latin).

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