Mon 03


Company Some people were confused and disturbed by my blog about “Rub-a-Dub-Dub.” They wanted to know if I was seriously upset about a children’s book featuring a duck. To which the answer is: yes. Yes, I was. In fact, every time I go into that bathroom and see that little vinyl horror sitting in the corner, it bothers me all over again. I can’t see inside its chewable pages, but I know that “Quack-a-doodle-do” is lurking there. These sorts of things play on your mind.

Going crazy? No, I’ve always been like this. I’m just opening up.

In less confusing and disturbing news, Company is apparently going great guns. My editor, Bill, e-mailed me:

COMPANY rolls on…another reprint.

This was very exciting, because I’ve never been reprinted in hardcover before. (I have in paperback. Syrup is now up to its ninth printing or something ridiculous. But according to my royalty statement, it has still sold hardly any copies. The only explanation I can think of is that the publisher is doing tiny print runs—like maybe ten books at a time. This would make sense, since this is my ex-publisher, Penguin Putnam, who dropped me like an envelope full of Anthrax after Syrup failed to scale the bestseller lists. If I were a little more bitter and vindictive, I would cackle with glee every time they’re forced to reprint, and fire off e-mails to everyone I ever worked with there saying, “How do you like me now, huh? Huh? HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW??”)

Any reprint is terrific, because it means the book has done at least a little better than the publisher expected. But that “another” in Bill’s e-mail puzzled me. I queried him about it, thinking maybe—maybe—this wasn’t the second printing at all; maybe, if I was really lucky, it was the third. Bill replied:

4th, as a matter of fact.

Hot damn! Even if these are tiny print runs, that’s fantastic. Everyone who bought a copy, I’m thinking of you right now. Not individually, obviously. That would take too long. I’m imagining an amorphous, book-buying blob. No, really. It’s the least I could do.

Company has also picked up a couple of great new reviews, most notably in The Economist. What I especially liked about this one is that it called me “a master of short sentences and the passive tense,” and this outraged a group of linguists so much that they wrote an essay about it:

[T]he passive involves a voice contrast; it has absolutely nothing in common with tense. I am astonished, all over again, at how educated people can commit blunders as extreme as this one in print, and editors don’t even notice.

Clearly you don’t want to mess with people whose idea of a funny joke begins: “I was walking across campus with a friend and we came upon half a dozen theoretical linguists committing unprovoked physical assault on a defenseless prescriptivist…”

Update: In the comments, Mark Liberman—one of those outraged linguists—points out that this isn’t the first time my scribblings have caught their attention. There is this article from 2004, in which Mark discusses Jennifer Government’s use of “And yet.” It took me a while to work out whether I was being praised or dissed—I think it’s praised—and the more I read of their web site, the more stupid and uneducated I felt. To rectify this, I plan not to visit their site again.