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December 30, 2004

Here's the Difference Between Good Writing and Bad

by Ron Hogan

A year-end ask-the-experts feature in Slate gathers together the opinions of several creators and critics on the most amazing or disappointing cultural events of 2004. As might be expected, the quality of the responses varies; some people provoke genuine interest in their chosen topics, while others take yet another opportunity to pontificate.

  • Terry Teachout: "John Patrick Shanley did the impossible this year: He wrote an exciting play about the sex scandal in the Roman Catholic priesthood."
  • Stanley Crouch: "One can never underestimate the human importance of the aesthetic contributions to television narrative that HBO continues to make."

Now, obviously, my critical reaction may be shaped somewhat by experiences which lead me to perceive Teachout as a charming and generous fellow and Crouch as a jumped-up "minor man." But I think any objective reader, not knowing who wrote the sentences above, could quickly identify which is snappy prose and which is pompous blather. Among the others who get it right are Daniel Handler and Douglas Wolk; Kenneth M. Pollack loses points for starting both sentences in his contribution with "I suspect," and for writing about The Lord of the Rings, which is more of a 2001-3 cultural event with some spillover into '04--but reasonable minds can quibble about that last point.

Most curious feature: Dana Stevens cites blogs as her cultural touchstone, but the only bloggers Slate asked to contribute are Stevens and Teachout, both of whom are, it's fair to say, journalists first and bloggers second. Apparently we haven't quite made it yet...or perhaps we have, since the Newsday book roundup leads with recommendations from Maud Newton...

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