Patty Terhune, May 14: I highlighted practically the entire "Modern Sports" essay because I thought it was just such a great premise, but when I hit the last line, "Because in New York it's not whether you win or lose -- it's how you lay the blame," I felt like I had a lightbulb explode in my brain.
That whole essay could have been just for that one-liner and it would have been worth it.
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Caitlin, May 13: To get us going on this discussion, I’m going to focus on a line from the very first page of the collection, from the very first essay, entitled, “My Day: An Introduction of Sorts.” Lebowitz is talking about waking up in the afternoon to a phone call from an agent in Los Angeles. Here’s the sentence that sent me whirling:
“He is audibly tan.”
The first time I read that I had to shut my book and sit back. In four words, she had managed to sum up this entire “character” as well as her disdain for him and all he has to say to her. Later on in the exact same graph she adds, “he chuckles tanly” and by that point I am fully laughing out loud, incredibly on board with the very specific choice of dragging someone for the amount of tanness contained in their vocal cords.
I personally have a tendency to be fairly bloated in my early drafts (of emails, journals, humor pieces), so where Lebowitz’s work really shines for me are in these small moments where she is incredibly precise in her language and imagery to create the character of the person she’s talking about.
Here are a few other 1-2 line examples of the master at work:
“All of God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.” The thing I love about the first sentence here is that the natural tendency is to say, “NOT all of God's children are beautiful." By moving the "not" toward the end, the sentence packs a bigger comedic punch.
From “Breeding Will Tell: A Family Treatment”
“There once appeared in a magazine a photograph of myself taken under obviously youthful circumstances.” Referring to your own childlike appearance as “obviously youthful circumstances” is barely longer than the original phrasing, but approximately 547% funnier (using comedy math).
And the first sentence from “Better Read Than Dead: A Revised Opinion”
“My attendance at grammar school coincided rather unappealingly with the height of the cold war.” BAM! We’re in the setting, the time period, and we get the massive understatement of “rather unappealingly” before hearing about how she had to do bomb drills and read about the horrors of Communism. This whole essay is a great example of reframing something that was clearly negative in many elements and mining them for humor by using a contrasting tone.
We’ll be back soon with musings from the next 40 pages of the book - and please share your thoughts with us as well!
May your voices be audibly tan,
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