Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
The New York Times’ hoary slogan, “All the news that’s fit to print” needs an update. In light of the newspaper’s relegation of some political books to its list of “advice” and “how-to” best-sellers, let us suggest, “All the print that fits our views.”
Being dumped into “advice” rather than the more prestigious and potentially profitable “nonfiction” list means the books in question, “A Simple Government” by Mike Huckabee, and “Revolt” by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, are likely to sell fewer copies. (Bulletin! Huckabee escaped last week, climbing back into “nonfiction.” Morris and McGann remained in publishing Siberia.)
One wonders why some current entries on the nonfiction list didn’t join Morris and Huckabee in “advice” purgatory. Isn’t Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” child-rearing advice? Doesn’t David Brooks’ “The Social Animal” suggest routes to success or failure?
And “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortensen and David Relin still is hanging around on the paperback nonfiction list, when it’s clearly a book about how to build girls’ schools in benighted Pakistan.
It all makes one wonder what would have happened if the current staff at the Times had been around in generations past. What classics would have ended up in the “advice” and “how-to” classifications? Perhaps we would have had a list like the following:
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville: “Ismael” shows how to catch whales, with an inventory of necessary equipment. He also settles the question of whether or not a whale is a fish.
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Hester Prynne shows how skill in embroidery can deflect a social stigma.
“Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain: The joys of river rafting, from how to anchor in the lee of an island to appropriate provisions.
“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:” Practical kite flying and discussion-group organization.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen: How to marry up.
Moving forward in time, the list-makers would add:
“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair: How to select the best cuts of meat.
“The Sun also Rises” by Ernest Heminway: How to get the most out of your tour of sunny Spain.
“Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham: Clearly, this would belong in the realm of “adult intimacy.”
“The Making of the President, 1960″ by Theodore H. White: How to become president by really, really trying.
One of our favorite contemporary authors, David McCullough, would make the how-to list with:
“The Great Bridge:” How to survive the bends and create and engineering marvel, and “The Path Between the Seas:” How to dig a great, big ditch, beat malaria and show those French a thing or two.
If you want to be thoroughly up to date, you would include J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, which shows how to survive boarding school and defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
We invite your suggestions of other titles the Times staff might have moved from the fiction or nonfiction lists into the advice/how-to section.
Of course, you are free to speculate that Morris et al. were treated shabbily because of their connection with Fox News, which does not conform to the Times’ standards of journalistic ethics.
And our own source at the newspaper, best-seller list staffer Jill Poke, explained, “The fact is, it has been annoying to have authors like Huckabee, Morris and (here she shuddered) Ann Coulter crowd out smarter writers. You know, the ones who agree with those like us who graduated from Brown or Berkeley – or even U. Wisconsin, Madison.”
She concluded, “The implication of their big sales is that people who watch Fox News buy more books than us smart people. It’s intolerable!”