Friday, November 23, 2012

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking

1979, 1988 Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Jessica Mitford
Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking
Original price $8.95, purchase price $5.40
Worn paperback with partially torn front cover

A collection of articles, some investigative reporting, others on some relatively uncontroversial topics, like "frenemies."  Equally good are Mitford's behind-the-scenes "Comments," discussing where the ideas came from, whether and how the articles were changed upon publication, and reaction, if any.  Best of the bunch are "Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers," which brought down a mail-order business, temporarily anyway; "My Short and Happy Life as a Distinguished Professor," which I enjoyed all the more as a graduate of the Cal State system; and the Comment on her two articles about a rip-off posh restaurant.  As Carl Bernstein says in his Afterword, Mitford tells and shows how to be a good reporter, including realizing your mistakes.  (She seems as gleeful about angles she missed as a frenemy would be.)

Mitford sisters notes:  "Frenemies" comes from one sister's term for a childhood companion (although Wikipedia credits Walter Winchell with the first published usage), and Nancy comes up a couple times, in the discussion of Jessica's visits to the set of The Loved One of course, and also in "You-All and Non-You-All," whose title had to be changed for American readers.

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