Striking out

Letters to the Boston editor, July 6, 2007

Dan Shaughnessy haters need to grow some balls and quit whining about how “mean” he is. The fact is, Schilling is a Republican egomaniac and Manny probably did quit at the end of 2006. As for Shaughnessy’s writing style: in these times, when Americans can’t seem to remember what happened yesterday, Shaughnessy makes references to things that happened throughout the entire history of baseball. Baseball is a game of tradition; the attention given to the numbers and records of the game are testament to that. The people who designed the “kick Shaughnessy’s ass” game probably do live in their mother’s basement. And to make fun of someone because he’s not pretty is childish and lame. Shaughnessy’s columns are smart and funny and I always look forward to the next one.

Chris Johansen

Adam Reilly’s compelling and entertaining look at how so many readers respond to Dan Shaughnessy’s writing touches lots of bases, and is well to the point. But I think Reilly misses the key reason for the highly negative response so many readers have to Shaughnessy’s column. It’s his penchant for cleverness, which is a terrible blight on today’s writing landscape, especially in newspaper columns and among bloggers.

The seven things Reilly points to as reasons why readers “hate” Shaughnessy obviously don’t prevent the haters from reading him on a regular basis. That’s because, despite everything, Shaughnessy still covers stories readers care about, still gets inside some of his stories in ways others have not, and nearly always provokes an emotional response. Those are strengths in writing, not weaknesses, even if we despise his self-importance, the conclusions he draws, the fights he picks, and all the other shortcomings of his work.

After all, Shaughnessy has what I like to call the Dennis Miller syndrome. (“See how clever I am? The proof: only a few of you got my reference!”) He shows condescension to simple statements of fact, as if they cannot possibly be of any value in the larger picture he’s seeking to draw with his writing. The result is lack of genuine insight, which has become the hallmark of Shaughnessy’s writing.

There’s nothing wrong with analogy, metaphor, or even strong negativity and derision in a newspaper column. It’s how you use them. Bob Ryan knows how, and his columns on baseball consistently excel. Frank Rich knows how, and his New York Times column tears away the thin veil of the Bush administration’s every action. He certainly pulls no punches, but unlike Shaughnessy, his prose serves the story and the objective, not the cleverness of the writer.

Scott Cooper
Newton Highlands

Born free
I generally agree with your view of Salman Rushdie’s knighthood in the June 22 editorial (“Rushdie’s Courage”), but there’s one phrase in the article that puts me off: you say that Rushdie was “born a Muslim.” You should exercise more terminological hygiene. No one is born Muslim or Christian or Jewish in the religious as opposed to the ethnic sense. This is not just a fussy technicality. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins points out that we often hear the phrase “Christian child” or “Muslim child.” By way of analogy, he notes that it would be considered ridiculous if not offensive to talk about a Marxist child or a Republican child. So why do we indulge this way of talking when religions are concerned?

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