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No Book Dedication Should Be This Good
What Makes Great Writing #001 - Featuring Thomas L. Friedman
Last night, I started reading Thomas Friedman’s book Thank You For Being Late while sucking down a pistachio latte at Starbucks.
One page and two sips into the session, he hooked me.
The dedication alone did the trick.
Check it out:
My first thought (“this is so good”), was chased out of my brain by the second one: “why is this so good?”
I pulled out my editor’s scalpel and began the examination.
What makes great writing great writing? Friedman gives us a few clues:
“This is my seventh and, who knows, maybe my last book.”
One piece of advice most writers need to hear, whether they are penning how-to content, SEO articles, sales pages, advice columns, great American novels, or emails is this:
Specific headlines make you click. Specific instructions make you understand. Specific statistics make you believe.
As a bonus, the foreshadowing here is top drawer. Who says fiction writers should have all the fun?
(“I better read this book. It might be his last!”)
“Since I published From Beirut to Jerusalem in 1989, I have been extremely lucky to have had a special group of teacher-friends who have been with me on this journey, many starting with that first book and others on virtually every one since.”
Neuroscientist Steven Pinker would call this a “topic string transition.”
The sentence begins with an adverb clause, which matters only because it allows Friedman to begin his second sentence on the same topic as the first (books) before transitioning to a different topic (friends).
He also deploys a surprising non-word in the middle. “Teacher-friends.”
Why not use the word “mentor?”
Why not just “friends?”
For the same reason that the popular website “Humans of New York” is not called “New Yorkers.”
It’s more fun to say it funny.
“They have been incredibly generous in helping me think through ideas- over many years, over many hours, over many books and many columns.”
This is an odd one.
Glide over the first phrase past the dash, and you’ll see what appears to be a pretty classic tricolon + anaphora combo:
“Over many years,
Over many hours,
Over many books.”
Three elements of similar structure (that’s the tricolon part), all beginning with “over many” (that’s the anaphora part).
But then — “and many columns.” How are we supposed to classify that?
One real possibility is that Friedman decided a tetracolon would work. You could also argue this is instead an ascending tricolon, where the final element is simply longer:
“Over many years,
Over many hours,
Over many books and many columns.”
(Again, the ascending tricolon is a popular choice. See “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).
In any case, this line is a good reminder: technically perfect rhetoric gets old.
You start to feel like there are little construction workers running a jackhammer through your neurons.
“So this book is dedicated to them: Nahum Barnea, Stephen P. Cohen, Larry Diamond, John Doer, Yaron Ezrahi, Jonathan Galassi, Ken Greer, Hal Harvey, Andy Karsner, Amory Lovins, Glenn Prickett, Michael Mandelbaum, Craig Mundie, Michael Sandel, Joseph Sassoon, and Dov Seidman.”
Why name these folks?
The human reason is to thank them personally. Nahum, Stephen, Larry and the rest will open the book and feel warm fuzzies.
The rhetorical reason is called a “merism.” A merism is a list of items making up a whole. Specificity by default. These teacher friends have to be real, see? Here are the names.
“Their intellectual firepower has been awesome, their generosity has been extraordinary, and their friendship has been a blessing.”
We finish here with another good old fashioned tricolon here, with a heavy dose of parallel structure.
Parallel structure makes writing sound like music. Strip away the words and look at the bones of this sentence:
“Their A has been B,
their C has been D,
and their E has been F.”
Consider a less catchy alternative:
“Their intellectual firepower has been awesome, they have been very generous, and I am blessed to have their friendship.”
Mechanics have their engines. Contractors have their nuts and bolts. You and I have our words.
Luckily, words are enough.
Much love as always <3