First, I’d Like to Thank the Academy . . .
From The Scrapbook
Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook has a well-documented weakness for acknowledgments. No, not the virtue of gratitude or the practice of recognizing indebtedness in general. We refer to those explanatory paragraphs, usually appended to the end of a book, where authors traditionally thanked the various libraries and archives they had consulted.
Except that, what really keeps The Scrapbook entertained is the fact that nowadays Acknowledgments are veritable Oscar-award-winning orgies of recognition. They are, in truth, prime specimens of what we might call the self-infatuation of the baby boom generation. Today, a typical Acknowledgments page will not just thank the usual suspects but also include a long list of friends, colleagues, mentors, and celebrity acquaintances—all carefully and conspicuously named—as well as a shout-out to agents, editors, publicists, long-suffering spouses, and neglected offspring. If the author first learned about excise taxes while a student at Yale, or during a session at the Aspen Institute, we will be sure to hear about it.
Some author-celebrities, like -Fareed Zakaria, Ph.D., of CNN’s -Fareed Zakaria GPS, are past masters of the genre, consuming several pages with self-deprecating banter designed to assure us that they know everything and everybody. But some, such as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, are nominally more subtle.
For example, Blood Money, Ignatius’s latest “novel of espionage”—yes, it is so described on the dust jacket and, yes, novels now have Acknowledgments—features a comparatively modest single page of Acknowledgments proving, in the name-dropping game, that sometimes less is more. There is, of course, the author’s patented self-regard, which yields sentences—“I have tried to paint my fiction using colors that are true to life”—that The Scrapbook cannot imagine being written by, say, George Eliot. And then, because Blood Money is set in Pakistan, readers must feel a certain insider thrill to know that “my most important guides and advisers are best left unnamed here.”
Not everything is life-and-death serious, however: “I owe a special debt to Pakistan scholar extraordinaire Christine Fair of Georgetown University, whose knowledge of Punjabi curse words is surely unmatched this side of Lahore.” O, to spend a rollicking evening trading Punjabi epithets with Professor Fair!
In one instance, Ignatius does exercise a measure of restraint which, in its exquisite formulation, is more effective than just dropping the H‑bomb. He begins with an extended tribute to the left-wing writer and law professor Garrett Epps, “my closest friend since we met at college more than forty years ago,” without whose “generous and patient help” the world might have been deprived of the novels of David Ignatius. Perhaps so. But was The Scrapbook shocked to learn that the college where this monumental friendship began was Harvard? Of course not.
Nor was The Scrapbook especially surprised that the sense of restraint was gradually relaxed as the sentences rolled on. Ignatius thanks his friend, lawyer Jonathan Schiller, for providing a “hideaway” at his law firm; and while he doesn’t explain why a well-compensated Post columnist would need a hideaway in the first place, he does let us know the name of the white-shoe firm involved (Boies, Schiller & Flexner). And when it comes to the obligatory spousal tribute, he punctiliously identifies his wife as “Dr. Eve Ignatius.”
It is left to the reader to guess whether Dr. Ignatius is a cardiologist or a professor, but The Scrapbook suspects that the title would not have been included if she were, say, “Master Sgt. Eve Ignatius.”
God and Man at Vanderbilt
The Scrapbook is closely watching the fight at Vanderbilt University between the administration and a number of student religious organizations. Last fall, Vanderbilt placed five religious groups on provisional status for being in violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy, and four of these remain threatened with removal from campus.
A little background: The university’s reevaluation of its student groups stems from an incident in the fall of 2010, when Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi revoked the membership of an openly gay brother. The situation divided the campus over how religious organizations should be allowed to constitute themselves. Most have recognized that membership in student organizations should be open to all—the dispute centers on how members choose their leaders.