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If you can't say something nice.

If You Can't Say Something Nice.

Calvin Trillin. Ticknor Fields, $16.95. Who buys collections of newspaper columns? It was not too long ago that a writer had to die before his collected journalism appeared between two hard covers; today, the genre seems to be catching up in sales to self-help manuals and diet books. (This is Trillin's third anthology, which ties him with George Will and Ellen Goodman --not bad for someone writing once a week.) Most collections are dreadful. Last year's punditry and wit yellows faster than newsprint, and these books must, like Reader's Digest condensed novels, wind up as wall covering in bathrooms and summer cottages.

That prefatory grumble aside, it has to be said that Calvin Trillin deserves a special exemption from the rule that one should be decrepit or deceased before republishing-- the man is undeniably funny. If Mark Twain and S.J. Perelman could have married, Trillin might have been their issue. With his folksy deadpan, his carping, and his more-of-a-schlemiel-than-thou shtick, Trillin has backed his way to the front of the line of newspaper humorists. Only Russell Baker, who deploys his tricks, unbelievably, thrice weekly, merits comparison.

Baker probably has the broader repertoire of amusements, but Trillin has a lock on the one-liner crown. And nothing elicits his gift as much as the current administration. Michael Deaver "is so close to Ronald and Nancy Reagan that he is often described as being like a son to them--something that has never been said of their own children.'
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Copyright 1987, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Benjamin, Daniel
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1987
Words:253
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