Reading mysteries is a “vice”

Word count: 269 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence by Edmund Wilson I read recently that I’d happily imitate.  

I LOVE witticisms. Anything that’s clever gives me an abiding sense of satisfaction that somehow seems out of proportion to the level of the cleverness employed. Perhaps that’s why I so deeply enjoyed the following sentence from the article Easy Writers by Arthur Krystal, appearing in the May 28/12 New Yorker.

Reading mysteries, [Edmund] Wilson concluded, “is a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.” 

There is so much to enjoy in that sentence by Wilson [pictured here]: I like that he implies mystery reading is a “vice” but a silly one. (Silly is a great word but silliness is even better! I think this has something to do with the hissing sibilance of the “s” next to the sharp precision of the “l.” Of course, this is then followed by the awkwardness of  a quick “ness” — more sibilance — at the ending.)

I don’t know when Wilson made this comment (the writer and man of letters was born in 1895 and died in 1972) but I suspect it was long before smoking was recognized as the health hazard it is seen as today. Even now, however, I find the juxtaposition of reading mysteries, doing crossword puzzles and smoking to be quite hilarious!