Words About Words About Words

Not a still-life watercolor, but close enough. A little reading material and all, in its own subterranean way, interconnected.

by Terry Wieland

Gray’s readers like to read.

If that seems like a fatuous truism, then I congratulate you not only on your perspicacity but on your vocabulary. 

A truism it is, indeed, like saying eaters like to eat. But, as with clichés which only become clichés because they’re true, and remain so for a long time, being a fatuous (definition: silly and pointless) truism does not make it wrong.

I plead guilty to silly, not guilty to pointless. And the point is this.

For as long as I’ve been associated with the magazine, we at Gray’s have had this battle between the so-called modernizers insisting we need more photographs, and the traditionalists, of whom I am one, maintaining that — since we are a literary magazine, and our readers read, otherwise they wouldn’t be here — what we need to give them are words. Not pictures — words!

For those who haven’t noticed, magazine word counts (that is, words per article) have been steadily declining for the last 30 years. At one time, an article in Field & Stream would run 3,500 to 5,000 words as a matter of course. That gradually declined, a thousand words at a time, until by the end, they were limiting length to 750 words to go with a half-dozen photos.  Late last year, F&S closed its doors as a printed-on-paper magazine in favor of becoming yet another online “ ‘zine .” Cause and effect, or effect and cause?

Gray’s word count for non-fiction features, such as our hunting and fishing travel articles, still runs to 3,000 words, and fiction, which has been our raison d’être from the beginning, can go 5,000 words with no problem. Why? Because great fiction of the stamp of The Snows of Kilimanjaro often requires length in order to have depth, and every word is worth reading, contemplating, reflecting upon and, quite often, reading again.

Gray’s readers also tend to be worldly, literate, and reflective people, interested in that which lies between the ears as well as that which lies beyond the seas. 

That being the case, I’d like to share a couple of things which many of you will already know, but which I have discovered in the last year or two. They’re worth sharing.

One is a renewed acquaintance with National Review, the conservative periodical founded years ago by William F. Buckley. And here’s a titbit for you: In our pages over the years you will have found photo essays by one Bill Buckley, who happens also to be, formally, William F., nephew of the conservative icon. Bill also happens to be a wonderful editor, and edited my book about Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill. That book has gone through a number of printings, most recently from Skyhorse Publishing. But I digress in pursuit of shameless commerce. Back to National Review.

Among its many excellent writers is Kevin D. Williamson, a denizen of Texas who grew up in Lubbock, likes guns and motorcycles, and is, generally, one of us. He writes a weekly online column called “The Tuesday.”

Today’s intro to that column, which can be on any subject under the sun, reads “Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and existential dread.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.” If the link fails, go to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com, and you’ll find him. Mr. Williamson is also the author of Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ which is every bit as good as its title suggests.

“The Tuesday” also includes, every week, a short section on words and the use (and misuse) thereof, which is often hilarious and always educational.

This is the point where a Sporting Note is supposed to end, word counts and editors being what they are, but given its subject matter, I think it’s appropriate that I continue on to the end, word count be damned.

For those who miss the early Victorian era of periodicals with no illustrations whatever, I offer The New Criterion, a more-or-less monthly (not unlike Gray’s, actually) which has erudite and educational pieces on everything from the ills of Western civilization to the latest in movies. (The two are not unrelated.) 

At one time, Anne Applebaum, my favorite living historian, wrote for them, and it was because of that that I subscribed. Some of their stuff I understand, some I don’t, but there is always something to enlighten.

My one complaint is that the magazine really lends itself to being read around four in the afternoon on a gloomy December day while listening to Rachmaninoff or, perhaps, Simon & Garfunkle’s Dangling Conversation. And there just aren’t enough such wonderfully dark and gloomy December days.

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Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland thought of The Dangling Conversation recently when he read a quote from Robert Frost (who is mentioned in the song) summing up in three words all that he had learned about life: “It goes on.” As, indeed, it does.