What a Wonderful Way to Describe a Writer

By Jack Limpert


Steve Daley had the gift of carbonation—his writing was effervescent and sparkling.

From Caitlin Flanagan’s review of Tom Wolfe’s book, The Kingdom of Speech, in the New York Times Book Review:

We are dealing with a short book by a big writer on a dull topic, further complicated—as it turns out—by an old man’s willingness to digress (surely the Spanish Civil War could have been left out of all this?), and the result is a qualified success. The scope is far too vast for such brief treatment, and the author’s lifelong commitment to carbonating even the most esoteric subjects leads him to get caught up in so many gossipy side notes—the scientist whose wife and daughter were stricken with volcanic diarrhea during his fieldwork in the Amazon; the class anxiety of a 19th-century visitor to the ­Lin­nean Society—that the reader is left to wonder what, exactly, is Wolfe’s point.

“…the author’s lifelong commitment to carbonating even the most esoteric subjects…”

Having edited several million words, I’ve never seen a writer described that way: Carbonating means to make effervescent, sparkling, fizzy, bubbling. What a great way to describe a writer.

The ability to carbonate words is a rare gift and the writer best at it who I worked with was Steve Daley, a bartender turned writer who died too young five years ago. Steve wrote mostly for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers but did some Washingtonian pieces that sparkled. Having lunch with Steve was the most fun an editor could have.

Steve was a protege of another wonderful character, Dave Burgin, an editor who died two years ago after trying to save the Dallas Times Herald, San Francisco Examiner, and other newspapers.

Burgin was once in Washington between jobs and Dick Victory, another Washingtonian editor, and I had drinks with him at the old Duke Zeibert’s restaurant. There were no editing jobs open at the magazine but by the end of the evening we had offered Burgin the job of design director of the magazine even though he’d never done that kind of work.

Burgin, like Steve Daley and Tom Wolfe, could carbonate any kind of journalism but we all agreed the next morning that Dave should stick to the word side of the business.

So thank you Caitlin Flanagan for adding carbonation to the Times Book Review and the vocabulary of journalism.






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