“Some Elements in a Dispute”

February 20, 2006

September 30, 1974 Assertion: Insofar as the CNY will (or can) be a notable factor in boosting the reputation of any contributor — this is open to debate — Calvin Trillin is one whose reputation will spike. You may think of him as that folksy urbanite, specialist in whimsies and drolleries, author of jocular opinion pieces and political doggerel in The Nation — I did, anyway — but the diffident facade cloaks a reporter of rare gifts. This was a surprise to me.

I could back up this position in any number of ways, but I would simply ask any skeptic to type “trill” up at “Author/Artist” and examine any ten of his abstracts at random, and then ask further if the skepticism remains.

His beat is, to be brief, America, and he has covered a bewildering variety of subjects with uncommon originality and wit. He has shown creativity as much in finding interesting subjects as in making dull subjects interesting. Not only is his easy prose style deceptively trenchant, it’s also remarkably unshowy, given his aims. Your favored wry deadpan scribbler may be Garrison Keillor or Fran Leibowitz; meaning neither an iota of disrespect, I wouldn’t trade Trillin for the both of them.

The short article featured today actually bears the title “Some Elements in a Dispute that Resulted in the Closing of Schools, the Shutting Down of Industry, the Wounding of Men, and the Cancellation of Football Games.” It’s a story that feels like a harbinger of our own outrage-fueled time, as it is about some innocuous schoolbooks that were (on slender provocation indeed) deemed to be irreligious by some parents in West Virginia. What seems less of our time is Trillin’s choice to explain the parents’ ire rather than to belittle them for it.