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kottke.org posts about Cormac McCarthy

Advice from Cormac McCarthy on Writing Great Science Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Since the 1990s, Pulitzer prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy has been a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, a transdisciplinary research institute in New Mexico. During that time, he’s helped edit scientific papers for many faculty and postdocs. A pair of biologists, Van Savage & Pamela Yeh, recently condensed McCarthy’s scientific writing advice into an article for Nature.

Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.

Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling. Colloquial expressions can be good for this, but they shouldn’t be too narrowly tied to a region. Similarly, use a personal tone because it can help to engage a reader. Impersonal, passive text doesn’t fool anyone into thinking you’re being objective: “Earth is the centre of this Solar System” isn’t any more objective or factual than “We are at the centre of our Solar System.”

Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.

Most of this is good advice for the writing in general.

Unusual Yelp reviews

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2011

For Gourmet, Todd Levin imagines the Yelp reviews for the world’s worst restaurant, Mama Mia That’s Italyen Authentic Food Café.

I was planning on suing this restaurant but kept driving past it. Later, the mold in my ravioli also triggered a rare neurological disorder called “Geoagnosia.” It’s an inability to recognize or remember familiar places, like my home or office.

DO NOT EAT AT THIS RESTAURANT IF YOU WANT TO LIVE OR PERFORM LONG DIVISION OR REMEMBER WHERE YOUR CAR IS EVER AGAIN.

And Cormac McCarthy of all people has a Tumblr where he posts his Yelp reviews of places ranging from Taco Bell to Chez Panisse. Here’s his three-star review of a Cheesecake Factory in Houston, TX:

There were a variety of cakes and sweet things there. The desserts paraded by in their desperate decadence, at once a fading and colorless memory.

A Bavarian chocolate cake stood apart, on a simple plate. Like a rancher’s wife it was seasoned by hardships and nature’s brutal arithmetic. Flourless, it awaited a lonely fate.

A Tiramisu teetered like the oldest prostitute in a mining town, reeking of saccharine liqueur. The faint scent of virtue lost amid the hellish musk of ten thousand outrages.

A torte, covered in glistening fruit, a lie as old as memory. Its flavor joyless, a pyrrhic dessert atop a mountain of meaningless artifice. Hasn’t been real sugar in this torte since before the highway was built here. Since before the first settlers came through with bibles and Henry rifles. The slow mockery of corn syrup.

He reached for the Tiramisu with a hand that had been dried by the sun and wind and bathed in the steaming blood of another human being. All that now was behind him.

Update: Yelping With Cormac found its way into The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.

Cormac McCarthy, covered

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2010

Some gorgeous covers for a few Cormac McCarthy books by David Pearson.

Cormac Covers