Monday, December 23, 2013

B.S. in English

Gerald Howard tells us about the value of his English degree with stories from his experience working as an editor:
We were theoretically required at that time to have our [profit and loss statements] yield a return of at least 8 percent, and I had become adept in ways to make or exceed that number. You could shave on the cover art. You could shave on marketing and advertising. You could basically lie about projected sales and hope no one called you on it. The techniques I had developed in college to make my ham-handed chem lab experiments yield the proper results found a practical new use.
Basically, you could lie.

But Gerald didn't lie . . . that much. His profit and loss statement only estimated a 7% rate of return so the CFO didn't want to approve it. How did he convince him?
 I made some weak noises about literary excellence, backlist sales, commitment to authors.
Basically, he made up some bullshit. (See "The Rule of 2.")

Lying and bullshitting are valuable skills, especially on Wall Street, where many Ivy League humanities majors look for a job. But Gerald doesn't think you should major in English just for the skill set.
The point is truth and beauty . . . [they are] why you should major in English.
That is not a typo. He writes it twice: "truth."