Book Review: Years of Minutes by Andy Rooney (2003)

I know, you readers understand that if I am reading a book from the last two years, it’s probably a gift. And you’re right. my beautiful wife gave me this volume for Christmas, and I’ve read it already. During lunches at work, mostly, which identifies one of the best parts of Andy Rooney and other broadcast essays: They’re short capsules that render themselves easy to read in short doses. Unlike books you cannot put down, which require you to invest large blocs of time, books of short essays allow you to pick up the book and put it down and pick it up and put it down again. Such books fit easily into the working day and the busy nights of modern men. And let’s face it, I’ve sampled Rooney and Charles Osgood, and Rooney wins hands down.

This particular book captures a number of Rooney’s “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” segments from the television news magazine Sixty Minutes (as do many of his collections). The book starts in 1982 and finishes with some from 2003. It offers an interesting retrospective of a chunk of history I recognize as my formative years, as seen from a man who’s older than I am now. I don’t think that means much, but he does reflect on four presidential administrations, including two terms of Reagan and Clinton.

Some people don’t like Rooney because he’s a curmudgeon, but I don’t hold that against him; after all, I am a curmudgeon in training. I do recognize that he’s a little to the dovish side of me when it comes to foreign policy (he’s all butter and no guns), but I find enough wisdom in his damn kids bits and other non-political things to enjoy his writing.

One thing I don’t appreciate, though, is his reluctance–even defiance–in using apostrophes. Throughout this book, he doesn’t use apostrophes in contractions–at least not consistently. In the introduction, before I can no longer enumerate the typos, he informs me he’s not using them because he composed the pieces to be spoken on television, so he’s omitting the apostrophes since he didn’t pronounce them. It’s a jarring read, especially since he later brags about how many grammar books he has on the shelf behind his desk. Still, I forgive him, since the editors of his other books and his contemporary pieces on the CBS.com Web site have convinced him that most things should read easy, too.

What of this book? It’s a font of wisdom and foolishness. It’s an I-Ching, not quite the touchstone that apparently is The Godfather, but its 500+ pages offer insight into the modern condition that most classic philosophers don’t.