Little black book

2012-02-03 13:15



Little black book

Reader question:

Please explain “black book” in this sentence: Don’t worry. He won’t be keeping a little black book on you.

My comments:

That means he holds no grudges.

The little black book reminds me first and foremost Mao’s little red book, which is a pocket book of a collection of teachings of The Great Helmsman. That book was thus named because it had covers in bright red. Back in the day, being red meant a lot.

But we’re not going to go over Mao’s works here. Both the man and his books have had their day, let’s put it that day. Here, we’re merely briefly touching upon judging a book by its cover – and in the case of red, yellow, white and blue books, apparently you can judge them by their cover without risking making grave mistakes.

The yellow book, of course, is the thick telephone directory which lists people’s phone numbers. So-called because these books are yellow in cover.

The white book, on the other hand, refers to an official document on a particular subject, which is also known as the white paper. A government white paper on pollution control, for example, seeks to find solutions to cleaning up the environment.

The blue book is a list of government officials in Britain. In America, the blue book is a list of names of socially prominent people in general. For students, a blue book is a blank notebook, with, yes, blue covers “in which to write answers to examination questions”, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. In some circumstances, a blue book may also refer to a book of pornography.

How has the blue book managed to mean all of these things, I have little idea. Tradition, culture, customs, no doubt. Plus, time and evolution.

Anyways, let’s get back to the little black book. Here, “black” is figurative rather than literal. Black books are bad-deeds books, small notebooks people sometimes keep in which to write about all the bad things others have done against them, or others. Like I said, these books are not black in cover, but are instead black (dark, sinister) in content. In other words, it won’t make enjoyable reading except, perhaps, to the writers themselves, who keep such records so that, perhaps, one day, they can get back at all the people who, they think, have done some terrible things to them.

This sounded serious, doesn’t it? Ease up. Not all black books are blacklists of people with crimes fit for execution with a bullet on the back of the head. One of my teachers, for example, frankly told me that he kept a black book on me and my fellow students back when I was in college. Fortunately, he listed things no more sinister than, say, the occasions where a certain student made a noise at a meeting or in class.

In short, the little black book is a diary, a record of things you perhaps don’t want other people to know about. It’s a book of secrets, including, sometimes, dark secrets.

Alright, here are media examples:

1. WHEREAS President Yoweri Museveni and others have always complained about corruption in the judiciary, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) Faith Mwondha on Thursday went a step further by revealing that she knows the corrupt judges.

If indeed the IGG has investigated and compiled a list of corrupt judges, this is commendable. An independent judiciary is an essential part of democracy and development. Corruption in the judiciary undermines the rule of law and the right to justice. It denies justice to the poor while rewarding wealthy offenders. In essence, it undermines democracy and development.

The IGG, who is charged with fighting corruption in the country, is therefore right to intervene if some judges have questionable integrity. However, she should go all the way to name and take action against the corrupt judges. It is not enough to simply keep a black book of corrupt judges. That would be like a watchdog witnessing a robbery without biting.

We should not stop at making blank statements which dent the image of even those who have never taken a bribe. The Inspector of Courts and the Judicial Service Commission should work hand in hand with the IGG to weed out the corrupt and salvage the image of the institution.

- IGG, name the corrupt judges,, January 17, 2009.

2. The people behind the memoir, including Mr. Bowers’s agent, David Kuhn, and Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, insist that “Full Service” is not a prurient tell-all, but instead provides a window into an erased, forgotten and denied past of Los Angeles. In his pitch to publishers, Mr. Kuhn positioned it as no less than a tale about “the complex and conflicted psychosexual history of America’s soul.”

A lot of big publishers didn’t agree, or at least were not willing to risk the bawdy stuff to get to any larger point. (Yes, the book was offered to Knopf.) Mr. Entrekin said he decided to publish “Full Service” partly because “there seemed to be nothing meanspirited about it at all.

“You don’t get the sense that this guy is trying to exploit these experiences,” he said.

The heirs and estates of some of the people mentioned in the book are bound to feel otherwise. Fans, too.

“He needs to brace himself for attacks,” said William J. Mann, the author of celebrity biographies like “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” which details what he says was Hepburn’s lesbianism and Tracy’s bisexuality, using Mr. Bowers (identified as Scotty) as one of several sources. “Some of the pushback is going to be homophobia,” Mr. Mann added. “But there will also be people who say he’s making it up to sell books and others who say why can’t you let these people rest in peace.”

“Kate” drew all those reactions and more when it came out in 2006. In particular, “Spencer Tracy: A Biography,” written by James Curtis and published in October, dismisses Mr. Mann’s account of Hepburn’s and Tracy’s sexuality, characterizing Mr. Bowers as unreliable. “Bowers is full of glib stories and revelations, all cheerfully unverifiable,” Mr. Curtis writes.

Jennifer Grant, the daughter of Cary Grant, declined to comment on Mr. Bowers’s book. But her spokeswoman said Ms. Grant’s book, “Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant,” published in 2011, acknowledges that she knew him to be very straight and that he was amused by chatter that he was bisexual.

The ABC News anchor Cynthia McFadden, an executor of the Hepburn estate, said it was its long-standing practice not to comment about books like “Full Service.”

Mr. Entrekin said that the book had been vetted by a libel lawyer. “Based on his comments, we deleted some information,” he said.

Lawyers who specialize in celebrity-related matters said neither federal copyright law nor the patchwork of state-based “right of publicity” laws offer recourse to heirs or estates displeased with assertions published in a memoir. “They might be in tears, but there’s nothing they can do about it,” said Alan U. Schwartz, a veteran entertainment lawyer at Greenberg Traurig.

A $20 bill, given as a tip, according to Mr. Bowers, bought his services in the beginning. That was 1946, and he was 23. As Mr. Bowers tells it, he stumbled into his profession by accident.

Newly discharged from the Marines after fighting in the Pacific during World War II, Mr. Bowers got a job pumping gas at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, not far from Paramount Pictures. One day Walter Pidgeon (“Mrs. Miniver”) drove up in a Lincoln two-door coupe, according to the book, and propositioned Mr. Bowers, who accepted.

Soon, word got around among Pidgeon’s friends, and Mr. Bowers, from his base at the station, started “arranging similar stuff” for some of Bowers’s more adventurous friends.

Many clients were not famous, Mr. Bowers said. Film production was flourishing in the late 1940s, and Los Angeles became a destination for writers, set designers, hairstylists and other “artists with open minds,” as Mr. Bowers put it. It was also a time of the vice squad, which raided gay bars. “The station was a safer hangout,” he said. “Sometimes police would come around, sure. But I think I never got caught partly because I kept everything in my head. There was no little black book.

- Hollywood Fixer Opens His Little Black Book, The New York Times, January 27, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)



















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