‘Wall St. Journal’ Book To Chronicle Best Stories

By: Ana Mantica

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t usually seem synonymous with humor. But on May 1, the newspaper is releasing a book that proves it too has a funny bone.

The Journal‘s “Floating Off the Page: The Best Stories from The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Middle Column'” (Wall Street Journal Books/Simon and Schuster) features 67 of the more memorable wry and witty stories that have run in the paper’s popular “middle column” or “A-head” section in the past 50 years.

According to Ken Wells, the Journal‘s page one editor, this section is popular because it brings a “literary” touch to the front page of the business paper everyday. “These are all very busy professionals,” Wells said of Journal readers, “and as an antidote, we offer them the ‘A-head.'”

Barney Kilgore, legendary Journal managing editor from the 1950s, wanted to forge a national paper with a much broader mission that wasn’t afraid to “amuse” readers, Wells explained. “He said ‘Let’s stop writing stories for bankers.'”

Although this is not the first such collection (the previous anthology came out in the early 1990s), Wells said “this is the first done this ambitiously.” Unlike the others “this one goes more or less back to the beginning of ‘A-head’ time in 1947.”

Edited by Wells, the collection includes stories on throwing a grand piano 125 yards, toad-smoking, Charles Atlas as a grandfather, and the latest developments in sheep orthodontia.

Some stories were chosen through nominations. “Twenty or 30 were preordained and remembered as classics,” Wells added. The rest of the stories were found by digging into the pre-electronic archives. “I went through four decades to find the hidden jewels, especially those from the 50s and 60s that escaped attention,” Wells said.

Among his favorite stories is a piece by Carrie Dolan that ran in April 1983 about a cross-country trip starting in San Francisco. Her editor believed that spending $130 for a night in a fancy hotel was absurd so he sent her across the U.S. with that same $130 in her pocket. She ended up in Charleston, S.C., six days later, after spending $98 on lodging.

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