Sunday, April 13, 2014

Great Sports Writing - by Michael Rosenberg, Jane Lee & Jeff Pearlman

Three recent sports stories I particularly liked included a short MLB player profile, a feature on the players from an NCAA men's basketball Final Four 25 years ago and piece about writing a huge sports story 15 years ago.

The one about writing a story was "A Reporter's Tale: The John Rocker Story 15 Years Later" for Bleacher Report by Jeff Pearlman on putting together the story he's perhaps best known for.

The Sports Illustrated feature on the 1989 NCAA Final Four participants was by Michael Rosenberg and title "A memorable title game twenty-five years ago brought joy, heartbreak." Really some fascinating stories about the people involved, including: referee John Cloughtery, coaches P.J. Carlesimo, Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Fisher and players Rumeal Robinson and Ramon Ramos.

The baseball piece was a short one by Jane Lee for MLB.com titled "Thanks to his dad, Gray was built for success" about Oakland A's starting pitcher Sonny Gray and his late father Jesse Gray.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"Hatching Twitter" by Nick Bilton

Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton was about some compelling people that came up with a pretty revolutionary business. Reading the book reminded me of my thoughts about what I wanted to do with blogging when I began in 2008 and just over 20 of my posts since have included Twitter as a label, with many of them linking to writing (the most memorable to me being this by Clay Travis) about Twitter as a platform for disseminating all types of communication.

Bilton in Hatching Twitter writes a highly entertaining book that I found myself at times wondering how accurate it all was, but the people portrayed (with the possible exception of a seemingly batty CEO Coach) and their actions struck me as quite plausible, especially given the presence of power, prestige, money and strongly held beliefs.

Detailed in the book is how Twitter began in 2005 out of a podcasting startup, Odeo, that was founded by Noah Glass and funded by Ev Williams who made his money by starting and then selling Blogger to Google. With $200K in Odeo, Williams became CEO and around this time, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone joined the company and then the podcasting website idea basically got killed when Apple said they were going to have Podcasting on iTunes, leading to Dorsey’s idea of building something around a “status update” message similar to what was up on AOL instant messaging. Glass came up with the name Twitter for the venture and was completely enthused about the human connections the idea could foster, but then fired from the company by Williams as the lead investor lost confidence in and disagreed with Glass on many things.
 
Twitter hit big at the 2007 South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX and when roles and leaders were then established, Dorsey was the first CEO with 20% of the company, Williams as the lead investor 70%, Stone and Jason Goldman around 3% each with the remaining 4% split up among other employees. Not long after this, Williams and Dorsey began to have disagreements and Venture Capital investors Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet came into the picture and sided with Williams on feelings of unhappiness with the CEO.

In 2008, Dorsey was forced out as CEO, but not from the company and he then accepted any and all press requests that came his way and burnished his reputation and perceived role at Twitter at the same time that he began the payment processing company Square. Additionally, Peter Fenton came in as a Twitter investor and would prove a Dorsey ally as the former CEO began to undermine Williams and, along with the aforementioned unbelievable CEO-coach Bill Campbell, force Williams out as CEO with him being replaced in Summer of 2010 by then COO Dick Costello.

There are lots of salacious details throughout the story from Bilton and it makes for entertaining reading that of course portrays some people in a better light than others, but all seems plausible and makes a fascinating read on the people behind a remarkable communication tool.

Esquire essays by Chiarella on helping someone & Jones on doing stand-up

Two different pieces of writing in the latest issue of Esquire stood out as excellent life-lessons type stories as part of the "83 Things You Need to Do Before You Die" section of the issue.

Tom Chiarella wrote "I Don't Have a Life List" and Chris Jones did "Live Your Nightmare," with both being really well-done introspective looks at things they've done.

"Grandma Gatewood's Walk" by Ben Montgomery

Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery was an interesting tale of one woman's determination and journey as she in 1995 became the first woman to through-hike the entire 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

The story of Emma Gatewood was a compelling one with her raising 11 children while enduring an abusive husband, leaving him, and then after her children were grown taking off on her own and doing the AT hike at the age of 67. Then two years later, she hiked the trail again, later hiked the general path of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon and in 1964 did the Appalachian Trail for a third time.

Also interesting was mention of how heavily she was followed by the national media as word of her hike began to spread, and then towards the very end of the book, Montgomery wrote of meeting on the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine through-hikers who cited Gatewood as an inspiration.

The read for me did get to be slow going at times, but I think that was due simply to the less than glamorous subject and the book built up to solid meaning with (among other things) the idea that it's never too late for someone to do what they want to do and turn themselves into something they weren't previously.

I waited until completing the book to read it, but also found interesting Montgomery's piece for Nieman Storyboard on writing the book.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Great writing by Price, Sandomir & Jacobsen

Three pieces of recent great writing I hadn't previously posted on were from Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and Outside Magazine.

For SI was "As Reds' Chapman recovers, dangers of line drives hit close to home" by S.L. Price and reminiscent of the excellent 2009 book Heart of the Game by Price, which I wrote about here.

The Times story was "A Story of Perseverance" by Richard Sandomir on ESPN SportsCenter Anchor Stuart Scott and his battle with cancer and the feature for Outside was "The Gourmet Invasivore's Dilemma" by Rowan Jacobsen on the havoc wreaked by invasive species and one chef's small-scale approach towards the problem.

Esquire writing - new feature by D'Agostino on ADHD & old one by Junod on Mr. Rogers

The latest issue of Esquire had a great feature by Ryan D'Agostino titled "The Drugging of the American Boy" on ADHD. D'Agostino covers the huge increase in it being diagnosed (particularly in boys) and also written about in captivating form is an alternate approach towards treatment as practiced by therapist and author of Transforming the Difficult Child, Howard Glasser.

Also posted to the Esquire website last month was a story I posted on previously, but that hadn't been online at the Esquire site. "Can You Say... Hero?" was by Tom Junod on Mr. Rogers and one of the most memorable magazine pieces I've read.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pieces on writing - by Michael Kruse, Bethany McLean & on Tom Bodett

It's been a while since I last posted on pieces about writing and I was fascinated by three that I came across recently.

For his personal blog, Tampa Bay Times writer Michael Kruse wrote "How I did the Bounty story," which had fascinating stuff in it about the year-long process of researching and writing (really about the dogged researching) of a lengthy story and I saw on Twitter a few writers noting as great wisdom the final two sentences...

"No matter the story, no matter your process, no matter the timetable — somewhere in the middle, you won’t be able to see the end. Can’t stop. Keep going."

"But the most important thing I learned doing Bounty — the most important thing I learned in 2013 — is that you can’t try to make something happen. All you can do is try to make something."

The shorter pieces to note here were one on fact-checking by Bethany McLean for LinkedIn and an interview with Tom Bodett for Alaska Magazine. The Bodett interview stood out as interesting to me with him having lived for quite a while in Homer, AK (where my parents have a house) and in that it showed how sometimes unexpected opportunities can develop.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

ESPN The Magazine writing by Jones and Olney

Two great recent stories from ESPN were "A Long Journey to Spring" by Chris Jones on Kansas City Royals coach Mike Jirschele and "Creative Control" on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw by Buster Olney.

The piece on Kershaw details his meticulous preparation leading up to starts and profiles well (Olney is just an excellent writer) someone that seems to be a really good guy. On Jirschele, Jones provides a more profound story on someone who has endured enormous family tragedy with three brothers dying from muscular dystrophy and this season has his first big-league job after 36 years in the minors. Really a sad and at the same time heartwarming story told well by Jones.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Showtime" by Jeff Pearlman

Showtime by Jeff Pearlman was on the Los Angeles Lakers team of the 1980s and would be a great read for a Lakers fan, and was still an interesting one for myself as not a huge basketball fan.

Some of the things in the book that stood out as fascinating included what Magic Johnson was like coming in as a breath of fresh air rookie, the details of his ridiculously great performance at center that year to win the 1980 NBA Championship and his womanizing.

Also particularly interesting in the book (and covered in an excerpt for Sports Illustrated) was info on how Pat Riley became head coach, with first Jack McKinney in charge, him suffering a devastating head injury and Paul Westhead taking over, and then Westhead following up initial success with becoming an overbearing force on his team, much like Riley would later do on both counts. In this regard, Pearlman tells a fascinating story throughout the book of how people would change with success and fame.

Again, I went into Showtime as someone who loves sports, but not particularly basketball and while for me as a reader I could have done without some of the details of particular games or series, I can definitely see how the book called for it and really enjoyed the read.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Michael Paterniti writing - on burrneshas in Albania & a jumbo jet crash at sea

Michael Paterniti is a non-fiction writer I've posted on a number of times and recently I've seen two additional features from him, with the latest an interesting piece and one from 2000 a brilliantly done one that made me wonder what it was like to write when just reading it was heart-wrenching.

The March issue of GQ Magazine had "The Mountains Where Women Live as Men" on a small and dwindling group of people in the Albanian Alps and originally published in the July issue of Esquire Magazine was "The Long Fall of One-Eleven Heavy" on Swiss Air flight 111 that crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 229 passengers. Just amazing writing in this Esquire piece that's popped back up again with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Writing by and on Matthew Power

Recently while on assignment in Africa, non-fiction writer Matthew Power died and his passing brought about some profound remembrances as well as mentions of his work.

Two pieces on his memory were "Relentless Generosity" by Abe Streep for Outside Magazine and "Remembering Journalist Matthew Power" by Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke for New York Observer.

Really well-done and thoughtful pieces both and while I've only read a few of Power's works, stories of his from a number of publications have recently been highlighted, including his archive of articles for Harper's Magazine (with "Mississippi Drift" being the Harper's piece I saw the most mentions of by readers of Power).


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Book excerpt from Ron Suskind

A couple of days ago in the New York Times Magazine was a great book excerpt from political writer Ron Suskind"Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney" was taken from Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism and really powerful reading. It's embedded in the Times excerpt, but there's also a great 4-minute long video with Suskind and his now adult son Owen.

Great sports writing - by Pearlman, Kennedy and Tomlinson

Three excellent pieces of sports writing I've seen recently included two book excerpts in Sports Illustrated and a feature for the ESPN website.

From the Mar 3 issue of SI was "The Birth of Showtime" by Jeff Pearlman. It was taken from his book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s and fascinating reading about the events that led to Pat Riley becoming head coach.

The second SI published except was written by Kostya Kennedy with "A quarter century later, there are no easy answers to the Pete Problem." Out of the book Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, it paints a vivid portrait of Rose and covers the question of whether he should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame when his misdeed of gambling on his team considered against against the actions of steroid users.

The final piece to note here was by Tommy Tomlinson for ESPN with "Precious Memories."  About former North Carolina men's basketball coaching legend Dean Smith, it's powerful reading on the toll that Dementia takes on people and their loved ones.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

"Young Money" by Kevin Roose

Young Money by Kevin Roose was an interesting and very fast read about junior investment bankers working on Wall Street. The book chronicled under assumed names the early in career lives of eight different people and, while the approach seemed to diminish the amount of narrative throughout, there were fascinating stories told of these workers at heavyweight financial firms like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.

The jobs embarked on were difficult to get with the top Wall Street firms recruiting top-level students from elite colleges and most of the positions two-year programs that people work as analysts and those wanting to stay in banking either getting hired as an associate at that firm or take what's viewed as the ideal next step in investment banking with a job at a leading hedge fund or private equity firm. Roose details in the book how these positions are also pitched and viewed by many as a sort of way-station stop, with many people spending the two years in investment banking and then making a decision to either remain in the field or leave, with now more than ever there being opportunities to take the experience and move into technology start-ups.

In terms of the two-year investment banking analyst roles, Roose notes how annual salaries out of college typically around $70K, with a bonus of anywhere from $20-70K on top of that. He also covers how as a junior analyst, you're on call for whatever associates or executives want you to do for oftentimes 100 hour work weeks with the deliverable typically large Excel spreadsheet (incredibly to me as it seems there would be a better tool to use) models about company valuations and what might happen if a particular mergers or acquisition were to occur through that particular investment bank.

It's an interesting book and one thing I found noteworthy was the categorization of investment banking and finance as falling under the category of work not necessarily creating anything. Not that everyone in a position to get a fulfilling job where they create, but it's an interesting thing to think about. Related to this, I found compelling in the book mention of 2012 Yale graduate and writer Marina Keegan and an essay she wrote for the campus news magazine about working in investment banking, with her then adapting the essay into "The Science and Strategy of College Recruiting" for the New York Times website. Roose at the end of the epilogue dedicates his book to the memory of Keegan, who died in a car accident a week after graduating Yale and had her essay "The Opposite of Loneliness" for the Yale Daily News distributed at commencement.

Writing I liked - with pieces by Moallem, Schur and Hampikian

Three excellent pieces of non-sports writing from the past few weeks which I haven't posted on yet included pieces from Grantland and the New York Times.

For Grantland, Michael Schur wrote "A Particular Kind of Genius: Remembering Harold Ramis" on the Hollywood actor, writer and director and there were two Times pieces I found of note including a Jon Moallem written feature "A Journey to the Center of the World" on Jacques-AndrĂ© Istel and the strange town of Felicity, Arizona he built near Yuma.

The other piece of really good writing from the Times was the op-ed column "When may I shoot a student?" by Greg Hampikian on the state of Idaho considering a bill that would allow guns on college and university campuses.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My new book compilation - More Words Written Down

Well, I wrote another book. After in March 2012 self-publishing a compilation culled from of 3 1/2 years of blog posts and then in October 2012 a compilation of book review blog posts, I've now written and have available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions my new book More Words Written Down taken from blog posts since the prior two books.

Overview

More Words Written Down is a follow-up effort to the compilation book projects Words Written Down and 111 Books Reviewed with all three coming out of this blog and each an appreciation of words put down on a page in a meaningful order.

The blog itself was begun 5 ½ years ago and my approach to it has been to read things of interest and then attempt to describe those pieces well and make connections between them.

The result of this is hopefully both a repository of great writing and body of work with my thoughts on the pieces. As part of this body of work idea, the blog and book compilations out of it are also intended to serve as a tangible record for my two boys of what things I found interesting or important early in their lives.

Links noted throughout the print version of the book can be found at the referenced blog post and have as their criterion for inclusion the concept of Interesting. If writing was deemed interesting, it’s noted along with my ruminations on the topic and view of what makes that particular set of words grouped together into a book or story so good that they acquire permanence.

The goal of Words Written Down is to highlight and pay homage to this permanence of words. Everybody's gotta have a thing, and for me, one of my big things is words. Here's to hoping that as my boys get older they find the things that have importance for them and get to spend their time pursuing and working on those.

Contents

More Words Written Down (like my prior two books) is a cleaned up compilation of blog posts I've done, with those posts separated into the below categories:

Book Reviews
Writing
My Writing About My Writing
Sports
Outdoor Adventure
Family / Parenting
Business
Everything Else

The idea behind putting it into a book (or three books) relates to both the aforementioned permanence of words idea and I've found interesting the process of editing the posts into book form, both a print version and Kindle book that has embedded links to the stories I wrote about.

Assembling the book

The creation of the print version of the book was done via CreateSpace by Amazon and the eBook version via Kindle Direct Publishing by Amazon.

From a process perspective, I first copied over posts from my blog into a Word document and then cleaned each with taking out any html formatting and organizing into the categories above. From that point, the work was around formatting with getting the post spacing and usage of bold consistent as well margins correct for a CreateSpace book (involving left and right as well as book gutter margins). Additionally, headers were inserted, with it seeming to take an excessive amount of time to create in Word new headers for each of the post category sections.

The steps of then uploading a .pdf file on CreateSpace were easy, but then reviewing the submitted file resulted in my time after time having to go back to the Word document to correct something. In many cases these corrections were to line spacing that worked fine in just a Word document, but had to be changed for the purpose of a book so that I wouldn't have for instance the first line of a new post on one book page and then everything else on the next page. The cover creation via CreateSpace was also a fairly simple process, the only thing I really had to figure out was how to create my "Beckam Callum Book Company" publisher logo via first Word and then the Snipping Tool and saving it as a .jpg file.

The creation of the eBook version via Kindle Direct Publishing was fairly easy in comparison, especially since most of the time I spent editing the print version was around headers and new page line spacing, neither of which exists in eBooks. The only real step required was to create an eBook table of contents and that was a simple process to do on the Word document I then uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing.

Having the book(s) completed

I'm not going to make any broad declarative statements about this absolutely being my last blog post book compilation lest I change my mind, but this third one likely was it as while I still expect to continue reading a lot and keeping track of great writing I've come across, I'd like to find new ways to spend my writing time and energies than simply writing about excellent work from others.

That said, the time spent on the blog (and books resulting from the blog) has been enjoyable and resulted in tangible outputs that I think have permanence to them (there's permanence word again) and I'm happy with that.

"Trapped Under the Sea" by Neil Swidey

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey was a highly entertaining read that combined a disaster tale with a fascinating story of engineering feats and organizational dynamics, with this all told well through the lives of people who 15 years ago found themselves facing disaster at the end of a 9 1/2 mile tunnel below the sea in the Boston Harbor.

From an organizational dynamics perspective, Swidey recounted the huge number of poor decisions that came as a result of different agencies, contractors and sub-contractors all seeking to further their own ends and the result at the expense of the big picture goal of workplace safety. Along with this was how the various parties would agree to risky plans, but in an arm’s length manner because to get too involved would have been to invite culpability.

Also noted in the book was how things became much worse as a result of occurring late in an overdue project when everyone wanted it done. Additionally, the story was about hubris and the guy most in charge of worker safety coming up with an untested and dangerous plan and not listening to concerns from others. In terms of worker safety, Swidey notes that a poorly thought out safety measure can be worse than no measure at all as it provides the illusion of safety.

Overall, it was a compelling read on extreme danger, modern engineering and institutional failures and Swidey did an excellent job covering all this while still having the book focused on and told through the stories of the men (and one worker in particular) at the center of the story. With this combining together really well story and character, the book reminded me of the Brendan Koerner book The Skies Belong to Us that I read and reviewed last summer.

Back to Trapped Under the Sea... was an excellent book and also the subject of a short review by Chris Jones for Esquire.