Sunday, January 30, 2011

Joe Posnanski on Words

I like words.

Yea... that's a highly simplistic statement to make, but a very material one as it's the whole point of this blog. From the front page...

Blog is all about words because... they matter, they influence, they entertain and when you take 'em and put them down on a page in a meaningful order, they acquire permanence.

While the majority of posts here are done as vehicles linking to great writing, I've also done a handful of entries on the creation of said writing (posts having the blog label "writing" and the most recent linked to here).

This being said, I felt a bit like kid in a candy store upon seeing a blog post on writing from one of my favorite writers. "The Most Beautiful Word" by Joe Posnaski takes the oft-asked question of how he became a writer and answers it by telling a story about his youth, parents, and how he was raised. Specifically, Posnanski makes reference to his mother asking him "do you know what word is beautiful?"

Posnanski wrote of this question's impact on an elementary school aged kid...

"Something kind of clicked with me, I think; it was a whole other way of looking at words. And over time I would start to think about that, how words sound together, how the pacing of language and how the velocity and tempo can create layers of meaning, the staggering power of the simplest words."

Hey, that's kind of how I describe words and why I like them!


On the subjects: of Posnanski writing, mothers, and words organized into meaningful prose was a feature on Tony Pena... originally written in 2003 and then linked to after Pena's mother passed away last week.

Powerful writing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aliquippa, PA & High School Football by S.L. Price

Great story from S.L. Price in the Jan 31 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Titled "The Heart Of Football Beats In Aliquippa", the piece looks at the hardscrabble community of Aliquippa, PA (some 20 miles outside Pittsburgh) and import of football to the town. It's an extremely well written story on a place portrayed as dangerous, but that's also turned out a disproportionate number of big-time football stars... including Tony Dorsett, Darrelle Revis, Ty Law and Mike Ditka.

In many ways Price's writing reminded me of a Nov 2009 SI feature by Austin Murphy. That story was "The Muck Bowl" (which I posted on here) and rather than being about football economically depressed Western Pennsylvania... Murphy's story looked at the Central Florida towns of Pahooke and Belle Glade.

In both areas, violence or the possibility of it seem a part of everyday life, but for many (sadly, not all), football an even bigger part.

A lot of parallels between the two stories... including really solid and interesting writing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tiger Moms Writing from Time Magazine

Thought provoking cover story from the latest issue of Time Magazine.

Written by Annie Murphy Paul, "Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?" looks at the idea of strict parenting... with the why and how practice of that described in a current bestselling book by a Yale Law Professor and mother of two.

Amy Chua loves her work in academia (as self-described), worked extremely hard while young (which she cites as the foundation for her current success), and wants the same level of career success and life satisfaction for her two daughters. Out of this, she wrote "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" about her demands placed upon the girls... including long hours of schoolwork and music practice. Additional treatment (and source of the book's controversy) included threats to burn toys if expectations not met and rejection of handmade presents if sufficient work not deemed to have gone into their creation.

The Paul story details all of this and Chua's assertions that in raising her girls this way, she's preparing them for life. As a reader of the piece, I found the whole topic fascinating and agreed in general with her. Setting aside as just plain mean some of her treatment, Chua's concept of putting in work to develop mastery does make sense... and brings to mind the "10,000 hour rule" as described in the Malcolm Gladwell book "Outliers" (reviewed here).

An additional concept from Chua is that children need to be raised not to be protected from harsh realities, but rather as people that can accomplish despite hardship. While some of her parenting techniques can be described as draconian, the premise that children gain confidence by accomplishing something they weren't sure possible does have weight to it.


Related to the cover story was a secondary piece in Time I found of note. The one page commentary "Tiger Daughter" was written by Bill Powell and about his six year old daughter and her long hours spent on schoolwork growing up in Shanghai.

Basically, the same (but, less over the top in it's delivery) idea as Chua... it's hard work working hard, but should pay off. Going back specifically to the Gladwell "10,000 hour rule", this (perhaps forced) time spent leads to proficiency and excellence. Take that and combine it with a loving upbringing and you've got something pretty solid.

"They Call Me Baba Booey" by Gary Dell' Abate

Recently finished reading the Gary Dell' Abate memoir "They Call Me Baba Booey"... published because of his role as Producer of The Howard Stern Show.

Overall it was a fine book... surprisingly, I found the most interesting parts not related to the Stern radio show that I'm a listener of, but rather content about his parents and brothers.

Due largely to his mother, Dell' Abate grew up in a household very different than most. She suffered from mental issues characterized by depression, mood swings and erratic behavior and while her behavior may have become normal to the immediate family, it made for compelling reading. Additionally, Dell' Abate went through tragedy in relation to his brother and it's a pretty emotional depiction in the book... not confessional writing, but rather open and honest stuff.

To this end, the latter part of the book makes me think of the John Grogan memoir "The Longest Trip Home". I reviewed the book here, but the simply description is Grogan's book is excellent writing on family.

Other thing I noted from Dell' Abate's tale of his life was his work. He was fortunate enough to figure out at a young age what he wanted to do... and then seemed to pretty tirelessly go after that. He is no doubt talented at what he does, but that comes from a lot of hours spent on it.

It's not due to tremendous inside stuff about the Stern Show (has little of that), but is a worthwhile read for someone who knows of Dell' Abate's and is interested in his life experiences.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tragedy in Tucson Writing from David Von Drehle & Joe Posnanski

Two great pieces I've come across recently on the shooting in Tucson. From David Von Drehle in Time and Joe Posnanski in Sports Illustrated, they stand out as excellent for similar reasons.

Great writing is a tough thing to achieve (with the point of this blog of course being to highlight examples of it). You have to have a good subject of course (with good being made up of: interesting, important, sad, inspiring, etc), but you also have to have something that comes out in the writing itself.

Assuming that the mechanics of a piece are there and it's easy to understand and gets it's point across, great writing to me often can be characterized as either Profound, Thorough or Different.

Writing examples of this would be the piece on Jill Costello as Profound and that on the Gulf Oil Spill as Thorough... and why both stories were included in those I considered as Best or Close to Best Writing Linked To from the past year.

Profound and Thorough are me thinks a bit easier to describe or understand as concepts than Different, though. This trait in great writing is when an author takes a story (especially a heavily reported on and interesting one) and crafts solid prose about a different aspect than others are scribing about. Good example of this also from the Best Writing Linked To category was Eleven Lives about the men who perished in the explosion prior to the aforementioned Gulf Oil Spill.

It's this category of Different that the Von Drehle and Posnanski pieces on the Tucson shooting fall into (in addition to the very much evident Profound). Rather than being about cause, effect and blame of the senseless act, both are about the people who lost their lives... with the Posnanski piece focusing on the youngest victim.

Really great writing in these two stories... The Real Lesson of the Tucson Tragedy by David Von Drehle and A Death in the Family by Joe Posnanski. Highly recommended reading.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Close to Best Writing Linked To - People & Events from Time Magazine

On the previously written on subject of best writing linked to in the past year, this post highlights the best Time Magazine pieces posted on.

Four different cover stories which fell in two main subject categories... people & important events (bad in the case of these two stories).

Profiles of people

Two "about people" stories from the last year of Time struck me as exceptional. Both written by Lev Grossman, each is a long feature providing insight into non-political public figures. From the Aug 12 issue issue was Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist. Originally posted on and linked to here, the piece does a really good job of explaining both Franzen and his process of writing.

From the Dec 15 issue (and posted on here) was the Time Person of the Year Profile on Mark Zuckerberg. About a guy fictionally portrayed on screen this year, it's one of those really nuanced and informative looks at who someone really is (of course that's in the eyes of the profile writer, but that's what the writer is tasked with).

Profiles of important events

Time does me thinks a really solid job of big picture reporting on huge events and two stories from this past year illustrated that.

The Jan 21 issue of Time featured multiple pieces on the cataclysmic Haiti earthquake... including this one looking to the future rebuilding process. It's excellent writing from Bryan Walsh, Jay Newton-Small and Tim Padgett and I originally posted on it here.

Also from Bryan Walsh (and no, my favorite Time pieces being from Grossman and Walsh wasn't by design), was this June 10 published report on the Gulf Oil Spill. As I noted in my original post linking to it, it was really solid writing that worked on multiple levels.


Lots of different work I've seen in Time from the past 12 months, but the best work had shared characteristics that made each piece great... in depth, well organized, interesting.

In short, solid combined with compelling.

Joe Posnanski on Harry Potter World Experience

Really cool blog post I came across from the excellent Joe Posnanski.

It's titled Katie The Prefect and tells the story of his 9 year old daughter and an experience she had at Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando.

This piece was different than the Posnanski stuff I usually link to, but as I wrote about before, one of the great things is how much writing he puts out there in different places.

A blog post on Harry Potter World and your kid's experience there likely wouldn't get printed into Sports Illustrated, but it's compelling writing and perfect for his blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Close to Best 2010 Writing Linked To - Sports

In the process of doing a post a week ago on my Best 2010 Writing Linked To, there were a number of really good pieces that just missed the Best cut.

One category of writing that said close to the Best stuff fell into was sports and there was some really good pieces I came across in the past year from both Sports Illustrated and elsewhere by SI writers.


In terms of volume, Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski stood out with three different pieces linked to that I found exceptional (yea, I guess they didn't make the Best cut, but exceptional nonetheless).

The two SI stories were both on football (and related to Posnanski's hometown Kansas City Chiefs). From the Dec 6 issue was A Dream In The Making about Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and from the Aug 23 Sports Illustrated, a profile of NFL veteran Tony Richardson titled Made to Last. Both stories qualified as excellent writing... a thorough look at the subject, rooted in human interest, but not so much that it took away from the subject described (which can happen sometimes with stories leaning towards the profound).

Also excellent writing from Posnanski was his July 2 SI blog entry The Quisenberry Tree (on former Royals pitcher Dan Quisenberry). I wrote a fair amount of commentary when linking to the the piece and copied into my blog post a really cool missive from Posnanski that touches on words, writing and conveying meaning through them.


Two other stories of note from Sports Illustrated...

In SI's June 28 edition, Chris Ballard (who wrote the Jill Costello profile referenced as Best Writing) provided The Magical Season Of The Macon Ironmen. Very interesting piece on a tremendous accomplishment... and which gave me reason to post a Hoosiers clip in my post linking to it!

From the April 12 issue was The Genuine Point Guard on Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. Written by Charles Pierce, I wrote in my blog entry linking to it of how Pierce uses a specific choice of language to describe Nash. Very similar to Posnanski's writing on Quisenberry in that it shows both an appreciation of and excellent usage of words to tell a story.


As I state in the heading...

Blog is all about words because... they matter, they influence, they entertain and when you take 'em and put them down on a page in a meaningful order, they acquire permanence.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

Just finished reading the excellent "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption".

Witten by "Seabiscuit" author, Laura Hillenbrand, the book chronicles the life of Olympic athlete and WWII veteran Louis Zamperini. I learned of the book from this Time review and then came across an SI interview with Hillenbrand... which is interesting in it's own right as her struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is covered.

However, someone with no familiarity with Zamperini and designs to read the book might want to go ahead and do so prior to reading either either piece linked above (or the below story details) to maintain suspense around the events of his life...


Hillenbrand begins with Zamperini as a youth in Torrence, CA in the 20s and 30s. From early years, his life fit the redemption story from the book's title as he went from wayward teenager to champion runner before turning 20.

Zamperini then went from Olympic athlete to solider and found himself as part of a bomber crew based in WWII Hawaii. What struck me as remarkable from this early period of his military service was the danger involved. Completely apart from the risk posed by Japanese forces was the general risk involved in being a U.S. Airman in WWII. Between planes breaking down and minimal emergency supplies onboard, people were dying at an alarming rate in crashes not involving the enemy.

The next step of Zamperini's tale found him a victim of one of these airplane malfunctions and he and two other Servicemen floating in the Pacific. An incredibly taxing time that seemed amazing anyone would survive... which he did. In the just his luck category, what little remained of Zamperini's raft after 40 some days floated into Japanese occupied territory and he became a Prisoner of War.

In addition to the frequently inhumane treatment of Allied POWs by the Japanese, what I found remarkable from Zamperini's latter time as a prisoner was the description how the Japanese viewed surrender. Even in the face of great bombing inflicted upon Japan by the U.S., they were prepared to keep fighting to the death. Reading this portion of Hillendbrand's book made me think of the idea (which I had heard before) that by twice dropping the atom bomb and devastating two cities, the U.S. probably saved untold numbers of Allied and Japanese lives.

After his release, Zamperini's tale continued with him dropping into alcoholism, but then ultimately redemption with an embrace of religion as proselytized by a young Billy Graham. From there, Hillenbrand wraps up the book fairly quickly, but the story of Zamperini definitely closes with him as someone at peace with this incredibly difficult period of a remarkable life story.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Best 2010 Writing Linked To

Following on the heels of my 2010 Blog Posts - In Review posted earlier this week, I wanted to look at some of the best stuff linked to (or books reviewed) from the past 12 months.

Two pieces from Esquire stood out for their... remarkableness of writing (meaning: well written and poignant stuff about interesting topics).

- First was "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man" by my writing man-crush buddy (we've traded e-mails a few times, so you know... we're tight), Chris Jones. Commentary written on and the piece linked to here.

- Six months later was "Eleven Lives" from Tom Junod (and posted about here) on the men who died in the drill rig explosion that preceded the Gulf Oil Spill.


Favorite books from the year were both non-fiction and from authors I've read before.

- In July I reviewed probably the more lyrical of the two... "The Tender Bar" written by J.R. Moehringer. It's a memoir of a guy who became a writer and I learned of it from the Andre Agassi autobiography "Open" penned with Moehringer (which was also excellent and I reviewed here).

- In September I saw a Sports Illustrated piece that could well be described as a sort of writing catnip for me. A book excerpt (which I'm often drawn to as the magazines I read tend to only excerpt solid books) written by Susan Casey (who wrote "The Devil's Teeth" that I reviewed here way back when) about big wave surfing...

Upon reading the book itself, I found "The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean" was fascinating and about more than just surfing (and reviewed it here).


Back to short (well, shorter than books) writing... two final pieces that qualified as favorites over the past year.

- From a November Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard wrote "The Courage of Jill Costello" about the crew athlete from UC Berkeley. Very powerful story that I posted on here.

- Final piece of writing to note here was "How do they get to be that way?" by Roger Ebert on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. About racism (and no less lyrical than Moehringer's memoir), a good way to sum up the piece is to simply quote from Ebert (which I did in the related blog post as well)...

"I believe at some point in the development of healthy people there must come a time when we instinctively try to understand how others feel. We may not succeed. There are many people in this world today who remain enigmas to me, and some who are offensive. But that is not because of their race. It is usually because of their beliefs."

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2010 Blog Posts - In Review

It's now the New Year... time for new beginnings, new growth, new hair (probably not) and bunches of other things new. That said, one of the most popular things to do when considering The New, is to also look at The Old.

In terms of this blog looking backwards, the closest thing to the topic a year ago was one on the reason for the blog (among other things, to write about and link to great magazine writing) and a couple of different posts looking back on posts of said great writing.

Published here on back to back days in Jan 2010 were Workplace Culture Blog Posts and then Best Time Magazine Writing: Politics & The Economy. Following up a month later, Best Time Magazine Writing: Parenting & Family was posted... with bunches of interesting things linked to from each of these.

Looking at what's been written here since these posts (well, for simplicities sake since Jan 1, 2010), here's the content at a high level...

- 148 posts... with a minimum of 11 a month
- 30 posts with Time articles linked to and written about
- 28 posts with Sports Illustrated articles linked to and written about
- 14 posts with Businessweek articles linked to and written about
- 12 posts with Esquire (or Esquire blog) articles linked to and written about
- 11 posts with Fast Company articles linked to and written about
- 24 book review posts

As math would tell us, there were certainly posts done on things other than book reviews or pieces from these sources, but in terms of actual publications, the five noted above had quite a few stories of interest from the past year.

Whist I typically hate to forecast a post on the chance it doesn't get written, likely content for at least one future post this month will be some of the best (yep, highly subjective, but that's what the Internet in many ways is about) posts and linked to pieces over the past 12 months. So, you know... there's That to look forward to.

Businessweek Cover Story on Electric Cars

Interesting cover story in the latest issue of Businessweek.

Written by Eric Pooley, "Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle" focuses on entries to the field from Nissan and General Motors. The Leaf from Nissan has a higher green cred being all electric, but the electric/gasoline hybrid Volt from GM follows in the already proven to be successful footprints of the Toyota Prius.

Reading the piece, it seemed to me that Nissan will have a tougher road to success (pardon the pun) with it's higher reliance on the availability of public charging stations. Even if the places to charge are available, consumers have to feel comfortable enough that they won't get stuck or the car purchase will never happen.

All this said, electric and hybrid cars are a big growing business and I'm now curious to see what may be brought to the market by both Subaru and Ford (having written about the company in previous posts).