Monday, February 28, 2011

"The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean

After following for some time the Susan Orlean twitter feed, I decided to read her bestselling "The Orchid Thief" from 2000.

It's subtitled "A true story of beauty and obsession" and a work of non-fiction about the Orchid industry and one of the more maniacal players in it (at least for most of the time Orleans was writing), John Laroche.

While I had no connection to the subject of the book (and found my interest waning at times as a result), I did find interesting the level of aforementioned obsession. A guy like Laroche may be a bit of a loon, but does provide good fodder for writing. Basic concept is a someone living to the extreme in life. Any project undertaken is going to be enormous, any failure the result of a grand conspiracy... and any moving away from something a complete abandonment.

It's reading about this extreme approach to life that made the book mostly worthwhile for me. I say mostly because if I had an interest in Orchids, I would have been more into the read... as it was, I liked it, but probably would have been good with simply reading her excellent New Yorker piece on Laroche the book came out of.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

J.R. Moehringer Writing

As this blog is all about great writing... the reading of it, the linking to and commenting on it, I find myself constantly seeking out information on and new work from the writers I like the most.

Picking up a Sport Illustrated and seeing that Susan Casey (who I first wrote on here) has a new book excerpted there (which I then posted about), reading a Roger Ebert blog post which gives an e-mail address for Esquire writer Chris Jones, finding out Erik Larson has a book coming out in May... to me, that stuff is just golden.

To this whole writing crush concept, I'm kind of amazed that it's not terribly easy to find much about the excellent writer J.R. Moehringer (author of "The Tender Bar" ... one of my two favorite books read last year, with the aforementioned Casey book as the other). Yea, he's got a Wikipedia page, but in today's hyper connected twitter-using world, I expected to find more about him and what he's working on. Fairly incredibly to me, a google search for the term "who does J.R. Moehringer write for?" provided my "Tender Bar" review as the fourth result.

With this as the impetus, I set out to find and read me some more Moehringer... and glad I did.


First thing I found was a Sept 2010 piece for GQ titled "Three Weeks in Crazyville". About the author's time spent with LeBron James prior to his "The Decision" ESPN event, it's great writing about both a guy (James) and a process. It reminded me of his "Tender Bar" memoir in that Moehringer injects himself into the story and as a result reveals more about James by revealing the process of writing about him. Not to overstate things, but it struck me as a pretty audacious approach... that worked very well.

While reading this piece, I saw mention on the GQ site of another Moehringer athlete profile from earlier in 2010. "In It To Win It" looks at the life and drive of Kobe Bryant and while the story was written in a more conventional manner than that on James, it's still solid work on a pretty fascinating guy.

Two other features from Moehringer I found (and enjoyed) whilst browsing on the worldly wide interwide net...

Written on the town of Gees Bend, Alabama, "Crossing Over" looks at a pocket of the country unknown to many and seemingly caught in a tug of war between staying that way and becoming "modernized". While I wasn't as captivated by this as I was the GQ pieces (primarily due to interest in the subject), it's excellent writing from Moehringer... as evidenced by his 2000 Pulitzer Prize for the story.

Also from the L.A. Times (and later made into a movie), "Resurrecting the Champ" is about Moehringer's relationship with and search for the truth about an ex heavyweight boxing contender. It's pretty riveting stuff and though written some 13 years before the story on James, features (very effectively) the same narrative device of writing about writing. Reading about the author's intereactions with the subject provides a piercing view into him.

So, anyhoo... Moehringer... really solid writer and I look forward to reading more stuff by him in the future.

Now, if only he would get a twitter account and/or blog to make said stuff easier to find...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thomas Hoenig & Inflation Piece by David Von Drehle

Really solid and compelling piece of writing from the Feb 14 issue of Time by one of my favorite current writers.

Good writing is such a fascinating thing to me... it has to be grammatically and structurally clear and correct (the aforementioned solid), but also compelling. That type of compelling may well have an emotional bent (but, as I write about here, shouldn't fall too far into sentiment).

Compelling as an attribute oft times relates to the topic... but, what's really impressive is writing on a subject that someone might not think they'd be interested in, but become so through the story.

This is what Time writer David Von Drehle pulls off in his piece on Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President, Thomas Hoenig. The Fed's Dissenter: Saying No to Easy Money is about one guy (though, an influential one) and his fears of inflation. Von Drehle's writing is excellent from the perspective that it explains fully and in an interesting manner... perhaps more interesting than I would have expected on the subject.

The guy is just a really good writer... as shown through both his work for Time (with writing on the Tucson tragedy posted on and linked to here) and his book (with "Triangle" reviewed here).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Son of a Bold Venture Blog

This isn't the first post I've done on it, but big fan am I of the blog Son of a Bold Venture from Esquire writer Chris Jones.

In my aforementioned first missive, I wrote of my excitement about a blog on the subject of words and writing and have found it's thus far completely met my expectations. It may be odd that a blog heavily about journalism could resonate with me so much, but when you get down to it... print journalism is about words and their meaning (and I like words and their meaning a lot).

Two posts in particular resonated with me thus far... both on the topic of writing as a passion/career choice. Lester's Dilemma addressed the heartache and struggle faced by many writers and Lara Logan's Math the actual physical danger journalism can pose... as horrifically endured by a female CBS correspondent in Egypt.

Also, one series of postings I'm completely drawn to as a concept is Five for Writing... Jones e-mail interviews with other writers take on their craft.

Last thing to mention that I've found of note, the idea of a community interested in writing. The posts usually have 10 t0 30 different comments... with many featuring insightful takes from people both known (Charles P. Pierce) and new to me (Brandon Sneed). I've had the thought and made mention on this blog previously of wanting my writing to become more part of a community, and perhaps this is jumping off point.

In summary... I like words, like to write stuff and love the idea of a blog about (well, close enough about) this same words and their arranging in a meaningful order.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Restrepo" & "The Tillman Story" Documentaries

Watched two documentaries lately that had a lot in common with one another.

Both about the people in the military, both closely related to books that I've read and both excellent... with that excellence leading me to a sense of disgust about the military leadership featured in one of the films.

First movie was "Restrepo" from filmmaker Tim Hetherington and writer Sebastian Junger on their time spent embedded with a US military unit in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The movie is the companion piece to Junger's written account "War" and shows a portrait of just how chaotic and messed up combat can be.

I wrote of this in my review, but I was struck by the idea of someone doing a tour in such extreme and violent conditions and then (hopefully) returning home to live a normal life. I'd say my thought was that it takes a special person to be able to do transition back seamlessly, but really... I don't know how anyone could compartmentalize the type of combat written of and then return home without issue.


Second movie (and the one featuring the military leadership) was "The Tillman Story" by Amir Bar-Lev. It's about former NFL player Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and covers much of the same territory as the Jon Krakauer book on Tillman, "Where Men Win Glory" (which I reviewed here). Both the movie and book portrayed Tillman as someone shamelessly exploited by his military chain of command after his death.

The books and movies referenced here depict the death as well as emotional scars that can come from combat. What's so troubling is how someone (like Tillman) could sign up for that, and then have the circumstances of his life and death manipulated for a political goal... in this case, support of a given war.

Really good books and movies all four... just not the happy and fluffy kind of really good.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Twitter as a Social Media Tool

The impact of both Twitter and Facebook really is remarkable. While they're of course different platforms operating in different ways, each works in Social Media (posted on here) and each is a remarkable enabler of Social Media.

Facebook started first and has a wider usage (primarily for personal connections, but also with a business application (as detailed in this post on personal recommendations), but Twitter in no way should be discounted as a tool towards the Social Media idea of information dissemination.

Thing that amazes me about Twitter as an application is how it can work with such widely varied groups of people towards widely varied purposes...

If someone wants it as political vehicle... easy, get a Twitter account and follow what political figures say. If someone wants it as a tool to keep in touch with friends... great, follow them. Related to all this and in terms of Twitter as a tool for business... the audience is there, it's just a matter of being compelling enough to get people paying attention and following (or the influencers following and retweeting your message to their followers).

There's been a lot written about Twitter as a business (with this post about a Fast Company cover story), but what strikes me is my usage of Twitter as a way to learn of information held elsewhere. Basic concept is that it's all about the links. Someone you follow on Twitter links to a blog, a video, and news story... you're now taken somewhere and exposed to something that without Twitter might have gone completely under the radar.

The topic could be virtually anything (and as detailed above, it's self-selecting based on followers chosen), but the impact is remarkable... and will continue to grow in both width and depth as more people use the tool.

Sports Illustrated Profiles: Jake Plummer & the Brothers Harbaugh

Two really good Sports Illustrated profiles that bear posting on together.

From the most recent issue, Chris Ballard wrote "What Was He Thinking?" about former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer and an October 2010 SI piece was "Beat, Play, Love" by Michael Rosenberg on now NFL coaches Jim & John Harbaugh.

Both were detailed and well written looks at the respective men, but what struck me as the common thread was how the three of them appear to be doing what they want in life.

The Harbaughs were raised in a football family, but the path each followed really points to the goal of being a head football coach. There's a fair amount of interesting back story from Rosenberg as to what brought John to the head job in Baltimore and Jim more recently to that with San Francisco, but it's impressive reading about someone knowing what they want and working over time to get there.

Ballard's story on Jake Plummer differs from that on the Harbaughs as rather than being about people in marquee NFL roles, it's about someone who walked away from a position in the spotlight. After starring in college and then earning accolades and wealth with first the Cardinals and then Broncos, Plummer left his role as an NFL quarterback (and $5M upcoming season salary) and retired to his home in Sand Point, ID. Instead of pining away for the past, Plummer comes across as completely at ease with his life... including his passion for competitive handball (and associated comradeship).

Excellent stories both with solid writing from Rosenberg and Ballard respectively, but what really struck me was the subjects themselves. Yea, maybe not everyone has made the type of money Plummer has to be able to walk away from a profession, but he still left a lot behind to follow his desires. The Harbaughs path may be more traditional in that theirs doesn't so blatantly diverge from the traditional, but it's nonetheless impressive to read about the work they've put in to now have their aspired to positions.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Close to Best 2010 Writing Linked To - Business

Last post (well, most likely) in the Best and Close to Best Writing Linked To In 2010 series with two particularly interesting pieces around business that I linked to last year...

The Nov issue of Fast Company featured "The Siberian Energy Rush" on Russian claim staking in the Arctic (posted on and linked to here) and the May 17-23 issue of Businessweek "South Africa: A Big Bounce from the World Cup"... written about at this post.

Both well written pieces about business, but specifically business as it relates to a particular country and development efforts. Interesting stuff...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Feature Writing from New Businessweek - on Glock, Apple, Google & Ford

After having my Businessweek subscription expired for the past six months, I decided recently to start reading again... and find the new Bloomberg Businessweek pretty solid.

Each issue is larger than those from the previous format and while a goodly amount of the vignette pieces I'm not into, I find the feature writing excellent. Thus far I've seen four issues and there's been at least one excellent lengthy piece in every issue.

The Jan 13 issue cover story was Glock: America's Gun and a thorough look at the company that for better or worse, has provided arms for American streets (cops and robbers both) over the past 25 years.

Cover stories from the next two issues of BW followed with looks at top companies going through changes (both intended as temporary and permanent) in leadership.

The Jan 19 issue featured Apple, With or Without Steve Jobs and Jan 26 issue Larry Page's Google 3.0. Each story provides a well written and in-depth look at the companies in question.

Finally (at least for the purpose of this blog post) was the Feb 3 issue which featured (but, not as it's cover story) The Happiest Man in Detroit about Ford Motor Company and it's CEO Alan Mulally. I've written about and linked to stories on Ford previously and am pretty well fascinated by the company and it's current (and future) product offerings.


Nothing that would be considered lyrical in any of these pieces, but solid writing on interesting topics.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

New Blog About Writing & Words from Chris Jones

Since I do a goodly amount of blathering on about words and what they mean, I was very very (did I mention very?) interested to learn of a new blog from Chris Jones (one of my favorite writers) that he describes as being "about writing and words."

On the Blogger network (ok, since I've now seen this blog and the one from Joe Posnanski on blogger, I'll remain on and not move to TypePad), Son of a Bold Venture features a hodgepodge of writing from Jones... with almost if not all of the posts thus far on the subject of Writing.

His first post provides both some short back story around becoming a writer (which frankly, made me want to hear the long back story) and impetus behind the blog. With the second post a day later being on another of my favorite writers, the aforementioned Joe Posnanski, I was sold as a reader. Well, I would have been into it anyways, but you get the point.

I posted a comment to this second blog entry with a portion of it being the following:

Joe Posnanski for me hits on multiple elements of good writing. It's thorough, conveys a message and is emotional... but without dropping into the realm of sentimental just for the sake of sentiment (if that makes sense as an accolade).

Now, I'm not going to follow the traditional path that my blog has taken of reposting or linking to good writing and saying why it's good since that would be, you know... My commenting on My writing and saying why I like it. What I will do though, is say that I love this idea of what makes good writing good.

Me thinks it's especially a trick to come up with good writing of the more heartfelt variety (which I tend to lean towards rather than away from) because if not done well, it just becomes ooshy-gushy. The writers I most enjoy and seek out stuff from (Posnanski, Jones, S.L. Price, David Von Drehle, Austin Murphy when he's not doing straight game reporting) all seem to accomplish this feat of solid and thorough writing that also has heart.

So, back to the point (and title) of this post... a blog on writing by a guy who writes in a fashion that I admire, it's Word Gold to me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Barack Obama Tucson Speech & Patti Davis on Ronald Reagan

There's a great number of topics posted on and linked to on this blog... including those from the worlds of sports, business, family and politics. Two pieces I've come across lately fall loosely into the Political category, but squarely into the category of great writing.

The first was President Barack Obama's address to the nation following the shooting in Tucson. The writing in his speech had the same elements as other outstanding writing posted on and linked to about the tragedy. It covered the topic (if that's not too crass of a term to use in this case), did so in a clear voice, and conveyed a message well.

One could either disagree or agree with policies from the man, but this particular speech was just... solid.


The second piece of writing sort of about politics (but, not really) that I found excellent lately was by Patti Davis on her late father Ronald Reagan. From Time Magazine, "Grace Under Fire" is a commentary about time spent with the former President as he suffered from Alzheimer's.

Reminded me of family writing from memoirs by Gary Dell' Abate and John Grogan... which I reviewed here and here respectively. Very moving stuff...