Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Russell Brand, Dave Bidini & Caroline Sullivan on Passing of Amy Winehouse

Never would have expected heartfelt and incredibly well written prose from him, but that's what goofball actor Russell Brand provided with "For Amy" after Amy Winehouse passed away July 23rd. Written for his website, it's about the life of an addict and what that struggle means as well as being about Winehouse herself. Interesting, profound, solid... just excellent writing.

On this same subject of Winehouse and her death there's a few other not quite as great as that from Brand, but also good pieces of writing I came across. From the London newspaper The Guardian came the "Amy Winehouse obituary" by Caroline Sullivan and Dave Bidini penned "Let's not raise a glass to this" for the National Post.

Sullivan's writing provides an overall look at the life of Winehouse and Bidini's piece in the Toronto newspaper is about the inexorable linking of drugs and alcohol to someone living a celebrity life... particularly one in music. It's an interesting take from someone who's a musician as well as writer (and guy with interests close to my heart as evidenced by his book "Tropic of Hockey" that I reviewed here).

Good writing all on Winehouse and her passing... a shame to have anyone die young and to have such a talent gone.

Sebastian Junger's "The Storm" for Outside Magazine

Recently came across "The Storm" by Sebastian Junger for Outside Magazine and found it to be extremely compelling writing. The piece was published in 1994 and became the basis for Junger's best selling book (and subsequent movie) "The Perfect Storm".

I've posted on Junger previously and after reading four of his books now enjoy both the work itself and reading pieces like this Outside Magazine interview that get into how he became a writer.

Additionally, Junger makes a point in the interview that I completely agree with... people who do dangerous stuff are fascinating. Whether its someone Junger writes about (including himself) or people written about by Susan Casey (also in relation to the ocean and giant waves) there's something interesting about those who live with such risk.

Excellent story here from Outside for both those who have and haven't seen his book that it's based on (and anyone who hasn't had a chance to read the book would likely want to after this story).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Businessweek Pieces: Transocean, Anheuser-Busch & Other Stuff

Handful of interesting stories from the last month of Businessweek.

In terms of feature writing, the issue that stood out was the July 4 edition with the exploding oil rig on the cover.

The lead story of "Transocean: No Apologies Over Gulf Oil Spill" painted a remarkable picture of a company focused on limiting their blame (and eventual liability) in the Deepwater Horizon fire and then Gulf Oil Spill. Good writing by Paul Barrett on the strategy taken by Transocean and it's crisis management firm (led by a former tabloid editor).

Another feature from this edition of Businessweek was "Fall of the House of Busch" by Susan Berfield. Pretty remarkable reading on the previously family-run Anheuser-Busch and it's ex-president (and current train wreck) August Busch IV.


A bunch of other stories from this and other recent issues were notable in featuring interesting companies and technology...

- "Daniel Ek’s Spotify: Music’s Last Best Hope" on a recent entry to the US market for music delivery.

- "Pay as You Go with Smartphones" on current efforts to finally get something widely adopted in the field of mobile payments.

- "Turntable.fm: Where the DJ Is in the Next Cubicle" on a music service with a social component.

- "Can Jeff Weiner Realize LinkedIn’s Full Potential?"

- "Raves for Robert Brunner’s All-New Nook" on the Kindle competing eReader from Barnes & Noble.

- "Ford Steps on the Gas in Asia"

- "HP's Plan to Make TouchPad a Hit"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pieces on Becoming a Writer

One thing terribly fascinating to me is how someone became a writer... this being why I was so riveted by the J.R. Moehringer memoir The Tender Bar (which I reviewed here). Recently I've come across a few interesting pieces that traffic in this topic.

I've posted on Moehringer a few times now and maybe a month ago received an e-mail from someone good enough to give me links to a bunch of us work I hadn't seen before.

As part of this collection, I enjoyed quite a bit his 2007 Denver Magazine feature "Ballad for a Plain Man" on singer/songwriter Jeff Finlin, but was most struck by a shorter Moehringer piece about him at the Denver Rocky Mountain News. Titled "Yesterday's News", it's interesting and personal writing about becoming a writer... practically picking up right where The Tender Bar left as an a writing memoir.


Some more recent stuff on becoming a writer came courtesy of a "Q&A with Kevin Van Valkenburg" on the the I Hate JJ Redick blog covering Baltimore sports. Van Valkenburg writes for the Baltimore Sun and I've enjoyed his work since learning about it from a Chris Jones blog post and now following him on Twitter. The first question posed to him is how he became a writer and got to his current job and maybe it's just me, but it was terribly interesting reading the answer provided.


Final piece lately around becoming a writer isn't so much on one person's path, but rather around a genre of writing. From an issue of Time Magazine a few weeks ago came a piece by Lev Grossman on Fan Fiction titled "The Boy Who Lived Forever".

Fan fiction is the concept of writing story extensions for one's own amusement (many posted to the site FanFiction.Net) and while there may be more unpaid stories on Harry Potter than any other character or series, it could be done for the work of virtually any author.

Interesting genre of writing that I hadn't heard about before, but makes sense as people are simply doing something they enjoy based on... yep, something they enjoy. As someone who loves both reading and (hopefully) producing good writing, it's fascinating this whole culture of both paid and unpaid work out there.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Joe Posnanski & Gary Smith for Sports Illustrated - on Derek Jeter & Carlos Ruiz

Some very cool stuff both from and related to the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.

In terms of stuff related to, the wide angle cover shot of Derek Jeter and his regular season hit number 3,000 is almost a carbon copy of the Jim Thome SI cover last September... linked to here and which also had an accompanying cover story by Joe Posnanski.

Before this latest issue came out I saw "The Day Jeter Hit 3,000" published by Posnanski for his Sports Illustrated blog. The actual magazine story is an ever so slightly edited down version, but the blog post carried more impact reading it the same Saturday that Jeter had his ridiculous 5-5 day with hit number 3,000 being a home run.

A sidebar story around Jeter and this feel-good day was provided by Yankee fan Christian Lopez. Pretty much immediately after catching Jeter's home run ball Lopez volunteered to give it back because as he said (quoted in the Posnanski piece), “It’s HIS accomplishment.” Piling on with the feel-good and good things happen to good people concepts, came "Yankees Fan’s Generosity Is Returned, With $50,000 to Ease His Debt" from the New York Times.


From this same Sports Illustrated issue also came "The Legion Of Arms: Part II - Brotherly Glove" on Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. The Gary Smith piece was solid writing to be sure, but particularly compelling as it was the follow up to Smith's extremely original "The Legion Of Arms" on the Phils starting rotation for the SI Spring Training Preview issue (posted on and linked to here).

Good writing on compelling stories... or compelling writing on good stories? Either way, solid.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The Preacher and the Presidents" by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy

After owning it for some time now, I finally started reading The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy.

I was interested both because of Gibbs as a writer I enjoy and the subject of Graham, but found myself not wanting to continue now that I've reached about the halfway point. The writing is certainly good enough, but at least through his younger years and into the Johnson administration, I found the story of Graham not terribly compelling.

Someone with a relationship with so many different Presidents is interesting to me, but Gibbs and Duffy reference Graham being much more into Presidential policy making (at least through this first half of the book) than I would have expected... or thought would be the case with someone of Graham's reputation as a preacher, not politician.

It could well be that the second half of the book shows a Graham with acquired wisdom and focus on simply advising Presidents in spiritual matters, but I simply find myself wanting to now read other stuff more.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

What & Who I Like to Read - and Where I Find It

A topic kicking around in my head lately and discussed with a few different people is what and who I like to read.

It's definitely something previously considered... with over a year ago my post on topics of interest to read and write about and then favorite authors as well as the more recent post on books from said authors.

So, to revisit the topic and add a few updates...

Type of writing enjoyed - I like good non-fiction, particularly that with some emotional heft, and a balance between sentiment and reporting. It's tough to pull off, but also done by some good writers out here.

Where I find it - Much of the writing posted on and linked to here came from print magazines (with publishing there requiring that the pieces have made it through the filter of the publication), with my having subscriptions to the magazines below:

Sports Illustrated
Fast Company

There may well be other great magazines out there I should subscribe to, but each of these serves as a source of good articles and mention of books to read. Also, I've written about it before, but Twitter can be an excellent source of links to both good feature writing and non-fiction books.


Who I liked to read - it was only a few months ago I did the aforementioned post on books from authors, but there are a couple of additions both in terms of writers and upcoming books to look for.

New feature writers I look for stuff from:

Tommy Tomlinson - Twitter page here

Kevin Van Valkenburg - Twitter page here

Jeff MacGregor - Twitter page here

Books coming out from favorite authors:

Jeff Jarvis - Public Parts scheduled for Sept 2011 release.

Michael Lewis - Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World scheduled for Oct 2011 release.

Eric Weiner - Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine scheduled for Dec 2011 release.

J.R. Moehringer - still untitled work of historical fiction on U.S. bank robber Willie Sutton scheduled for fall 2012 release.


Really, this topic of what I read is the same question posed to a different person from my home state...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

"Dig This Gig" by Laura Dodd

Just finished reading Dig This Gig: Find Your Dream Job - or Invent It by Laura Dodd.

I previously posted on a book signing of Dodd's and while I still admire her hustle (that might sound negative, but my prior post shows that it's not) in selling the book, it was directed at a different audience than myself.

The book is geared towards people in their 20s who are trying to figure out what to do and presents 32 different vignettes on the careers (and path to those careers) of 20-somethings who work in 8 different fields. Additionally, Dodd interviews a mentor from each field who provides their longer view wisdom around careers.

Dodd's writing isn't necessarily brilliant (how many people's actually is?), but she obviously put her work into the book and I'd say there's value in the whole book for young people who don't really know what they want to do and in specific sections for people interested in a given career field.

Sections of the book:

1. Healthcare Gigs
2. Entertainment Gigs
3. Do-Good Gigs
4. Green Gigs
5. News Gigs
6. Government Gigs
7. Derailed Gigs
8. Outdoor Office Gigs

I skimmed some of the sections, but found myself (and would have expected this) drawn to the Entertainment Gigs, News Gigs and Dan Rather as Mentor section of Derailed Gigs.

What stood out was that the fields were tough (with Entertainment being a coveted area and Journalism a shrinking one), but people like Young Adult author Kathyn Williams or screenwriter Lane Shadgett are on the right paths for themselves by both having talent and hustling (you know, just like Dodd herself). Extremely closely related to this, the aforementioned CBS News Anchor Dan Rather offers the following...

"I think the most helpful advice is from Winston Churchill - 'Never, never, never, never give up.' Just always keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep on keeping on."

Basic concept I took from Rather, many of the people featured by Dodd and Dodd's efforts around her book is you gotta look for different paths, gotta try something and then gotta work at it.

Simple, profound, elegant... and if easy, everyone would do it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Best Newspaper Columns of All Time

Pretty fascinating piece I came across on Twitter recently with Charlotte Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson linking to a Wall Street Journal blog entry titled "What’s the Best Newspaper Column of All Time?"

An arbitrary question to be sure, but interesting nonetheless.

Actual listing was done courtesy of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists with the story from their website being "Top Ten American Columns in History". Linked to from both the WSJ and this piece was a 31 page PDF of what was said to be the top fifteen (I know, the story was titled "top ten") columns. One through fifteen ranking was then determined by picks from both members of the Society and the general public.

After reading both the ranking and the stories, I kind of wish I had seen the stories first so as to not influence which ones stood out to me, but below were my personal favorites in no particular order (with links I was able to find directly to the pieces)...

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa ClausFrances Pharcellus Church – New York Sun – 9/21/1897

The Death of Captain Waskow - Ernie Pyle - Scripps Howard – 1/10/44

It’s an Honor - Jimmy Breslin - New York Herald Tribune - November 1963

Daley Embodied Chicago – Mike Royko – Chicago Sun Times – 12/21/76

We’ll Go Forward From This MomentLeonard Pitts Jr. – Miami Herald – 9/11/01

All were pretty short, but powerful in their own distinct ways.

The piece by Pitts practically overpowers the reader with it's imagery, and those by both Breslin and Pyle work to great effect in a much more understated way. The Church story is just plain famous (and good) and the Royko story (around the middle of the PDF previously linked) has what I'd consider to be some iconic phrases... noted below because I thought they were just so darn great:

"So when Daley slid sideways into a sentence, or didn’t exit from the same paragraph he
entered, it amused us."

"The town was built by great men who demanded the drunkards and harlots be arrested,
while charging them rent until the cops arrived."


Really good writing linked here (granted, it is supposed to be The Best)... that said, I am a touch surprised to not see here Death of a Racehorse by W.C. Heinz for the New York Sun in 1949. I first heard of the piece from W.C. Heinz, 1915-2008 by Chris Jones for Esquire and found it to be definitely on par with the other great works in how each and every word has such heft behind it.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Sports Illustrated & Grantland.com Championship Features: Dallas Mavericks & Boston Bruins

Some solid writing on recent Championship runs by the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Bruins.

The NBA Title from the Mavs yielded the SI cover story "Lone Star Power" by Lee Jenkins. Very solid piece that conveyed the details of the Finals along with the human drama supplied by Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. Excellent blend of straight reporting and emotional kick from Jenkins.


Reporting on the Bruins win differed in that while there was a good individual achievement piece in Sports Illustrated after the Stanley Cup Finals, it was tougher to find really good writing on the team and series as a whole.

The aforementioned SI writing was "Hub Fans Bid Tim Yahoo!" by Brian Cazeneuve. Very solid recounting of the path to a championship taken by Bruins goalie and playoff MVP Tim Thomas.

In terms of an overall writeup on the Bruins and the extremely compelling Finals against the Canucks, the best I came across was written for the new website Grantland. "Proud to be an NHL front-runner" was written by Bill Simmons after game four of the Finals and did an excellent job of portraying the level of nastiness in the first four games and contrasting the two teams... and why for many fans, the Bruins were an easier team to like than the Nucks. After the game seven win by the Bruins, Simmons then penned "A Black And Gold Day for Boston. Finally." also for Grantland (and from which the below image was taken).

There's a lot written on Tim Thomas in the second Grantland piece (and justifiably so), but Simmons also does a solid job of linking this win to Bruins championships (and goalies) from the past.

Excellent writing on two big triumphs.

Friday, July 01, 2011

"Endgame" by Frank Brady

Recently finished the compelling Frank Brady book Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness.

In terms of an actual review of Endgame, Janet Maslin published "Odd, Odd Case of Bobby Fisher" for the New York Times and my take on the book is that it was definitely worth the read. Even if the thought of Fisher and his story doesn't interest a potential reader, there's something interesting about people who live a remarkable life of extremes. To this point, the Robert Lipsyte (whose book I recently reviewed here) book jacket quote seems spot on:

"Weird and fascinating... Bravo, Brady."

Fisher is portrayed by Brady as brilliant (and I suppose pretty much any biographer of Fisher would agree), but also someone prone to obsessiveness. He was exposed to chess at a young age and then spent enormous time during his formative years playing the game... with two mentions by Brady relating to the impact of this time spent:

- A Robert Frost quote about having a successful education - "just hanging around until you have caught on"

- The Malcolm Gladwell "10,000 hours to master something" concept from his book Outliers (which I reviewed here)

Fisher combined a high intellect with putting the time in to master the game and an over the top focus on winning... with these things leading to his becoming a World Champion, but also likely to his paranoia and eventual retreat from the game of chess.

Again, a fascinating (and troubled) individual that Brady provides a very readable look at.