Monday, December 31, 2012

New York Times Snow Fall interactive feature

"Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek" was an amazing feature from the New York Times that stood out on multiple levels. The piece was written by John Branch and in 18,000+ words details the avalanche that claimed the lives of three expert skiers on an out-of-bounds run at Stevens Pass ski area outside Seattle.

Previously written on this tragedy was the piece "Tunnel Vision" by Megan Michelson for Outside Magazine. The writing by Michelson was compelling and I previously linked to it in a post on writers and their writing as she was part of the group skiing that day. 

It's in no way a knock on the Michelson piece, but Branch definitely expands on the story as "Snow Fall" features the following postscript: "The reporting for this article on the Feb. 19 avalanche at Tunnel Creek was done over six months. It involved interviews with every survivor, the families of the deceased, first responders at Tunnel Creek, officials at Stevens Pass and snow-science experts. It also included the examination of reports by the police, the medical examiner and the Stevens Pass Ski Patrol, as well as 40 calls to 911 made in the aftermath of the avalanche. "

This level of reporting done by Branch was reminiscent of what must have gone into his three-part series "Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer" on Derek Boogaard for the Times a year ago. Continuing with this idea of reminiscent parallels, I linked to the Boogard story with it's in-depth level of journalism in the same way that I did the Michelson piece, under the subject of writers and writing.

Not to simply use this post as a vehicle to link to past blog posts done here, but the recent "Snow Fall" story  falls into this same category of being interesting not just as a piece of excellent writing, but in relation to the field of journalism and writing. Along with the aforementioned level of reporting done by Branch, the piece differs from most in that the Times published it as an interactive feature that incorporates extremely well-done graphics, images and video along with the text.

About the concept and construction of the Times feature (incorporating both Branch's text and everything beyond) were a few different pieces from The Atlantic. On December 20th, Rebecca Greenfield wrote "What the New York Times's 'Snow Fall' Means to Online Journalism's Future" which included an interview with two editors from the Times Graphics and Digital departments. Then a day later, Atlantic editor Derek Thompson did "'Snow Fall' Isn't the Future of Journalism" about how as incredible as the feature is, it's likely not going to become a norm in journalism simply because of how much work it required. Finally, Greenfield a week later added "So What if Tons of People Read That 'Snow Fall' Story on the Times Website?" that included mention of how the feature got as many page views for the Times that the entire Outside Magazine site gets in a month.

It was interesting reading these pieces from The Atlantic and to probably generalize a bit on the message conveyed, they echoed what I thought while reading "Snow Fall"; it's a thoroughly reported and well written feature that included lots of additional work outside of writing, but it doesn't seem sustainable for publications to provide this on a regular basis. While it's true that the Times and Byliner collaborated to make "Snow Fall" available for purchase as an e-book, the note "A version of this article, which includes an epilogue, is available as an e-book" doesn't seem as it if would draw in many readers who have just enjoyed the 18,000+ works and numerous interactive features for free on the Times site.

That said, while the field of journalism and how writing should be delivered (and paid) still very much in flux, it's heartening to see the attempt made to figure it out and a great feature (including the writing by Branch and everything else that went into it) provided in the process.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver is a solid book on predictions and probability which at times is a bit weighty, but due more to the subject than anything Silver should have done differently in the writing.

Silver is the creator and still lead writer of the (now New York Times) blog FiveThirtyEight which began in advance of the 2008 Presidential election and has become a go-to place to get political predictions. Silver makes his calls based in probabilities and does so based on looking at a wide variety of poll numbers and factoring in weighting information about those polls. Out of the November 2012 elections, Silver correctly predicted the Presidential winner in each state as well as all but one Senate race (those unpredictable folk in Montana).

 The subtitle to Silver's book is Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't and he notes fairly in reference to his main title that "the signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth." In terms of structure, he lays out in the intro that the first half of the book diagnoses problem with many predictions and the second looks at making predictions better, in large part through the application of something called Baye's theorem.

Some of the prediction areas that Silver notes as having room for improvement are below:

Many people felt the real estate plunge of a few years back couldn't occur because they made predictions based on the idea that home loan defaults were much more independent of each other than was the case. In actuality, what occurred is loan defaults turned out to be very much related as a direct result of home values being tied to one another.

Pundits making their calls about political winners based on feeling turn out to often be wrong. As evidence of this, Silver notes The McLaughlin Group and how predictions on the television show turned out to be roughly equal parts right, wrong, somewhat right and somewhat wrong.

Forecasting disasters such as terrorism, hurricanes, earthquakes, foods and influenza outbreaks.

As Silver gets into the idea of improving prediction, he brings up the aforementioned idea of Bayesian reasoning named after Thomas Bayes, which includes considering the likelihood of events in making predictions. Silver also notes that the concepts behind Baye's theorem fit heavily into principles that guide his FiveThirtyEight blog... (1) think in probabilities of things coming to pass rather than just making predictions, (2) make changes to forecasts as new info arises and (3) look for consensus in forecasts (which sounds to me like a Wisdom of the Crowds-related idea).

All in all, it's a fairly heavy read, but a worthwhile one (or at a minimum, a worthwhile skim of parts that resonate) for somebody interested in predictions, why many of them fall short and how they can be improved.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sports writing from Smith, Chen, Saslow & Carpenter

There's been some remarkable sports writing over the past week from a variety of different sources.

Most profound of the pieces was by Gary Smith for last week's issue of Sports Illustrated. Written about the childhood sex abuse suffered by Cy Young winning pitcher R.A. Dickey and Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison"Stand Up Speak Out" is a detailed and painful to read story of children being overlooked, manipulated and taken advantage of.

From this same issue of issue was "The Politicization Of Jeremy Lin" by Albert Chen. It was interesting reading that dealt heavily with identity and how enemies China and Taiwan both seek to claim the Rockets point guard (who was born in the U.S.) as their own.

Another piece of noteworthy sports writing lately was by Les Carpenter for Yahoo Sports. "Former NFL QB Jon Kitna finds ‘gold mine’ at his troubled old high school" was a solidly written profile of a remarkable teacher and coach. Contained within the piece was the disconcerting anecdote about the H.S. football team returning back to school at 11:30PM and there being no parents there waiting.

Last piece to mention here was from the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine. Eli Saslow wrote "A trip to the threshing floor" on former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin and his Hall of Fame induction speech. The story features a ton of interesting anecdotes reported on by Saslow and is just very well done.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NY Times Piece on a mother and father rushing to Sandy Hook Elementary

After avoiding for about a week reading anything in depth on what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, I found from a post on the writing website Gangrey an amazingly well written piece by Jim Dwyer for the New York Times.

"Running and Hoping to Find a Child Safe" is about Michelle and Curtis Urbina, parents of a student at Sandy Hook, and to take a description from Gangrey site creator Ben Montgomery's tweet on the story, the piece was "breathtakingly good".

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fives instances of or about great storytelling

There's been a number of interesting things I've come across on Twitter lately that all fall under the topic of great storytelling. Really, I like to think that most pieces linked to on this blog tell a compelling story, but these five are actually noteworthy because of story.

Additionally of interest to me was the varying form of each, with them being (1) a request for information, (2) letter posted on a wall, (3) website post on newspaper writing that led to another piece and discussion of that writing, (4) newspaper story reported and written quickly and (5) video of a talk about storytelling.

The request for information was titled "Indiana Jones Mystery Package" and posted to the University of Chicago Admissions Office Tumblr page. It's about a package received there that was addressed to fictional archaeology professor and adventurer Henry Walton Jones Jr., otherwise known as Indiana Jones. As the Admissions office posting notes, it's unclear why the package was sent and this lack of context helps make the story even more compelling.

The letter posted to a wall was sent to Edison's, the Manhasset, Long Island bar that under a prior name was the setting for quite a bit of The Tender Bar, the brilliant J.R. Moehringer memoir about growing up to become a writer. Written to Edison's by someone influenced by Moehringer's book and passing on their good wishes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it's simply... a nice story.

The website post on newspaper writing was "Article About Lonely Man Results In Birthday Party" posted by Thomas Lake to the writing site Gangrey. Lake put up a 1972 newspaper piece from The Anniston Star about people rallying on behalf of a stranger and following in the same post was the longer Star piece on Tyko Wilhelm Laine by Frank Denton that led a party being thrown for Lane. Additionally, the post on Gangrey then featured commentary from Denton about writing that piece some 40 years ago and the larger idea of working to produce great newspaper stories.

The newspaper piece written on deadline was "Are You John Lennon?" by Jimmy Breslin for the New York Daily News and copied a few years back to a blog called Ralrika. It's ridiculously good writing from Breslin that very much fits into the idea of going beyond simply reporting what happened to telling a compelling story. Making the piece even more amazing is the last three paragraphs tagged onto the end, with  Breslin noting being in bed at 11:20, getting word of Lennon being shot, going out and reporting, writing and filing the piece by 1:30 in the morning.

Final thing to note on the topic of story is what both provided the idea of writing this post and serves as almost an umbrella for the story concept attributed to the above pieces. Tampa Bay Times newspaper writer Michael Kruse gave a TEDx talk about stories that included a number of interesting points, but three that stood out for me. The first related to the Breslin piece in that Kruse talks about how newspapers should be about stories not articles, the second how if something introduced in a story, it has to be played out and third had to do with the work that goes into producing stories. An acclaimed Times feature from Kruse was "A Brevard woman disappeared, but never left home" about Cape Canaveral resident Katherine Norris who died in her home and was found there 16 months later. Kruse in his TEDx speech talks about having set out to create a story of her life and the amount of work he put into reporting to gather information before actually writing. It was solid stuff that showed how lyrical prose oft needs to be proceeded by meticulous research.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Esquire Features on Elon Musk & John Hickenlooper

There was excellent writing throughout the December '12 Esquire Americans of the Year issue and two profiles that struck me as particularly great were on John Hickenlooper and Elon Musk respectively.

"John Hickenlooper's Long, Hot Summer" is a relatively short piece on the Colorado governor and in it, Robert Sanchez portrays someone who's faced very difficult events and seems to do about as good of a job as possible. The writing by Sanchez feels almost quiet in it's portrayal and very fitting with much of the piece centered around Hickenlooper's actions after the Aurora movie theater shooting. Again, short piece, but pretty darn riveting.

The second profile that stood out to me was on Elon Musk, founder of both Space X and Tesla and who I've earlier this year written on and linked to profiles on him from Fast Company, Time and Businessweek. This latest piece done for Esquire was "Triumph of His Will" by Tom Junod and it's really well done writing on a fascinating individual. Junod starts off the profile with a great hook alluding to Musk's audaciousness and then in the piece shows the drive Musk has in looking forward, and often past what others want from him. The character trait comes out in writing on Musk from other magazines as well, but just a remarkable willingness to place huge bets.

Also in this issue of Esquire and related to Musk's goal of going to Mars was a solid Mike Sager profile of NASA Mars Curiosity rover engineer Tom Rivellini. The Sager piece isn't online at this point, but in it he makes reference to the NASA video "Seven Minutes of Terror" about the landing of Curiosity on Mars.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lee Jenkins Feature on LeBron James

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated had an excellent cover story by Lee Jenkins on SI's 2012 Sportsman of the Year, LeBron James.

Most of the stories I'm writing on and linking to here are grouped together with other related pieces, but this James profile seemed to lend itself to an entire post as I was struck by the subject, the quality of the writing and probably most importantly, the construction of the piece.

In terms of James himself, I love the idea of someone who has been through different experiences than others as well as someone with great talent who also works harder than others. From a quality of writing perspective, Jenkins combines together excellent prose with what feels to be an exceptionally well organized and developed piece. To this end, below was how the structure seemed to lay out:

Section 1 (by opening photograph of James) - Jenkins creates a form of suspense by making reference to James having a goal, but not stating what that goal actually is.

Section 2 (the actual start of the piece) - Open question around the goal is resolved with an anecdote about James chasing the "best of all time" distinction. Section then went to cover how James has always been a great athlete, and especially in recent years has put in the work to improve upon that natural ability.

Section 3 - Jenkins follows up on the prior section with detail around how James through the years has both matured and improved as a player.

Section 4 - Additional detail is provided on the level James has reached through his work and mental preparation.

Section 5 - Jenkins goes back to James outside of the game and covers what he's done through his foundation and the impact on kids in Akron.

Section 6 - More detail provided on what James has both contributed to the community and provided in terms of leadership on the court. Related to this is in mention of the friendly rivalry between James and Kevin Durant (with Durant chasing James).

Section 7 - Jenkins closes off the profile with detail around the obligation James feels in each game played.

Just an excellent overall piece by Jenkins that provides some great anecdotes (an indicator of in-depth reporting) with stellar organization. Again, just my take on the writing, but short-version structure would be (A) hook, (B) hook payoff, (C) James as someone different than others... and who maximizes his ability, (D) more on James the player, (E) James the person, (F) James the player and person brought together.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Reading & writing - along with Stephen Marche essay

Over the past four years of writing this blog, I've intermittently thought about and occasionally written on (usually with a post tag of "blogging") the process of doing the posts and the point of the effort.

Source of writing posted on

In terms of the content and where it comes from, there's simply a heck of a lot of reading. This comes in the form of books (mostly non-fiction), magazines (have seven subscriptions now) and more recently, Twitter and story links I get from the people I follow.

Selecting writing to post on

Reading something with an eye towards writing on it makes the process more interesting in that I'm evaluating whether something interesting and why. I'm reading to find great writing and ascertain what it is about a given piece that makes it exemplary... whether it be lyrical prose, deep reporting (and potentially off the beaten path anecdotes provided) or simply a topic of interest that's covered well. Where something becomes great is oftentimes in the combination of factors. A piece of writing on an interesting subject that entertains as well as informs... that there is the good stuff, and requires reading a lot of writing that may be decent, but doesn't stand out enough to write on and link to.

Process of writing blog posts

Most all of the posts that aren't book reviews note and link to multiple pieces of excellent writing so each given post usually has a coherent theme I'm trying to write about and have the different pieces feed into. Once I've set aside in some fashion several notable pieces, the writing of the blog posts is then the attempt to convey in fairly short form what in the writing made it stand out. Additionally, the goal is often to make connections not only between the pieces linked to in a given post, but also between a given post and others posts done in the past.

Outcome of writing blog posts

It can certainly be quibbled with whether the effort and time put into this blog post writing and the reading that happens first is worthwhile, but it comes down to worthwhile being in the eye of the beholder.

From the reading I've learned a lot of interesting things and been exposed to some great writing. From the blog posting, I've gotten my thoughts out as to what made something great and done so on a consistent basis. At times the writing has been a slog to be sure, but efforts have resulted in 11+ posts being done each month of writing the blog. Out of these blog posts, there's come two self-published books, a repository of great writing on interesting subjects and connections with people who write professionally.

Point of the writing

Going forward, I'm sure there's ideas and themes that could be culled out from posts done and serve as the basis for future writing and maybe it'll all lead somewhere as more than an avocation. The statement could be made that "even if not, it's fine because...", but really the more salient point is the key thing is the process. The process of the reading and the considering and the writing and then the working with the writing is the thing I like to do. When you get down to it, this doing of the thing you like to do... there's a lot to be said for that.

With my diatribe now spelled out, there's an essay from the latest issue of Esquire that very much relates. "The Golden Age for Writers... is right now" was by Stephen Marche and his piece reinforces for me this idea of focusing on the process of doing the thing you like to do.

Ironic I suppose that the thing I like to do is being done through each word I write about it. Here's to there being much more to follow...

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Solid Sports Writing - by Tomlinson, Ballard, Layden, Davis, Price & Miklasz

It may be a lot to include in one post, but I've recently read six pieces of really good sports writing that group into three different reasons for standing out.

The first set of pieces was excellent in that each story more what might typically be expected given the type of writing. "Shattered Dreams" was by Tommy Tomlinson for Sports on Earth and took the concept of a game writeup and went way beyond it. Rather than simply reporting on the Alabama-Georgia SEC title game events and outcome, Tomlinson went into the emotions of the game and included the tremendously insightful quote "Why do sports hold so much power? Not because they’re life and death -- they’re not. But they make us feel life and death, in all its messy glory, in all its numbing agony." These two sentences struck me as a great encapsulation of being a player or passionate fan of a sport.

The second piece that had this same type of unexpected payoff was from Chris Ballard in last week's Sports Illustrated. "Moneyballsy" is a profile of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, but goes beyond a typical profile piece in a few different ways. There's how Ballard shows Morey's analytic approach to assembling a team roster as part of a larger trend towards data analysis in sports and outside (see: political predictions and Nate Silver) as well as a number of interesting anecdotes provided about Morey and his interests. It's just a very revealing look at the guy.

If the first set of stories noted here had more than the type of piece would generally provide, the second set to mention included simply very well written in-depth feature stories. From the same SI issue that had the Morey profile was "Tinker To Evers To Chance ... ... To Me" by Tim Layden. It's a fascinating and detailed look at Johnny Evers, one third of the famous (to baseball enthusiasts) Tinker to Evers to Chance double play combination and also the great uncle of Layden. The story of Evers is an interesting one and combined with the connection to Layden it becomes all the better of a read.

Another feature profile I've seen recently that did an excellent job telling the story of a compelling individual was "Still Richard: Richard Simmons Keeps Grooving at 64" by David Davis. Written for the Longform section on SB Nation, it's a great profile of the extremely emotionally invested in his work fitness advocate.

Final two pieces to mention here are both on college basketball coach Rick Majerus who recently passed away from heart disease. The more personal of the two stories was "Majerus lived his life to help others" from friend and St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, but the 2008 Sports Illustrated feature "The Life and Times of Rick Majerus" by S.L. Price is also great writing on an interesting individual.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Businessweek & Fast Company Features

There were a few pieces that stood out from recent issues of Businessweek and Fast Company.

The latest BW had two feature stories of note including "A Pet Food Store Fights to Survive Sandy" by Karl Taro Greenfeld. He's one of those writers whose work I look for (along with Ashlee Vance and Brad Stone as other frequent Businessweek contributors) and provides in this piece a thorough and compelling view into the storm aftermath for one wiped out Staten Island business and it's owners.

Also from this issue was the interesting Devin Leonard piece "Is Concierge Medicine the Future of Health Care?" about doctors taking on patients on a monthly fee basis rather than billing insurance carriers for exams and basic services. Very interesting notion with lots of different service derivations and costs ranging from extremely high to quite affordable.

From Fast Company recently a feature that particularly stood out was "IBM's Watson Is Learning Its Way To Saving Lives" by Jon Gertner. Fascinating look at the ever-improving supercomputer (of winning at Jeopardy fame) and it's potential applications in any number of fields including finance and medicine. Interesting in the piece was the description of Watson (with it's computing power coming from software as much as hardware) being positioned for medical diagnosing purposes as a tool providing possibilities and %s of likely success rather than end all be all intelligence. While information from Watson may wind up being better than from a doctor, it could speed adoption of the computer to understate how it might replace a doctor's evaluation.

Two other things of particular interest from Fast Company lately were mention of of a Social Media expert (a nebulous phrase to be sure) and feature story on a well known website and it's founder. The Social Media expert mentioned was Clara Shih and seeing her in the "Leadership in a Time of Chaos" Dec/Jan cover story reminded me of a March 2012 Businessweek piece that referenced her book The Facebook Era. The website and it's founder Fast Company feature was "Not Just Another Web 2.0 Company, Yelp Basks In Its Star Power" by Max Chafkin. I'm fascinated by Social Media companies and how some seem to make much more sense than others... with Jeremy Stoppleman's Yelp appearing to have a lot of staying power.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Excellent sports writing - on Ricky Rubio, Jack Jablonski & Pat Schiller

Three pieces of sports writing I've come across recently from three very different sources stood out as compelling.

Published on The Classical, "The Ricky Rubio Experience" was an example of great writing that might not  find an outlet if not for the web. It's written by ex-pro basketball player Flinder Boyd and the bulk of the piece covers Boyd's experience playing against a Rubio in his mid-teens who dominated against men. What's striking from the story was the description of Rubio's creativity and it brought to mind stories like this by S.L. Price for Sports Illustrated on soccer icon Lionel Messi.

If the Rubio piece trafficked in the lyrical, two other excellent stories of late were grounded in a much more stark reality. "After the Hit" was a long profile in the Star Tribune newspaper on Minneapolis area high school player Jack Jablonski who was paralyzed a year ago during a game. I previously wrote about an SI piece on Jablonski and this lengthy recent profile by Pam Louwagie is excellent in it's combination of uplift and tragedy. In that regard, Louwagie's work reminds me of how I wrote a month ago about a Chris Ballard story for SI having such a balance.

The third piece to note here was similar to Louwagie's in that it has a definite element of inspiration and opportunity, but is also rooted in long odds still to be overcome. For the New York Times Magazine"The Hard Life of an N.F.L. Long Shot" was by Charles Siebert on his nephew Pat Schiller's attempt to make a team after being undrafted out of college. Schiller certainly has gotten further in in his sport than the large majority of others to play the game, but Siebert meticulously details the difficulty of him going beyond this to a career playing football.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Rise to Greatness" by David Von Drehle

Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle was a solid work of historical non-fiction that chronicles Abraham Lincoln's actions throughout the year 1862 leading up his Emancipation Proclamation in early 1863 that freed the slaves in Rebel territories.

Von Drehle writes for Time Magazine and previously wrote the excellent book Triangle: The Fire That Changed America on a deadly 1911 New York garment factory fire and this book on Lincoln was of interest both from Von Drehle as the writer and because of the subject. Several year back I read the Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and found it to be a compelling work.

Rise to Greatness was certainly well written and incredibly thorough with lots of material around how Lincoln lived firmly in a world of what he could accomplish, not what he wanted or was authorized to do. A huge piece of this concept manifested itself in Lincoln's actions during the year with General George McClellan, a military leader with a loyal partisan following, but who wasn't taking the aggressive steps needed and which Lincoln sought. It was very much within his power as President to replace McClellan at any time, but doing so at the wrong moment could have had disastrous consequences for Lincoln's overriding goal of keeping the Union together.

Overall, it was an excellent book, but the focus of this one extremely important calendar year narrow enough that if someone wants to read an excellent full biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals would probably be the one to pick up prior to Rise to Greatness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writers on Writing - from Nieman Storyboard & The Oatmeal

There's a couple of pieces I've come across lately on the subject of writing that stood out as particularly great... one a series of talks by writers on writing and one a comic about the writing process.

From the Nieman Storyboard website was a four part series taken from "The Power of Storytelling" annual writing conference in Romania and it featured some compelling thoughts from excellent writers. Introduction was “The Power of Storytelling,” Part 1: A bunch of American storytellers go to Romania… and it noted the writers who spoke and provided a brief excerpt from each person's address.

The speeches were all interesting, but four of them in particular stood out to me. From “The Power of Storytelling,” Part 2: Jacqui Banaszynski on the future of stories and Evan Ratliff on digital entrepreneurship Banaszynski provided a beautiful description of an obituary for her mother and Ratliff (founder and editor of Atavist) talked about just going with an idea and seeing where it takes you. Additionally of note was “The Power of Storytelling,” Part 4: Chris Jones on why stories matter, Pat Walters on endings, Walt Harrington on integrity and in it Jones wrote of not being a cynic (referencing a great bit from Dave Eggers) and Harrington provided an excellent take on truth and facts required in non-fiction writing.

In of course a very different genre, but equally great on the subject of producing writing was a comic strip I came across from The Oatmeal. "Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web" is just... great. It's funny, profound, realistic stuff from site creator Matthew Inman who also wrote the paperback book How to How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Solid ESPN Writing by Van Valkenburg & Winegardner

There were two excellent pieces of writing from the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Very much related to the theme of LSU vs Alabama, "One Game, One Game" focus of the issue was a story by Mark Winegardner on LSU fan Garrison Stamp and Bama supporter Brian Downing. Piece was titled "Last Time They Met" and recounts the stupid move while drunk by Downing and the consequences of it. Story is thoroughly reported by Winegardner and the whole story is just a shame.

Other piece of note from this issue was "At the heart of Torrey Smith" by Kevin Van Valkenburg. There's a lot to Smith's story with his rise to a team leader as a second year wideout with the Ravens and his brother's death earlier this year the night before a game and Van Valkenburg writes it exceptionally well and inspires a lot of respect for both the player and his coach John Harbaugh.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Feature stories by Heckert and Veselka

Two excellent feature stories I've seen recently were from Justin Heckert and Vanessa Veselka respectively.

Published in the November issue of GQ was "The Truck Stop Killer" by Veselka, an account of her trying to find out if convicted serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades is the same person who picked her up as a teenage runaway hitchhiker in 1985. Pretty chilling piece that brings to mind "The Vanishing" by Bob Friel for Outside earlier this year.

As the latest New York Times Magazine cover story, Heckert provided "The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly" on Georgia middle schooler Ashlyn Blocker. It's an absolutely riveting piece on Blocker as part of the rare subset of people who don't feel pain and what this means for their lives. Heckert a few months ago wrote "How to Build an American Car" for Esquire and this story on Blocker is another really solid piece of writing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Excellent features on Oregon running backs

Separated a couple of months apart were two profiles written on Oregon running backs.

From the September 24 issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins wrote "Can't Touch Dat" on De'Anthony Thomas and posted recently to the CBS Sports website was "For Barner family, name Kenjon evokes both triumph and tragedy" by Dennis Dodd.

Thomas was definitely the more heralded back (who also plays as a wideout, kick returner and possibly defender due to injuries) going into the year, but Kenjon Barner was the guy who ran for 321 yards in a win against USC.

Excellent writing from both pieces on two people with interesting life stories and likely future careers in the NFL.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writers & what they write - Gisondi, Hemphill, Montgomery and Michelson

There's been a few pieces lately that stood out to me either on or illustrative about the process of writing.

In terms of actually on writing was first a post from the website of Journalism professor Joe Gisondi. Titled "Are you really ready to be a journalist?" it gets into some specific things to think about for someone considering the field. The second piece of note on writing was by southern writer Paul Hemphill who passed away in 2009. Originally printed in Southern Voices Magazine, "Quitting the Paper" is a remarkable essay that's posted by Alex Belth to his website Alex Belth's Bronx Banter. Hemphill writes a well done tale of making a decision to leave his columnist job to write books and free-lance features... and then stepping forward with that choice.

The other two stories to mention here were excellent newspaper and magazine pieces respectively, but what struck me was what had to go into each piece as well as the background of one of the writers.

For the Tampa Bay Times, Ben Montgomery did "Recounting the deadly hazing that destroyed FAMU band's reputation" and it's compelling writing with an incredible amount of detail, and had a postscript that brought to mind Gisondi and his mention of open-record laws.. "This story was reported based on 2,300 pages of depositions, investigative reports, crime scene photographs and audio recordings made public by state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida."

Last piece to note was "Tunnel Vision" for Outside Magazine. Written by Megan Michelson, it's her first person account of an avalanche that claimed the lives of three expert skiers in February 2012. The writing is excellent, but it was both amazing for me to think of Michelson actually being in that group of skiers and interesting to read a bit of her career path. She's mentioned in Outside to be an ESPN editor living in Lake Tahoe (so obviously not in the corporate office) and her website also describes her as a freelance writer and links to past magazine stories done. Just interesting (and kind of inspirational) the careers some people carve out for themselves.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Elsewhere" by Richard Russo

Elsewhere by Richard Russo is an interesting memoir from the writer of notable works of fiction like Straight Man (which I read and enjoyed) and the Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls.

It's a different book than I expected in that while it's Russo's life story, really it's more about he as an only child and his mother as a single mom. What's remarkable in the book was the depths of care that Russo put into helping his mom starting out when she travelled cross-country with him to college and then through the following decades as Russo would have her living nearby. Additionally, a fascinating detail that comes out late in the book was Russo realizing through his daughter's diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder that his same disease may very well have afflicted his mom throughout her life.

In terms of being a story about growing up and relationship with parents, the book made me think about two other memoirs of the same ilk, The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan and 'Tis by Frank McCourt. Of the two, I enjoyed the Grogan book much more and comparing 'Tis to Elsewhere for me shows a pretty negative depiction of McCourt as a son to his aging mother. Actually, McCourt didn't seem a great son to his mother regardless of who compared against, but especially against someone like Russo who gave of himself so much for so many years. Russo doesn't necessarily portray himself as a perfect son, but he simply seemed to follow the maxim that you don't turn your back on someone, even if it would be the much easier thing to do. 

Additionally of interest from Elsewhere and playing a major role in the book's narrative was Russo's hometown of Gloversville, NY. It's fascinating to read of a factory town and what happens there as the factory slows down and then goes away (while actually causing physical harm to the people it did employ back in the day).

Elsewhere might not hold the attention of some with it simply being about a guy and his mother, but it was an interesting read... and reviewed many other places, including for the Washington Post by Marie Arena.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Feature stories by Rehagen, Martel & Manteuffel

There's three great pieces of writing I came across a week or so ago from a few random sources thanks to the wonder that is links via twitter.

For The Washingtonian, Rachel Manteuffel wrote "The Things They Leave Behind: Artifacts From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial", a remarkable piece that's touching in it's own right, and downright tragic when coupled with the accompanying pictures of objects left.

Additionally, Ned Martel did "Holocaust survivor tailors an American success story" in the Washington Post. It's a very cool story of someone dedicated to perfecting his craft in the person of D.C. tailor Martin Greenfield.

Finally, "This Land Is My Land" was published for Atlanta Magazine by Tony Rehagen. I first heard of Rehagen in July of this year with his piece "Daddy Blues" and this latest effort is a fascinating tale that features the subtitle "In the high country of North Georgia, an old bootlegger and a gun merchant feuded for years over a quarter-mile property line. It ended in the worst possible way."

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sports Writing by Wayne Drehs, Alex Belth & Eli Saslow

There's a few pieces of sports writing I've seen lately that stood out as outstanding and which haven't previously been noted here.

Most recent was by Eli Saslow for the recent issue of ESPN the Magazine with "The ascent from deuce-8". On the University of Louisville basketball player Peyton Silva, it's a well written portrait of someone who's gone through incredibly trying life experiences and appears to not only be making it through, but carrying his family as well.

Also for ESPN was an Outside the Lines web feature "Goalie Chris Seitz's biggest save" about a decision made by the FC Dallas backup goalkeeper. The Wayne Drehs written piece details how Seitz put his career on hold and risked his own health to become a bone marrow donor for a complete stranger. It's heart-tugging content and really just brings out such admiration for Seitz and his actions.

Finally, another excellent sports story of late was for the Glenn Stout (he of The Best American Sports Writing books) edited SB Nation Longform blog. "The Two Rogers" was written by Alex Belth and is on his interactions with famed writers Roger Angell and Roger Khan. Along with that in the story is the thread of Belth's father and their relationship and the resulting story was one of those that has a lot going on, but weaves together into a compelling (especially for someone interested in writing) and personal narrative.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Interesting pieces on writers - by Boris Kachka and James Andrew Miller

There were two tremendously interesting pieces I've seen in the past few days that dealt with writers and work they've produced.

For New York Magazine, Boris Kachka wrote "Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer" on the former superstar writer and it's a fascinating view into someone's downfall. Lehrer initially got himself in trouble with news that he was recycling his old blog posts into new magazine articles, but then  deeper problems when questions arose about sources referenced and veracity of his claims.

It's a fascinating read about someone working in the the same cognitive science area as Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I've enjoyed tremendously work from Gladwell, Levitt and Dubner, but can also see how someone writing in this realm of squishy science could potentially use liberties in supporting stories to tell and points to make. Unfortunately for Lehrer, he took it too far... with an additional supporting anecdote from the Kachka piece being how Lehrer was becoming less of a writer and more of a speaker and insight guy with an entertaining story.

The other piece on writers and writing to note here was "A Problem of Churchillian Proportions" by James Andrew Miller for the New York Times. Miller along with Tom Shales wrote the tremendously entertaining Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN and in this piece he examines the circumstances around the upcoming book The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. As detailed by Miller, William Manchester wrote two volumes on Churchill and then realized he wasn't going to be able to finish the third book and would need a co-writer. Manchester developed a friendship with newspaper writer Paul Reid and after he was contracted to co-write the book, Reid found himself taking over upon Manchester's death in 2004.

Miller relates in his Times piece how at that point, Bill Phillips came in as editor of the book and helped Reid work through the writing process over the next six years. It's really a fantastically interesting view into the impact a great editor can have on writing.

Excellent Storm Aftermath Writing - by Von Drehle, Schaer, Kleinfield and Powell

Three recent pieces out of Hurricane Sandy stood out to me as exceptional, each with a completely different approach, and one from 13 years ago.

This older piece was from current Time Magazine writer David Von Drehle and on his experience in Charleston, SC during Hurricane Hugo. The story was titled "Shaken Survivors Witness Pure Fury" for the Miami Herald and it was recently reprinted in "The Master of Disaster" by Jack Shafer for Slate. Von Drehle is an excellent writer and his work in this piece absolutely riveting.

In terms of writing about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and some if it's victims, N.R. Kleinfield and Michael Powell wrote the heartbreaking "In Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing" for the New York Times.

Finally, The Paris Review blog featured a Robin Beth Schaer piece "Falling Overboard". Schaer is a published writer and she wrote here an account of being one of the crew rescued after the Tall Ship Bounty sunk and claimed the lives of the Captain as well as another crewmember.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Excellent Sports Writing - by Chris Ballard, Jeff Passan & Chris Jones

There's been two pieces of great sports writing I've come across lately that also brought to mind solid work from years past.

Story I've thought about the most was "Mourning Glory" for the October 22 issue of Sports Illustrated. Written by Chris Ballard, it's on a Maryland high school baseball coach, team and how they responded to tragedy. There's also a remarkable connection to Nick Adenhart who died three years ago after pitching his first start of the year for the Los Angeles Angels. This connection for me helped give the story an appropriate balance between inspiration and devestating loss and I found myself wondering whether Ballard had in mind these things while writing. Regardless of what he thought about during the process, the piece he finished with was just excellent.

The topic is of course completely different, but an additional Ballard story I've read recently was his 2008 SI feature “The Birds”, a tremendously entertaining “fear & loathing-like” look at homing pigeon racing in Las Vegas.

Another recent piece of writing that stood out as outstanding was “Bonded by failure, Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum give Giants right stuff in Game 1 of World Series.” Written by Jeff Passan for Yahoo Sports, it’s great stuff on the two pitchers.

Zito is one of my favorite athletes and his recent success (after thus far not meeting the expectations of his contract) has brought up mention on the World Wide Super Tubes of a 2002 Zito profile “He Came from Outer Space”, Chris Jones’ first published work in Esquire.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Writers on Writing - Rose, Conn, Travis & Jones

There's been a few things I've come across lately that fall within the subject of writing that I love to prattle on about.

The oldest piece was "NEW SOUTH JOURNALISM: The Sometimes-Picayune" by Chris Rose. It's written for Oxford American Magazine by the former (left in 2009) New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter and has some really cool anecdotes from him about getting hired and working at the paper. Not incidental to the story was the Times-Picayune several months ago laying off half it's newsroom staff in advance of a move away from daily publishing.

More recently of interest were two pieces that were both well done and which approached the subject of writing from very different angles. For Grantland, Jordan Conn wrote "Jeremy Tyler: No Longer a Symbol, Now Just a Pro" on the 21 year-old Golden State Warrior. In the piece, Conn wrote about Tyler's past and how people would try to use both his talents and narrative story for their benefit (Conn included). Extremely interesting stuff that brought to mind an anecdote on Andre Agassi being upset with tennis broadcaster Bud Collins characterizing Agassi's career path as being "from punk to paragon." Basic idea from both Agassi and Conn is around this propensity towards assigning narratives around others that may or may not fit.

The second recent piece was written by Clay Travis for his college-football leaning website Outkick the Coverage. Travis previously wrote the fascinating "2011 Belonged To Twitter, So Does the Future of Sports Media" and this recent piece deals in the same topic. "Bleacher Report vs. Grantland: The Spectrum of Online Sports Media" compares two different sites and the importance of great writers (and associated compensation for them) to each. Interesting and logical ideas put forth by Travis that make me think of both Drew Magary writing about doing a novel because it pays better than writing sports for the web and the hockey bloggers I've known who had fairly significant online readership and gave it up. Not that I know their reasons for walking away from sports blogging the same as my own, but when I stopped my hockey blogging (to a small audience), I simply didn't feel the writing I was doing that different than could be done by anyone and wasn't worth the effort.

Final thing to note here that traffics in the subject of writing was the podcast "Episode 10: Chris Jones (Live in Romania)". Done for Longform and The Atavist, it's about an hour-long interview with the Esquire and ESPN writer and while I had seen in print already much of what Jones covered, it was especially interesting to hear him talk about some of the depression he's dealt with and wrote about in the November 2011 issue of Esquire.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Solid Sports Writing - on FC Barcelona, Oakland A's & Chris Kluwe

Three different excellent pieces of sports writing to note here... with a couple being a few weeks old and one just a few days.

The recent piece was "The Punter Makes His Point" for the New York Times by Tony Gervino. Well done profile of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, now best known for his brilliant and profane takedown of a bigoted Maryland politician posted to Deadspin.

Going back a few weeks were two pieces for Sports Illustrated, one on the website and one for the magazine. The shorter website piece was from Tom Verducci with "A's historic run to AL West title reminds us why we love this game" on... well, that. It's certainly true that as an A's fan I had more interest in the story than many, but it really was excellent writing that gets at what makes baseball such a captivating game to be a fan of.

The magazine feature piece also included this element of "writing about what makes something special" with Grant Wahl doing "The World's Team", a solid piece with the subtitle "FC Barcelona is more than a club, more than a champion and more than Lionel Messi-it is the embodiment of a sporting ideal that has made it beloved across the globe."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fast Company Features - on Pinterest, Windows 8, Uniqlo and Coursera

After not reading Fast Company for a few months, I went through three issues recently and found several features that stood out.

The Aug issue had "Cheap, Chic, And Made For All: How Uniqlo Plans To Take Over Casual Fashion" with Jeff Chu writing on the fast-growing Japan-based casual apparel retailer. Very interesting company that recently opened it's first West Coast store in San Francisco and next week is launching it's US online store.

The Sept edition of FC had a piece on a topic of interest in "How Coursera, A Free Online Education Service, Will School Us All." Written by Anya Kamenetz, it's an excellent look at the company teaching hundreds of thousands online, for free. Fascinating topic that I've previously linked to pieces about under the tag online education.

The Oct issue focused on Design and included "Can Ben Silbermann Turn Pinterest Into The World’s Greatest Shopfront?" by Max Chafkin and "Windows 8: The Boldest, Biggest Redesign In Microsoft’s History" from Austin Carr. Interesting pieces both on a new company and an established coporation doing something different.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Outside Magazine on Bill McKibben & Texas Monthly on Kermit Oliver

Two excellent pieces of profile writing to note here... one interesting in the work being done by someone and the other for both the work and manner it's being done.

In terms of a feature on someone doing something important towards a greater good, last month's Outside Magazine had "Boilover" on writer and climate-change activist Bill McKibben. Written by Rowan Jacobsen, it's a thorough look at someone perhaps tilting at windmills, but doing so because he believes the efforts of his organization are important.

The second in-depth profile to mention here doesn't center around as important a topic as climate change and C02 in the atmosphere, but was fascinating in the person featured. For Texas Monthly, "Portrait of the Artist as a Postman" was by Jason Sheeler on Kermit Oliver, the Waco, TX postal employee who also designs heavily in-demand scarves for French fashion brand Hermes. Absolutely remarkable piece on someone with amazing events in their life (particularly the horrifying story of his son being executed by the state of Texas) and who does his craft in a way that works for him.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Businessweek writing - on Facebook, Apple, Pandora & EcoATM

There were a few Businessweek pieces from the past few issues that stood out as being on interesting companies... with a couple of the stories being fairly short and a couple well written in-depth looks.

The features were from the recent issue with Facebook on the cover and Ashlee Vance wrote a solid lead story with "Facebook: The Making of 1 Billion Users." Fascinating content that delves into the engineering at the company and features interesting revelations such as Facebook basically launching a new site version with tweaks each and every day.

The Opening Remarks piece from the same issue was also terribly interesting with Brad Stone, Adam Satariano, and Peter Burrows writing "Mapping a Path Out of Steve Jobs's Shadow" on Apple.

Finally, the two smaller pieces of interest were "Apple Radio Might Put Pandora in Play" about online music and "EcoATM, the Automated iPhone Pawn Shop" on the mall kiosk company offering money for no longer needed cell phones with $175 "the average going rate for a slightly damaged iPhone 4 or 4S."

"Sutton" by J.R. Moehringer

I wanted to love SuttonJ.R. Moehringer's first novel, but after reading it, found myself somewhat disappointed.

I've been a fan of Moehringer's writing from first reading the Andre Agassi biography Open he co-wrote. Since then, there was one of my favorite books, The Tender Bar, his memoir leading up to a writing career and various excellent magazine pieces like "Yesterday's News" from a few years back for the Denver magazine 5280.

I heard about Sutton from a announcement early last year and while the writing in the book certainly had some moments of brilliance from Moehringer, I wasn't that into the narrative of Sutton's post-prison conversations with with a photographer and reporter getting his story. More importantly, though, I found the ending (well, the climactic scene just prior to the ending) to be confusing as to what was going on and not terribly satisfying.

After finishing the book, I went and looked for reviews online and the first two I found at least somewhat shared my view with an Entertainment weekly review by Karen Valby and then one for the New York Times by Dwight Garner. All in all, I still think Moehringer a great writer and he took on an interesting subject, just perhaps the techniques Moehringer used in writing a novel detracted from the reading experience for me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Great Sports Writing by Dana O'Neil & Sam Page

Two really exceptional pieces of writing I came across today... both dealing with sports figures and each telling a compelling story way beyond what would be seen in a box score.

For ESPN, Dana O'Neil wrote "Chris Mooney's immeasurable impact" which delved into the Richmond Spiders NCAA men's basketball coach and how he helped a team student manager. Just excellent heartwarming storytelling provided by O'Neil.

The second piece actually stood out even more to me in that it (while not necessarily having the same feel good gravitas) featured the writer, Sam Page, telling a personal tale in relation to a famous athlete (and fellow Nashville private high school alum), R.A. Dickey. Super interesting piece posted to Deadspin that was titled "What The Best Pitcher In Baseball Taught Me About Prep School, Socrates, And The Art Of Not Selling Out."

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Compelling Writing from Lake, Gethard, Knapp and Kluwe

There's been some excellent writing from a few different sources to note here.

For Sports Illustrated last month, Thomas Lake wrote "The Boy They Couldn't Kill". It's a remarkable piece that features the subtitle "Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother." Additionally of interest from Lake was his "Inside Story" about writing the feature.

On the Tumblr blog of writer and public access talk-show host Chris Gethard was a public response he wrote to a depressed fan. Really thoughtful and compelling writing from Gethard.  

Finally, Gwen Knapp wrote for the site Sports on Earth "Flipping the Script" about Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and his support for gay rights including same-sex marriage. Excellent piece from Knapp which also references Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's brillilant and profane takedown of a bigoted Maryland politician posted to Deadspin.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

ESPN Writing - by Keown, Jones and McGee

There were a few pieces of writing that stood out from both a recent and several months back edition of ESPN the Magazine.

From the Oct 1 ESPN Age Issue was "The Master" by Tim Keown on Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Interesting and well written piece on someone playing (and playing well through most all of his just completed season) under huge public scrutiny with a huge contract in his home state.

Also from this issue of ESPN the Mag was the Chris Jones back page column "Boot It" on the suggestion from Tampa Bay Bucs football coach Greg Schiano to eliminate the kickoff in an effort to curb major injuries in the game. Was a pretty compelling case put forth with the Jones piece including the statistic that "In college football, 1 in 5 injuries during kickoffs is a concussion; during other phases of play, it's 1 out of 14."

From the July 23 Body Issue of ESPN was a feature "120,000 ways to die" on BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner. Written by Ryan McGee, the story is very timely now with Baumgartner planning for a Monday Oct 8 skydive from 23 miles above the earth.

Monday, October 01, 2012

My New Book - 111 Books Reviewed

Yep, I wrote another book... 111 Books Reviewed.

After I at the end of March finished the project to put 3 ½ years of blog posts into book form, I considered what would come next with my writing.

I felt there was something additional that could be done with past work and came up with a few posts trying to distil out the most interesting things written on the subjects of Writing and Business, but then started thinking about the Book Reviews category from my first book. Work done there struck me as less a compilation of blog ramblings and more actual writing for others. In short, something that could be turn from a pet project into a commercial venture with the offering of a book reviews book. Incorporating reviews that made it into my first book as well as those posted to the blog in the past six months, there was close to 130 reviews that could be worked with. Each was then significantly cleaned up to be less blog post-like (removing both references like “just finished reading” and “link to blog post here” and made sure book title and author at the beginning of review with book name in italics).

Of the reviews done, 111 of them were deemed to be interesting enough (interesting of course an extremely arbitrary assignation) to make it into the book and each book assigned a one, two or three star rating and then put into the category sections below, with reviews in each sorted newest to oldest:

 6 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Writing                                   
12 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Personal improvement / Work 
10 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Adventure / Danger               
18 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Sports                                 
 6 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Comedy                                 
11 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Business                               
 7 books reviewed: Nonfiction – History                                   
 5 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Parenting / Family                   
26 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Everything else                       
10 books reviewed: Fiction                                                     

While I was working on the actual content, I had the idea in mind of making the book available cheaply on the Kindle (or Kindle app)… again, that commercial offering thing. The Kindle Direct Publishing site links to a Building Your Book for Kindle PDF guide and from here I found information on using Microsoft Word Headings to build the Table of Contents and specific things around Kindle formatting like how to create a front cover (with the public domain image from the site WPClipart).

After submission of the Kindle book files to Amazon, I then realized the web exclusivity requirement of the KDP Select Amazon program I enrolled in (largely for the purpose of being able to offer the Kindle book for free for five days) meant I had to take down the blog post book reviews the book content based on (was an easy step to select all Book Review tagged blog posts and revert them to draft). After the book content was completed for the Kindle, it wasn’t much additional work to create a paperback version on CreateSpace (as I did for my first book) so went ahead and did that even though the primary intent was to publish this one electronically.

Similar to the first book, the creating of this book was more of an editing of past work project than original writing, but means I’ve now both got another book published and one that’s a more defined offering which can be purchased through Amazon for $.99 (and free for five days every three months). I’m pretty happy with that.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Excellent Pieces by Gladwell, Heckert & Lewis

There were three solid (and lengthy) feature stories that stood out from recent issues of some of the bigger national general interest magazines.

For Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis provided "Obama’s Way" an in-depth look at the President and how it is to hold the office. Tremendously interesting content that shows someone well aware of the gravitas of their position.

By another best-selling author was Malcolm Gladwell's "In Plain View" in The New Yorker. Compelling piece on not only Jerry Sandusky, but that expands farther with the subtitle "how child molesters get away with it." While it's true that each case of evil deviance not the same, Gladwell does an excellent job showing commonalities and steps taken towards the crime.

The third piece was by someone not nearly as well known, but outstanding writing nonetheless. "How to Build an American Car" was written by Justin Heckert for Esquire Magazine and centers around the Cadillac ATS, Esquire's 2012 Car of the Year. It's an interesting subject and Heckert does a really good job of showing the individual effort that's gone into creating and producing the vehicle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great Sports Writing - by MacGregor, Wetzel & Tomlinson

Three pieces of sports writing recently that struck me as particular compelling work from three different sources.

For ESPN, Jeff MacGregor wrote the column "Waiting for Goodell" on the NFL commissioner and his role in relation to the referee lockout. Brilliant writing based on work by Samuel Beckett... and done prior to the Monday Night Football fiasco in Seattle.

The other two pieces were much longer feature profiles done really well. "Dabo Swinney travels long road to restore Clemson to prominence" was done by Dan Wetzel for Yahoo Sports and chronicles Swinney's incredibly trying childhood and how it's guided his efforts as a head coach.

Final story to mention was a riveting piece by Tommy Tomlinson posted last week to Sports on Earth. "Minus One" is on Tulane safety Devon Walker who suffered a broken neck playing earlier this season and is portrayed in glowing terms by Tomlinson.

"Triburbia" by Karl Taro Greenfeld

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld is a fictional slice-of-life work from a guy who I’ve previously found to have written great non-fiction for various magazines.

I had high hopes for the book based on Greenfeld and found myself captivated by his descriptions of many characters in the book and was looking forward while reading to seeing how everyone would come together.

The web of relationships between everyone was interesting to see develop, but issue I had is things never really seemed to come together in any conclusion. Basically, it struck me as really good character based fiction, but lacking in an additional compelling plot.

That said, there were great characters in the book and I agree with Jay McInerney who in his New York Times review of Triburbia wrote of Greenfeld's excellent description of Cooper, the 4th grade despot.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Writers on Writing - Stout, Jones, Gutkind, Boo, Streitfeld

There’s been quite a few solid pieces I've come across lately that deal in the subject of writers and their writing.

A profile of someone knee deep in the writing industry was "Glenn Stout Lives Way Up There" for The Classical. Really interesting piece on a guy who’s taken a fairly meandering path in his writing (including his now 20 plus years as series editor of the excellent Best American Sports Writing books).

In terms of some of the nuts and bolts around producing great narrative non-fiction were three different pieces. For Guernica Magazine, there was “Reporting Poverty:Emily Brennan interviews Katherine Boo”. Really interesting content from the journalist who wrote her first book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, out of time spent with people in the slums of Mumbai. Additionally, posted to the site Gangry is a Q&A with Esquire and ESPN writer Chris Jones on both his own writing and journalism in general. It was solid stuff from Jones that brings to mind some of his past dishing on writing. Third piece around producing narrative non-fiction was by Lee Gutkind, author of the recently published You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between”. Posted to the New York Times website was Gutkind’s interesting piece “The Yellow Test” about the importance of writing scenes when producing compelling non-fiction.

Finally, a couple of other interesting things I came across lately were mention of a writing conference and another New York Times piece. The conference is East Meets West: A Gathering of Literary Journalists in mid-November at Cal Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and New York Times piece was written by David Streitfeld. Titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”, it’s on the practice of writers paying for reviews (not surprising that these purchased reviews tend to be positive) to sites like Amazon.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Businessweek Features: on Elon Musk, Distributed Work & College Tuition Grants

Three different Businessweek features stood out lately as being on particularly interesting topics.

In particular, the latest cover story of "Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist" by Ashlee Vance was a solid piece of writing on a compelling guy.

From the same issue was a feature by Brad Stone titled "My Life as a TaskRabbit" on the new "distributed workforce" with people bidding on one-time odd jobs needed done by others. As Stone details, the industry and it's players including TaskRabbit, Postmates and Cherry utilizes technology such as smart phones to systematize what began with Craig's List odd job postings.

Finally, a prior issue of Businessweek contained "The Debt-Free College Degree" by Melba Newsome. It was an interesting look at the much in the news escalating cost of higher education and how places like Davidson College are moving towards need-based grants and away from student loans.