Thursday, March 01, 2012

Writing on the Amazing - from Esquire, GQ, NYT & Smithsonian Magazine

This compilation post has been a while in coming (drat that cold), but there's been some excellent writing I've come across lately that falls under the shared umbrella of amazing stories (not the TV show kind).

Oldest piece was "Burning Man" by Jay Kirk from the Feb issue issue of GQ Magazine. The story of US combat vet Sam Brown and his experience dealing with pain after suffering severe burns on much of his body. Its remarkable stuff that utilizes immersive Virtual Reality technology (in Brown's case a program called SnowWorld developed at the University of Washington) to distract users away from thinking about their pain.

Also from GQ, but the March issue was "51 Dead in Ohio" by Chris Heath on the Zaneszille, OH release and subsequent hunting down of exotic animals. In an excellent example of journalistic striving, Esquire in its March issue had the Chris Jones story "Animals" about the same horrible events. Its understandable that what went down in Zanesville would draw such feature story interest so since they were both written - I may as well compare the two.

I've certainly seen a lot more work by Jones than Heath and so I expected to like his Zanesville story more (and did), but I also liked some of the areas that Heath went to in his story that Jones decided to stay away from in the interest of focus. To that point, the piece by Jones deals almost 100% with that evening and in an almost clinical fashion takes the reader through the discovery of the animals being loose and then their being hunted by police. Jones talked about it in an interview with fellow Journalist Brandon Sneed, but he both wanted the piece to read like a police report and give the message, but not in a commentary form, that actions taken by the Sheriff and his men were absolutely necessary. It was an incredibly compelling read that led from one "what's next?" moment to another. Back to the GQ feature from Heath... his approach to the story differed in that he split it up into three parts- one on the events of the night (focus from Jones), one on people owning and keeping exotic animals and one on the man with the 50 exotic animals he let loose on his property prior to taking his own life. This third portion on Terry Thompson was tremendously interesting writing that gave a view into someone who would make such an incredibly reckless and selfish decision.


Getting completely away from rampaging lions and tigers (no, not gonna complete that phrase), there were two other pieces to include here that dealt with people reminiscent of the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World. From Mike Dash for the Smithsonian Magazine came The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World (yeah, same alliteration as the Dos Equis guy, but also quite a dude) on turn of the 20th Century arms merchant Basil Zaharoff. Many steps back on the wicked scale, but appearing just as remarkable as Zaharoff was the subject of a New York Times obit written by Margalit Fox. John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74 includes the following "At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle. At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate." I mean, enough said!