Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Writing on Fathers & Sons - from Thompson, Jones and McCann

Three pieces of writing I've read lately remind me of why I love words and their ability to express ideas of import. Each story traffics in the subject of fathers & sons and connections between generations of a family.

The first piece I came across was by Wright Thompson who linked in advance of the Masters to his much loved ESPN piece "Holy Ground" about his father and their never fulfilled plans to visit Augusta National and watch the tournament together. It's crazy good writing from Thompson and has more than a few places of tear-jerking sentimental. That said, his work never seems over the top in sentiment as Thompson builds a story extremely well so that anything heavy to pass along has been worked up to and feels part of a natural flow.

I'm sure contributing to this achievement is a huge amount of work put in the by author, with an interview he did around speaking at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Journalism noting "Thompson will sometimes have as much as 700 pages of typed notes and transcribes all of his taped interviews on his own, believing that to pay someone to do it for him would be "bad karma." Soon, his wall at his home in Oxford, Miss., looks like a massive explosion of Post-It Notes packages has just occurred, with each Post-It Note revealing dialogue, description and key narrative moments. Thompson reins in the Post-It chaos on his wall by writing out, by hand, every scene and every quote of the story on the pages of a legal pad, followed by a one-page outline."

The second piece on this father-son topic I've seen recently was also from a twitter post linking to past writing, in this case a blog post by Chris Jones for Esquire titled "Autistics". It's much shorter than Thompson's feature story, but shares the same vein of generational writing... just about the author's son rather than father. Really compelling short piece that also caused a lump in the throat each time I read it.

The third piece of note I've seen lately about fathers and sons didn't necessarily pack the same punch for me in terms of impact, but was excellent and lyrical writing from novelist Colum McCann. Written for the New York Times, "What Baseball Does to the Soul" begins with the long-ago story of McCann going with his father to a soccer match and then to visit his never met grandfather. The piece then transitions to the author several years back at Yankee Stadium with his son and McCann writes poetically of baseball as a connection between the two of them.

There was excellent writing in all three pieces and the general topic from each brought to mind one of my favorite books from 2009, The Longest Trip Home by Marley & Me author John Grogan about his experiences both in childhood and as an adult with his father.