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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Alaskan Travels" by Edward Hoagland

Alaskan Travels by Edward Hoagland was written as a sort of travelogue of the time Hoagland spent in the Alaska some 30 years ago while in his early 50s and had at times hard to follow writing, but that was on a topic of interest.

In the book, Hoagland recounts stories of both time spent in Anchorage as well as off the beaten path in other areas of the state. From interviews conducted in Anchorage, Hoagland recounts the stories of business leaders and developers such as Bob Penny, Bob Uchitel, Larry Carr and Pete Zamarello.

Outside of the state's (by far) largest city is where the majority of the book is focused, though, with Hoagland and his travelling companion health care professional going to some of the more remote areas where she would diagnose, catalog and care for tuberculosis. It’s noted in the book that were some 100 cases of TB statewide, but with the remoteness of the places they travelled to, Hoagland’s companion often because the default general care provider and the two of them as white people were very much minorities in many places visited.

It was interesting reading of people Hoagland came across living their lives different than most (at least different than most living in a City environment) and his depiction of the changes in lives and culture pretty compelling. In many areas jobs and industry hadn’t really come, but what had were the trappings of modern life in the form of television and alcohol. For younger villagers, this exposure to modern life was oftentimes causing them to go away from subsistence living and Hoagland had an interesting anecdote of older Eskimos often being the buyers at fur sales because the young people don't deal with that sort of thing anymore.

Definitely some interesting content in the book, but some of the areas were not so compelling and the difficulty I had following certain sections made me think favorably back on some of the other books I’ve read on Alaska and enjoyed more… with fiction efforts being Journey by James Michener and Call of the Wild by Jack London and an excellent nonfiction book Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Outside Magazine Pieces by Bruce Barcott and Tom Vanderbilt & Nat Geo story by Michael Finkel

There were two piece of writing that stood out from the September issue of Outside Magazine... with one of them finally now posted online with the October issue having been published.

Larger of the two stories was "The Devil on Paradise Road" by Bruce Barcott and it featured the heading "It started as a bluebird New Year's Day in Mount Rainier National Park. But when a gunman murdered a ranger and then fled back into the park's frozen backcountry, every climber, skier, and camper became a suspect—and a potential victim." Extremely captivating writing reminiscent of the Bob Friel story "The Vanishing" from Outside earlier this year.

The other piece from this Sept edition of outside was also solid writing, but first caught my attention more for the writer himself than the subject. Tom Vanderbilt, author of the excellent surprise bestseller, Traffic (which I reviewed back in 2008) wrote "Born in the USA" on the business trend towards manufacturing being done in the U.S., otherwise known as insourcing.

Not from Outside, but on the same type of "living different than most" topic Outside frequently writes on was another piece of really good writing to note here. For the August issue of National Geographic, Michael Finkel did "Tibet’s Golden 'Worm'" on the caterpillar fungus known as yartsa (or "worms") found only in the high mountains of Tibet and sought after in Asian cultures for it's supposed healing qualities. Terribly interesting subject described well by Finkel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Danger of Football Pieces by Melissa Segura, Gregg Doyel & Patrick Hruby

There were three recent pieces on the danger of football that were each excellent and made me think of past solid writing I've linked to on the harm that can come from the sport.

First of the pieces to mention was the cover article from last week's Sports Illustrated, "The Other Half Of The Story" by Melissa Segura. Riveting content on the damage caused by football as seen through the partners/caretakers of three ex-players, Jim McMahon, Dave Kocourek and Ray Easterling.

Second was a story I just came across tonight, "Tulsa doctor stays calm in scary situation, thanks to emergency training" by Gregg Doyel for CBS Sports. About the lifesaving care administered on the field last weekend to Tulane football player Devon Walker, it's profound stuff on a calamity all too possible to occur on the field.

Additinally there was the simply titled "Game Over" by Patrick Hruby. Written for Sports on Earth, the recently launched joint venture between USA Today and MLB Advanced Media, it's well reasoned prose on why Hruby can't enjoy football anymore and won't be watching this fall.

It's not surprising to read of this being Hruby's feeling given past pieces from him I've linked to such as "Did Football Kill Austin Trenum?" and "End Game: Brain Trauma And The Future Of Youth Football In America", but he's not the only writer to do excellent work on the subject. The two pieces that come to mind which I've noted in the past are from J.R. Moehringer with "Football is dead. Long live football" and "The Boy Who Died of Football" from Thomas Lake.

Just a tough subject... there's certainly a lot of different ways that people can get hurt and a lot of sports that can cause harm, but football seems to stand perhaps with only boxing or MMA for company as sports that each and every play involve potentially concussive events.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Mark Singer on marathon fraud & writer discussion of it

There was a fascinating piece in The New Yorker last month followed by an equally compelling writer discussion of the story, it's merits and shortcomings.

Piece itself was "Marathon Man" by Mark Singer and features the writer framing and pursuing the question "Is Kip Litton a Marathon Fraud?" in relation to his claims of marathon exploits. Similar to the story my last blog post about, Litton's history as chronicled by Singer traffics in the unbelievable, but also includes Litton being resolute about his claims in the face of all evidence against them... really to the point of making one question whether he delusional.

It was a tremendously interesting piece by Singer that brings the reader forward with a vested interest in finding the truth about Litton, his actions and motivations.

To this point, I heard of the piece from a Twitter link to Gangrey, a writing site by Tampa Times writer Ben Montgomery. The site often features writers discussing pieces of note and in this case, Sports Illustrated writer Thomas Lake posted on "Marathon Man" and launched a back and forth dialogue with Wright Thompson from ESPN as well as other writers I admire. Very thought out and understandable points of view from all the comments posted and excellent reading for those interested in the writing process.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

"Life of Pi" by Yann Martel

Recently heard of the film and saw the movie trailer for Life of Pi, coming out late November and directed by Ang Lee.

Based on the Yann Martel book Life of Pi, it hopefully will tell as compelling and fantastic story as in the 2002 bestseller. Was just a very cool work of fiction that afterwards leaves someone thinking back on the events and will be very interesting to see how it translates to film.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Businessweek Writing - Greenfeld on ESPN / Stone on Marissa Mayer / Bennett on Social+Capital VC Fund

Three excellent features from Businessweek to highlight here...

The most recent issue included "ESPN: Everywhere Sports Profit Network" by the excellent Karl Taro Greenfeld, whose writing first came across and posted on some 3 1/2 year ago. I've since linked to a few Greenfeld features for BW over the last year or two and just like the other work, this ESPN piece is thorough and interesting. In many ways, it reminded me of the James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales book Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN that I read and reviewed last year. Just remarkable to read in Greenfeld's story of the growth at ESPN with "headcount doubling in the last 7 years to 12,000 employees worldwide" and think of how influentation the company was already back in the last 90's when we we would discuss it in business school.

The two other Businessweek features to note in this post were from a few months back with "Yahoo: Help Us, Marissa Mayer. You're Our Only Hope" by Brad Stone and "Social+Capital, the League of Extraordinarily Rich Gentlemen" by Drake Bennett.

Stone is similar to Greenfeld in that I like and look forward to his writing and he provides a fairly short and interesting look at the former Google exec and now Yahoo CEO.

In the Bennett story, he profiles the Venture Capital Fund led by former Facebooker Chamath Palihapitiya and backed in part by Silicon Valley heavyweights Kevin Rose and Peter Thiel. Solid piece on an interesting fund build on the idea of backing companies trying to accomplishing something good... and yep, in reference to the title of Bennett's piece, the fund backers and leaders have done very well in past ventures.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

"The Hunger Games" Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

After reading the first two books and most of the third back in late May, finally finished Mockingjay, the third book in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy.

The Hunger Games books are in the same Young Adult fiction category as the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer and while I agree with Stephen King's assessment of The Hunger Games as being being more well written, it did seem the books from Collins followed a similar downward path as those from Meyer.

The later Twilight books often had a theme of overall weepiness and "can't live if living is without you" and in a similar fashion, the first Hunger Games book seemed the best and the second and especially third just had too many scenes where it hard to follow exactly what was going on. Fast paced can certainly be a good thing in writing, but just too many confusing spots particularly in Mockingjay as the third book.

I saw The Hunger Games movie first, enjoyed it quite a bit and then thought excellent the book it was based on. The second book Catching Fire still seemed fairly solid and then I just didn't care for Mockingjay very much.