Thursday, January 30, 2014

Best non-sports writing linked to in 2013

Following up on my "Best sports writing linked to in 2013" is this chronological listing of what to me were most memorable piece of non-sports writing I linked to last year.

While it's often tough to pick one particular story (similar to the favorite Michael Bolton song quandary from Office Space), the one that sticks with me the most is the Junod feature on Mr. Rogers from 1998.

"Patient Zero" by Tom Junod and Mark Warren for EsquireWritten about and linked to in Nov 2013.

"The Dream Boat" by Luke Mogelson for the New York Times MagazineWritten about and linked to in Nov 2013.

"Miley Cyrus on Why She Loves Weed, Went Wild at the VMAs and Much More" by Josh Eells for Rolling StoneWritten about and linked to in Nov 2013.

"Declara Co-Founder Ramona Pierson's Comeback Odyssey" by Ashlee Vance for BusinessweekWritten about and linked to in Oct 2013.

"American Dread" by David Granger for EsquireWritten about and linked to (along with some other great writing) in Aug 2013.

"Never Let Go" by Kelley Benham for the Tampa Bay Times. Written about and linked to in Aug 2013.

"Has Carl June Found a Key to Fighting Cancer?" by Jason Fagone for Philadelphia MagazineWritten about and linked to in Aug 2013 (in the same post as that on Benham's feature).

"Celebrity Profiler: Tom Chiarella, in His Own Words" by Tom Chiarella for Indianapolis MonthlyWritten about and linked to in July 2013.

"How to Give to Charity" by Chris Jones for EsquireWritten about and linked to in July 2013.

"In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck" by Eli Saslow for the Washington PostWritten about and linked to in July 2013.

"The Innocent Man" by Pamela Colloff. for Texas MonthlyWritten about and linked to in June 2013.

"How to be gracious, and why" by Tom Chiarella for EsquireWritten about and linked to in June 2013.

"After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet" by Eli Saslow for the Washington PostWritten about and linked to in June 2013.

"16 Minutes" by David Von Drehle and Jeffrey Kluger for Time Magazine (reading the full story requires a Time subscription). Written about and linked to in May 2013.

"The Luckiest Village in the World" by Michael Paterniti for GQWritten about and linked to in May 2013.

"The Violence We Live With" by Charlie Pierce for EsquireWritten about and linked to in April 2013.

"Why Boston's Hospital's Were Ready" by Atul Gawande for the New YorkerWritten about and linked to in April 2013.

"Pain" by C.J. Chivers for Field & StreamWritten about and linked to in March 2013.

"Excuse Us While We Kiss the Sky" by Matthew Power for GQWritten about and linked to in March 2013 (in the same post as that on the essay by Chivers).

"Can You Say... Hero?" by Tom Junod for Esquire (in 1998). Written about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II" by Mike Dash for Smithsonian MagazineWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"The Joys of Cabin Living in Alaska" by Steven Rinella for Outside MagazineWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"Two Men, One Sky: A Flight to the Finish" by A.G. Sulzberger for the New York TimesWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013 (in the same post as that on Rinella's essay).

"Operation Thresher: Fishing for Monster Sharks off The Shores of Rhode Island" by C.J. Chivers for Field & StreamWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013 (in the same post as that on the writing by Rinella and Sulzberger).

"The Happiness of Aaron Swartz" by Tom Chiarella for EsquireWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up" by Jonah Weiner for the New York Times MagazineWritten about and linked to in Jan 2013.

Best sports writing linked to in 2013

Following on the year-old heels of my post "Best writing linked to in 2012" is... yep, the best writing I linked to in 2013 (with this particular post being on my favorite sports writing from last year)...

"What We Lost: Remembering Newtown victim Jack Pinto" by S.L. Price for Sports Illustrated. Written about and linked to in Dec 2013.

"Lost Soul" by Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated. Written about and linked to in Nov 2013.

"20 Minutes At Rucker Park" by Flinder Boyd for SB Nation. Written about and linked to in Oct 2013.

"The Dad-Rock Prometheus" by Brian Phillips for GrantlandWritten about and linked to in Oct 2013.

"Frank Hall, American Hero" by Gary Smith for Sports Illustrated. Written about and linked to in Aug 2013.

"When the Beautiful Game Turns Ugly" by Wright Thompson for ESPNWritten about and linked to in June 2013.

"Uniquely Memorable" by Chuck Culpepper for Sports on EarthWritten about and linked to in April 2013.

"Out in the Great Alone" by Brian Phillips for GrantlandWritten about and linked to in April 2013.

"The pain and pleasure of spring: How I lost my fastball but learned to love spring training" by Pat Jordan for SB NationWritten about and linked to in March 2013.

"Chaos Theory" by Jack McCallum for Sports Illustrated. Written about and linked to in March 2013.

"Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building" by Wright Thompson for ESPNWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"The Gay Super Bowl" by Chuck Culpepper for Sports on EarthWritten about and linked to in Feb 2013.

"After Newtown: Change Has Gotta Come" by Gary Smith for Sports IllustratedWritten about and linked to in Jan 2013.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"One Summer: America, 1927" by Bill Bryson

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson was an excellent book from the entertaining and funny author of books such as A Walk in The Woods and In a Sunburned Country.

The book provided an interesting look at the events of that summer with Bryson including material about Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, President Calvin Coolidge and anarchists.

While these subjects and topics were drawn out in specific sections of the book, there was a lot of other ground covered. Some of the additional happenings noted by Bryson included: the extreme weather that summer (with widespread and calamitous flooding of the Mississippi and a Detroit baseball game snowed out in May), Henry Ford and his follow up efforts to the Model T, boxer Jack Dempsey, the growth of radio and move towards sound in motion pictures, the latter stages of prohibition and financial decisions made by world bankers that led to the Great Depression.

Back to the people and topics that Bryson included as section headings, Lindbergh as a subject provided absolutely remarkable reading material both with how rickety the Spirit of St. Louis he flew across the Atlantic was and the prolonged and extreme attention he got after his successful flight.

In terms of the anarchists, it was interesting how much violence there was in America that summer with multiple bombings occurring and the xenophobia that seemed to help bring out the violence. Tying into something from a few years earlier, prohibition came about in 1919 in part because of anti-German sentiments and covered quite a bit by Bryson was the murder trial and eventual executions of Bert Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, with the two men both part of the Italian immigrant group often treated horribly in America.

There was just so much material in the book and Bryson really presented it well in a conversational manner.

"An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield was a fast and interesting book from someone who I first heard about from his rendition of David Bowie's Space Odyssey song while on the International Space Station (with the video now at over 20 million views).

What struck me the most from the book was the detail about training simulations of almost every scenario that could possibly occur, including death simulations so everyone would know in advance the steps to follow should an astronaut perish. As the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters showed, space travel has enormous risk and Hadfield writes of identifying and training for worst case scenarios so an astronaut's reactions to them can be immediate. A couple of specific phrases used in the book are "flight rules," the non-negotiable things that are done when certain situations arise as well as practice of thinking "what's the next thing that could kill me?" during especially the most dangerous portions of space travel.

Related to the training and how involved it was, I found interesting Hadfield's comment that he didn't view training for something as solely a stepping stone, but rather tried to view it as an end in itself, especially since situations trained for might never arise. This approach was especially relevant in terms of space travel as being selected for a given trip was someone that would only happen to a few people within the community of astronauts. Also interesting in this regard was how the astronaut program built with such a flat hierarchy, someone might go to space, then spend years supporting others who do and then later go back, or perhaps never get a return trip.

In Hadfield's particular case, he did get one last trip into space prior to retiring and there's a lot of interesting material in the book about his months spent on the International Space Station, violence of the capsule re-entry back into Russia, and subsequent physical toll on his body of that time in space. As Hadfield wrote, the effects of prolonged space travel on the body's systems closely resemble the effects of aging, and part of the research by the various space agencies was to study astronauts after their return to earth.

There were parts of the book that I found not as interesting as others, but I was able to read the whole thing in three days and all in all, I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Solid & quiet sports writing - by Wetzel, Bidini & Jones

There's been a few pieces of really good sports writing I've seen lately that seemed to group together with each feeling to be excellent and quiet (if that makes sense as a description of writing) commentaries on nice subjects.

Back in December for Yahoo Sports was "Tom Izzo's admiration for Ed Hightower a reminder that refs are human, too" by Dan Wetzel and then last week Dave Bidini for CBC Sports wrote "Wendel Clark revisits his Saskatchewan roots" on the former NHL star.

For ESPN The Magazine recently were two excellent back-page columns by Chris Jones with "Eggs and wisdom" on the late college basketball coach Rick Majerus and his player at Utah, Keith Van Horn and "Biggest lugers" on teenage Olympian Tucker West and the backyard luge track his father built following the 2002 games in Salt Lake City.

Excellent Sports Illustrated writing - by Price, Layden & Davis

Three great pieces of recent sports writing were from the last few issues of Sports Illustrated with features by S.L. Price and Tim Layden and a book excerpt from Seth Davis.

From Price was "The writer and the puzzle: Richard Ben Cramer couldn't crack A-Rod" and it was a a remarkable story about the late writer and his attempt to write about Alex Rodriguez. It makes sense that I'd be drawn to a story about a sports writer and his writing, but boy does Price ever write it well.

By Tim Layden was "There's A Story Behind Knowshon Moreno's Tears" on the Denver Broncos running back and in the story Layden does the trick that I love to see in writing of showing compelling detail (often with humor) and making me interested in someone that I wouldn't have otherwise thought of.

From the same SI issue with the Layden story was an excerpt from the recently released Seth Davis book Wooden: A Coach's Life. "The Wizard And The Giant" has some excellent detail on some of what made John Wooden such a great man as he adapted during his coaching career to changing times and players.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Interesting business writing - by Newman, Higginbotham, Wolman and Winter

Some excellent pieces of business-related writing I've seen recently included three from Businessweek and one from the San Jose Mercury News.

The newspaper story was "Ramona Pierson's remarkable tale: From near-death to Silicon Valley CEO" by Bruce Newman about the leader of Palo Alto-based Declara. The piece was an excellent one and brought to mind a Businessweek feature on Pierson from a few months ago that I posted on.

The Businessweek writing that struck me as particularly interesting included the features "The Irish Clan Behind Europe's Rhino-Horn Theft Epidemic" by Adam Higginbotham and "Beware of Gangsters Filing Tax Returns" by David Wolman as well as the short piece "The Mind's Eye: Synesthesia Has Business Benefits" by Caroline Winter. Really fascinating stuff written about in each of the pieces.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

GQ pieces - Drew Magary on Phil Robertson & Jason Kersten on drug smuggling

The Jan 2014 issue of GQ Magazine had two fascinating pieces of feature writing to note here.

The more talked about of the two was "What the Duck?" by Drew Magary on Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the A&E TV show Duck Dynasty. It was fascinating reading in that while it would be easy to disagree with many of the views that Robertson expresses, it didn't seem that any of them surprising to someone who has watched the show. It felt hypocritical of A&E to suspend Robertson from the show after the story published and, whether someone likes Robertson or not, made perfect sense when the suspension then lifted.

The other remarkable story from this issue of GQ was "Inside the Incredible Booming Subterranean Marijuana Railroad" by Jason Kersten. Written about the drug tunnels underneath the border between the U.S. and Mexico, it concludes with fascinating detail about a whole new method of tunneling and smuggling drugs into the U.S.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Baseball writing - by Jordan, Lake & Castrovince

Three different pieces of excellent writing I've seen over the past few weeks were on the sport of baseball.

Written by Pat Jordan for Sports on Earth was "The Constant Gardener" on former Mets pitcher Tom Seaver and it really lyrical piece that brought to mind another great story by Jordan I saw close to a year ago.

Also really solid were both "The Five Lives Of Jonny Gomes" by Thomas Lake for Sports Illustrated and "Crews, Olin families persevering 20 years later" by Anthony Castrovince for The Castrovince piece was pretty unique in that it written as a letter to the Cleveland Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin who died 20 years ago in a boating accident during Spring Training. It was really well done and covers both the lives of Crews and Olin and whats occurred since with their respective families.

In-depth newspaper features - on Christopher Dorner, a homeless child in NYC & a man overboard

There were three recent in-depth newspaper features that stood out to me as particularly excellent.

Two of them were for the New York Times with "Invisible Child" by Andrea Elliott on Dasani Coates, an 11-year-old in New York City and "A Speck in the Sea" by Paul Tough. Written about John Aldridge who fell off a lobster boat into the Atlantic, it was also interesting to me that the piece written by Tough who wrote the book How Children Succeed which I read earlier this year.

The L.A. Times feature was "The Manhunt for Christopher Dorner" and written by Christopher Goffard. What struck me from the story was both the scope of the LAPD protection of people named by Dorner as targets and multiple instances of innocent people being injured by police during the manhunt. Really great detail in the story and credited for the reporting along with Goffard were Joel Rubin, Louis Sahagun, Kurt Streeter and Phil Willon.

Writing on Edward Snowden - by Barton Gellman & the NYT Editorial Board

Two interesting pieces of late on NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden (who was also profiled along with Glenn Greenwald in an excellent Rolling Stone feature) were "Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished" by Barton Gellman for the Washington Post and a New York Times Editorial Board opinion "Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower" arguing for the U.S. Government to reduce charges against Snowden.