Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writing on fascinating people - by Mooney & Weil

Two recent stories on fascinating people included one on a female explorer and one on a woman's struggle with her sexuality.

For the New York Times, Elizabeth Weil wrote "The Woman Who Walked 10,000 Miles (No Exaggeration) in Three Years" on Sarah Marquis and Michael Mooney for D Magazine wrote "A Changed Woman" on Amanda Barbour. Both stories are remarkable tales of people with their own individual struggles and each piece really well-written.

Deep by James Nestor

Deep by James Nestor was a really interesting book that starts off about freediving and then covers so much more about the ocean and life in it.

Nestor for a 2012 issue of Outside Magazine wrote "Open Your Mouth and You're Dead" on competitive freedivers going down hundreds of feet below the ocean surface on a single breath and Deep reminded me of the great Susan Casey book The Wave (which I wrote about in 2010), but Casey's book probably more about what happens on the surface of the water and Nestor's underneath it.

One of the details covered by Nestor included the distinction between competitive freediving as an odd and somewhat sadomasochistic sport and freediving not for depth records, but as a way to reach and interact with the ocean and life at depth. In this regard, there's great material in the book about freediving for the purpose of studying shark behavior as well as sperm whale communication.

Additionally, Nestor writes about depths that freedivers can't reach, with him journeying over 2,000 feet underwater in a submarine off the coast of Honduras and writing about research done in the hadal zone some 28,000 feet deep. This part was particularly fascinating with writing of how much life down there as a result of hydrothermal vents and a process known as chemosynthetic life.

Really a fascinating and wide-ranging book from Nestor.

Vanity Fair articles on Sam Simon & The Shawshank Redemption

There were two really interesting recent Vanity Fair articles with one on a co-creator of The Simpsons and one on The Shawshank Redemption.

"Always Leave Them Laughing" was written by Merrill Markoe about Sam Simon and an interesting tale of how the co-creator of the hugely successful show The Simpsons spends his final days battling a diagnosis of terminal cancer and supporting multiple animal-rights causes.

The other piece to note here was by Margaret Heidenry with "The Little-Known Story of How The Shawshank Redemption Became One of the Most Beloved Films of All Time." Just really fascinating information from Heidenry about a slow build towards iconic status.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pieces on writing - about Jeff Pearlman, interviewing subjects & giving yourself permission

There's been a few different pieces I've seen lately that seem to group together as being about both the want to and how to of producing great writing.

The most recent of the pieces was "The Making of a New York Times Bestselling Sportswriter: The Jeff Pearlman Story" by Jon Finkel for the site ThriveWire and it featured the interesting tale of how Pearman became a successful writer. On one hand, I find it somewhat flummoxing to read of someone who knew at a young age what they wanted to do and then did it (I mean, if only we all knew when young what we wanted?!), see Stephen King from his excellent book On Writing, but on the other hand, there was great stuff from Pearlman on both his repeated and creative efforts to eventually get hired at Sports Illustrated and about the importance of reporting, rather than just writing.

This idea of reporting and interviewing very much ties into another interesting piece I've seen recently. "The Art of the Interview, ESPN-Style" was by David Folkenflik for NPR in 2006 and about Jack Sawatsky, a writing professor turned interviewing guru that was hired by ESPN to teach the craft.

The last piece to note here wasn't on the how to in becoming a successful creative, but very much the want to as Brian Koppleman on his person website wrote "Permission Granted!" about career advice he gave to a young writer/director and Koppleman finished his piece with...

"You are the only one who can give yourself permission. I am the only one who can give myself permission. And this young man is the only one who can give himself permission. And that is great news. That is freedom. If we let it be. We just need to listen to ourselves, to speak honestly to ourselves, to permit ourselves. And then, we are off and running."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Great sports writing - by Moehringer, Van Valkenburg & Rushin

A few different pieces of great recent sports writing included from Sport Illustrated an opus out of the 6oth anniversary issue and from ESPN, a shorter opus on Derek Jeter and feature about offensive football mastermind Hal Mumme.

The Sports Illustrated 60th anniversary review was written by Steve Rushin and unfortunately isn't online now, but the 20,500 word story is a remarkably written piece on the events and people that shaped the world of sports through the past six decades. The piece from Rushin followed up on his SI 40th anniversary piece from 1994 and very much reminded me of the great SI 2012 Sportsman of the Year profile of LeBron James by Lee Jenkins that seems to not be online anymore, but I wrote about here.

The two recent ESPN pieces are both online and excellent work with J.R. Moehringer doing some 9,000 words in "The Final Walk-Off" on Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter and Kevin Van Valkenburg writing "Yoda of the Air-Raid Offense, He Is" on former Kentucky football coach Hal Mumme. This piece by Van Valkenburg was published about a week ago for ESPN The Magazine and brought to mind for me the Chuck Culpepper story "Uniquely Memorable" about former Pacific Lutheran coach Frosty Westering, another coach who worked to have the game be fun for his players.

Interesting business pieces - by Stone, Carr & Ringen

Three compelling pieces of recent business writing included cover stories from both Businessweek and Fast Company as well as an additional Fast Company feature.

The Businessweek piece was "Tim Cook Interview: The iPhone 6, the Apple Watch, and Remaking a Company's Culture" and an interesting look by Brad Stone and Adam Satariano at Apple and it's CEO.

The Fast Company pieces were "The $3.2 Billion Man: Can Google's Newest Star Outsmart Apple?" by Austin Carr on Tony Fadell and Nest as well as "Tastier, Healthier, And Animal-Free: Can Ethan Brown Reinvent Meat?" by Jonathan Ringen on the company Beyond Meat. This last story in particular was a fascinating one with Brown's company offering a becoming widely available substitute for meat that has all the flavor and proteins, but without the negative ramifications of meat. Ringen in his story noted it taking 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of steak, a figure that seems high, but is actually lower than the 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat that was noted in the book Abundance that I reviewed a month ago.

Writing on the CIA and Secret Service - by Leonnig, Burt & Wax-Thibodeaux

Three recent excellent stories seemed to group together with the CIA being the topic of two of them (one a heroic tale and one simply an interesting story) and an extremely poor response by the Secret Service the topic of the third.

The larger and more gravitas-having of the two CIA stories was for Slate by Andrew Burt with "Your Future Is Very Dark," a remarkable tale that carries the subtitle "The incredible story of former CIA agent John T. Downey, the longest held American captive of war." Downey is now a judge and the story of him being held by the Chinese for 20 years until his 1973 release is simply an amazing one.

The other CIA story to note here certainly an entirely different one than that on Downey, but Emily Wax-Thibodeaux wrote a pretty interesting short piece with "At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert" for the Washington Post.

Also published in the Post was "Secret Service fumbled response after gunman hit White House residence in 2011" by Carol Leonnig and it's a sobering tale of bumbled response by those in an extremely important job.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shadows in the Vineyard by Maxamillian Potter

Shadows in the Vineyard by Maxamillian Potter was an interesting tale with the subtitle "The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine."

The book is about the poisoning and ransom demands put to the famed French vineyard Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and its winemaker Aubert de Villaine. While the book could be interesting to many, it's also an "inside baseball" sort of account of wine, with a ton of compelling to oenophiles material about the industry, famed Burgundy region and Romanée-Conti, a wine so sought after, bottles can go for thousands upon thousands of dollars.

In a way the conclusion to the story is a bit of a letdown, but seems more a function of just what the story told is rather than anything wrong done in the writing, and Potter wrote an interesting book that would likely be especially appreciated by wine lovers.

Great sports pieces - by Van Natta Jr., Drehs and Thamel

There's been a few sports stories I've seen recently that I found to be excellent, including two long profiles for ESPN and a story for Sports Illustrated that related to a fantastic ESPN video.

The profile pieces were "Jerry Football" by Don Van Natta Jr. on Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and "Two in a Million" by Wayne Drehs on MLB superstars Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. Two exceptionally well done features from Van Natta and Drehs on compelling people.

The other piece of writing to note here stood out to me due to what it was about with Pete Thamel for Sports Illustrated writing "Boston College uses emotion and its running game to shock No. 9 USC" on the heels of BC honoring at the game Welles Crowther, the former Eagle lacrosse player who perished saving others on 9/11 and the subject of a great ESPN video segment.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Interesting Businessweek writing - by Waldman & Vance

There's been a number of interesting pieces from Businessweek recently with feature stories out of the September 8-14 issue by Ashlee Vance and Peter Waldman and two additional short pieces by Vance.

The story from Waldman was "How to Get Into an Ivy League College—Guaranteed" on Steven Ma and his Bay Area-based ThinkTank Learning. It's a pretty fascinating read that shows the lengths some families will go to in order to help get kids into the best schools.

The Vance feature was "Silicon Valley's Most Hated Patent Troll Stops Suing and Starts Making" and an interesting look at both why the Seattle-based Intellectual Ventures so reviled in tech circles and new initiatives at the company.

Also by Vance, the same magazine issue had the short pieces "As Software and Hardware Advance Together, the Next Innovation Wave Rises" on the great advantage held by companies like Apple, Tesla Motors and Nest (now part of Google) and for the BW website Vance did "Why Microsoft Might Pay $2 Billion for Minecraft," with this last piece bringing to mind Robin Sloan's excellent "The secret of Minecraft" piece for Medium.

Great writing on outdoor danger / adventure - by Sundeen, Murphy & Sanchez

Three really excellent recent pieces of writing that seemed to group together for me were on travel deep into Mexico, attending a wilderness survival course and calamitous flooding in Colorado last year.

For the New York Times, Mark Sundeen wrote "Ignoring the Warnings for a Honeymoon in Mexico" and it's a short piece that pulls the reader in with the question of what's going to happen next. Really well written from Sundeen and brings to mind for me his 2012 feature "Why Noah Went to the Woods" for Outside Magazine.

Another interesting recent short piece was "I Will Survive: Going Wild at the Bear Grylls Survival Academy" by Austin Murphy for the Sports Illustrated website and a great recent lengthy feature was from Robert Sanchez with "The Rising" for 5280 Magazine. Sanchez wrote of the September 2013 cataclysmic flooding of the Big Thompson River near Loveland, CO and it's a great tale of danger and heroism. Seeing the piece in the Denver-based 5280 brought to mind for me the excellent essay for 5280 "Yesterday's News" by J.R. Moehringer about starting out as a writer at the Mountain News.