Saturday, June 04, 2016

Pieces to make you smile - by Mooallem, Frias & Posnanski

Three pieces of writing from over the past few weeks struck me as really well done and smile-inducing, with one from the New York Times Magazine, one from a blog, and one a newspaper.

The NYT Magazine feature was "The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort Of) Rattled the Scientific Community" by Jon Mooallem and it was a very cool look at Gavin Pretor-Pinney, a Brit who started a Cloud Appreciation Society and spearheaded the successful effort to get a cloud formation official status recognition. Mooallem's writing feels to lean towards the lovely and almost mystical, with his great book Wild Ones (that I wrote about in 2013) an example, and this piece definitely fit the same bill with the conclusion just making the reader feel good.

Another writer whose work can be particularly emotional and thought-provoking is Joe Posnanski and he recently did an awesome blog post that was then posted on the site of his employer, NBC Sports. "Hamilton" is about taking his 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth to see the Lin-Manuel Miranda play in New York and the post is really lovely, and then made all the more so by the story Posnanski tells in the postscript added on.

The final piece to note here is the shortest with "How a firefighter’s dying wish helped start one of Miami’s best pie shops" by Carlos Frias for the Miami Herald and it's a great story of love, friendship, remembrance, and accomplishment.

Neither Snow Nor Rain by Devin Leonard

Neither Snow Nor Rain by Devin Leonard was a really interesting book with the subtitle A History of the United States Postal Service.

In telling a compelling story about something I might not have expected to find as such, the book reminded me of the Beth Macy book Factory Man, which I wrote about in 2014, or to a lesser extent, the Tom Vanderbilt book Traffic, that I wrote about in 2008. Additionally, Leonard's work brought to mind the excellent Esquire article "Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?" by Jesse Lichtenstein.

I liked quite a bit how at both the beginning and end of Neither Snow Nor Rain, Leonard wrote about Evan Kalish, someone who visits Post Offices across the country and chronicles the travels on his blog, Going Postal. Kalish's story struck me as being very cool in having a combination of Americana and a case of some who found a thing they like and dove into it.

In terms of the historical details from the book, Leonard wrote of how in 1737, Benjamin Franklin became Postmaster of Philadelphia and then Postmaster General of America on July 4, 1776. Postal history through the years then included the crusade against immorality by Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock, air mail, rural free delivery, and private delivery services, both hundreds of years ago and in then in the 1970s via FedEx, UPS, and DHL.

Leonard wrote of how in 1947, the Post Office delivered 36 billion items, 114 billion in 1982, peaked at 213 billion in 2006 and was back down to 171 billion in 2010. This drop in volume and accompanying revenue combined with the how the Post Office must operate, with being legally required to provide universal service six days a week to every American home and business and have service costs determined by a Postal Regulatory Commission has led to the current fiscal problems suffered by the Post Office. Related to the Commission, Leonard as a Businessweek writer just did "Making No Cents" on how the cost of sending a first class letter was for some reason recently dropped two cents.

All in all, an excellent book from Leonard and anyone remotely interested in the subject would likely enjoy it quite a bit.