Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Writer's Method

Gay Talese
I've mentioned in previous posts that I enjoy reading about writer's methods -- their writing space, note taking, how they organize their research, etc.  So I was happy that I stumbled upon this 3 minute video interview of literary journalist Gay Talese.  The video shows Talese at his New York home, and his writing space, directly below his apartment, which he refers to as his "bunker."  Gay Talese is most famously known for his articles on Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio -- which I believe he wrote back in the 1960s -- but he is still cranking out articles for the New Yorker and his stuff is fantastic reading.

I'm truly impressed with how well he has organized years and years of research.  If you watch the video you'll see what I'm talking about.  Finally, as you can see in the picture on the left, he is a sharp dresser.   Which is even more impressive, is that he dresses in suit and tie only to walk a few steps from his apartment to his workspace below.   Fantastic.  It reminds me of a similar habit by fellow New Yorker alum and short story writer, John Cheever.  Cheever would do something very similiar: he'd put on a suit that morning and just go a few floors down to the basement of his house to write during the day, and then when the day was over, he'd come back upstairs and take his suit off.

Well, if you have a few minutes to spare, and if you are interested in seeing how a great writer -- well, at least this great writer -- organizes his writing space, check it out HERE.  Enjoy.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Book for Father's Day

This was my first Father's Day.  Before my son was born I sat down and researched books about fatherhood and how to be a good father.  I discovered that books about fatherhood and how to be a dad are divided into two categories.  First, there's the "What to Expect When Your Expecting" category.  These are books that go into detail about the logistics of having a child.  E.g, what sort of diapers to buy, sleep cycles, why their poo changes color, etc, etc.  I've found that these books are not necessarily a narrative, but a car owners guide really (what to do IF?), with a helpful index and sometimes even tabbed sections.  So, like a dictionary, they are helpful, but aren't (at least for me) a fun read.  

The next category is the narrative memoir.  Now these are fun to read.  And while I hate to say it, I often read them and laugh at other father's misfortunes (e.g., holding your son and he suffers a "blow out").  But now I try and stuff my laugh back in my belly, because god knows whatever just happened to that unlucky father in the book is bound to happen to me, if it hasn't already.  So now I just sort of smile when I read a passage in a "father memoir" that I find hilarious, as to not upset the karma "blow out" gods.

So for this first father's day I want to recommend a book: Michael Lewis's Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood.  I’ve read it, and really enjoyed it.  Mr. Lewis is the author of Moneyball (yes, the Brad Pitt movie about baseball) and a few  other books about Wall Street, oh, and he also wrote a little book called The Blind Side (yes, the football movie with Sandra Bullock).  And a short anecdote, Admiral Stavridis was asked a few months ago what book his staff was talking about and reading, and the Admiral rattled off Mr. Lewis' book, The Big Short, which is about the financial meltdown that occurred due to the sub-prime mortgage lending which destroyed the housing market.  The man can write, and the stories he writes are very interesting.  I’m not going to talk about Home Game in detail, but let me say this: I was laughing by page 2.  The  opening of the book is him poolside with his family. And from a distance he watches as his daughter fends of some rowdy boys by telling them she just peed in the pool. Which of course, causes the young misfits to scramble, and Mr. Lewis to feel -- deservedly -- a fair amount of pride for a daughter that can hold her own.  Hilarious.   Check it out.  And for all you fathers out there: Happy Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Link of the Week

If you enjoy long form journalism, then look no further.  Longform is a great website that collects some of the best longform journalism from all over the web.  You'll find everything from profiles of military leaders to authors, and much more.  The quality of the stories is high; the pieces collected here are all well written and well researched.  

Take a look.  Remember, if you want to become a better writter, then you have to (1), practice writing and (2), you have to read a lot. This is another great website to add to your favorites for the non-fiction reader in you.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Intelligence Work

I am reading Dick Wolf's new book The Intercept. It is about New York Police Detective Jeremy Fisk -- a detective in the department's Intelligence Division, a "well-funded anti-terror unit modeled upon the CIA," and his race to find and disrupt a terrorist attack before it occurs. 

I don't read mass market paperbacks with a pencil in hand, however, if I had one when I hit page 15 I would have circled and underlined this paragraph:

"Covert intervention was equal parts art and science. The adrenaline flowed differently when you were investigating crimes before they happened, rather than reacting to immediate and developing crises. The Tantric anticlimax of serving search and arrest warrant -- of taking the puzzle apart before it was quite put together -- was the only drawback to Intel. Success meant that nothing happened. No bomb detonated, no bridge collapsed, nobody screamed in the night. It meant that the city kept moving. Keeping men and women going to work, children playing in parks, elderly people complaining about the weather: this was his job." (Italics Mine).
So true. It is the core contradiction in Intel work.  To do well, to succeed, means that the public can not praise your work. It means your family will not realize if one day of work was any different than the next.   But it is the quiet professional that can do it;  it is the quiet professional that can ensure society... life... continues unimpeded, defeating those who wish do us harm.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Wife's Words

Winston and Clementine in 1908 (source: Wikipedia)
Interesting. During WWII Churchill had some rather bad days, and understandably, his temper flared and his patience waned. Eventually news of his temper and ill treatment of subordinates reached his wife, Clementine. She decided to pen a short note to Churchill, reminding him that with great power comes a good dose of humility and "Olympic calm."  From Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills, Clementine's letter reads:

10 Downing Street,

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner — It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys & 'take what's coming to them' & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders — Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you — I said this & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain' —

My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— 'On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme' — I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —

Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They willbreed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful

Today, sentiments such as this are more likely to be shared over e-mail vs. letter -- but shared none the less.  I do wonder:  how many spouses offer little hints and reminders to their husbands and wives, rather they are leaders in business or government?  Sometimes it is the spouse and only the spouse that can provide a gentle but appropriate -- and sometimes firm -- criticism that can affect a leaders outlook and behavior.  And sometimes they are the only appropriate person, or maybe most effective person to do so...

A short aside.  I once was working in an embassy, and an Admiral was coming by for a visit.  He was bringing his wife.  My boss called me into the office and held up two pieces of paper, one yellow the other red, and with a smile he said, "this itinerary (yellow) is the Admiral's, this itinerary (red) is his wife's, which one is more important?" I guessed, but guessed correctly.  "The wife's" I said.  "Absolutely...absolutely" he said.  

The spouse has more pull and influence then we give credit for.  So if you are sitting there on top of the world, leading form the front, in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of men and women, remember this:  When your husband or wife tells you that you need to show some "Olympic patience," it may be time to heed that advice.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vintage Typewriters Are Still Cool

The "Faulkner Portable" via Wikipedia
A while back I blogged about writing instruments.  I offered some suggestions on a nice -- yet inexpensive -- fountain pen or two.  But recently, after a little late night surfing, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that manual typewriters are still used to write, and in some cases collected. The actor Tom Hanks apparently has over 200 manual typewriters in his collection, and this gentlemen, Ermanno Marzorati, a typewriter repairman in Beverly Hills, California, has something like 60 of Mr. Hank's beauties on his shelves waiting to be repaired.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jefferson's Treasures

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale
Another great anecdote from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, this time on Thomas Jefferson and his love of books:

"While Jefferson and his mother were away from home, the house caught fire and was destroyed with all its contents. One of their slaves came to report the bad news. "Not one of my books saved?" cried Jefferson in distress.  The slave shook his head: "No, master -- but we saved the fiddle."