Sunday, February 28, 2010


You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation.

You have only to watch his eyes;
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression, forgetting
themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.
--W.H Auden

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lost in Translation
Between the Genders

'The word love has by no means the same sense for both sexes, and this is one cause for the serious misunderstandings that divide them.'
--Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex. You can learn more about her life and work here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Support the Independents, Part 6

'Few independent bookstores are more iconic than Powell's Books. Even readers who've never been to Portland, Oregon, know about the store from its ads in places like the New Yorker, or from its prominent online presence, or from its reputation as the largest new- and used-book store in the world. The "City of Books," as the four-story flagship store on West Burnside is known, occupies an entire city block, and carries more than one million books. The sixty-eight-thousand-square-foot space is divided into nine color-coded rooms, which together house more than 3,500 sections. From the moment you walk in, it feels as if you could find anything there.'
--from a great new piece on one of the country's great independent bookstores, Powell's, in the new issue of Poets & Writers magazine, which we've pointed you to in the past. You can review earlier iterations of our ongoing series about supporting indy bookstores here, and check out my original love song to indy bookshops, posted just months after this blog started, here. If any of this moves you to share your own bookstore stories, we won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Food for the Hungry Mind

In our continuing quest to understand all sorts of things and all sorts of people, we find ourselves occasionally checking out a weird and wonderful assortment of publications. The habit was first planted nearly 20 years ago, when giant book superstores (first Borders and then Barnes & Noble) brought us the wonders of a giant assortment of publications about nearly any topic you could imagine. A few years after that, the web began serving up a thousand, or perhaps a million, times more than that in terms of variety. We love coming across articles such as this, from a magazine for chief information officers: about the weirdest online niche social networks. Any of these appeal to you?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seven Ways to Revive Your Marriage

We're not usually given to reading magazines such as Woman's Day, but somehow we happened to come across this piece, and thought it might be useful for some of you. It's hardly rocket science, and if you're married, you've heard it all before in various venues. But it never hurts to hear it again, we figure. Since we're coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary this summer, it seems especially timely.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Good Coaches & Good Editors Are Alike

A few months ago, I posted this vivid quote about the eternal hankering to fiddle with someone else's writing. It prompted an interesting comment string, especially the first question, which I think may have been from an old friend and a former editor of mine (since it was anonymous, I can't be sure). Anyway, I never really got around to answering it completely, but the wonderful questions have lingered in my mind ever since.

This tribute to a recently deceased editor brought it to mind again. While the writer was doing her best to do what we all naturally try to do for understandable reasons--speak well of the dead, especially the newly deceased--the vignette about how this editor had operated brought back to me the universality of all bad editors. They preach, proclaim and order rather than do what all good editors do: teach. They demand instead of persuade. And for those reasons, in the end, they generally fail.

The spirit in which you do things is ultimately what really matters. Good editors, teachers and coaches impart their knowledge with love, and tend to discharge their duties with some measure of warmth. Because they really know what they're doing, they don't have to bluster and demand (which is generally a sign of insecurity rather than mastery). Instead, they draw you into the process through genuine concern and by radiating a feeling that you're colleagues and collaborators in a shared cause.

In the sublimely wonderful new film The Last Station, about the final months of Tolstoy's life (go see it soon), there's a telling moment that makes this point better than I ever could. The bearded bard, by then the most celebrated writer in the world, welcomes his nervous young research assistant by asking about the young man's writing before saying anything about his own work. The young man tears up, overcome by the great man's humility and interest in him. With that moment of warmth and genuine interest in his protege, he's made a convert for life.

I add coaches to this lineup for a particular reason, because they're also teachers (or at least the good ones are). Today's New York Times carried an evocative piece (which I can't seem to find anywhere online) about the late New York Knicks coach Red Holzman's style of teaching. Like all great teachers and coaches, his lessons stayed with his players for the rest of their lives, and touched them not only as players but as people. The thing that comes through most clearly is how much respect he showed for his players. They weren't merely chess pieces for him to move around, but smart people who could be invited to contribute their own ideas to the game. "Holzman preached defense, teamwork and ball movement but gave his players great latitude to figure out the details. His playbook was thin by today's standards, and he asked his team to suggest plays." And now one of his then-players, Phil Jackson, puts those lessons into practice with his own team, the L.A. Lakers. He's become only the most successful NBA coach since Red Auerbach, and the winner of 11 championships.

Now that's the power of good editing, coaching and teaching.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Reading List for Futurists

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm more interested in the past than the future, at least intellectually. It's why I majored in history in college, and history and biography represents the bulk of the books I read. But the future does have its uses, I suppose, since we'll all be there one day, or at least I hope we will. And good magazines such as Good like to help us think about what that future might look like. And so they published this reading list for futurists. If this subject interests you, please feel free to add your own books to that list.
UPDATE: this subject reminded me of this extended conversation Art and Bluster had about science fiction a couple years ago.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Power of Half

This story--about a privileged family that collectively decided to give half its wealth away, and everyone (including the kids) got an equal vote in selling the family's house--has struck a deep chord in these difficult economic times. I first heard about this uniquely inspiring family on NPR, but there's also been a book and plenty of media coverage about their story. We'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Things You Learn By Reading

I never knew until reading this New York Times piece that 125 million people have ITunes accounts (the number is perhaps four or five times larger than I would have guessed). And I never knew until reading this Smart Money article that my home state of Ohio permitted folks 60 and over to attend classes at all public universities for free. Kind of amazing all the things one can learn by reading, isn't it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tackling the Fear of Self-Employment

Q: Among the big hurdles to self-employment are self-doubt and fear of failure. How did you deal with them, and what's your advice?
A: You know what? I never had fear. What was more fearful for me was going to a job every day that made me unhappy. That was what worried me every day about my future. . . . I know it is an obstacle for a lot of people, and again I think the answer to that is networking, meeting with some people who are in the business that you want to start and finding out how they get past that because it can be scary, especially in these uncertain times.

--from an interview the Plain Dealer recently did with an old writing buddy of mine, Mary Mihaly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Go For the Heart

'It's easy to fool the mind but it's hard to fool the heart.'
--Al Pacino

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Muscles of Writing
Are Not So Visible

'Writing is an athletic activity. It comes from your whole body, your knees, lungs, spine--all organs and body parts leaning in with you, hovering in concentration over the page. And just like any other sport, it takes practice. Behind the football we see on TV, the players have put in hundreds of hours before the big game. The muscles of writing are not so visible, but they are just as powerful: determination, attention, curiosity, a passionate heart.
--from Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend From Far Away--The Practice of Writing Memoir. If you've never read her 1986 classic, Writing Down the Bones, I urge you to do so soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Parents Live On Through
the Memorable Things They Say

'When kids are young, they step on your toes. When they're older, they step on your heart.'
--a lovely thought my friend Don Southard (pictured here), recently shared with me, which his late father had often said. Don is a gifted, nationally recognized veteran science teacher, and a man who says the kinds of things his two children will also remember for the rest of their lives. We'd love to hear the things your loved ones have said that still resonate for you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Favorite Headlines of the Week

We had a bunch lately, so why not share the abundance, we figured? This one nicely plays off the title of Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope. Better yet, the piece contains a sublime phrase that we'll be sure to adopt from now on: "dyspepsia is the new equilibrium." We thought this headline served as a nicely counterintuitive come-hither device to read the piece, and we loved this headline for its playful sense of humor (though this classic Andy Borowitz spoof headline in the Huffington Post really took the prize for sense of humor). This odd headline in the Seattle Times wins the award for countercultural oddity, going out of its way to keep the word 'sex' out of the headline, even when it not only belongs there but is almost misleading without it (now there's a first). We attribute that to metro dailies' prudish sense of rectitude, which is overdone in this case. Finally, we mustn't forget the lowly subhead, which can be raised to a high art in the hands of accomplished headline-writing artists. This subhead in Slate takes the prize for wicked irony. Okay, now it's your turn. Share your thoughts, send your favorite headlines, or just tell us about your bad hair day, if you'd prefer. We like hearing from you, no matter what the message might be. You can also bathe in headline nostalgia by review earlier favorite headlines here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is Your Reader
Inside Your Mind?

"My own favorite writer of essays is Emerson. Why is this? Because he writes as if I am inside his mind, a mind that is, as Robert Richardson expressed it, 'on fire.'"
--the poet Mary Oliver, from her introduction to The Best American Essays 2009.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Voice Tumbling Into Your Ear

'Prose should have a flow, the forward momentum of a certain energized weight. It should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.'
--the late John Updike, in perhaps his last published essay, The Writer in Winter. You can review earlier mentions of the literary lion here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Here's Something You Don't
Always Understand At First

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
--the late opera diva Beverly Sills

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Employment vs. Freelance: Pros and Cons

'If you want to make a career of writing, should you look for a full-time job in a company or strike out on your own as a freelancer? Good question. I’ve done both and have come to the conclusion that freelancing is what I like best. I earn good money, set my own hours, and I don’t have to deal with the stress of traffic, corporate politics, and an office full of idiots and suck-ups. Oh, and no ties. I hate ties. I work in jeans and Hawaiian shirts. Yes, I know I’m wearing a tie in my publicity photos, but I did it just that once. And with therapy, I’ve recovered from the experience fairly well. But that’s just me. I know plenty of people who prefer having a writing job working for one company. They like getting a regular paycheck, having a set schedule, and socializing with co-workers every day. Just because freelancing is best for me doesn’t mean it’s best for everyone.'
--from a recent post on the Men With Pens blog.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

You Gotta Be
Tender & Tough

'Each morning I place on my writing table a carnation and a hammer.'
--Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet who we once called the Poet Laureate of Love. Turns out he also believed in mixing a soft heart with a firm discipline for his craft. But then, no real surprises there. Anyway, you can sample his poems here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Catching Up on the Death
Of the Author of Catcher

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, died recently, touching off the felling of many trees in tribute. We can't say we were similarly caught up in all the literary mourning. To the contrary, the guy has always seemed quite creepy to us, with his weirdly gothic insistence on being left alone (if you really want to be left alone, we figure, do something, anything, besides publish a popular book). A preference for quiet and semi-isolation is one thing, and we share that instinct. But he took it to such an extreme that it seemed to border on a mental disorder. Anyway, Gawker has a nice roundup of coverage and tributes to the late author. And Working With Words reader and frequent commenter Kass posted this nice tip of the cap to him. Finally, we remembered this two-year-old piece about Salinger and Catcher by an aquaintance of ours, Anne Trubek, an Oberlin College English professor and prolific writer (her new book will soon be making its debut, and she recently published this interesting piece in the American Prospect about the Langston Hughes house). The Salinger piece was published in an interesting new magazine, Good, which I hope you'll check out a little. She argued that, while the character Holden Caulfield has entered the canon as our 20th century Huck Finn, the book doesn't really deserve the central place it still occupies in the curriculum. At the very least, she wrote, it should share some room with more recent coming-of-age novels.
UPDATE: I should have included this rave from my friend and mentor Bill Gunlocke, who had this to say about Catcher on his blog: "I tried this just now. I opened The Catcher in the Rye randomly to 10 different places and read the first sentence my eyes fell upon. Not one wasn’t interesting. It didn’t surprise me. If it surprises you, you haven’t read it in a while, or maybe you’ve never read it. There’s nothing like it." While you're there, consider taking another couple minutes to read his thoughts on New York's decision to cut library hours.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Group Coupons

In our continuing quest to share ideas consistent with what's being called the New Frugality (you know how hack journalism always puts the word new in front of everything and capitalizes it all)--which is not really new for most people I know--we thought we'd note this interesting website, which harnesses group purchasing power for coupon offers. I haven't really checked it out much yet, but plan to. In the meantime, I was eager to get your input. Does it look worthwhile to you?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Here's One of The Best
Definitions We've Heard

'The purpose of marketing is to make selling superflous.'
--the late management guru Peter Drucker. You can review earlier mentions of the great one here, check out his many books here, and learn a little about his vast intellectual legacy here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Busting Myths With Style

For decades, Popular Mechanics has been known as a prime destination for geeks. But you don't have to be a geek to appreciate how well the magazine covers its subject, and often in ways that speak to much larger audiences, if only the audience will momentarily suspend its preconceptions of that publication. This wonderful series, Mythbusters Workshop, is as good an example of that as we've seen. It's yet another reminder of how you can sometimes find great journalism and storytelling from the most unexpected sources. We'd love your thoughts.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Our Favorite Blog Name of the Week

Field Notes from the Future has the ring of something that seems worth a look, doesn't it? Our incessant focus on naming/titling things well--be they books, articles or blogs--may strike you as a bit much (and if so, please do tell us). But we think that's half the battle of attracting a reader's attention in these distracted times.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lebron to be Featured in Super Bowl Ad

The advertising industry bible Ad Age says it's been long in the works, and that it'll feature the NBA's two leading physiques, Lebron and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, in a reprise of the famous Larry Bird/Michael Jordan commercial that ran during the '93 Super Bowl. You can even see a brief video teaser.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

No, This is Not a Joke
Headline in The Onion

Bristol Palin Sets Up PR Firm. She's 19, by the way. If you're in the market for such senior-level counsel, do give her a call. While we're ordinarily the last ones to rain on anyone's entrepreneurial dreams, and believe that starting as early as possible is generally the right thing to do, this does stretch things a bit.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Meet the Madoff Minions

More than a year after Bernie Madoff's massive ponzi scheme rip-off culminates with his imprisonment, Mother Jones magazine takes a look at what's happened to his inner circle since then. The answer: Nothing much, really. But it got us to wondering: has this story continued to resonate for you, if indeed it ever did? And for readers outside the U.S., has it succeeded in changing your view of America somehow?