The MacGuffin

Reading Again

Posted by Lauren Rugani on August 2, 2010

I’m not sure if I’m ashamed to admit this or not, but Twitter is where I get the majority of my news. Often, a writer will Tweet a headline they just published hours, if not days, before it hits an RSS feed. I feel slightly superior when my non-Twittering friends bring up something they heard on the news, and I can say, “Pshaw. That was all over Twitter days ago.” It’s where I found out Michael Jackson died.

While the onslaught of headlines can get a little overwhelming — today, for instance, I started seeing red after the number of links thrown at me about a new study that concluded women find men who wear red more attractive — Twitter is also a great place to find your proverbial diamond in the rough. That one headline, from that one website you never would have found on your own.

Yesterday, another young science writer I follow, @ferrisjabr (following, of course, the proper Twitterquette of crediting someone from whom you get your information) tweeted a link to Esquire Magazine’s 7 best stories of all time. I clicked.

The first piece I read was the one the magazine claims to be its best story ever: “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” It was, indeed, one of the best profiles I’ve ever read. Then I read “The School,” a chilling account of the schoolhouse hostage crisis in Beslan, Russia in 2004, before moving on to “The Falling Man” and another profile, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” I still have three more to go.

While I don’t know what Esquire’s criteria were for choosing these stories, I do know why I like them. The two profile pieces totally changed my views of the historical figures that I have, in some sense, known forever. I grew up in New England — Ted Williams is a hero. My father often bursts into song for no apparent reason. Sinatra is one of his favorites. In a sense, the imaginary personalities I had drawn up in my mind for these men were totally ruined after reading the articles. I resented that at first, but one of my favorite things about writing is the ability to change people’s minds. Many of my favorite pieces, fiction or non, are the ones that leave me saying, “Well…shit.”

Another thing I admire, in all the pieces, is the tremendous amount of reporting that went into each one. So many details, jam-packed into every scene, every paragraph, every sentence, every adjective. This is one thing I’ve marveled at as an up-and-coming writer, and as someone who would like to try their hand at long-form journalism someday. Sometimes, I like to pick a paragraph at random, and try to guess how many people the writer talked to just to be able to write those sentences.

A big theme across these stories (at least the ones I’ve read so far) is the fact that the subjects were either unwilling, or unavailable, to be interviewed. It’s something you’re told in j-school, that you can write about anything if you ask the right people the right questions, but it’s not something that sinks in until you’ve seen it done, and done well.

Reading good writing makes me want to write good stuff that other people want to read. I believe the word for that is “inspiring.” I miss reading for fun, on a regular basis. Reading these stories has totally given me the jump start to get back into it, and reinvigorated my passion for the craft.

If anyone has any particular pieces that have moved you, please send them along!

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