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Reading to become a better writer, or, An Ode To My Nightstand

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dick Whitman, Aug 20, 2012.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Thought of this subject for a thread as I looked upon the stack of reading material beside me. It is indisputable that reading makes one a better writer. But what kind of reading? "All of it," with apologies to Mrs. Palin, is a cop-out, though it's probably the right answer. But what fun is that? There's an opportunity cost to reading - there are only so many hours in each day.

    So here's the stack - I'm curious to hear what other posters think is useful, not useful, and why, for budding journalists likely to be reading here:

    * The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
    * Today's New York Times, A section
    * The most recent issue of the New Yorker
    * The current Sports Illustrated
    * Ann Patchett's 2011 novel "State of Wonder"
    * Best American Magazine Writing 2012 anthology
    * Best American Sports Writing of the Century (always in the drawer)
    * Best American Sports Writing 2012
    * The current ESPN: The Magazine
    * My iPhone

    Stuffed under the bed:

    * Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
    * Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
    * A couple folded up, months old issues of Time magazine
    * The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

    Thoughts? I will resist the temptation to check this thread for 48 hours, because I want to read all the interesting responses at once.
  2. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." Perfect for a quick read. I think the newspaper column is relevant and transferable to the new world, but if nothing else it shows a breadth of styles ranging from Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway to Jimmy Breslin.
  3. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I tend to go through phases. I recently finished one where, for about two years, all I read aside from important news stories was sports journalism. Now, I'm in a fiction mood, though I would never abandon sports journalism. I think each can be valuable. I learn more from Jeffrey Eugenides about constructing sentences but more from Dan Wetzel about conceiving story ideas, if that makes sense.
  4. Bradley Guire

    Bradley Guire Well-Known Member

    Stephen King's "On Writing" ... obviously not for newspaper writing. I'm also reading "Carte Blanche" a new 007 novel. Since I'm not in newspapers anymore, I've turned my writing fix to fiction.

    I'm also trying to read Hunter S. Thompson and read about the man. I like "The Rum Diary" movie, but I just don't get the appeal of reading the stuff he wrote while bombed out of his mind and not making sense. Maybe it's a generational gap thing. I agree it's fine writing, but I don't get the devotion some people have. I mean, I like King but I'm not obsessed with the guy.

    I'd like to read "Deadline Artists," but it's not at the library and I'm unemployed. I think I'm at the library these days more than the librarians.
  5. lcjjdnh

    lcjjdnh Well-Known Member

    In The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, William Blundell cautions against the "read everything" approach. Reading bad reading leads to bad writing; "hacks beget hacks," he says. And even some good writing can be unhelpful for learning how to write, because the writer has an inimitable style. Few can layer fact upon fact like McPhee, he says.

    As for the list of reading materials you provide, I'd worry the stack leans too far toward sports. I don't think you need to read other writers so you can quote obscure 18th century Cambodian poets, of course, but having a broad base of knowledge can help one better understand the subject you're covering. Especially in today's highly commercialized sports world, learning about economics and finance seems useful, for instance.
  6. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    John Grisham is an excellent writer and doesn't waste words. Nelson DeMille, too. When reading their books, I always notice how well they actually write, in addition to their fine storytelling. Grisham's "A Painted House" goes outside the legal genre and is a wonderful example. "Bleachers," too. But all his books, and DeMille's, demonstrate how to write well in addition to crafting excellent stories.
  7. SoccerFan

    SoccerFan Member

    On Writing Well by William Zinsser (the bible in my opinion)
    Story Craft by Jack Hart (more long form/narrative but useful)
  8. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Roy Blount Jr.
    Joan Didion
  9. Ch.B

    Ch.B New Member

    Great subject.

    Used to be like Versatile, gorging on one genre at a time. Now I aim to alternate between:

    1) Narrative books that can be deconstructed as you go along, such as Garden of Beasts, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Lost City of Z and Unbroken. Sometimes I'll read them twice - once for the story and then a second time to try to divine how they were constructed (books with copious endnotes, like Larson's, help).

    2) Fiction where the language is beautiful - which in turn makes it equally inspiring and intimidating - like Michael Chabon

    3) The New Yorker. I read far less of what's out there - online and in magazines - than I used to, but I read the New Yorker every week, even if I miss everything else. Wish I had done so as religiously when I was 20. This speaks to lcjjdnh's idea - better to focus on the good stuff than skim a lot of mediocre work.

    As to your question, DW, I think it depends on the type of writing you're doing, and aim to do. In my case, I'm writing longform, so I read longform (including Esquire, SI, ESPN etc). If I were a beat writer, it'd be different.
  10. BobSacamano

    BobSacamano Member

    I find myself reading fewer books and novels. Most of my reading time is spent with the usual suspects of magazines: Esquire and GQ, the main sports rags, and a few niche publications I enjoy like Empire and Wired. The rest is spent on my blog reader, clicking through to sourced articles from Gawker and the like.

    Maybe it's generational and an excuse, but I spend so much time writing that I can't dedicate the time I'd like to reading. Ultimately, I end up frying my brain with some video games, Seinfeld, or a popcorn flick in my spare time. Or I'm here, scrolling through.
  11. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    Got that on e-book. Great stuff.
  12. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    "Strawberries in the Winter Time," by Red Smith. It's an excellent example of a "writing voice."
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