is reading time for many of us. I used to spend my midday break with my
current print/eBook or my audiobook, but lately I've gotten more
pleasure out of shorter pieces.
Each day I pick a story or an article that I can start and finish before I turn back to my computer for an afternoon of editing. I've been sampling many kinds of short pieces, such as short stories, essays, magazine articles, and poems.
Here's a look at some of the shorts I've recently read.
Coming out next month, Find the Good (Algonquin, 2015, 9781616201678) is a wonderful collection of essays by Heather Lende, the obituary writer for the town of Haines, Alaska (population ~2,000). In "The Good News," Lende notes that one of her occupational hazards is thinking about what life has to teach us. After years of focusing her journalism on the dead, she's already come up with her own deathbed bit of wisdom: "Find the good." She has taken this advice so much to heart that her editor teases her about it. But because, unlike most obit writers, Lende is summing up the lives of people she knows, she is always looking for the positive. I love the casual, conversational tone of her writing and wholeheartedly recommend the collection.
Writing obituaries is my way of transcending bad news. It has taught me the value of intentionally trying to find the good in people and situations, and that practice--and I do believe that finding the good can be practiced--has made my life more meaningful. (p. 3)I absolutely loved this February 25, 2015, article from Esquire magazine by Josh Ozersky: "Inside the Shop of the Last Great American Watchmaker." I was drawn to the story for a couple of reasons. First, the Roland G. Murphy Watch Company is located in my state of Pennsylvania and, second, my grandfather was trained as a watchmaker in pre-revolution Russia, so I've always had a thing for timepieces. Unlike the more popular and more status-bearing watches, a Murphy is made by hand with consideration for accuracy and quality. I think we should all embrace the watchmaker's philosophy:
Murphy doesn't build watches for himself or his buyer. He builds for an ideal: that things should always be better than what's necessary.John McPhee's recent piece in the May 3, 2015, issue of The New Yorker, "On Writing: Frame of Reference" gave me a lot to think about. The central theme has to do with inserting cultural references in our writing, but of course, being conscious of our audience is important in many contexts. As an editor, I'm always aware of what McPhee calls dating a piece. His examples involve groups of famous people, but when editing, I have to check the provenience of much more, such as clothing labels, songs, and cars. There is truly no quicker way to age yourself than to make a reference to the pop culture of your youth; your younger friends won't be able to hide their complete lack of comprehension. Oops. Whether you're writing a book review, a novel, or a tweet, you won't want to miss McPhee's advice.
The last thing I would ever suggest to young writers is that they consciously try to write for the ages. . . . We should just be hoping that our pieces aren’t obsolete before the editor sees them. If you look for allusions and images that have some durability, your choices will stabilize your piece of writing.