Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I have been reading a lot of books lately.  Not just on Kindle and “Books-On-Tape”, but actual books that you hold in your hand and you lick your finger and you turn the pages.  I kind of now wish I had been a bigger reader earlier in life.  Take note, younger demographic!... if there is even one of you.

As a kid, I barely read anything at all.  I associated reading with school, and in my free time there was no way you were going to get me to do more reading.  Especially when there was television, which was a demonstrably easier way of assimilating material – like baby food instead of cutting your own meat.

Lemme get right to it.  You know how sometimes, I provide personally selected music for your listening entertainment.  Well, today, I offer personally selected samples of writing, taken from books I have read during the past number of months. 

I have chosen these examples, not because of their literary style, nor because of their content.  I have selected them because of their “voices”, each one different, each one clear and crisp and a bell.  Sorry, I got that backwards.  Each one crisp and clear as a bell.   

Forget about fiction/non-fiction (I offer two examples of each.)  Forget about subject matter.  Forget about depth of intention.  All of these categories are significant.  But just not today. 

Listen to these (snippets of) their stories, and imagine the writer being in the same room with you as they tell them, only they couldn’t make it so they instead distributed a transcribed version in the form of a book. 

These are my most recent favorite “Writers’ Voices”, though they may not hit the bulls-eye for you.  Perhaps you can pass along your own personal examples of the ones who do.

We begin with a hockey player, one of the greatest of all time.  The man never finished High School, but you listen to him talk, and you know in an instant he is a straight shooter and the quintessential “Genuine Article.”

“In the early 1950’s, I played with a rare group of guys who put the team ahead of themselves.  It began with stars like Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay and carried all the way down the roster.  In those years, there’s no question that the Red Wings were stocked with talent, but that wasn’t why they won.  The reasons went beyond our skill on the ice.  We were a close-knit bunch who played for each other as much as anything else.  You never wanted to look down the bench at your buddy and know that you’d let them down.  In the third period, when the game is on the line and you’re dog-tired at the end of a shift, that can be why you dig deeper for the last ounce of energy left in your legs.  Winning a championship takes a whole team willing to pay the same price on every shift. The opposite is also true.  If you don’t care about your teammates, maybe you don’t dig in to get back into position to take away the odd man rush.  Maybe you lose focus and that’s the instant your check slips behind you and tips the puck into the net.  The NHL game moves so quickly that a single mistake can be the difference between winning and losing.”

“Mr. Hockey – Gordie Howe:  My Story.”

I met this sportswriter as this fitness spa that we go to in Mexico.  She wrote a book about NASCAR and she graciously passed along a copy in the mail.  It’s an interesting book.  But more importantly, when I read it, it was like listening to her once again, talking mesmerizingly around the dinner table.

“My first mistake was wearing a dress.  Dresses, I learned, weren’t allowed in the NASCAR garage unless modeled by Miss Winston, Miss Mopar, Miss Mello-Yello, or whatever honorary beauty queen reigned that day, replete with tiara and satin sash across an ample bosom.  But for women not born to ride atop floats, wearing a dress meant you didn’t get in.

“In was the first item on a long list of things I didn’t know about stock-car racing when I was sent to cover my first NASCAR practice in 1991.

“It was a geographical fluke that I drew the assignment, having landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a young sportswriter the previous fall.  And it was a quirk of the era that it later became my beat – an era that saw major newspapers confront the reality of NASCAR, long derided as a fixation of the semiliterate southern fringe, had started commanding TV ratings that warranted broader coverage.  The only thing I knew about NASCAR at the time was that Bruce Springsteen had once mentioned Junior Johnson in a song.  I knew the lyrics to ‘Cadillac Ranch’ cold, but I wasn’t sure if Johnson was real or fiction, dead or alive.”

“One Helluva Ride – How NASCAR Swept The Nation” – Written by Liz Clarke.

Though, I do not read many crime novels, I have come to enjoy Michael Connolly’s Los Angeles-based murder mysteries.  I have primarily read Connolly on “Books-On-Tape”, which makes them harder to excerpt.  So I chose a different writer, whose voice is equally sharp and cryptically intense.

“I need to locate someone.”

“What type of case?” he asks as he lands hard in his oversized executive chair.  The wall behind him is covered with large photos and seminar certificates.

“It’s not really a case.  I just need to find the guy.”

“What will you do after you find him?”

“Talk to him.  That’s all.  There’s no cheating husband or delinquent debtor.  I’m not looking for money or revenge or anything bad.  I just need to meet this guy and find out more about him.”

“Fair enough.”  Frank uncaps his pen and is ready to take notes.  “Tell me about him.”

“His name is Nathan Cooley.  I think he also goes by Nat, too.  Thirty years old, single, I think.  He’s from a small town called Willow Gap.”

“I’ve been through Willow Gap.”

“Last I knew, his mother still lives there, but I’m not sure where Cooley is now.  A few years back, he got busted for a meth sting – “

“What a surprise.”

“And spent a few years in federal prison.  His older brother was killed in a shoot-out with the police.”

Frank is scribbling away.  “And how do you know this guy?”

“Let’s say we go way back.”

“Fair enough.”  He knows when to ask questions and when to let them pass.  “What am I supposed to do?” 

“Look, Mr. Beebe –“

“It’s Frank.”

“Okay, Frank.  I doubt there are many black folks in and around Willow Gap.  That, plus I’m from Miami, and I have Florida tags on my little foreign car.  If I show up and start poking around, asking questions, I probably won’t get too far.”

“You’d probably get shot.”

“I’d like to avoid that.”

“The Racketeer” – Written by John Grisham.  

This last one, I read in preparation to our recent trip to Turkey.  Reflecting a country dangling uncomfortably between two cultures, it is a comic novel concerning the rise and fall of an institution that, although powerful and pervasive, has essentially no practical function whatsoever.

The following response is delivered by a manipulative “visionary” to a complaint by a congenitally reasonable character that a couple, which includes the complainer’s own daughter, having thrown themselves ecstatically into a traditional, dervish-like folk dance, have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

“The same old story.  Rather, the same old stories.  My dear friend, you are an incurable
malcontent.  Knowledge is secondary in such matters.  Action, action, and action alone!”  Then, as if talking to himself, he added:

“Knowledge holds us back.  Indeed it offers neither an end nor an aim.  The main thing to do, to create.  ‘If they only knew, if they only knew…’  But if they knew, they wouldn’t be doing it.  They’d never achieve the same innovation, the same excitement at spontaneous discovery.  Knowledge would stifle it all.  Your daughter has made the evening.  With what?  With her ability to create.  For creation is life.  We are living individuals.  We are people who choose life.  You can scowl at us all you like.”

“I’m not scowling.  I’m simply speaking my mind.”

“Keep your thoughts to yourself, and feast your eyes on this magnificent spectacle!” 

“The Time Regulation Institute” – Written by Ahmet-Hamdi Tanpinar.

And there you have it.

Four writers. 

Four uniquely distinct voices.

Reading their books, I felt like I had made four very interesting new friends.


Pidge said...

Great Minds
Earl, I just finished writing back and forth to Mal about this very same thing. I was going to tip you off about a hilarious book I'm reading now, Bill Bryson's "Notes From a Small Island", about his good-bye trudge around Britain before he moved back to the USA. Talk about a 'voice'! I've enjoyed his more historical stuff (Summer-1927 is terrific) but this is my first encounter with his personal take on things. You'd love the associations with London, of course, and the humour.

JED said...

Those all sound interesting. I'm a terribly slow reader because I want to savor every word. I want to feel like I'm in the story with the characters and don't want to miss anything. Having an author who writes like they are in the room talking with you is perfect. Because I read so slowly, I have to be careful about what I choose to spend my time reading.

As far as suggestions of my own: I'm probably the last person in the world who read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I highly recommend it. It's unfortunate that we won't be able to read any more Stieg Larsson books (due to his death) because I think his writer's voice is the kind that draws you into the story. The description I read of his heroine's character almost kept me from starting the book but I'm glad I did. Mr. Larsson was able to take a rather disagreeable (to me) person and get me to care about her and worry about her. I can offer no higher praise for an author than they were able to change my mind about something. He can take a simple description of setting up the furniture in a room and enthrall me. Count the number of times his characters put on a pot of coffee in the story. I think I jumped up and got one myself each time.

I hear there will be a new book written with the same characters by someone else. I'll probably read it just to see the differences. I'm thinking it will make me miss Stieg Larsson's voice even more.