Zinsser and sportswriting

September 29, 2006

I read “Enjoyment, Fear and Confidence” this morning. Chapter 21 of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well tells us about Fred Smith, columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, the paper Zinsser dreamed of writing for and the place he got a job when he returned from WWII. Here are Zinsser’s words on Fred Smith:

One of the reasons I admired Fred Smith was that he wrote about sports for 55 years, with grace and humor, without succumbing to the pressure, which was the ruin of many sportswriters, that he ought to be writing about something “serious.” He found in sportswriting what he wanted to do and what he loved doing, and because it was right for him he said more important things about American values than many writers who wrote about serious subjects — so seriously that nobody could read them.

Zinsser’s description reminds me of Frank Deford’s weekly Sweetness and Light commentaries on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Deford’s stuff is the only sports-related commentary I ever listen to. He gets me thinking, and while I’m occasionally unsure how I stand with some of his points, he makes sports intriguing. Deford’s big voice, strong opinions, great sense of humor, and powerful arguments weave into a writing that’s worth paying attention to.

I love Zinsser’s book. One of my favorite chapters is “Bits and Pieces.” Here’s a bit and a piece from it:

The reader plays a major role in the act of writing and must be given room to play it. Don’t annoy your readers by over-explaining — by telling them something they already know or can figure out. Try not to use words like “surprisingly,” “predictably,” and “of course,” which put a value on a fact before the reader encounters the fact. Trust your material.

And then this: “No subject is too specialized or too quirky if you make an honest connection with it when you write about it.”

the restless and the discontented

September 26, 2006

Today is one of those days — perfect weather and I am just not feelin’ it. Ya know, I love ideas and talking about ideas. I love writing and literature. And I love learning, teaching. The university is a good place to be if one has all those particular loves. But today I’m too aware of the order and hierarchy of the institution, the commodification of expertise, the elitism of certain kinds of knowledge. I think I just haven’t been out of the country in too long and I need a voyage. I’m out of sorts. Nothing that a sojourn to New Zealand couldn’t cure.

conflicts of politics and ignorance

September 25, 2006

I heard Philip Reeves’ report on the Aga Khan on “Morning Edition” this morning and was fasinated by the long excerpts from the Aga Khan’s speech. The first problem: education. He specifically mentioned the lack of knowledge about Islam in the west, and also in the east. He argued for pluralism, which I understood to mean a deeper familiarity with the complexities and differences of Islam. The Aga Khan spoke in a measured, highly-educated English, that was strangely neither British- nor American-accented. I was struck by his emphasis on education. He also said that the conflict today is not religious but political. And he urged nations to put those political issues on the “front-burner” and “press as hard as possible on the accelerator” (something like that). That is, political conflicts can only be resolved if they are discussed openly. And he mentioned that these conflicts have been around a long time, much longer than we had hoped they would be. He never mentioned Palestine and Israel, but I’m sure that was implied.

modeling peer-response groups

September 20, 2006

Nothin’ like doing what you ask of your students to increase one’s humility quotient. Last night I presented the first draft of an essay I wrote on Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers,” one of the stories we’ve read. I wrote the essay yesterday afternoon. The article I read by Ronald Barron (“What I Wish I Had Known About Peer-Response Groups But Didn’t,” English Journal) insists that the teacher introducing peer-response groups must use a first draft of his/her own. So I did. I read the piece aloud. Then the class started commenting. May I say that I prefaced my reading with, “I don’t really like this piece. It’s not very good.” Wow. Students really came up with great comments, but I swear, when one guy said, “It’s really more of a summary,” I almost wept. A summary! The kiss of death. I keep saying that students need to be taught how to become skilled readers, helpful peer reviewers, but this class was all over my paper, and they had only listened to me read it one time. I really hated putting my writing out there. I was nervous. I didn’t want to be criticized, even though I knew this was a first draft. I felt much more vulnerable than I thought I would. I’ve got much more respect for my students and what they go through in peer-response groups.

misaligned alliance

September 20, 2006

Yesterday evening on “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross interviewed some folks talking about Christian Zionists. Wow. What a weird coalition — or maybe not so much. U.S. evangelical Christians supporting neocons supporting ultra-right Israelis. Youch. And the weird thing is that the evangelical-apocalyptic Christian Zionists have a teleology that involves all Jews converting to Christianity or dying. Apparently, the Christian Zionists pride themselves on keeping a ceasefire off the table between Israel and Lebanon long enough for Israel to do some damage. I’ve forgotten the name of the evangelical Christian Zionist preacher who spearheads this whole movement. Let me go check. Right — Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel. Gross interviewed Gershom Gorenberg, who wrote The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. I love the point he made about mutual religious disrespect: the Israelis who accept a coalition with Hagee’s group ignore the eventual obliteration of Jews in order to gain from the political and financial support (Christians United for Israel have a Washington lobbyist; their agenda fits right in with the neocon plan). The Christian Zionists, meanwhile, are happy to have a coalition with Israel, because let’s face it, that’s the land they want so that there will be the second coming. Which Jews don’t believe in. It’s pretty warped and twisted. But any ultra-right Israeli agenda that wants neocon support will benefit. Neither side — ultra-right Israelis and Christian Zionists — wants peace. In fact, peace is antithetical to both groups’ goals.

Two Girls by Perihan Magden

September 11, 2006

Two Girls by Perihan Magden (first published in Turkish in 2002 by Everest Yayinlari; translated into English by Brendan Freely and published in 2005 by Serpent’s Tail, London) has been made into a movie directed by Kutlug Ataman, screenplay by Magden and Ataman. The character of Behiye, the young woman who falls in love with Handan, daughter of a prostitute, offers a strong narrative of a troubled mind — creative and violent. The translation indicates that Magden’s novel accomplishes a psychological virtuoso of a character bereft of love, a character who becomes chained to the first object of her love, whom she calls her “The Feeling You’ll Be Rescued,” a state of peace she experiences even before she meets Handan. Juxtaposed to this love-obsession story are scenes of discovered corpses, men and young boys who have been murdered. The two strands never cross, overtly. I’m still not sure what I think of the book. But I couldn’t put it down.


September 11, 2006

Seems I’ve been off my blog for a bit. Good to get back and check in with Marc’s impression and Ted’s hawgblawg, for instance (see “blogs not bombs” sidebar). Ceasefire. I feel strange getting back to mundane blog postings like the one I’m about to do on young adult literature. But here goes.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (translated from the French by Sarah Adams, NY: Harvest/Harcourt, 2006 – originally published in 2004 by Hachette) takes place in Paris, in the projects. First-person narrative by Doria, who’s got a great brash voice — her mom is illiterate, works cleaning a hotel. The dad, whom Doria calls “the Beard,” left his family and returned to Morocco, where Doria assumes he’ll remarry and finally get the son he wants. Doria’s insights on the psychologist and the social workers range from caustic to hilarious, and she calls everything just as she sees it. Like this:

Since the old man split we’ve had a whole parade of social workers coming to the apartment. Can’t remember the new one’s name, but it’s something like Dubois or Dupont or Dupré, a name that tells you she’s from somewhere, from a real family line or something. I think she’s stupid, and she smiles all the time for no good reason. Even when it’s clearly not the right time. It’s like the crazy woman feels the need to be happy for other people because they aren’t happy for themselves. Once, she asked if I wanted us to be friends. Like a little brat I told her I didn’t see that happening. But I guess I messed up, because the look my mother gave me cut me in half. She was probably scared social services would cut off our benefits if I didn’t make nice with their stupid social worker.

Before Mme DuThingamajig, it was a man… Total opposite of Mme DuWhatsit. He never cracked a joke, he never smiled, and he dressed like Professor Calculus in The Adventures of Tintin. Once he told my mom that in ten years on this job, this was the first time he’d seen “people like you with only one child.” He was thinking “Arabs,” but he didn’t say so. Coming to our place was like an exotic experience for him. He kept giving weird looks to all the knick-knacks around the house, the ones my mom brought over from Morocco after she got married. And since we wore babouches at home, he’d take off his shoes when he walked in, trying to do the right thing. Except he had alien feet. His second toe was at least ten times longer than his big toe. It looked like he was giving us the finger through his socks. And then there was the stench. The whole time he played the sweet, compassionate type, but it was all a front. He didn’t give a shit about us. Besides, he quit.

Faïza Guène is French-Algerian, nineteen years old. Can’t wait to see what she writes next.