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Detail! Detail!

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Sometimes a small, specific unexpected detail can pull you into a piece. Here are the first few sentences of a piece by Steve Coll in this week’s New Yorker about the deal recently reached between Iran and various world powers.

In the late nineteen-eighties, in Switzerland, Iranian officials met with collaborators of A. Q. Khan, the scientist who fathered Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb program. The parties may also have met in Dubai, where Khan maintained a secret office above a children’s store called Mummy & Me. In 1987, the Iranians received a one-page document that included the offer of a disassembled centrifuge, along with diagrams of the machine. They reportedly ended up paying as much as ten million dollars for information and materials that helped Iran advance its nuclear program during the nineteen-nineties.

I’ve boldfaced the part that made it impossible for me not to read the whole article. Illicit nuclear negotiations atop a children’s store! With a great name! Who wouldn’t want to see where this article goes?

Written by guterman

July 19, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Posted in ass-kicking, journalism

In which one gifted journalist sizes up a giant

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photo credit: Mike Lien/The New York Times, 1971

Mike Lien/The New York Times, 1971

The effect on the business was profound, as if Chuck Berry had walked into a Glenn Miller show and started playing guitar.

— One of many, many wonderful sentences in David Carr’s remembrance of Ben Bradlee

The whole column is worth reading and probably worth memorizing, but if you’re in TL;DR mode at least read the full paragraph in which that sentence arrives:

So in 1969, [Bradlee] conjured Style, a hip, cheeky section of the newspaper that reflected the tumult of the times in a city where fashion and discourse were rived with a maddening sameness. The effect on the business was profound, as if Chuck Berry had walked into a Glenn Miller show and started playing guitar. He expanded the vernacular of newspapering, enabling real, actual writers to shed the shackles of convention and generate daily discourse that made people laugh, spill their coffee or throw The Post down in disgust.

Written by guterman

October 22, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Paragraph of the weekend (c/o Roddy Doyle)

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Jimmy hadn’t been accurate when he told Barry that there were only ten in the audience. There were twelve. But that figure grew to thirteen when the drummer left the band halfway through their crowd pleaser, ‘Your Happiness Makes Me Puke,’ but hung around for the rest of the gig so she could drive Barry home.

— Roddy Doyle, The Guts

guts cover

Written by guterman

June 8, 2014 at 9:58 am

Posted in ass-kicking, reading

Revealed: the Flannery O’Connor/Lucinda Williams connection

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Lucinda Williams once chased Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks … When Williams was kindergarten age in the late ‘50s, she and her father, the poet Miller Williams, drove from Macon, Ga., to Milledgeville, Ga., to visit the great Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor as invited guests. “She had a strict daily schedule when she was writing,” Williams said … “She wasn’t ready to receive guests when we got there so we sat on the porch until she finished writing. I chased her peacocks all around the yard. My father loves to tell that story.”

Lucinda Williams draws from where the spirit meets the bone (Tallahassee Democrat)

Written by guterman

May 25, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Best premise for a science fiction story of all time of the week

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On Wednesday, Mr. Roth told the crowd that next week he would be getting an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary, “where I will be introduced by Mae West.”

Philip Roth Receives Yaddo Artist Medal — In Person (NYT)

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May 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Posted in ass-kicking, writing

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Banging two sentences against one another

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Gail CollinsThe tale of how New Jersey’s method of privatizing jails went so wrong is is not a funny story in any way, but I am pretty regularly in awe of how Gail Collins deploys consecutive sentences for devastating comic and commenting effect. Recently she delivered a real winner:

“The program costs about half as much per inmate as a regular jail. This may be in part because the prisoners keep escaping.” — Political Private Practice

In so many great pieces of writing, each sentence moves off the previous one, sometimes revealing a new truth behind the previous sentence, moving the whole damn thing forward. Bang two sentences against one another and you’d better get far more than each one could deliver separately.

Written by guterman

October 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

Posted in ass-kicking, writing

Why French politics is more fun than American politics

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“Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of President François Hollande, supported a Socialist Party dissident who is trying to defeat Mr. Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his four children in Parliamentary elections.” — An endorsement from France’s First Lady causes a stir

Written by guterman

June 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in ass-kicking, politics