A couple of weeks ago, I steered folks to Ian Parker's gorgeously written take on Iceland and The Fall. The response from many of the comments was that I needed to check out Michael Lewis's piece on Iceland. It is as amazing as most of you said it was, but it got to me, on a personal level, as a guy who has struggled for most his (what, 13 years?) as a writer.
One of the hardest thing about doing anything in any sort of splendid way is getting past the conventional wisdom. For the work-a-day journalist the temptation to play small-ball, to write every story, the way virtually every other writer writes a piece is large. The upside is small--most of us aren't working places where there's much reward for breaking the mold. And the downside is huge--you could get editors yelling at you, you could have to rewrite the whole thing thus forcing people to blow through deadlines, thus pissing every other individual in the chain.
I think you almost have to be the sort of person who basically is incapable of writing in the manner of others, if you're going to do something different. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the following line from Lewis:
This in a country the size of Kentucky, but with fewer citizens than
greater Peoria, Illinois. Peoria, Illinois, doesn't have global
financial institutions, or a university devoting itself to training
many hundreds of financiers, or its own currency.
It's stupid really, but I had this rule in my head that it's bad writing to begin a sentence with the same two words you ended the last one on. And yet it works here. Beautifully. There's a kind of poetry in the repetition of "Peoria, Illinois."
Straitjacketed editors are always warning young people away from the first person, and telling them to go report. The latter instinct is always correct. The former only sometimes. We live in era of over-indulgent, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing dreck. Same as it ever was, I suppose. Still, I think there's something to teaching kids to get in touch with their own original way of seeing the world (their voice), on top of being dogged reporters. Lewis brings both to bear with amazing results. The piece is fully reported. But it's also told in a way that no one else can tell it.
UPDATE: One thing I didn't get, mostly because I'm illiterate when it comes to things. Why did the "Iceland as a hedge fund" metaphor work so well? Is it because short-sellers started betting against it? Help me out here, all.
UPDATE 2: I don't want to compare and contrast the two pieces, but damn, this line from the Parker piece, is stuck in my head--"A country overwhelmed by evil has more dignity than one tripped up by fools." Reminds me so much of being black, being American, just being human.