I read. I like to read. I enjoy reading for pleasure. Fiction. Non-fiction. Periodicals. Not so much the backs of cereal boxes (not anymore). My favorite writers include Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, John Lanchester, Alain de Botton, Hermann Hesse, and John Feinstein. My preferred magazines include Sports Illustrated, ESPN*, Vanity Fair, Details, GQ, Maxim, Esquire, Cineaste, Film Comment, and Military History.
More often than not, when I come across very articulate and insightful essays, I experience something akin to nirvana — Behold, truth. Observe, profundity. Amy Taubin’s article on Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker (2008), which I discussed in a previous post, and much of Alain de Botton’s musings are good examples. Every now and then, however, I’ll read a passage and hear in the back of my mind, “I can’t compete with that!”.
The line between admiration and awe and insecurity and resentment is extremely fragile. Articles such as this Larry Gross critique of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist could just easily motivate me to think, “Now that prose is the standard and should be a source of inspiration;” instead, I focus upon little more than, “They’ve said it all and much better than I could dream of emulating.” This afternoon, when I was at the dealership getting an oil change, I started reading Sports Illustrated‘s special edition issue on the 75th Anniversary of the Heisman Trophy (you can see the cover in this nonsensical video I made…featuring a talking cat).
Dan Patrick wrote the introductory article. I’m fairly certain I’ve read Mr. Patrick’s linguistic work before, given that he’s a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. For some reason, though, I was only consciously taken in by his writing when I was sitting in the Toyota dealership on Peachtree Industrial. The opening paragraph is witty without being facetious. The rest of the two-paged piece speaks with a comfortable voice; it’s conversational without being too informal. It’s a voice that has one goal in mind (no pun intended)–to provide properly and respectfully a portrait of the award…and subsequently its recipients.
In addition to the content and structure of the article, I loved his word choice. Other times, when I’ve read a book or essay that puts my own writing exercises to shame, I can still point out instances where I would’ve used a different word or another way of organizing paragraphs. Patrick’s introduction needed no changes. I felt joy and sadness all at the same time. John Feinstein’s prose doesn’t necessarily leave me wishing I could write like him. I just wholeheartedly admire him for his narrative voice. Dan Patrick’s prose, on the other hand, stirs the self-doubt. I can’t compete with that! But I do not despair. I am humbled.
You know that oft-quoted line from that Cameron Crowe football film? Yes, you do, the one about having some at “hello?” Well, Dan Patrick had me at, “…then I am going to assume that you are, in all likelihood, my NBC Football Night in America cohort Bob Costas” (6). And why should that be so magical a clause? Because Patrick begins the introduction with a question that leads into an assertion about the extent to the which the image and meaning of the Heisman Trophy has seeped into American culture. Few people could describe or draw, without any hints, the Cy Young**, the NFL MVP, and the Naismith Trophy. And, anyone that could…well, enter the magical clause. Patrick then remarks, “While those other trophies can seem generic, the Heisman pose is iconic” (6).
What do you think? If you were to make a reference to the Heisman pose every time you talked to someone, how many times would you have to explain the reference?
This special issue should still be available at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders. I got mine from a Barnes & Noble a couple nights ago.
*Mhm. It would cost much less to maintain one duo entity than two solo creatures. N’est-ce pas?
**I don’t know about you, but that Cy Young award is downright unsettling.