A commenter on the Smart thread tries to take it in a whole new direction. To save you the trip, here’s the text:
Okay, I know this comment isn’t germane to the topic, but…I don’t know where else to go. Am I the only one who thinks Ben Smith’s writing is not just bad, but embarassingly bad? I can never make it through one of his columns. I typically skim through his sports columns to glean a little info on I.U. basketball or whatever…but I often don’t have the stomach for even skimming. I skim through his restaurant reviews only to see how often he’s going to address his wife as “Jules”. I’d write the J-G’s editors, but clearly they have no taste, else they would have fired his wannabe-Midwestern-Faulkner ass a long time ago. Warden can be even worse. Penhollow’s headed that way, too. What’s up? Have they no taste?
Ahem. OK, then, let’s bring it on. First, the stipulation that I like Ben Smith — a sportswriter for the Fort’s Journal Gazette, my paper’s competition — a lot; he’s a really nice guy in a business where you don’t always have to be. Second, keep in mind he’s mostly writing about sports, and high-school sports at that, and your heart has to go out to anyone trying to squeeze drama out of a high-school basketball game, and YES, I saw “Hoosiers” and NO, I didn’t cry, so just shut your piehole.
I like Ben. You have to know that. “It’s just that style,” said Alan, just now.
Yes, that style. Ben likes to write with great fanfare and flourish, and sometimes his reach exceeds his grasp. A writer’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s an editor for? The problem is, a good editor is hard to find. (Speaking as one who’s married to a good editor who’s been job-hunting for two years, sometimes a good editor finds it hard to get found. But enough about me.)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Thirty-seven years now, and Kyle Orton is still a bug on a windshield back there, still getting slam-danced so hard his head snaps back and the breath catches in 111,000-plus throats.
Thirty-seven years now, and Brayton Edwards is still flaming Jacques Reeves (or just “Reeves”, perhaps, now that he’s lost his “Jacques”) like a charcoal briquette.
Thirty-seven years, and the Wave is rippling around the vast cavern of Michigan Stadium like a whisper of breeze lifting a lock of hair . . . and spatters of rain are coming down out of a sky going from the color of slate to the color of a thief’s heart . . . and the catcalls are beginning to float down now as Orton throws one last pass and the receiver carries it out of bounds and the clock runs out at last on another day to forget here for the Purdue Boilermakers.
That’s vintage Ben, right there. “Thirty-seven years,” the laid-on-thick similes (“like a breeze lifting a lock of hair”), the thundering tympani on the soundtrack (“breath catching in 111,000-plus throats”). This is one reason I rarely read sportswriters, because I tire of all this sweat popping out on a writer’s brow over what is, after all, a football game. My friend Jones, a sportswriter, is always sending me columns by Bill Simmons, one of the guys I do read. He’s got just the right touch (light, in case you haven’t guessed); I liked his review of “Seabiscuit,” which contained many amusing asides, like this:
There should be an Oscar category for actors who lose or gain an absurd amount of weight for a part, if only because it could lead to more goofy acceptance speeches from the completely and utterly insane Renee Zellweger. Who would be against this?
Back to Ben. He doesn’t always work for me, but you know what? I appreciate the effort; I only wish he had a better editor, who could rein in his excesses and encourage risk-taking in other ways. When I’m editing, I always go easier on writers who try and fail than those who don’t try at all. And there are so many of those, the non-tryers, the ones who will phone in (literally, sometimes) a few inches of crap, sprinkled with cliches and predictable quotes, and then stand around waiting for their Pulitzer Prize. And the Journal Gazette is a paper is sore need of more trying, as well as more good editors who can shape the trying into something you might want to read.
Do JG editors have no taste? No comment.
And P.S.: You’re wrong about Penhollow. Penhollow’s got it. He should be encouraged to let his big dog run more often, but he’s got it.