Papa Hemingway Rebuts

Coffee With Hemingway, by Kirk Curnutt



Ever dream about a little face time with one of your favorite celebrities? Streisand, perhaps? Sinatra? Elvis? Bono? Would such a meet-up edify, or would it disappoint?

I’ve never thought that I’d enjoy such an encounter with my favorite writer, but in Curnutt’s imaginative hands, the story reveals much of what Hemingway was about. To be sure, he’s abrasive here, and he’s constantly toying with words and names as he holds court. What’s revealed here? I’ll list just a few bon mots:


“The only writing that’s any good is what you make up, out of your imagination. That’s what makes things ring true. Good writing has truths that aren’t necessarily facts.”


“(Expatriation) teaches you dislocation, which sharpens the memory and makes you able to recall details you take for granted when you’re in the actual place you’re writing about.”


“…journalism is a racket. It puts a dollar value on your words that’s destructive.”


This small book, containing a brief read, distills Papa’s attitude toward life and writing quite well, and any reader or writer would find it well worth the hour or so it would take to read.


My rating: 19 of 20 stars



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Unvarnished Journalism in Random Order

The Unwinding – An Inner History of The New America, by George Packer




I came by this book via a serendipitous path, and it’s proven quite a gift. Anyone who hasn’t been living underneath a rock for the past two decades understands that the U.S. – and possibly the world – is undergoing remarkable social and economic change. Still, only a few, I suspect, know why this is happening and how it’s impacting the U.S. citizenry, the nation’s economic machine, and what the ensuing social ills have been. I thought I was perhaps one of these few who were in the know, but Packer’s extensive reportage here informs me that I, like most other concerned citizens, knew little of this  metamorphic time.


His approach to understanding this era is to portray an assortment of lives in non-linear fashion – the rich, the famous, the struggling, and others like Packer, who are simply trying to understand. Why such an approach? Because, Packer seems to believe, the unwinding, as he calls it, has no clear beginning, and it has many causes. Consequently, its innate complexity makes it all the more difficult to assess and assimilate, on all levels, the economic, the political, the technological, the social, the military…and on and on.

Packer seems apocalyptic at times here, but he’s even-handed enough to leave us with a glimmer of hope. This, I think, is the case with all metamorphic eras: for those who fear change, there’s something of a self-imposed apocalypse, but for those who flex into change, there’s always a speck of promise looming.


My rating 19 of 20 stars



Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


Selling the Obvious




The Atlantic, May 2013


If you’re a political and cultural junkie like me, then you surely know that the media delivers its insights on those phenomena in a multi-repetitive way. This issue of The Atlantic is an example of that, but you can’t really blame them; some harried people want their news pre-digested. In a world of insta-reportage, repeated on the hour, this mag gives us what Time and Newsweek used to.

Do women win elections? Duh. All the time – and they seem to be representing their constituencies better than men.

The emoticons’ uses on the Internet. Really?

Atheist Sam Harris feels a need to own a gun for self protection. In a country rabidly and militantly Christian? You bet.

Martin Amis’ love life and how that intersects with his writing. Yawn.

Using a tuning fork to stir a cocktail? C’mon!

Henry Kissinger is sensitive with regard to his policies? Maybe he is, or maybe he’s just trying to soften his image.

And this month’s biggie: We keep coming up with ways to harvest fossil fuels, thus a neverending supply of ‘em. But they’re hurting our environment. Ever hear of EPA?

Thomas Pierce’s short fiction piece, “The Critics,” about a father’s relationship with his daughter as the daughter slowly morphs into a writer, perhaps of the screenplay persuasion, breaks no real ground subject-wise or structurally, but it’s decent writing and entertaining.

Okay, a lot of this is going to sound overly cynical to you, but I don’t mean it that way. I know cultural and news summaries are valuable to readers, and The Atlantic is doing a service by repeating the “this just in” stuff one more time.




Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


Romantic Truths



Harper’s Magazine/April 2013

Once more, mag week rears its journalistic head:

One thing that keeps the better magazines in business is digging into a given subject hard enough and long enough to separate spin from what’s intended, i.e., image from the deeper roots of truth. This issue of Harper’s is an example of just that spirit of patience and persistence.

Take for instance Michael Ames’ article, “The Awakening – Ron Paul’s Generational Movement.” Paul (not his faux curly-haired son) is something of a political grandpa, a person who regales his younger generations regarding the merits of his passions – in Paul’s case a quaint version of Libertarianism. Paul’s passions are more complicated than a return to America’s romantic frontier ethos of individualism and self-sufficiency. You say it’s odd that his version of isolationism appeals to today’s soldiers? That his admonishment to return to the gold standard appeals to out-of-work twenty-somethings? Espousing antiquated answers to modern problems simply demonstrates that the ideological divides that have been with us since Jefferson and Adams are still with us – this time in blue jeans and tee shirts.

Ditto T.M. Luhrmann’s essay, “Blinded by the Right – How Hippie Christians begat evangelical conservatives.” Here, the urge is again well-meant, but incurably romantic.

John le Carre’s advance read from A Delicate Truth, his new novel, couldn’t be more cynical and hardboiled. In this instance, he goes to great lengths to scrape the varnish from our continuing insistence on psy ops and spy vs. spy realities, for which there remains no real reason for those such dramatics.

My favorite piece is Paul Wachter’s “The Super Bowl! (of fishing).” Why? It centers on my hometown of Shreveport, in which the need of early twentieth century farmers to fish in order to supplement slim dinner table pickings has gone spectacle in true postmodern fashion. No longer is this a mode of subsistence; instead, it’s a sport as much removed from its origins as the modern Olympics are from their marital origins.

And finally, “Life During Wartime – Remembering the Siege of Sarajevo,” is Janine di Giovanni’s oh, so self-conscious remembrance of writers and journalists flocking to these killing fields – the drinking, the crummy food, the spartan accommodations. Is this memoir tongue-in-cheek? Not by the author’s view, I think. But I suspect it was placed in this issue with editorial tongue poking cheek-ward.

Journalism in the post-modern age can still poke fun at itself while lifting newsworthy rocks, and this issue is a case in point.


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If Nonfiction Were Truth

Creative Nonfiction, Winter 2013


This is one of those issues I just couldn’t stay interested in. Still, I’m glad I made it to the back pages and a roundtable discussion between Chris Jones, Thomas Lake and Ben Montgomery, roughly on the state of journalism today.

What with the urge to beat bloggers to a story, there’s the temptation in journalism to snatch up what facts you can and embroider them together. Not a good idea, say these reporters. Persistence is the key to filling in the gaps in stories with the necessary minutiae facts. Still, this doesn’t mean you can’t report until the story unfolds; you simply have to tell what you know and reach no further conclusions.

It’s also okay, these three agree, to report in non-sequential manner, as is sometimes done in creative nonfiction – but let the creativity end there.



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The End of Newsweek-ly Journalism


Newsweek hasn’t been a news weekly for a while now. In this devoted reader’s mind, it’s been a journalistic sham since Tina Brown took over and the magazine had to carry the blogger baggage of The Daily Beast.

In this final edition, Brown does give credit to Christopher Dickey for carrying the journalistic ball, but a single person can do it all. As I read this final print edition, its synopses of the magazine’s finest moments, it’s apparent how far this magazine has fallen. My 40-year subscription ended with this issue, and in a way, I’m glad it’s no more. It will now be dropped into one of Dante’s hells – the one in which something insignificant happens every five seconds, whether it be Elton John’s latest sunglasses or a cat-fight between two bloggers, the two selected so that the sum total of their education, life perspective, and the cause(s) they espouse adds up to nothing.


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Being Funny and Writing Funny

I read something today by a respected journalist about his early career. He tried to write funny stuff, he said, but you can't be funny yourself in journalism – you have to collect humorous data and let the data be funny.

image via


I disagree, even though I'm not sure humor is the right approach to journalism. He's right, though, in that you have to have some serious funny in you if you're going to try to write witty journalistic pieces without humorous information. 

Guess the guy knew his limits and didn't kid himself about that.


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