This week I left the snows of New England for a visit to my old stomping grounds in California. It was a bit head-spinning for a couple of reasons: When I left last year, California was in drought. Now it’s lush and green. And that green was a shock after the snow-covered countryside of Maine. But oh, to eat oranges and lemons picked from friends’ backyard trees and to smell the grandmotherly scent of orange blossoms. It sent me running to John McPhee’s “Oranges.” (See below.)
Rich Schapiro and “The True Story of the Fugitive Drug Smuggler Who Became an Environmental Hero.” This is one of those stories that has “cinematic” written all over it, both in how it’s told and the subject matter. In the “Annotation Tuesday!” with contributor Davis Harper, Schapiro has a great tip about how to approach writing: “I think it can be helpful to think about how a filmmaker would tell your story. Movies are driven by scenes, and I tend to be drawn to those stories that present particularly vivid ones.”
The soundtrack: “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” by Merle Haggard. I’ve got a California theme going on: Merle is one of the best songwriters ever from the state. The lonely roaming fugitive in this song is the opposite of the rooted one in the story, but I couldn’t resist hearing that twang.
“Henry Ford believed the soul of a person is located in the last breath and so captured the last breath of his best friend Thomas Edison in a test tube and kept it evermore.”
— Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World.” Read why we think it’s great.
Rania Abouzeid and “The Jihad Next Door.” Beirut-based freelancer Rania Abouzeid makes a powerful case for the necessity of reporting on the ground, even when it’s extraordinarily difficult and dangerous, as is the case with Syria. She says, “We need to see what they want us to see, and what they don’t want us to see, and that’s why I think it’s imperative that we try to be there, so we can get the 360 view, not the 140-character view.” She also talks about how her background as a woman of Lebanese heritage has influenced her ability to report in the region. Fascinating.
The soundtrack: “Neighborhood Threat,” by Iggy Pop. I love that he’s still going strong. How about this lyric? “Did you see his eyes? Did you see his crazy eyes?”
What I’m reading online: The death of journalism giant Jimmy Breslin sent me hunting for his work. This piece was just one of many stories that won the Daily News the 1997 Pulitzer for spot news reporting for its coverage of a plane crash. The rhythm of this is so, so lovely:
“Barbey Street runs through East New York to its end, where the streets plunge into weeds and marshes that end at Jamaica Bay and across from it, the ocean where off to the left, many miles off but not that many really, the bodies from the TWA plane floated through the night and into the first light of the morning and then the hot day on the calm surface, with shoes and seat cushions around them.
The mother thought that Alberto was in this ocean.
“Crying all night,” a woman on the front steps said.
“Crying all night,” another said.”
And I liked this New Yorker piece by Jonathan Alter about Breslin’s career, and how he would be covering Trump: “Were he writing now, he would be seeking out stories on the personal consequences of Trump’s health-care and budget plans. And he would tell those stories with a little more fun and a lot more rage.”
I’d also like to recommend Amy Wallace’s last story for Los Angeles Magazine, “The Hollywood Exec and the Hand Transplant That Changed His Life.” She’s a longform master, with a particular gift for profiles (an underappreciated art).
What’s on my bedside table: “Oranges,” by John McPhee. This seemed a perfect companion for my trip west. Yes, I know he focused on Florida oranges in his fascinating book on the history of the fruit, but California will always be citrus land in my heart. Speaking of hearts, here’s a lovely bit: “In the fifteenth century, the countess Mathilda of Wurttemberg received from her impassioned admirer, Dr. Heinrich Steinbowel, a declaration of love in the form of a gift of two dozen oranges. Before long, titled German girls were throwing oranges down from their balconies in the way that girls in Italy and Spain were dropping handkerchiefs.”
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “Let It Be,” by the Replacements. I love how this (outstanding) album is like a musical mood ring. Sometimes I want to blast “We’re Coming Out,” sometimes I want to hear the jangly pop of “I Will Dare,” and sometimes the pain of “Unsatisfied” hits the spot. For those old enough to remember answering machines, three guesses which song snippet I used to have on mine.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at email@example.com. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.