Just in time for the weekend, here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve been listening to and reading this week, some of it online — Storyboard included, natch — and some of it on vinyl or actual ink and paper.
Two of my biggest loves are narrative journalism and music, and I’m lucky that my days are filled with both. When reading stories, I get inspired by songs I think fit the article’s theme — a soundtrack. Here are a couple of this week’s Storyboard articles, and their soundtracks:
“Wild” author Cheryl Strayed: “bad memoirs are narcissistic; good memoirs are about all of us.” Each year the Power of Storytelling hosts a conference in Bucharest, Romania. I’d love to go sometime, but this year I had to settle for getting transcripts of some of the cool speeches by storytellers, including this one by “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed. Yes, she had lots of good tips about writing, including this one: One of the most rewarding things about writing a memoir is all you really have to do is pay attention to your life. Because life often enough offers up all kinds of metaphors and images and symbols. But her discussion about loss, about how you learn to bear the thing you cannot bear, really resonated with me. As I pointed out in the piece, some of it reminded me of the Jack Gilbert poem “Michiko Dead,” which pierces my heart.
The Soundtrack: “In the Next Life (A Requiem),” by Mull Historical Society. This is a band that I stubbornly love; most of my friends refuse to be won over, despite my persistent attempts. And this is a difficult song, with a lot of tempo and key changes. But it moves me. It’s about the dying and death of his grandmother, whose voice appears in the middle of the song, like a ghost, as he sings in the background, “I love her, I love her, I love her.” Good advice at the end, too: “Say what you wanted to say/Before it’s too late.”
5 Questions: Hanna Rosin and “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” This is the latest in a series we’re doing on Storyboard called “Tomorrow’s journalists exploring the masters of today.” This week, recently graduated Missouri School of Journalism student Katie Johns talks to writer Hanna Rosin about her piece for the Atlantic on a wave of teenage suicides at a high-achieving Silicon Valley school. One thing that’s great about the series are the reasons the students chose their stories. It’s particularly effective when it’s personal, as Katie writes in her lede: As a young journalist interested in doing in-depth stories, I’m always on the lookout for articles that can help teach me the craft of reporting and writing. But I’ve also watched people I love struggle with mental illness; I’m often at loss to understand its causes, or how best to respond.
The Soundtrack: “Stuck in a Moment,” by U2. I didn’t warm to this song at first when it came out, but then I read it was written to INXS Michael Hutchence, who died of an apparent suicide. And then the line “You’ve got stuck in a moment/And you can’t get out” suddenly had more depth to it. This line could be up on the wall of the high school: “It’s just a moment/Its time will pass.”
What I’m reading online: “What Happened to Eastern Airlines Flight 980? About the mysterious crash of a jetliner in Bolivia in 1985, this Outside magazine piece by Peter Frick-Wright is part detective story, part adventure story. Something in the lede didn’t quite work for me, but once it started moving, it had wonderful velocity. It’s not often that a reporter climbs a desolate, seemingly inaccessible 20,000-foot mountain to search for remains from a 30-year-old crash. Scratch that. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. And not only that, he’s part of the team that makes some pretty startling discoveries. I’ll leave it at that. This one is worth an annotation.
What’s on my bedside table: “Goodbye, Columbus,” by Philip Roth. This week I spent a little time at a dream Airbnb apartment, one so in sync with my tastes that I felt like part of an algorithm. Not only did it have a turntable, it had many of the same records I have. And it had possibly the best library I’ve ever seen in a rental (far classier than my own). For some reason I’d never read “Goodbye, Columbus,” something that’s pretty embarrassing to admit. It’s so funny, and so vivid, the class structure so acutely observed. Like this passage: “Once I’d driven out of Newark, past Irvington and the packed-in tangle of railroad crossings, switchmen shacks, lumberyards, Dairy Queens, and used-car lots, the night grew cooler. It was, in fact, as though the hundred and eighty feet that the suburbs rose in altitude above Newark brought one closer to heaven, for the sun itself became bigger, lower, and rounder, and soon I was driving past long lawns which seemed to be twirling water on themselves, and past houses where no one sat on stoops…”
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: Finger Poppin’ with the Horace Silver Quintet. The Airbnb apartment had some cool discoveries on the album front: Robert Frost reading his poetry. Lenny Bruce talking about the First Amendment (a riff I had heard before, but never on vinyl). And then this album, which has a reliably great Blue Note cover (with Silver looking like the president, waving out the car window, and the orange of the title poppin’ against the black background), and some of the best bopping jazz on record.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.