This could have been a week of love — at least of the commercialized Hallmark variety. But hearts and flowers didn’t prevail for even one day before yet another person with a gun ran amok at a school. On Valentine’s Day. Below, if you can bear it, is some of the best literary journalism about the mass-shooting sickness in America. But also, there’s One Great Sentence about the power of love from the writer Zora Neale Hurston.
William Langewiesche and “Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight.” As contributor Jonathan Clarke writes of the well-known magazine writer, “Almost forgotten beneath the laurels for a reporter who has been nominated for a National Magazine Award a dozen times — and won twice — is that Langewiesche got his start as an aviation writer. He spent three years writing for Flying magazine, the industry’s journal of record, and his first book, the 20-year-old ‘Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight,’ collects some of his early aviation pieces. ‘Inside the Sky’ allowed him to carve out a niche as a journalist and to explore the broader themes that would continue to dominate his writing even as he turned to other subjects and built a larger audience: enclosed masculine worlds; the meaning of physical courage; the culture of engineering; and the remoteness of the natural world and its dangers in a technological society. It is a blueprint for the world as Langewiesche sees it.”
The soundtrack: “Skyfall,” by Adele. I actually think this is one of the best Bond title songs since the glory days of Shirley Bassey. But if you want to hear the best Bond title song that never was a Bond title song, listen to “My Mistakes Were Made for You,” by the Last Shadow Puppets. Tremendous.
One Great Sentence
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
Zora Neale Hurston, American writer. Read why we think it’s great.
Finding the story in the parentheses and other adventures with Jeffrey Stern. Freelance writer Stern tells contributor Julia Shipley that five editors passed on his proposal for a story on a Kurdish fighter who turned his back on killing so he could save Iraqi civilians in his bulletproof BMW. As Shipley writes, “Perhaps what kept editors from green-lighting the tale of a Kirkuk fighter’s about-face was that Stern had no contacts for it whatsoever. But a glance at Stern’s publishing history reveals that he thrives on vaulting formidable obstacles such as access. I am always the most ignorant person in the room; I never have any contacts or familiarity; I am always starting from nothing on my stories.'” Another nice bit from Stern: “I’m not a strong reader; I get lost and confused easily, especially with things that are exotic or foreign, so I’m always really neurotic about losing you, even though, at the same time, I want to bring you to a foreign place. So I’m trying to find points of connection, totems, familiar terms.”
The soundtrack: “Come Save Me,” by Jagwar Ma. When this band came on the scene a few years ago, they were like the 20-something kids of all the Britpop stars of the 1990s. I had “Howlin,” the album this song is on, on constant repeat for a while there.
What I’m reading online: What Bullets Do to Bodies, by Jason Fagone. When news of yet another school shooting hit, I thought of the surgeon profiled in this piece. This quote, about the Sandy Hook shootings, has haunted me since I first read it: “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”
The best literary journalism about the scourge that is the gun epidemic. Storyboard spotlighted the Fagone piece and two others last year. Sadly, it’s relevant again. Here’s that week’s newsletter with links to all of them.
After Newtown shooting, parents enter a lonely quiet. Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow has become the kind of expert no one wants to be: an expert on the human soul after it endures a mass shooting. This one follows a family after the headlines have come and gone. A line near the beginning, describing a photograph of their dead son, is devastating: “his auburn hair curling at the ears, his front teeth sacrificed to a soccer collision, his arms wrapped around Ninja Cat, the stuffed animal that had traveled with him everywhere, including into the hearse and underground.”
What’s on my bedside table: “The Egg and I,” by Betty MacDonald. Prepare yourself for several weeks of vintage Penguin paperbacks, because I scooped up several at a great used bookstore in London. I actually already own this book, one of the best of the “city type moves to the country” genre, but who could pass up this amazing cover? And the book itself is hilarious. She says of her husband’s dream of owning a chicken farm: “There is one thing about the chicken business: If a hen is lazy or uncooperative or disagreeable you can chop off her head and relieve the situation once and for all.”
What’s on my turntable: “Nina Simone in Concert,” by Nina Simone. I came to London with just a few records, because I was traveling light. Now, a month later, I have more than 20. And it’s mostly because of the wonderful gift-giving of my sister, who gave me a SEVEN-record set of Nina Simone albums, including this one. Any Nina version of “I Loves You, Porgy” breaks my heart, and this version is no exception. I like this in the liner notes: “A fierce integrity is reflected in the material Nina Simone chooses to sing and play, and hers is the constant search for songs that can express her deeply felt ideas and emotions — as a woman, as an artist, as a Negro-American.”
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.