Friday, April 22, 2016

Best of

I'm sitting at my desk early Wednesday morning, having fixed the typo in the day's blog post (thanks Jason), poured coffee, spooning raison [d'etre?]* raisin bran, and I am weeping.

I am weeping for the death of a woman I never met, whose loss I feel keenly because of her father's essay on aging. When I tell you her father is Roger Angell, you will understand instantly why this is so.

If you have never read Roger Angell's work, stop reading now, go get some, and read. Repeat until you too understand the above.

The reason I was reading this particular essay, this particular morning is that I am working my way through The Best American Essays of 2015, edited by Ariel Levy.

The Best American series is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and it is a long time favorite of mine. I don't buy every book, every year, but I try to buy the essays and the mysteries.  Sometimes if I am feeling particularly adventurous, I buy one of the categories (science, comics) I don't know much about.

The reason I mention this is because it's often easy to fall into reading the authors I know I love. Or the authors that perch on the best seller lists.  The Best series is a good way to find writing that other writers admire. You won't agree with all the choices (at least I never do) but analyzing why the editor found merit in a story is helpful too.

I've learned a lot by paying attention to what writers read and like. Making a trip through the Bouchercon book room with Lee Child is an experience I'd pay cash money to do again. Hell, the Bouchercon committee should auction that off as a fundraiser.

Now, back to the cereal, and the coffee, and the elegant writing of Roger Angell.  There are many, many worse ways to start the day.

**starting the day with a that's exactly my speed. Thanks kdjames!
Starting the day with TWO typos. Yes, it's Friday. (thanks Lisa!)


nightsmusic said...

I remember an article about him years ago regarding his stint at the New Yorker, and one or two baseball articles as well. He will be missed. :(

I'd have loved to hear a bit more about the walkaround with Lee Child!

nightsmusic said...

And Mr. Angell's stepfather was E.B.White? Wow...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Because I am already, one of Carkoon's exile's in residence, let me suggest that today's post screams for a Flash Essay Contest. With prompts, or a subject, or whatever, it might be a blast.
Moans and groans rise above the masses.
Get over it, you flash fiction aficionados.
Give us essayists a chance to shine in a hundred words or less. At least I didn't ask for a memoir contest. That's what got my original ticket to you-know-where.
Come on Janet. How about adding a little introspection to selection. I'm not sure what that sentence means but it writes nice.

(And that, my friends, is exactly a 100 word passport to Carkoon permanent residency.)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I seem to have recently lost my knack for reading; I've only gone through 10 books this year. But...I've written 6 short stories, so maybe that's the payoff? Anyway.

We tend to get the Year's Best American Short Stories at the library, and I do try to make it to those (or I'm given a copy for Christmas!) but I don't think I've ever read the Essays one. I'm also a fan of the volumes of The Best American Non Required Reading I've stumbled upon.

Thanks for the recommendation!

2NN's, I think a Flash Essay Contest w/could be fun!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading something by Angell, at your recommendation I believe. Great talent, wonderful feel for language. I'd say I'm sorry his essay made you weep, but it wouldn't be true. Some things should touch us deeply and make us weep.

And not to be all picky, because for all I know you actually are eating raison d'etre bran. But if not, it's raisin. ;)

Cindy C said...

I've read some of Roger Angell's baseball writings, but I don't think I've read anything else he wrote. I'll take care of that this weekend.

The Best American series is a longtime favorite of mine, too. For years I've given my brother the Sports Writing and Travel Writing books for his birthday. I get the Mystery and Short Stories books for myself.

And I'd definitely bid on a trip through the Bouchercon book room with Lee Child. I'd also bid on the chance to walk through with you!

Colin Smith said...

Roger Angell's name is familiar to me--probably thanks to you, Janet. I will have to procure a title or two in this series. Thanks for the recommendation! They don't do one for Flash Fiction? Well, that's an omission. I can think of a couple of stories from contests last year that would easily make the cut.

Leigh Caron said...

Well, when you put it like that...I'm going to get some.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

There's homework? Oh, but I do wish I could steal a bunch of days for just reading all snug with my pug. I will add this to my top priority reads because Janet recommended it and so it must be great stuff list. I really need to find a catchy acronym for that list.

Anonymous said...

Okay sorry it took me so long to get back here. I had to follow the QOTKU's instructions and do some reading.

I am not a literary fiction aficionado, but I do like the occasional triumph story. Well, thanks Janet for making me get all the 'feels', this amazing writer that is no longer with us, is truly a tragedy. Word-smiting is an art, as well as an occupation. Being in the business of bringing the best of the world to us via the written word, is a job that many try at and very few succeed.

Roger's ability to make us see the world through the eyes of an individual, rather than his eyes, is what resonates with me most. He was capable of making you feel as if you were there right next to him, through it all. A master story teller, and a gift to the reading world. He will be missed.

Fare-the-well Roger, may the words of your life find their way into the hearts and minds of those not fortunate enough to have heard them yet.

Thanks Janet, for the introduction to such an amazing author.

Panda in Chief said...

Ooo! Not first, but way earlier than my usual visits, since I am visiting the other coast this week.

I always loved reading anything Roger Angell wrote in the New Yorker, and I always read The Best American Comics editition each year (and yes, send a submission to, even though I have not [yet] been selected for inclusion) I will definitely check out some of the other Best of's in the series.

The fact that you can feel sad for the death of someone you never met is a testament to the power of their work. I can think of several famous people whose deaths I felt personally for that reason.

Keep being the bear (or shark) everyone!

BJ Muntain said...

KD: Maybe bran is the raison Janet eats breakfast?

Jason: I know we're not supposed to comment on typos, but I'm going to assume that it's intentional, because 'word-smiting' is the best description of writing and editing as I've ever heard.

Panda: Good morning!

Dena Pawling said...

Well I've never heard of Roger Angell, so I just googled his essay on aging and read it. Wow. Very moving. I'll have to look up more of his stuff. And that book series also. Thanks

Julie Weathers said...

Well, this is quite sad news.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

an image of a brandishing cane and a dog who cut them loose. hm. Thank you for a good read this morning, Janet. (and, just a small detail, but doesn't adventurous have 2 'u's rather than 2 'e's...)

Janet Reid said...

I'm not sure why everyone thinks Roger Angell has died.
He's quite among the living.
His daughter passed away.

And yes, it's going to be one of those days.
Two blog typos already.
And yes, I made the coffee and forgot to turn
the coffeemaker ON. I am not going to tell you
how long I stood there, cup in hand, before I realized
the omission.

Today, being a robot sounds MUCH more inviting than usual.

Scott G said...

Unless I am missing something, which very well could be the case and if I am wrong then I will humbly stand corrected, but it appears Janet's post has caused an unintended consequence which is morphing its way through some of these comments.

To the best of my knowledge, Roger Angell is still alive.

Janet's poignant portrayal of her sitting at her desk and crying into her cereal is about Roger Angell's daughter, Callie Angell, who committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 62. Roger Angell's essay is about growing old, and about those he has loved and lost along the way, which includes not only his daughter but also a terrier named Harry, and his wife Carol, who died of cancer in 2012.

Because this essay moved Janet to tears, I know I will sit down and re-read it once again before I complete my day, and take some time to think about those I have loved and lost and those I am fortunate enough to continue to love on a daily basis.

BJ Muntain said...

As far as I can see, Janet never mentioned Mr Angell actually died, and I can't find even a rumour to that effect through Google. His daughter died in 2010, suicide.

If he's not dead, I doubt he'd be happy about being mourned, even if he is 95...

BJ Muntain said...

*sending Janet virtual coffee, with more caffeine than real coffee*

*pouring self a cup of same, because insomnia*

Hope the rest of Friday is better for you Janet!

Scott G said...

It looks like Janet already commented about this as I was in the middle of composing mine, so thank you, Janet. I was concerned I'd pulled a Rip Van Winkle and lost about 48 hours of news.

Colin Smith said...

I double-checked Wikipedia which, given the speed at which it updated Prince's timeline yesterday, I felt sure would correctly report whether Mr. Angell was with us or his namesakes. Sure enough, 95 and still chugging.

Like Dena, I looked up his essay on aging. Here it is for the rest of you. I love this:

My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

I saw a picture today of the President and First Lady meeting with the 90-year-old Queen Elizabeth II (a spring chicken to Roger, no doubt). When I read this, I could picture the same thought bubble over Mr. Obama's head:

It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. “How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!” they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, “Holy sh*t—he’s still vertical!”

I hope I'm writing this well should I be blessed with 95 years. Heck, I hope I'm still writing! :)

Lucie Witt said...

I've never read any Roger Angell, but I'll be reading his essay on aging this weekend now.

BJ - you should know that as I read through my manuscript looking for any of this last little typos, your recent lie/lay explanation stuck in my head enough for me to actually remember. So far I've used it correctly 7 times and incorrectly 1. But I actually remember the rule now!

Small side story about dearly departed Prince. One of our most underfunded libraries shared last night back in 2001 they were going to close. Prince gave them the money to stay open under the condition they didn't say where it came from while he was alive. Such an amazing artist and person.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Yes, Colin. That comment about the two-ton swaying safe tickled my wordsmithing (wordsmiting?) imagination.

Hope your day goes more swimmingly, Janet.

Last weekend, my kids and I spent time with my parents. We were at a hotel. The next morning, I got on the elevator (to grab a tea from main floor), pushed the button, thought the elevator moved, and waited for the door to open. When it didn't I pushed the #1 button and stepped out. I was on the same floor I had entered. With a whack to the forehead, I stepped back in the elevator and pushed the "G" button. (I'd checked out the stairs the previous day. Emergency exit only. I didn't fancy alarming a 500 bedroom hotel at 6ish am just for a cup of caffeine.)

Dena Pawling said...

BTW, while we're all recommending good stuff this morning, John Frain has an awesome 6-word story on his blog today. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

It's definitely cuddle-up-with-a-book (or in this case, essay!) weather here in Wisconsin. Warm drink required. There's a special place in my heart for essays, and that piece on aging reminded me why I like them so much. Thanks to Janet for the recommendation.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

John Frain's story is wonderful - even at 6 sentences. Even written at 3Am. It is much fun with some very special guest stars.

I am running on 2 hours sleep so coffee just isn't doing it.

Dena Pawling said...

Sorry - 6-SENTENCE story.

My turn to need coffee

John Frain said...

Oh, Roger Angell. Sits on a throne in the baseball world.

He wrote a piece on my hometown hero, Bob Gibson, that I savored and knew to be true from one lucky meeting the 10-year-old version of me reveled in when Gibby said three words to me I'll never forget upon me asking for his autograph: "Shut up, kid." My brother relentlessly chides me on it.

But this is about Roger Angell, and not me and not even Bob Gibson. I haven't read the piece Janet refers to here, and I'm confident it's brilliant, but for the definitive Roger Angell, see if you can get hold of his essay on Steve Blass. If I figure out the name of the piece for referencing I'll post later.

Blass was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who went from dominant to lost quicker than a Maserati goes 0 to 60. It was uncanny. Think of LeBron James suddenly unable to hit a 12-foot jumper.

The Blass essay does exactly what Janet's from Wednesday morning did: it'll make you a fan of Steve Blass, not necessarily Roger Angell until upon reflection sometime later you realize how it all came together.

Sorry, too long, I try not to edit till noon.

John Frain said...

Oh, you guys are too kind. (But no reason to stop!)

Thank you. You snuck those comments in while I was typing and getting interrupted by my son and probably missing several typos.

Anonymous said...

Well that's embarrassing. I have read Rogers work, and was sad that he would have passed. Glad to know he is still with us. Sad for his daughters sake. I read the essay a while back.

My father committed suicide when I was eleven, on the last day of school; it was field day.

Before I left for school, something prompted me to say goodbye to my groggy father that morning. The sun was peaking though the blinds of his bedroom and the lines of light shown brightly on the bare skin of his scared, and muscular back.

My father turned to me, and with his intense evergreen eyes, he looked at an eleven year old boy and spoke to the man inside, that he knew I would become. He said to me, "Jason, you are destined for greatness, never forget that. Do well today, and i'll see you when the horizon meets the sun.", that was his way of saying the end of the day. He always came home around sunset.

That was the last thing my father said to me before he died, and that was the last time I saw him alive. It wasn't till the following April, walking alongside my mother in Windixe, that the tears finally came. My fragile glass heart had finally withstood its final crack and shattered there and then.

I cried for hours, days and weeks, the torment of his loss plagued me for months after that. I still miss him, it was not till my daughter was born that I finally understood what greatness was. It was not some prize to be sought after, it was the greatness that my daughter would see in me as she grew, it was the example I would become for her, and the great husband and father I would become for my wife and daughter.

Greatness here I am, I have arrived.

Colin Smith said...

Linky Link to John's 6-sentence story:

CynthiaMc said...

Hugs. I work in Behavioral Health and we see every day the effects of suicide. Our patients often land here because they are suicidal or dealing with suicides of those dear to them. Stay vertical, people. Someone loves you.

nightsmusic said...

I blame my lack of reading skills concerning the original post on my one hour drive in to work this morning and total lack of coffee coupled with my two hours sleep last night. I apologize.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just doing my whack-a-mole-show-up during work. So, when is our flash essay contest? Ducking my head so as not to be hit by flying figs from the Queen.

Donnaeve said...

Looks like Mr. Angell gets added to the pile.

I've been on a bend for reading "outside the box" of my genre. :)

I'm currently reading BETTYVILLE, and I've been snort laughing my way through it. George Hodgman is brilliant at portraying his 90 something year old mother in this memoir. He left NYC and went home to Missouri to care for her. George: That casserole I made Saturday is much better today. Betty: I'll have to try some by next Friday."

Back to writing folks. Have a good one.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Off topic, I'm sure (when aren't we? I do try. I've had one coffee today [from the trusty office Keuri] and now I Have a chocolate mocha iced coffee put out by Caribou), but sort of in the "Best Of" category...

You've all read Query Shark, right? The archives, everything? Me too. So, today I was doing some book ordering, from the Forecast catalog Baker & Taylor puts out, and in the SciFi section I glossed over a book's description and then went back to it, thinking "wow, that sounds really, really familiar. I wonder why? Where did I see it?" I couldn't think of it (my brain lately...) so I went to the trusty Google, and there we have it, Query Shark 2013, Waypoint Kangaroo, a query which got it right in the first go 'round with Madame Sharque. It's coming out in June!

Me said...

It's okay to start the day with a raison d'être too ;) Makes for a less depressing day.

Julie Weathers said...

See, this is why I should never read before I've had my first gallon of coffee. I have Gary Provost's Make Your Words Work on the bottom shelf of the bookcase that sits on the back of my desk. The bottom shelf is my craft books. dictionaries, thesauri, craft books, grammar books, etc. The other three shelves are the current Civil War and cowgirl books I'm using. So, you'd think I pretty much have these books seared into my brain, wouldn't you? I see them all day long.

Anyway, when you look at the Provost book and think, "Make your worlds work? That sounds interesting. I should read it." Then you realize your brain obviously doesn't process without coffee or something. When I lived on the farm my chores before school were to bring in buckets of coal and water. We didn't have running water in the house, so that meant trips to the water pump, prime the pump by pouring water down the pump and then pumping like mad until it started flowing.

Maybe I just need an audio feed of this blog. Colin, can you get to work on that? Of course, I think my hearing's going also.

Brigid said...

I enjoyed that very much. Thank you, Janet.

Off-topic: Does anyone have resources for developing the setting? Not just description, but planning what to describe, and what voice works best.

Both current WIPs are set in magical analogs to our world, but they don't correspond to a precise time. Telephones are an obvious no, and glass is still expensive, but what about forks? If I keep checking each phrase against etymonline it'll take me 10 years to finish the first drafts. (And I don't know where to check usage. "Fix" didn't mean "repair" until the 1700s, but would anyone say "Let me fix that"? It seems modern in a way I can't articulate.)

Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda has a phenomenally interesting setting, but the dialogue/narration feels put-on. Modern sentence construction feels jarring in a neo-Aztec steampunk world, even though there's invented slang and cultural elements.
Contrariwise, Firefly's cowboy-outlaws drawling Chinese curses at the crisp Alliance fleet feels perfect, and shows-not-tells the history splendidly.

Lucie Witt said...

Brigid: these two Terrible Minds posts might be helpful (if you don't mind the cussing)

Colin Smith said...

Lucie's Links:

Julie: People have mentioned text-to-speech sites that will read your novel to you. I'm sure there are sites that will read blogs to you, too. Sounds like a good thing for the vision impaired. OK. That's one less project on my list... ;)

Lennon Faris said...

This is one of the reasons I read this blog. This place takes off the blinders I didn't know I had. Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the tip, Janet!

BJ Muntain said...

Yay Lucie! So glad I could help!

Julie Weathers said...

Colin, you aren't as amusing as you might think.

Julie Weathers said...

Well, I ordered This Old Man and I will probably spend a lot of time weeping, but what beautiful writing from what I read.

Christina Seine said...

If I owned General Mills I'd get right on that new cereal, Raisin d'Etre. What great commercials that would inspire. Helen Mirren (whom I want to be when I grow up) sitting at a little Paris cafe, the snooty waiter comes for her order. "Raisin d'Etre!" she purrs. "Oh, mais oui, madam!" Of course you'd have to throw in some chamber music, a dignified-looking hot guy driving by in a Mazzerati who slows to admire her cereal-eating technique. Mais oui!

"Best of" anthologies were a gateway drug for me in college. I grabbed up every short story anthology I could and read them between classes, between work and school, on breaks at work. I don't think I've every read Roger Angell, though, so I'm off to check out your link. Thank you Janet!

Cheryl said...

Brigid, this article might help your usage issues.

Forks? Depends what they're made out of, I guess. You can find general interest books on certain periods (What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew comes to mind) as well as things like a book entirely on the history and importance of the fork. No, really, I read it last year.

I wouldn't worry too much about details, though, as long as you find it generally believable. Especially if what you mean by "magical analogue" is that the world has magic. "A wizard did it" is a pretty good excuse for anachronism.

E.M. said...


Hmm. I wonder if such a Raison d'Etre would be followed by a "Fromage à Trois."

But back on topic, how exactly does Lee Child make his way through the Boucheron book room?

Colin Smith said...

EM: I recall Janet talking about walking through the Bouchercon book room with Lee Child. I believe what impressed her was the fact that not only was he familiar with a large number of the titles on sale, but he could make recommendations. In other words, Mr. Child is very well read in his genre.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Thank you Janet, for yet another addition to my TBR pile :)

Jason, thank you for sharing your story about both your father and your daughter. My heart goes out to you - what an incredible strength of character you have!
And I, too, loved the 'word-smiting' - it's a perfect piece of imagery :D

Happy writing, everyone!

Karen McCoy said...

Hugs to Jason--thank you for sharing your story. Hugs to all, for the wisdom and recommendations.

Coming across wonderful books that I wouldn't have otherwise is one of the main reasons I became a librarian. I'm thankful for all the writers, published and unpublished, weaving together beautiful truths one word at a time.

Julie Weathers said...

Jason, I'm very sorry to hear about your father.

Cynthia, bless you for what you do. My son is setting up a website for vets to reach out for help. The statistics say 23 vets commit suicide a day, but it's more than that since many states don't record vet status on suicides. It's a very sad situation and a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jason, your recollections bore into my own memories and resurrected the force and fallout of my parents' passing. It's tough, sharing the bitten pieces.
Condolences to all of us here (in this safe place) who remembered their losses when they read your words.

Brigid said...

Lucie and Cheryl, thank you!

I read a piece the other day about those who die from depression in Greenland, especially young native Greenlanders. They've lost a lot of youth over the years, and their loved ones are joining forces to create a security net, to protect this new generation. It's a terrible illness.