Philly Blunt

Freelance writer. Editor and web-video producer. Former Atlantic City Press and Philadelphia Weekly staff writer, City Paper managing editor/columnist and Dougherty for Senate campaign manager. Comments welcome here or emailed to brianhickey9 [at] hotmail. Now on: Facebook (Brian Hickey, in Philly) Twitter at Flickr at Be sure to check out Hickey on Divorce Court:

15 March 2009

Two Book Recommendations

I have a lot of time to read. So much time that I get through the magazines and papers rather quickly, leading me down a road I hadn't had time to tread upon, oh, since college. And even then I didn't read all that many books besides those of a text variety. But, a special point of pride is the fact that I've already gotten through two books while recovering. Especially since they were both good enough to garner the Hickey Stamp of Approval (which translates into, yo, they cost me a combined $17.84, so give the authors' economy a shot of whatever Eric Stoltz used on Mrs. Mia Wallace, y'know?)
The first one came to mind today when I was reading the NY Times obituary page and saw that "Joseph Bloch, Guide to Juilliard Pianist, Dies at 91." Of course I mentally made the mental leap toward former, and legendarily great, Inky columnist's The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. Yeah, yeah, it came out in '08. And yeah, yeah, it's probably going to rake money in since Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx have the leads in the upcoming movie.

But I'll say this: It's a totally different mood than what came across when Lopez was skewering Philly pols ("Boom-Boom Sisters" Joan Krajewski and Marge Tartaglione are the quintessential easy political targets for skeet practice) or letting his heart bleed publicly (his Eddie Polec coverage was extraordinary).
(Side note: If you're unfamiliar with his work, pick up Land of Giants: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished; it's a collection of his best columns that came out in '95. Re-reading those both inspires and humbles me.)
But what comes across in the book chronicling his relationship with Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard guy himself now homeless and battling mental illness, is the emotional ups-and-downs that any self-respecting columnist goes through if they're doing their job right. (Ayers in the photo, with Yo-Yo Ma, who was at the NYC school at the same time).
The second book is Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation, by the New Yorker's David Denby. In a nutshell: Denby doesn't like how bloggers and online commenters hide behind anonymity and slice people's reps to shreds when, in reality, those doing the dissing offer not a single redeeming quality that benefits society as a whole. (He goes after Gawker and Maureen Dowd pretty hard).
I agree wholeheartedly, as you might have suspected.
Some verbatim excerpts:
The trolls have a merry time screwing people up. What they do violates existing statutes.
Snark, by its very nature, is philistine; it will never honor the artistically and intellectually ambitious.
Snark is hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it's closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying.
When writers of snark turn their attention to anyone even slightly well known, they choose to regard rumor as fact, accusation as proof, gossip as news.
This habit of snarking your enemies could move into Web sites devoted to any kind of public event -- a business conference, say, or a town council meeting.
The habit of never checking the truth ... wrings bitter tears from the angels of journalism.
The anonymous writers are either ashamed of what they're saying, or, alternately, quite proud of what they're saying, but, in either case, they're not eager to confront anyone directly.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Which is why I don't have a book deal, yet.


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