Two Great Writers

A while back, I wrote that if you want to become a better writer, reading good writers really helps improve one’s own writing.  While there are hundreds of great writers, many in the, I thought I would offer up two of my current favorites — one from the world of sports, and the other from the world of politics.

Mark Steyn is, in my opinion, the finest living writer of the English language.  Now, I know his views may be a turnoff to some, so all I can recommend is that you look at simply the way he crafts the language.  He is funny, acerbic, sarcastic, and polemical all at once and has a way of reducing pretty complex concepts into very easily understood phrases.  He’s a conservative writer, but his obituaries are relatively free of his political views and are still gems.  The Atlantic, thankfully, put an archive of his obituary writings online.  Check them out.  Here’s a sample:

A short man with the worst dye job in Central Asia, Niyazov loomed large and gilded in public. Statues abounded, including a glittering behemoth on the tallest edifice in the capital that supposedly rotates to ensure his features are always bathed in sunlight, though it has a tendency to break down and jerk into action as erratically as he did. There are multiple statues of him as a baby: In one he is sprawled across the globe, in another held aloft by his mother atop a raging bull. If he never quite succeeded in sprawling across the global scene, he certainly rode high on his bull. He produced five volumes of poetry and read nightly on television, one remorseless Turkmenistanza after another. He banned news anchors from wearing makeup because he found it hard to tell the men from the women and had no desire to see the country degenerate into a sad Eastern imitation of the decadent Ratherstan and Couricistan.

In 2005, he banned lip-synching because he was tired of seeing elderly singers mouthing to their old hits and reducing Turkmen culture to just another Millivanillistan. He banned ballet because … well, it just wasn’t his bag. “How can the Turkmen people be encouraged to love ballet if there is no ballet in their blood?” he asked. “I do not understand ballet. What use is it then to me?” But melons he did understand: They were in his blood, and they were a lot of use to him. He declared a national holiday in honor of melons and urged his people to “let the life of every Turkman be as beautiful as our melons.” He deployed them in folksy aphorisms: As he sagely observed, “You can’t catch two melons in one hand.”

Steyn’s writing almost sings.  It’s a pleasure to just read and re-read phrases like, “one remorseless Turkmenistanza after another”.  Or “he banned lip-synching because he was tired of seeing elderly singers mouthing to their old hits and reducing Turkmen culture to just another Millivanillistan.”  I often read his writings and simply shake my head in wonder that the man is able to come up with some of the phrases and analogies that he does.

In the world of sportswriting, I think Bill Simmons, of ESPN, is probably the best writer in the business.  While he doesn’t have the sublime turn of phrase that Steyn seems to drop every other paragraph, Simmons writes with a really appealing voice.  He is at once the sports expert and Everyman; his fandom for Boston sports is obvious, and he drops too many references that casual fans may not understand.  But the man can write a casual, chatty style that is ideal for blogging.  An example:

I am a football fan, and I am a Patriots fan. Sometimes those interests collide. For instance, if I were that creepy double-faced lady from the airline commercial, one face would look depressed (because my beloved Pats had their Super Bowl hopes crippled in eight minutes), while the other face would look delighted (because the Era of Perpetual Putridity has finally ended). So let’s have Delighted Face write this week’s column.

Bill Simmons has a particular gift for weaving in pop culture references into his writing that at once humanizes him, while making it clear that he’s a very smart guy.  Take this paragraph:

Monday’s Eagles-Cowboys game was the most-watched telecast in cable history. And why not? Two signature rivals treated us to a breathtaking and compelling shootout. America’s Team was involved. Jerry Jones looked appropriately creepy in his dimly lit owner’s box (one of my readers compared him to the banker in “Deal or No Deal”), totally making up for the no-show of Jessica Simpson and her breasts. Seeing Wade Phillips jump for joy on the sidelines like a “Family Feud” contestant never gets old. Even the Terrell Owens-Donovan McNabb feud remains oddly compelling; I haven’t tired of it yet, just like I haven’t gotten tired of seeing everyone turn on Tonya during the first episode of every Real World/Road Rules season. And it’s always a pleasure to watch two elite quarterbacks battling it out, if only because we’re much more likely to witness a Kyle Orton-Gus Frerotte battle these days.

I love his references to “Deal or No Deal”, to Jessica Simpson, to “Family Feud”, and to “Real World/Road Rules”.  They make him sound less like a sports-nut-dork and more like a regular guy who watches TV, hangs out with buddies, and has a cool job writing stuff.

In any case, I recommend without reservation both of these fine writers to those interested in the art of writing.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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