April 26, 2016
Bobby Fischer was a World Chess Champion who stood out as an eccentric genius in a field full of eccentric geniuses. As portrayed in the movie Pawn Sacrifice, he walked out of a chess match complaining about the lighting, ransacked his own hotel rooms looking for bugging devices, thought the Russians were watching him through his TV and believed the US government was listening to him through (wait for it) his dental fillings. Though his mother was Jewish, he was vocally anti-Semitic, holding to many conspiracy theories about Jews.
He was also an astounding chess innovator in a traditional realm. He learned Russian so he could study the best Russian books and journals about chess. He studied games and strategies of the previous century when others had discarded them as hopelessly antiquated. He devised a new kind of chess clock and a variation to the game called Fischer Random Chess.
His chess play itself was also innovative and risky. He played all out to win when the strategy of many grand masters was to settle for draws. His forceful end-game tactics often won him games that many considered to be inevitable ties.
One reason for this success was due to yet another Fischer innovation. His end games were so effective because he could push forward relentlessly and creatively even at the end of an exhausting four- or five-hour match when his opponent lost concentration. How did he manage this? He played tennis.
During his famous World Chess Championship match with Boris Spassky in 1972, he would play tennis on off days. Throughout his career he would swim, lift weights or engage in other exercise while his opponents didn't. He knew that to be in shape mentally he had to be in shape physically. To do his best in chess, his whole body had to be fit. Forty years later science has caught up and proven him right.
Writers, editors and others who sit and use their brains in concentrated work for four or five hours at a time, should take a tip from the Grandmaster if they want to stay at the top of their game. For over thirty years I have run regularly, three to five miles several times a week. I am convinced it is something that not only kept me healthy but enhanced my creativity and kept my thinking sharp.
Fischer was an eccentric (ok, paranoid) chess master. But he was also right about tennis.
April 13, 2016
The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough, paints a portrait of two heroes and celebrities who stand in sharp contrast to those of today. The brothers didn't look to maximize their fame; they simply wanted due credit. They didn't try to amass enormous wealth; they simply ran a business.Continue reading "The Right Brothers"
April 7, 2016
When people hand me a proposal or manuscript for a non-fiction book and ask me for a publishing opinion, we'll talk about a number of issues. But I have one chief diagnostic question. Almost anything and everything an author has to say flows from the answer to this question. It tells writers what kind of vocabulary and images to use, how long the piece should be, how to organize the material, what to leave in, what to take out, and even where to try to publish it.
The question is this:Continue reading "The Key Question I Ask Authors"
March 31, 2016
What is it like to grow up black and male in the United States? Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the highly acclaimed Atlantic article on reparations, tells us in Between the World and Me, a memoir cum extended letter to his fifteen-year-old son. It is a life in which you don't have final control over the most basic aspect of human existence--your own body. Your body can be thrown in prison or shot or just pushed aside at most any time for most any reason with little recourse.Continue reading "Between the World and He"
March 23, 2016
Want a quick, entertaining way to get a solid feel for what it was like to be in Roman-occupied Palestine? That's what Gary Burge offers in A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. In this window into the world of the first century, we look through the eyes of Appius, a tough-minded, pragmatic Centurion. The story is enriched as we get to know his household, his familia. Livia, his companion, knows the power of her allure. Tullus is a captured slave with skill as a scribe who rises to a place of trust. Gaius is the manager of Appius's affairs, organized and completely loyal to his lord.Continue reading "Enjoy a Week in the First Century"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:04 AM
March 10, 2016
Does a fifty-year-old book on publishing have anything to offer the radically different publishing environment today? Cass Canfield's The Publishing Experience, on his career at Harper from 1924 to 1986, is such a book. While his brief vignettes of many prominent authors are most fascinating and worthwhile quite on their own, along the way he also offers some precepts that guided his work, which still ring true decades later.Continue reading "The Publishing Experience (2)"