‘Getting to Zero’: David Brooks on Ernest Hemingway

In April, while in Havana, New York Times columnist David Brooks visited Ernest Hemingway’s house. Brooks filed a column that focused on Hemingway’s later years, which he characterized as a sad and prolonged decline.

And yet despite his flaws Hemingway still managed to produce some of the same magic prose that made him a world-famous novelist.

Brooks wrote:

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity.

Read the entire column.


My Anniversary Giveaway of ‘THE LONGEST SHOT’

Two years ago today my first book published.

THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open was released a few weeks prior to the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, where 57 years earlier the unknown Fleck stunned the legend Hogan in one of sports’ greatest upsets. Sadly, Jack is gone now, passing away in March at the age of 92.

That book, which took me five years to write, sell and publish, was a major impetus for keeping my golf blog going. As I’ve said before, I never could have anticipated what was in store when I started ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG in 2005 under the pen name “The Armchair Golfer.” I only intended to dabble and get a feel for blogging.

The publication and reception of THE LONGEST SHOT provided many personal highlights. I’ll name a few. Favorable reviews, including the New York Times. Media opportunities, including the Golf Channel during U.S. Open week, an exclusive excerpt at Golf.com and a Q&A with Geoff Shackelford. Later that year Booklist named THE LONGEST SHOT as one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2012.

The peak moment, though, was likely when Jack Fleck, along with Billy Casper, was interviewed by NBC’s Bob Costas prior to the final round coverage of the 2012 U.S. Open. (See video at ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG.)

I anticipated the interview because an assistant to Costas met with me at Olympic to talk about Jack. He and Costas wanted to know about the oldest living U.S. Open champion, and solicited my ideas for questions that would evoke good responses during the interview segment.

However, I had no idea that Costas would hold up my book on national television. That doesn’t usually happen. I was shocked and thrilled. Wow! I couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking at the time, ‘If nothing else happens, it’s been a great run.’


To be included in a random drawing for an autographed copy of THE LONGEST SHOT, please email your name and address to armchairgolfer@gmail.com.

P.S. Of course, only one of you will win, so please consider picking up a copy for yourself or a family member or a friend. Hey, Father’s Day is just around the corner.

P.P.S. I’m excited to tell you there’s another one on the way later this year. More on that topic soon.

Reaching Famous and Unattainable People

It’s happened to me. In the last several years, as I’ve blogged and written two books, I’ve had dreamlike experiences. I’ve interviewed well-known people in their fields. With nothing to lose, I’ve pitched stuff and asked for things. Surprising results often followed. I didn’t see any of it coming.

I’ve learned at least one thing: You never know what can happen unless you try. Usually, it’s only necessary to take one small step, or one small risk, at a time.

Which brings me to another Neil.

Neil Barsky hatched a journalism project called The Marshall Project and decided to approach Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York TimesAs reported in a Newsweek Q&A, here’s what happened:

“What made you think of Bill of all people you could have hired?

“NEIL BARSKY: I literally, randomly emailed him. I said, ‘You don’t know me.’ I said, ‘My name’s Neil Barsky, I’m doing this project, this is a long shot, would you be interested in considering working together?’ Not only have I been reading The New York Times my whole life, certainly when he’s been running it, but I have tons of friends at the Times, who are reporters, who uniformly speak highly of him on the record and off the record.

“So he replied to your email?

“NEIL BARSKY: He replied to the email, we had breakfast, then we kept talking. It took about a month to finalize our arrangement, but it’s pretty thrilling.”

How about that? And it started “randomly” with an email.

Is there someone you’re itching to contact? Is the person famous? Do you consider him/her out of your league in some respect? Take a shot anyway.

Tom Clancy: “Just Tell the Damned Story”

Tom Clancy at Boston College. (Burns Library)

Bestselling author Tom Clancy died on Tuesday night. He was 66. Seventeen of his novels were No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.

Here’s Clancy’s advice to writers from a 2001 Writer’s Digest interview:

Keep at it! The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence. You must write the book, else there is no book. It will not finish itself. Do not try to commit art. Just tell the damned story. If it is entertaining, people will read it, and the objective of writing is to be read, in case the critics never told you that.

Clancy fans can look forward to one more novel. Command Authority will be out in December.

A Concrete Investment in a Soft Economy

Newspapers are dying or dead. That’s what any reasonable person would think with major metro dailies shutting down and the vaunted New York Times slashing jobs and reducing salaries.

Yet not all newsprint is headed toward obsolescence. Community newspapers continue to thrive as a vehicle for local news and small businesses that want to target local customers with affordable advertising.

And one unemployed man in Concrete, Washington, a small town in the Skagit Valley, is raising $10,000 to revive the Concrete Herald, a community newspaper that began in 1929 and continued publishing until 1991.

I read about Jason Miller and his quest in Marketing, a Seattle-area trade newpaper. Larry Coffman, publisher of Marketing and a longtime friend, spotted Miller’s story in The Seattle Times. “There are community newspapers, which are thriving like never before,” Larry wrote, “because people in this Internet-crazy age are hungry for local news packaged in a form they can’t get anywhere else.”

I hope Miller succeeds. Here’s his pitch for the “new” Concrete Herald.