What great reading. What accomplished writing. “High Notes” by Gay Talese was a joy to read.
The book contains selected articles written by Gay Talese for the likes of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times.
Talese is one of the most important nonfiction writers of our time, capturing individuals and situations vividly and in color.
is unique, expansive magazine articles are becoming a lost art. As Talese points out in notes in the book, editors want quicker reads written in a short time span at minimal cost.
Also, fewer readers seem to take the time to consider longer magazine articles that delve into the heart of the subject matter. You’ll take the time if you treasure quality writing and have ever read Talese.
Two of my favorite articles in this book are “The Kidnapping of Joe Bonanno” and “Frank Sinatra has a Cold,” the latter being perhaps his most renowned piece.
In “Bonanno” (a reputed mobster), we go inside “the family” and see the kidnapping and its impact on those around him, with incites from generations past reflecting on why the kidnapping had to happen.
There are soul-searching human observations that read as “you couldn’t make this up.”
The Sinatra piece is the most inclusive insight into the man and his world I have ever read. Talese began with the intent on interviewing Sinatra, then his surrounding world.
Talese never got to Sinatra for reasons that are themselves fascinating. Yet through dozens of interviews with others who made up Sinatra’s world, we are shown a composite picture with insights that only Talese’s kind of research and writing could have produced.
Of equal interest are the notes Talese included in this book “On Writing ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.’ ” He speaks to the “New Journalism” of the 1960s practiced by himself, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolf and the like. Talese calls such work “exhaustively researched, creatively organized, distinct in style and attitude.”
He “cheerlessly concedes” such works “are now increasingly rare.”
He refers to the tape recorder, now used to record interviews and write stories filled with quotes, but little thought or attitude, as a “benumbing literary device” that “reduces the once artful craft of magazine writing to the level of talk radio on paper.”
There is no reduction of the craft in this book.
“With all of the qualities of the scene-setting, the dialogue, the place and time and the time and place in which your characters move. And I want to move with the characters, move with them and describe the world in which they are living.” - Gay Talese
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2017 season is his 11th with the club and 32nd covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March.
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