Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a piece in The Atlantic a few days back about how to be the best kind of political-opinion journalist. His advise is well-suited for those many who make their livings opinionating throughout the Beltway mediaverse and blogosphere, but is also a good rule of thumb for writers in general:
…To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised.
He’s talking about the bad habits of political writers, who tend to pick the most obvious strawmen to go after as a way of formulating their own beliefs. This is an attractive way of operating, but ultimately lazy.
But everybody who puts pen to paper or key to blog is well served with this advice: Don’t do what you’ve always done. This isn’t to say that all writers shouldn’t identify their areas of strength, but to never venture outside those safer realms is to risk creative calcification.
As we head into the second-to-last weekend of Christmas shopping, some of you may have a problem: What to get the big reader on my list? Well, the stores are full of great options, but if the person you’re buying for has an adventurous mind (i.e., doesn’t limit their science-fiction intake to The Hunger Games-type YA material), then may we recommend Joe Haldeman?
The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates published a short, wonderfully fannish piece on Haldeman’s classic The Forever War last week that mixed up his appreciation of the book (and its take on permanent militarism and homosexuality, along with other themes) with his love of E.L. Doctorow historical fiction and hip-hop. Check it out.
Shocking that somebody like Coates, who seems to have a particular interest not just in military history but also fantasy and sci-fi, never got around to The Forever War before (it’s in the sci-fi welcome packet, along with Canticle for Leibowitz and any number of early Ballard and PKD).
But in any case, take his word for it, this is one hell of a book—even before you consider that the nation is in the middle of at least one unending conflict right at this moment.