Human interest: Reading list

For each style of feature I will ask you to complete I will provide a few examples that we can discuss in class to help jog your creative muscles. Please read, listen or watch them before the day we launch each segment.

Next up is human interest, which we will begin on Monday, Oct. 19.

Here are the particulars of the assignment, including the schedule and rubric.

To begin, let’s compare two different treatments on the same basic subject, the effect of a Marine’s death in war. I think they’re both terrific pieces of human-interest storytelling, but for our discussion consider which parts of which piece are more effective, more poignant, more revealing and why.

First, the song version:

“Dress Blues”
Jason Isbell

And the lyrics, which total 269 words:

What can you see from your window?
I can’t see anything from mine.
Flags on the side of the highway
and scripture on grocery store signs.
Maybe eighteen was too early.
Maybe thirty or forty is too.
Did you get your chance to make peace with the man
before he sent down his angels for you?
Mamas and grandmamas love you
’cause that’s all they know how to do.
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
or sleeping in your dress blues.
Your wife said this all would be funny
when you came back home in a week.
You’d turn twenty-two and we’d celebrate you
in a bar or a tent by the creek.
Your baby would just about be here.
Your very last tour would be up
but you won’t be back. They’re all dressing in black
drinking sweet tea in styrofoam cups.
Mamas and grandmamas love you.
American boys hate to lose.
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
or sleeping in your dress blues.
Now the high school gymnasium’s ready,
full of flowers and old legionnaires.
Nobody showed up to protest,
just sniffle and stare.
But there’s red, white, and blue in the rafters
and there’s silent old men from the corps.
What did they say when they shipped you away
to fight somebody’s Hollywood war?
Nobody here could forget you.
You showed us what we had to lose.
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
or sleeping in your dress blues.
No, no you never planned on the bombs in the sand
or sleeping in your dress blues.

Now the story version…

Bedtime stories for Catherine
Wright Thompson, ESPN

Excerpt: Nicole tells Catherine about Mommy and Daddy’s last phone call. She was eight months pregnant. It was the day before Valentine’s Day in 2006. When she answered, Matthew, a few weeks away from his 22nd birthday, was laughing.
“They keep making fun of me because I’m old,” he said. “The only person who is older than me is Lt. Fitzgerald.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, laughing, too. “How old is he?”
“Twenty-three.” …
Five days later, Cpl. Matthew D. Conley and 2nd Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald were mortally wounded when an improvised explosive device activated from a nearby building blew up their Humvee. Fitzgerald died a few days later in a military hospital. Matthew died instantly. He had gotten out of the truck to go check on fellow Marines who’d been attacked. His last act on earth had been to try to help his friends.
He only had 16 days left in Iraq.

A teacher, a student and a 39-year-long lesson in forgiveness
Tom Hallman Jr., The Oregonian

Excerpt: When he was 12 years old, the boy did something he only later realized probably hurt his seventh-grade teacher. It was minor — he was, after all, a kid — but in time, when he was older and wiser, he wanted to find this teacher and apologize.
But the teacher seemed to have vanished. Over the decades, the man occasionally turned to the Internet, typing the teacher’s name into the search box. He never found anything. He never quit looking. A few months ago — by now nearly 39 years after this happened — he got a hit.
Stunned, he started reading a story that two years earlier had appeared in The Oregonian. He studied an accompanying photograph and recognized his teacher. He cleared his screen and wrote an e-mail that ended up in the newspaper’s mailbox. A clerk forwarded it to me. I found it buried in my in-box where it was surrounded by notifications about crimes, road conditions and interoffice messages.
Only by chance was I curious enough about the subject line — “Customer Feedback” — to open the email from a man named Larry Israelson.

How Bob Stoops turned loyal protege into national champion coach
Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports

Excerpt: The Stoops protege who has gone on to win the most championships is a guy few college fans have ever heard of.
His name is Isao Hashizume, although he’s not even the most famous Isao Hashizume in his native Japan. That Isao is a 73-year-old award-winning actor who has voiced-over characters in movies, cartoons and video games. Stoops’ Isao is a 53-year-old American football coach of the Ritsumeikan Panthers. His program is one of about 400 college teams in Japan and 23 of them are at the top 1-A level.
In the winter of 1999, Hashizume visited Norman as part of an exchange program between Ritsumeikan and OU where he was also coordinator of the students’ English program. While in Oklahoma, Hashizume asked Stoops if he could learn football with the Sooners.
“OK,” Stoops said, wondering if the visitor would end up getting in the way.

After Newton shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet
Eli Saslow, The Washington Post

Excerpt: The Bardens had already tried to change America’s gun laws by studying the Second Amendment and meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office. They had spoken at tea party rallies, posed for People magazine and grieved on TV with Katie Couric. They had taken advice from a public relations firm, learning to say “magazine limits” and not “magazine bans,” to say “gun responsibility” and never “gun control.” When none of that worked, they had walked the halls of Congress with a bag of 200 glossy pictures and beseeched lawmakers to look at their son: his auburn hair curling at the ears, his front teeth sacrificed to a soccer collision, his arms wrapped around Ninja Cat, the stuffed animal that had traveled with him everywhere, including into the hearse and underground.
Almost six months now, and so little had gotten through. So maybe a Mother’s Day card. Maybe that.
Mark turned on his computer and began looking for the right picture. “Something lighthearted,” he said. “Something sweet.” He had been sitting in the same chair Dec. 14, when he received an automated call about a Code Red Alert, and much of the basement had been preserved in that moment. Nobody had touched the foosball table, because Daniel had been the last to play. His books and toy trains sat in their familiar piles, gathering dust. The basement had always been Daniel’s space, and some days Mark believed he could still smell him here, just in from playing outside, all grassy and muddy.

Don Zimmer’s wife documented every day of his 66 years in pro baseball
Lane DeGregory, Tampa Bay Times

Excerpt: On a rainy Monday, a few weeks before the Major League Baseball season was to begin, Soot sat beside the mahogany cabinets that line the living room of her Seminole condo. The top shelves hold bobbleheads of her husband’s famous round face, troves of silver trophies, balls signed by Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Robert Redford, Ronald Reagan.
The bottom shelves are filled with scrapbooks — 70 of them, stacked in chronological order. Everything ever printed about Don: photos, stories, score sheets, programs, baseball cards and team bios, even box scores in tiny type. Soot carefully cut out each entry, underlined his name with blue pen. Then she pasted the pieces onto pages that now crumble to the touch.
She pulled out the last volume. A navy leather binding embossed with gold letters: “In memory of Don Zimmer 1931–2014.” Tributes from across the country fill the first half.
She flipped to the empty back. “Good thing there’s still room in here,” she said. “I’m 84. Too old to start a new scrapbook.”

For 40 years, this Russian family was cut off from all human contact, unaware of World War II
Mike Dash,

Excerpt: Thus it was in the remote south of the forest in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain. The valley walls were narrow, with sides that were close to vertical in places, and the skinny pine and birch trees swaying in the rotors’ downdraft were so thickly clustered that there was no chance of finding a spot to set the aircraft down. But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation — a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.
It was an astounding discovery. The mountain was more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement, in a spot that had never been explored. The Soviet authorities had no records of anyone living in the district.
The four scientists sent into the district to prospect for iron ore were told about the pilots’ sighting, and it perplexed and worried them. “It’s less dangerous,” the writer Vasily Peskov notes of this part of the taiga, “to run across a wild animal than a stranger,” and rather than wait at their own temporary base, 10 miles away, the scientists decided to investigate. Led by a geologist named Galina Pismenskaya, they “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends” — though, just to be sure, she recalled, “I did check the pistol that hung at my side.”