I realize that this is the year of the blog, and I certainly don't begrudge the fine gentlemen at Power Line any of their deserved accolades. But a handful of bloggers excepted, I'm often surprised by how poor the quality of writing is in the blog world. Even though it is a textual medium, most bloggers pay little attention to their writing. There's a reason, of course: The twin monsters which drive the Internet are "MORE" and "FASTER." The web does not value "beautiful" or "elegant." Such is life. What bothers me is that as the Internet remains ascendant, its standard for the written word becomes more the norm, instead of an expedient exception. You know it's bad when serious people like Jack Shafer start throwing around the names of relative illiterates as possible New York Times columnists. (Read Shafer's list, you'll know who I'm talking about.)
As an antidote to this sickness, I recommend three writers. The first is my friend Andy Ferguson, whose workis as flawless and elegant as you'll find this side of E.B. White. The second is the New Yorker's Anthony Lane, who can do just about anything. Whether he's reviewing bad movies or waxing nostalgic about P.G. Wodehouse, Lane is the real deal. (What's the definition of a good film critic? A writer whose essay is equally enjoyable whether you agree or disagree with his assessment of the movie.) The third is Lane's colleague David Grann.
Grann does gonzo-deep reporting, and recently has turned in masterworks on subjects as wide-ranging as New York City's aqueduct infrastructure and the search for giant squid. In the New Yorker of a couple weeks ago, Grann spun 12,000 words of immaculate reporting and silky-smooth writing on the mysterious death of the world's foremost Sherlock Holmes scholar. None of his work is available on the Internet, and yet Grann is my Writer of the Year.
Which leads me to a larger point: One of the themes often associated with blog triumphalism is the idea that people are increasingly turning off old, dead-tree media. That's fine, as far as it goes; the new media pays my mortgage and I've got nothing against it. But to fixate on the Internet and turn your back on the old media is as foolish as doing the reverse.
So in 2005, do yourself a favor: Make it a habit to shut down the computer and curl up with a magazine every so often. Track down Ferguson and Lane and Grann. Take a break from the now and enjoy the beautiful. You won't be sorry.
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