While reading the latest edition of the widely praised “Deadline Artists” newspaper column anthology, you may find yourself wondering how some of the practitioners of the craft managed to produce their best work in so short a time.
What literary legerdemain did they practice? What tricks did they use?
Alas, they don't reveal their secrets. You are left with a remarkable buffet of stories and styles. And if the cooks don't reveal their recipes, well, it doesn't make the feast any less tasty.
The latest edition features some of the best work of Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Pete Hamill, William F. Buckley, Murray Kempton, Steve Lopez, Marguerite Higgins, and George Will. Jim Murray and Jimmy Cannon, two great American literary voices that just happened to practice their craft in the daily sports pages, are there, too.
And I’d be giddy just to pour the whiskey at a columnists’ cocktail party that includes drop-ins by Ernest Hemingway, Will Rogers, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Damon Runyon, and Nora Ephron. Their remarkable work graces this collection with its subtitle, “Scandals, Tragedies & Triumphs.”
Editors John Avlon, Jesse Angelo, and Errol Louis found just enough space to include one of my columns, a 2009 piece on former Tropicana owner Mitzi Stauffer Briggs.
But don’t let that momentary lapse in judgment dissuade you from picking up a copy.
In places, the Tragedies section howls with anguish for lost loved ones, victims of terrorism in lower Manhattan, and even the death of a child’s puppy.
Here’s A.M. Rosenthal superbly understated reporting from a Polish town located not far from the gates of Auschwitz, “The most terrible thing of all, somehow, was that at Brzezinka the sun was bright and warm, and on the grass near the gates children played.”
As for Triumphs, well, just say you’ll be reminded that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always an oncoming train. From the field of sport to the field of battle, some incredible comebacks are chronicled. And it’s a good day any time you can hear the wisecracking words of Mencken and Barry.
The book jacket enthuses, “Great newspaper writing combines the urgency of news with the precision of poetry. It is history written in the present tense, and a new generation deserves access to the best of the past.”
That’s a fine tribute, but it leaves me a little uneasy.
Printed newspapers may be fading as they morph into a new technology, but I'll bet some of the old columnists featured in “Deadline Artists” still have a few tricks up their sleeve.