By Mark Terris, M.D.
Mark Terris wrote the first draft of his new book just after his discharge from the Israel Defense Forces. Over the next 35 years, the manuscript mostly stayed in a box except when the author drew it out for polishing (something he became good at during basic training.) Thus, the box became a time capsule which I’m glad Terris has now opened.
Terris, an American, moved to Israel with his family when he was 11. He had the opportunity to immigrate back to the states when he graduated, but instead he chose to enlist and serve the usually mandatory 3 years in the Israel Defense Forces.
Terris writes in detail about his basic training with the paratroopers, his medical training within the military, and the rest of his service. He takes his time with events and people, giving us an idea of what it is like to serve in Israel, and making us feel like we know him and his friends and the other characters.
Rather than this being an action packed military book where the warrior-author takes us from battle to battle, this book shows us the other side of military life; a side that is at times mundane. Guard duty, polishing shoes, polishing bullet casings, making beds, raking dirt, sweeping roads, endless inspections. But there’s also excitement and adventure, though it comes more from the pranks and mistakes of 19 and 20 year-olds than from enemy attacks.
Terris gives us a thorough record of his service. He writes well and with warmth and humor. While the book is long, I enjoyed it, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Israel Defense Forces, medicine, or the military in general.
“Few people realize how badly they write,” says William Zinsser. But there’s hope. Writing, he says, is a craft that can be learned by anyone who is willing to work at it. We should remember something about the man or woman who, in our mind, sits down at the keyboard and types out the perfect piece on the first go: that person doesn’t exist.
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
Zinsser’s section on the principles of writing sounds like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Simplicity is the highest virtue–“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.” On the other hand, “clutter is the disease of American writing.”
Clarity, simplicity, brevity, and humanity are Zinsser’s “four articles of faith.” He says that any piece of non-fiction writing can be enjoyable if it is written with “warmth and humanity.” And he proves his point. On Writing Well is full of stories about real people. I enjoy reading it as much as any novel. I read half of it in the bookstore before I bought it, and I have read it several times since then.
Zinsser doesn’t just talk about principles, grammar, and style. His book has chapters on nearly every genre of non-fiction writing: interviews, travel articles, memoir, business writing, science and technology, sports writing, reviewing, and humor. There’s something for everyone.
I do realize how badly I write. For that reason, I read every book on writing that I can find. Few have been as helpful as On Writing Well. None have been as enjoyable to read.
Zinsser is qualified to tell us how to write. He has written books on subjects from baseball to jazz, including this book that has sold over one million copies and is in its seventh printing. Mr. Zinsser has also taught writing at Yale and Columbia University.
We get a glimpse of Zinsser’s political views in places. Though they are different than mine, it doesn’t change the way I feel about the book. Unlike some books on writing, this one is not trying to persuade the reader politically or morally. Zinsser’s goal is to make better writers. What if we hear his likes and dislikes? After all, he’s a real person writing with warmth and humanity.
If you want a book that will help you become a better non-fiction writer, this is the one.
Update: The reviewer’s political views are more similar to Zinsser’s than they were nine years ago.
Christian numerologists say that the world did end on September 23, but that NASA is covering it up.
Based upon an interpretation of Scripture and numerical codes in the King James Version Bible, numerologists predicted September 23 to be a “day of doom,” and they say that despite claims and evidence to the contrary, it was:
“Just as we predicted, Saturday was the last day of the world as we know it. Sadly, the liberal news media, along with a group of atheist scientists, are involved in a huge conspiracy to cover it up,” said a spokesperson for “Truths in Astronomy” who chose not to be identified.
The series of events were supposed to begin when a mysterious Planet X collided with the earth.
Last week, NASA published a statement on their website stating that Planet X, also known as Niburu, doesn’t exist and belongs to an old, often recycled fable.
According to the numerologists, “NASA has been studying the planet Niburu and its course for decades. They have thousands of documents pertaining to the planet stored in their secret warehouse near Houston. They knew that Niburu would collide with earth, and they chose to cover it up.”
We spoke with several residents of Austin, Texas Sunday morning, and none realized that the world had ended.
“I got up this morning, fed my cats and ate breakfast. I saw my neighbor mowing his lawn. Everything seemed normal to me,” said Hugo Martinez.
When asked if any of his cats were missing he replied, “No, not one.”
When the group, “Truths in Astronomy,” were asked why they believed the world ended despite the evidence, they replied:
“Only atheists ask for evidence. We have a higher authority. Higher than NASA. Higher than you reporters.”
Why, we asked, did the world seem to still be here?
“You’re blinded by your sins, and deluded by scientists.”
As usual, we consulted with Judson Whitehead, pastor of Old Times Gospel Church in Sunny Bog, Florida. When asked if he believes that the world ended on Saturday, he responded:
“Absolutely, with all my heart. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a potluck to attend.”
Writing reviews on Amazon can be fun. And, if written honestly, your reviews can help others make better decisions. I’ve written a few; I was even a top 1,000 reviewer for a year or so. Here are some tips for those who care. I’ll focus on book reviews—that’s primarily what I’ve written—but you can apply the concepts to reviews of any products.
1. Only review books that you’ve read.
This seems too obvious. But every day someone posts a review that starts off with something like, “I can’t wait to start reading this book,” or, “I haven’t read this book, but judging from this idiot’s talk show…” These reviews are useless, unfair, and dishonest.
2. Review the product itself.
Don’t give a book a one-star review because it arrived on your doorstep late or banged up, or because the seller was rude or you saw someone with purple hair and a nose-ring reading it at Starbucks. None of these things have to do with the book itself.
3. Be honest.
Don’t be afraid to criticize a book; just be fair. If someone has done a horrible job of writing a book, even if you agree with their premise, don’t give it 5 stars. On the other hand, if someone has written a book you disagree with, but done an outstanding job, be fair:
“Although I disagree with this author’s belief that all men are idiots, she has written a compelling book.”
4. Proof-read and edit your review.
Please take the time to capitalize and use punctuation. Please do not use all caps. And please do not bang out a few sentences and then hit “publish” without reading what you’ve written.
5. Don’t overstate.
You can get your point across without going crazy. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t write, “This is The Best Book I’ve Ever Read. Seriously.” Or, “Stunning, breathtaking, riveting. THE MOST EXCELLENT BOOK EVER!!!” Or, “The worst piece of crap ever written,” (which was actually written about one of my reviews.)
6. Make the review as long as it needs to be.
My review with the most helpful votes happens to be one of the longest I’ve written. But I’ve also found some very short reviews to be very helpful. In general, shorter reviews are more likely to be read. Just make sure you follow rule 7.
7. Give specific examples.
Instead of just saying, “Hated it,” tell us why you hated it. Do you hate the book about dogs because you hate dogs, or because it was obvious to you that the author hates dogs? Was it poorly written? Was it unfair? Or, why was it great? The fact that you gave it 5 stars tells us that you loved it; the review is where you tell us why.
8. Remember the meaning of the stars.
Five stars means, “loved it.” Do you really love every book you read? If you have some criticism of the book, even if it’s written by your favorite author, maybe you should give it four stars (“liked it”). One star means “hated it.” Don’t give it one star and then say, “This author really had some great things to say, but I found a spelling error on page 329.”
9. Be fair when you criticize.
I’ve already mentioned this above. But it’s worth a little more space. Don’t attack the author or make fun of them or the people who are likely to agree with them. Try not to get too sarcastic. If you truly hate a book, you can still write a helpful review if you tell prospective buyers why they might be better off choosing another.
Here’s an example of one of my most negative reviews that some readers still found helpful.
Also, don’t be surprised when you get an unhelpful vote on a negative review. Authors don’t like being told that their book is not The Best Book in the World.
10. Keep the buyer in mind.
Imagine that you are writing to your friend or mother. Or, tell the reader what you would have wanted someone to tell you before you bought the book.
11. Have fun.
By Dave Draper
In this age where everyone is an instant expert, and self-publishing has become easier and more popular than ever, buying a book can be risky business. Especially when it comes to books on weight training. I’ve bought my share of books that claim to hold the secrets to getting ripped and huge all at once—“secrets” that could easily be read in Men’s Health, but written by someone who apparently never made it through high school English. Recently, I knew I was in trouble when I flipped to the table of contents of a muscle building book to see, “Intorduction.”
Maybe I’m old and cranky, but I’m not interested in what some dude’s “five years of personal training experience” through the internet has taught them. Nor can I tolerate horrible writing. So, I’m suspicious of most new books on strength training or fitness.
Dave Draper’s new book is an exception, in every way.
If you are looking for a book full of training plans (Draper prefers “schemes”), this isn’t it. While there are plenty valuable tips with some schemes thrown in, Draper’s book is not a how-to, unless you want to call it a “how-to” for life.
And, regarding secrets, Draper says, “The secret is there are no secrets.”
Draper writes about his long history with the iron (over 6 decades)—his beginning, his progression, the gyms he trained in (the original Gold’s, for one) and the people he knew. And, though he’s appeared on TV shows, hung out with beautiful TV stars, and trained with the likes of Arnold, you never get the impression that he thinks much of himself; he writes with wisdom and humility.
He tells some stories from the good old days, like the time he and a training partner trapped six local drug dealers in a basement, duct taped them together, and burned their drugs in front of them before letting the local police know where they could find them.
Draper goes from no nonsense to philosophical in the same paragraph, with a good dose of humor thrown in:
“I’m not the type to smile broadly and offer assistance. I’ve practiced that routine in the past and received a frosty reception, total rejection or abysmal defeat. I tried my best. I recall the gals looking at me like I was a creep (Hey, babe, you train here often?) or the guys ignoring me like I was a jerk (Hey, fathead, you’re doing that exercise wrong!). Kids, I could tell, wanted to be left alone (Hey, runt, if you’re going to lift weights, do it in the corner).
No, thank you. No more Mister Nice Guy. I’m looking out for numero uno.”
Regardless of our age, any of us can learn from someone who has as much experience as Draper, and his solid advice is scattered through every chapter.
On working out:
“The lifter who foregoes workouts is a loser,” and, “Rushing workouts is for children.”
“It has recently occurred to me that I’m not as young as I used to be…Well, it’s about time. Youth gets to be old after a while.”
“We don’t lose our health and strength; we throw it away. We don’t slide out of condition; we’re tossed out for lack of participation. Fitness is not lost; it’s squandered like thankless treasure.”
“Muscles are the fool’s gold crown of false glory.”
With all of today’s complicated training advice, diet plans, fitness gadgets, and gym selfies on Facebook, reading Draper is a great reminder of what it’s really about. Go to the gym, work hard, eat right, love life. Be strong and look great, but remember that nobody else cares; this is for you. So stay humble.
My only criticism of this book is that, since it is a collection of columns, there is some repetition. But that’s not necessarily bad—we learn through repetition, after all.
I could go on trying to convince you that reading Draper is worth your time, but Dan John sums it up nicely in the forward:
“No one else writes like this. No one else has the life experience, the insights and the intuition. Trust him.”
If Iron in My Hands doesn’t make you want to go to the gym, nothing will.
By George Sheehan
Edited by Andrew Sheehan
Dr. George Sheehan was a cardiologist, runner, writer, and philosopher. Yet no label is sufficient for him. And of all that’s been written about him, I wasn’t truly impressed until I read this book and heard from Dr. Sheehan himself.
There is something in his writing that makes this book hard to put down. It’s honest and insightful, direct and inspiring. Sheehan’s voice is like Thoreau’s (whom he often quotes): calm and wise, inviting us to walk along with him. In the process, he stirs our deepest desire to be great. This is the kind of writing I always look for, but seldom find.
Sheehan loved running. He loved running in every season, and in any condition. He loved the soul cleansing affect it had on him, he loved the agony of pushing himself to the limit in every race, and he loved both the solitude and the camaraderie he found in running. And he wanted others to share that love.
Sheehan believed that life should be simple, that people needed to free themselves from the things that squash creativity and play. Play, he believed, was serious business, and people should make time for it:
“Certainly, a case can be made that the true object of life is play.”
For Sheehan, running was play.
Throughout these writings, we hear the importance of becoming the best we can physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sheehan urges readers to be heroic, something he believed could happen through running:
“This stage on which we can be bigger than life is a place where we can exhibit all that is good in us. Courage and determination, discipline and willpower, the purging of all negative impulses–we see that we are indeed whole and holy.”
The Essential Sheehan is a treasure for runners, especially those of us who are getting older. Here’s a man who ran competitively into his 70’s, who could break a five minute mile when most men his age wouldn’t walk a mile, who ran a 3:01:10 marathon when he was 61. We want to hear everything he has to say. But his wisdom can be applied to any sport, or art, or even life.
The writings are taken mostly from the 70’s and 80’s, so some of the descriptions of shoes and clothes are dated. I don’t see many runners in turtle necks or leather tennis shoes today. But the writing is timeless. As David Willey writes in the introduction:
“There are things from the past–even forgotten, old-school things–that still matter today….In our over-digitized and under-exercised culture, George’s writing may be more urgently needed now than when it was originally published.”