The camera-like eye of Gay Talese

Word count: 329 words

Reading time: About 1.5 minutes

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence I read recently written by Gay Talese (pictured right.)

I was unable to go to journalism school. My university, UBC, where in 1979 I earned a BA in political science (hons), didn’t teach journalism and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere that did. Thus, as a journalist, I was entirely self-taught. I read voraciously, of course, and can still name Esquire as my favourite magazine of that time.

It was in reading that publication that I first encountered the work of Gay Talese. The writer had become famous years earlier when I was in grade school for his 1966 Sinatra profile, headlined Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.  Talese might have been unable to secure a single interview with Frank, but he’d managed to interview everyone else, to remarkable effect. It was an early example of New Journalism — incorporating fiction techniques into serious non-fiction.

I particularly admired Talese’s camera-like eye. I encountered that eye again, recently, in the Sept. 24 New Yorker. The magazine contained a profile of Yankees manager Joe Giardi. Here is a memorable sentence from that piece.

In this sense, he [Joe Giardi] remains the man behind the catcher’s  mask, communicating slyly from a crouched position with his fingers extended, or when speaking to a battery-mate on the mound, whispering along the upturned edges of his mitt. 

That sentence had captured an image I’d seen a thousand times on television. Better yet, it made it interesting to me, a person who has absolutely no interest in baseball. In particular, the adjectives “slyly” and “upturned” and the gerund “whispering,” gave me a visual image that was as evocative as it was precise. I was so impressed my eye immediately sought the byline. Who was the writer?  Gay Talese, of course.

I didn’t know he was still writing. The man is 80. What a reporter he is!

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