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The Lede

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DNF at 25% - in the early 2000s, I enjoyed reading some Calvin Trillin collections about his wife and food. So I was interested to see what he had to share about journalism. Some of the pieces I read were interesting, some felt like filler and others maybe didn’t age so well. Ultimately, I decided to DNF because it wasn’t working for me but ymmv. Thank you very much to the publisher for the free book to review.

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This work is written by Calvin Trillin who has written for the New Yorker for decades. It’s an “opinionated portrait of journalism” and includes insights into journalists and the technicalities of writing for a newspaper.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style and humor. His humor was present throughout, whether he was discussing the proclivity of people who wrote for the Times to write memoirs, or when he was discussing someone’s death. His style is approachable and easy to read and made for an entertaining experience.

The work is divided into seven parts that all have a different focus, and each part is subdivided into smaller sections that focus on a specific topic under it. This was a tidy way to have this work set up. I enjoyed the section that was short biographies of reporters the most, especially the one about Edna Buchanan. The first section, which focused on some of what being a reporter includes and how it’s changed over time, was also quite informative. Another section is titled R.I.P that are shorter bios about reporters with big personalities who have died.

There was an especially interesting segment about John Bloom writing in Texas in the 1980s as a B-movie columnist Joe Bob, whose satire strayed too far into the offensive due to an over-commitment to his character. There were certainly some sections that I found less interesting, but as they’re not interconnected, it would be easy to skim or skip the small sections if you don’t find them compelling.

While I’ve never had an interest in journalism, I really enjoyed this read. Not only did I enjoy the author’s style, I learned quite a bit about random newspapers throughout the U.S., and some journalists who led fascinating lives. If you’re looking for an informative work of nonfiction to read, this is worth checking out.

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A collection of essays and columns written by longtime journalist Calvin Trillin reveal as much about the publishing industry through the years as it does the topics on which he wrote. His viewpoints hold up well despite the passage of time, showing that he has always been progressive (quite possibly columns that might be deemed offensive by today's standards didn't make the cut). #TheLede #NetGalley

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Calvin Trillin writes like I wish I could write. He writes better than almost anyone else, I think. He's witty, he's entertaining, every article flows so smoothly. It's a genuine delight to read his articles. The Lede focuses in on one of my favourite sub-subgenres of non-fiction, the newspaper memoir, and takes it on from all angles. This is a book to be savoured.

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Calvin Trillin is an American journalist and humorist who's written for The New Yorker, Time Magazine, The Nation, and other publications. Trillin's journalistic career may have begun when his father decided Calvin and his sister should learn typing. Over the years, most of Trillin's writing has been for magazines, and his work includes serious reporting pieces, short pieces that are meant to amuse (casuals), and pieces that are somewhere in between.

I'll give a few examples.

📓 The Lede (2021)

The first paragraph of a story, meant to engage the reader, is called the lede. Calvin collects ledes, and here's one he especially likes: "A veterinarian prescribed antibiotics Monday for a camel that lives behind an Iberville Parish truck stop after a Florida woman told law officers she bit a 600-pound animal's genitalia after it sat on her when she and her husband entered its enclosure to retrieve their deaf dog."

Calvin goes on to provide a vivid portrait of what this lede brought to mind.


📓 This Story Just Won't Write (2013)

In this piece, Calvin explains that he was a 'floater' in the early days of Time Magazine, when Time was designed 'to present the week's news succinctly to busy men.' A floater was essentially a pinch-hitter brought in when, say, the Sports writer was home with the flu, or the World writer was away on vacation. So Calvin felt he could puff up his reputation by calling himself "the former Art editor of Time, or the former Medicine editor, or the former Education editor, etc."

Trillin goes on to explain how he had to edit pieces ad infinitum to fit Time's space restraints when 70 lines was the goal.


📓 Show and Tell All (2000)

When a memoir about the New Yorker was written, Trillin (and all other staff members) would go to the bookstore, and without buying the book, look in the index for their name. Memoirists had no boundaries, and Calvin writes, "Even if your name in the index turned out to be unconnected to an indictable offense, it usually meant in the author's memory you had said something stupid or embarassing and he had come back with a wickedly apt rejoinder."

Trillin himself didn't write a memoir about the New Yorker, and his speculations about the skeptical comments from his (fictional) grandchildren are hilarious.


📓 Covering the Cops (1986)

In this piece Trillin lauds Edna Buchanon, the renowned crime reporter for the Miami Herald. Calvin describes how Edna, who was relentless, got her stories. Crime journalism was especially difficult for a woman in a 'man's field,' and Trillin's admiration for Edna comes through loud and clear.


📓 Newshound (2003)

In this portrait of R.W. Apple, Jr. (Johnny Apple) of the New York Times, Trillin notes that Apple was a political reporter; a war reporter; a foreign correspondent; and a wide-ranging writer on culture, travel, and food.

Apple was famous for his cultural interests and his high-flying lifestyle, largely paid for by the New York Times. Trillin observes that, while out on a story, Apple checked into "a hotel so staggeringly expensive that no other reporter would dare mention it on his expense account." Trillin also notes that Johnny was known as "Three Lunches Apple" and observes, "In an effort to find the perfect dining spot [Apple] had eaten in sixty French restaurants in London within a few months"....which was reflected in his girth.

Apple was a true character, and Trillin writes about Johnny'a life and his gifts as a reporter. In a half-compliment, a Times editor said Apple had "the best mind and the worst body in American journalism."


📓 Molly Ivins (2007)

Molly Ivins was a columnist who wrote about Texas politics, and Trillin notes, "Those of us who adored her adored her not for her formidable talents but for the sort of person she was." Trillin goes on to say, "Her interest in helping the powerless was as genuine as her contempt for the public officials who concentrated on helping the powerful."

Molly was also funny, and it was she who wrote "if a certain congressman's IQ dropped any further he'd have to be watered twice a day." (Some things never change, right? 🙂)


📓 The Life and Times of Joe Bob Briggs, So Far (1986)

When the Dallas Times Herald faced the dilemma of reviewing trashy drive-in movies like 'Mother Riley Meets the Vampire', movie reviewer John Bloom had a solution. Bloom would review these exploitation movies in the persona of a young redneck named Joe Bob Briggs.

In his column called 'Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In', the reviewer would summarize movies with comments like: "Sixty-four dead bodies. Bimbos in cages. Bimbos in chains. Arms roll. Thirty-nine breasts. Two beasts (giant lizard, octopus). Leprosy. Kung fu. Bimbo fu. Sword fu. Lizard fu. Knife fu. Seven battles. Three quarts of blood. A 39 on the vomit meter....Joe Bob says check it out."

Joe Bob's column became a cultural phenomenon and Trillin tells the tale of Joe Bob's rise and fall and rise again.


📓 The Truth Will Out (1978)

Trillin writes, "As a lover of truth, I am naturally pleased to see the facts emerging about the H.L. Mencken's prediction concerning the first president from the Deep South." Mencken's forecast seemed prescient about the Carter First Family: "The President's brother, a prime specimen of Boobus Collunus Rubericus, will gather his loutish companions on the porch of the White House to swill beer from the bottle and snigger over whispered barnyard jokes....."

There's some controversy about whether Mencken actually said this (and other things) about the first Southern president, and Trillin covers the topic in his article.


📓 Sabbath Gasbags, Speak Up (2013)

Newscaster Tom Brokaw created the expression "the greatest generation" when speaking about WWII veterans. Afterwards, the phrase became part of the English lexicon.

Trillin also hoped to slip a phrase into the language, and tried the following:

'Sabbath Gasbags' for people who pontificate on Sunday morning talk shows.

'R.N.A.' (Reply Not Anticipated) at the end of letters.

'Rubaphobia' for fear of being thought a rube.

'D.T.S.' (Disappearing Tush Syndrome) for the tendency of older men's butts to flatten out.

None of them worked.


📓 Back on the Bus (2011)

Trillin's last piece is about the year he spent in the Atlanta bureau of Time, from 1960 to 1961. Calvin observes that a lot happened in that twelve month span, including desegregation of public schools in New Orleans and Atlanta; sit-in movements at lunch counters; Freedom Riders heading South to protest segregated bus terminals; etc.

To prepare for the assignment in Atlanta Trillin did some reading, and he writes, 'I knew that the picture of the antebellum south where a plantation owner composes poetry at his desk while his slaves sing in the cotton fields was drawn from Hollywood rather than from history, even if most white Southerners accepted it as gospel.'

Calvin goes on to describe observations he made during his stint in Atlanta, where white folks thought Yankee reporters were unwelcome meddlers....and where the press was targeted with violence.

Of course, things have changed since then, as evidenced by the commemorations of the Freedom Rides on their 50th anniversary.


Trillin's writing ventures high and wide, and the book also includes articles about LGBTQ issues in journalism; male chauvinism in journalism; BBQ restaurants; tributes to deceased journalists; Al Gore's weight; alternative newspapers; out-of-the-way eateries; and more.


For the most part, Calvin Trillin's writing is new to me, but I enjoyed the book for the historical perspective; the people Calvin profiles; and the laughs.

Thanks to Netgalley, Calvin Trillin, and Random House for a copy of the book.

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If you read one book of essays this year, let it be this one. They don’t make writers like him anymore. A skilled journalist and novelist with impeccable comedic timing. Contained in this book are previously published essays, Trillin reporting on the business of reporters, written over the last six decades in what is more commonly known as the pre-Google era, however, his family called it “let daddy do it; he’s practically a trained reporter.” He has a way with words so distinct and his wry humor is like no other. Although I read “Covering the Cops” before, I don’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did when re-reading his piece about classic Edna who covered the police beat at the Miami Herald. The way he brings her to life is outstanding and when I say laugh out loud, I don’t mean in any kind of emoji way. Trillin’s keen observance about daily life, his colleagues in the newsroom, regaling readers with stories about working at The New Yorker, perfection. His ability to turn what might otherwise seem mundane into an engaging story is a gift. Top-notch storytelling. I highly recommend THE LEDE and the book would make a wonderful gift.

Huge thanks to NetGalley and Random House for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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This selection of pieces written by the great Calvin Trillin over the course of his long, distinguished career is a must-read for anyone interested in the press, journalism, crititcism -- and the people who make it happen. The articles are fascinating. I truly look forward to recommending this title.

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"The Lede" is a wonderful retrospective of the career of Calvin Trillin, a man whose career has run the gamut from covering the Civil Rights movement for Time to long-form articles in the New Yorker to food writing (the book includes a piece that was the first time I'd heard of and I'm eternally grateful) to comedic pieces.

The book begins, appropriately enough, with "The Lede," a piece about writing ledes for stories. I laughed out loud at the one he cites; I won't spoil it but will tell you that it involves a camel in Louisiana. He also provides several profiles, from the infamous (Conrad Black) to an affectionate profile of a long-time crime reporter in Miami; a collection of obituaries; and, finally, the aforementioned rememberance of his early career covering the Civil Rights movement.

If I were to raise one, albeit minor, complaint, it would be that he doesn't include at least one of his early pieces, to allow us to see his evolution as a reporter. I do realize that there may have been page limits or rights issues at play.

This honest review was given in exchange for an ARC from NetGalley.

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Drawing upon his long journalistic career, Calvin Trillin has selected more than forty pieces of his writing representative not only of his career, but of the history of journalism. His selections range from the laugh-aloud opening piece, “The Lede,” in which he quotes another journalist’s nearly fifty-word opening sentence involving a camel behind a Louisiana gas station, a Florida tourist, and a blind dog, followed by his own six-paragraph analysis of why that was a perfect opening sentence to his final piece, “On the Bus Again,” about his time reporting Civil Rights protests in the South in the early 1960s through his participation in the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the Freedom Riders in 2011. The selections also run the gamut from humorous poems and satirical pieces to biographical sketches and obituaries, from a single page to dozens of pages.

Trillin divides the book into six sections: Part 1, “The Trade”; Part II, “Reporters and Reporting”; Part III, “Big Shots”; Part IV, “R. I. P.”; Part V, “Controversies”; Part VI, “Niches”, and Part VII, “Closings”, each section containing appropriate selections. Readers will laugh. They will learn. They will be touched.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advance reader copy of Calvin Trillin’s overview of his long career and f American journalists and journalism. Although some selections may be too specialized for the average reader, the book will appeal to Trillin's fans, aspiring and active journalists, and lovers of good writing.

Shared on GoodReads and Barnes & Noble.

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Calvin Trillin has been a favorite since I discovered the Tummy Trilogy years ago. This book has a couple of his fantastically funny food pieces, but also some character sketches and many short satire pieces.

His writing is intelligent, wildly funny, and original. I also enjoyed the more serious articles and discovered he was an early reporter on the Civil Rights movement. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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I really enjoyed this. As a career journalist, I related to it and took so much away from it. At the same time, I learned a lot from it. It makes sense that the author is a great writer…I found the prose to be superb.

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I love Calvin Trillin’s writing so much, I almost don’t care what he writes about; his spare, deadpan, incisive voice hits my pleasure center every time.

So The Lede is a no-brainer for me. That said, some pieces work better than others. His profiles of crime writer Edna Buchanan, or drive-in aficionado Joe Bob Briggs (the alter ego of John Bloom) or his insider’s pieces focusing on the world of journalism, shine, while his poetry and short humor pieces are less compelling.

If you have any affection at all for Trillin, you will not be disappointed. But feel free to skip to the next story if the one you’re reading doesn’t grab you.

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the advance review copy.

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It's always fun reading about lives of newspeople, and Calvin Trillin is fun to read even if it's a novel about parking in New York. And reading behind the scenes at the New Yorker can always be as much fun as reading the magazine itself.

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I'm a long time fan of Trillin's extensive and varied body of work, but this book is very narrowly conceived and the collected pieces are fairly limited in appeal and scope. I suspect "The Lede" will appeal mostly to those especially interested in professional journalism, and to Trillin completists.

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Trillin is a terrific writer and I’ve enjoyed his work in the past. This new book is,as usual, well written but probably too specialized for many readers. It’s one of those nin fiction books you tend to not read front through back but hop and skip through as I did

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Really enjoyed this collection of Calvin Trillins. writings.I’ve been a fan of his and enjoyed revisiting his essays.A wonderful introduction to his work.#netgalley #st.martins

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Love everything by this sharp witted writer. Thanks for the opportunity to read. He never disappoints and he is a one of a kind

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I've always enjoyed Calvin Trillin's writing and this collection was no exception. I enjoyed the mix of topics and decades covered. The theme of journalists and journalism was interesting, as was the blend of everything from Talk of the Town to obituaries to fully detailed character studies.

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