So I’m in the Union Square Barnes & Noble, checking out the new releases. My friend Howard Bryant, one of the best writers out there, has a new biography, The Last Hero, on Hank Aaron that looks fantastic. A couple of months ago I’d read one of the chapters as a favor to Howard (not that he needed my insight), and I was blown away. The guy can flat out write and report.
The other book in front of me is Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October. The author is Dayn Perry, a columnist for FoxSports.com. I’ve never heard of Dayn, but someone mentioned there was a Reggie bio in the works. I was riveted.
The thing looks good. Cool cover, lots of sourcing. One thing, however, throws me for a loop. On page 295, in the second paragraph of the NOTES ON SOURCING section, Perry writes the following: “At certain points in the book, I enter Reggie’s head and presume to communicate his thoughts. I do so in the service of the narrative, and any thoughts I relay, while ultimately assumptons of what I believe he may have felt at certain instances, are informed by the facts and by what I came to learn of Reggie’s inner workings.”
Uhm … uh … hmmm.
Now, before I go on, let me admit that—early in my career—I pulled similar crap. I would presume/assume to know what somebody was thinking, based on research and conversations with others. Here, however, is the problem: It’s impossible. Absolutely, positively impossible. Right now, as I write this, someone in the store might be thinking, “That guy is clearly focussed on the task at hand.” In fact, I’m actually wondering, “Does Dan Petry like fruit?” In other words, presuming thought is a gimmick, and a pretty weak one. It’s a lazy device. And anyone who has criticized me for doing it in the past was 100% in the right. If someone literally states, “I was thinking so-and-so,” well, that’s fair. But to guess a thought … to presume such knowledge based on research—no, no, no. Can’t have it.
That’s why guys like Bryant and Jonathan Eig (author of Get Capone!) and Leigh Montville and Mark Kriegel lead my list as the greats of the sports book genre. They don’t rely on gimmicks or cut corners. They report the hell out of something and let the material speak louder than the writing devices.
I’m not trying to kill Perry here, because I understand the temptation. But is it a bad way to go? Yup, it is.