WALDPORT — Amid 50 mph winds, sideways hail and all sorts of other fun weather, I spoke here Saturday. My book, “American Nightingale” (Atria, 2004), had been chosen as their “Waldport Reads” selection.
Anyway — or as sub-30-year-olds like to say, “anyways,” — among the questions afterward was who my favorite columnist/essayists are. I didn’t have a very complete answer, but it got me to thinking, so here it is (excluding any folks I currently work with at The Register-Guard, since that’d be cheating):
Welch’s Favorite All-Time Columnists/Essayists (In no particular order)
E.B. White. Beyond being the “White” of Strunk and White’s classic, “The Elements of Style,” the New York essayist is a model regarding succinct, clear writing. Not given to great emotional range, he could make the ordinary magnificent (he wrote “Charlotte’s Web,” for example). His essay “Once More to the Lake” stirs father-son memories in me every time I read it, which is now something like 12 times. Died in 1985 at 86.
Anna Quindlen. Former New York Times and Newsweek columnist is a master at political and social commentary, even if we don’t always agree. Can make the complex simple, the boring interesting, the dead come alive. Her humor and blue-ribbon metaphors/similes remind me of novelist Lorna Landvik. Now writing novels, though I think essays are her forte.
Ellen Goodman. A Boston version of Quindlen. Especially love her “Casco Bay” columns, where she writes about her summer vacations in Maine, often relating to them our hurried pace of life. A longtime Boston Globe columnist, she recently retired.
Garrison Keillor. Yes, he can be crotchety and arrogant and pompous but his honesty is one of his best qualities. Can anyone be funnier in his perceptiveness of the human condition? Column was running in Sunday’s RG until he took a sabbatical to finish a book. (Must be nice.)
Blaine Newnham. When I was a freshman at the University of Oregon, Newnham had an essay writing service and had just arrived as the new sports editor and columnist at The Register-Guard. He was one of those writers who was forever looking at a game or athlete or situation in a new way that made you think: “I’d never thought of it that way, but he’s right.” Very perceptive viewer of the world. Not just a great writer, but a great reporter. Gutsy. Timely. Flat-out interesting. Now retired after finishing his career at the Seattle Times, where he gave himself over to The Dawg Side.
Rick Reilly. Used to be the back-page columnist for Sports Illustrated. His specialties: humor that could buckle you over and poignancy that could leave you in tears. Never have forgotten his story about flying in a Navy F-14, something about how the plane did a flip and he felt a bit queasy. Did another flip and he lost his lunch. Did yet another flip and he “lost some Milk Duds I ate in eighth grade.” Or his piece on PETA. “The organization says we should ban fishing because it hurts the fish’s lips. I say pass the tarter sauce.” Now doing TV stuff. A shame.
Steve Rushin. Wrote a front-of-the-mag “Air & Space” column for Sports Illustrated. Not a great theme guy, but could turn a phrase, play with words, make a pun like nobody I’ve read. He left S.I. in 2007 and is now freelancing. Even if, like Reilly, he could be a bit self-absorbed and had a tendency to glorify drinking one’s self under the table, I miss the guy.
Charles Duncan. My first reporting teacher at the University of Oregon. Chuck wasn’t flashy but when I read his stuff I’m reminded of how we like to write about similar subjects: our love for Oregon, Eugene, University of Oregon, history, books, etc. Wrote a weekly column for The RG that he later cobbled into a book, “An Orange for Christmas.” Died in the early 1990s. I miss him, too.
Karen Spears Zacharias. When it comes to spiritual matters, one of the best pure writers/thinkers around. The Hermiston-based OSU grad dares to question the Christian status quo with honesty, wit and great vigor. Has written a handful of books, but does her essay writing on line for the most part. http://karenzach.com/
Don Bishoff. Funny. Brash. Bold. Cynical. Bishoff and I are very different columnists, mainly because his passion for, and my lack of passion for, politics, but I’ve always appreciated his guts to take on an issue head-on. And humor. He was Eugene’s answer to Chicago’s Mike Royko. Now retired, the lucky stiff.