Floating Off the Page

Floating Off the Page (The Best Stories from The Wall Street Journal’s “Middle Column”) Edited by Ken Wells, Foreword by Michael Lewis / Copyright 2002 / A Wall Street Journal Book / Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York / Paperback, 282 Pages 

There are many reasons to read…and to re-read. This book is one of those books that I often re-read. Like a favorite movie or a favorite show, I still thoroughly enjoy the replay – simply because it is so well-made.

This book is a compilation of great short newspaper features. No matter when it was released, the works have become timeless because of the way they were written – “so engaging and light ‘as almost to float off the page’”. As an observer of journalism and modern media, this book reminds me that good work is out there and I don’t have to give in to the sometimes overwhelming frustration at the woefully poor writing that come at me every day.

This book is a collection of people stories, what sometimes is referred to as “color” – usually a sidebar anecdote to make issues more human. But the Wall Street Journal placed it in the middle column of Page One and turned it into their readers’ delight. Because finding unusual things about the usual things can make a reader stop and pay attention. The story can bring laughter, or tears, or wonder and bewilderment. The stories bring something un-ordinary and I’ve enjoyed each one of them. Over and over again.

From the Introduction, Ken Wells says that their readership surveys show that the middle column is among the paper’s best-read features. “…journalism professors across the nation routinely clip it and give it to their students with the admonition: ‘If you wish to write well, learn to write like this.”

I agree, precisely why I like re-reading these stories. I re-read and re-read figuring out how the writers’ minds worked out their structure, organized their facts, found their slant. I re-read and re-read still wondering what attitude one must have to keep finding magic in this world. I applaud all the writers in this collection for making it all look so effortless and simple. That is a true talent.

Those discussing the “click-and-bait” topic should get a hold of this book. Here, creative does not mean gimmick. Insight does not mean spin. Here the title of every column is crafted as thoughtfully as the content in its intent to inform and entertain. In this book, you can see when the writer and editor team is working so well and everyone enjoys the outcome – especially the reader.

And I think that is the best compliment I can give it – that this is a book that a reader will thoroughly enjoy.

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