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William Langewiesche Profiled

PUBLISHED: November 28, 2007

Via Bookslut, the San Francisco Chronicle has a profile of William Langewiesche, one of our favorite writers:

Magazines, in Langewiesche’s opinion, are great beasts that have to be fed, constantly. If they’re not fed they die, and so they’re desperate for material. But they’re usually fed poorly. And people who say that the golden age is in the past are simply making excuses for their inability to write or publish high-quality journalism.

“You have this precious, incredibly privileged thing,” he said, “which is the reader’s attention for a little while. And you can make the slightest misstep and the reader will put you down. People will say that the reader lives in a busy world. But that’s not the reason why. The reason is that the writer blows it, and loses the reader’s trust.”

And there are many ways to lose that trust. You can disrespect the reader by being pompous. By drawing obvious conclusions. Or by making the reader impatient by going on too long. It’s an enormous balancing act to get that part right. Especially for someone such as Langewiesche, who writes 20,000-word articles. But times are good despite the inherent difficulties of his genre.

“This is the golden age of nonfiction, now,” he said. “It’s not in the future sometime. It’s not in the past. It’s better now. This is the time. This is where the real writing is going on. There are very few good novels being written. But there is quite a bit of good nonfiction being written. It’s where the boundaries are being pushed.”

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