Laura Hillenbrand: A master at making a true story sing

Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken."

It is inspiring to watch a master at work. Here is sentence one in chapter one of Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful rendering of the story of a horse, Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way.

Boom. You’re hooked. One carefully crafted sentence leads you seamlessly into another. The end of one chapter has you at the end of a swing on a trapeze, your whole being eagerly reaching out for the beginning of the next chapter. Hillenbrand’s latest book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, and her style is just as vivid and compelling.

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening.

The boy is Louis Zamperini, a mischievous child who becomes a world-class runner, an airman in World War II, and ultimately a survivor against incredible odds. Zamperini’s life story stands as a testament to courage and grit. But in Hillenbrand’s capable hands it becomes as well a work of art. This is what literary non-fiction is all about: the truth told beautifully.


Humor is for real: Thank God for Gene Weingarten

There is a book written by Sarah Palin biographer Lynn Vincent (and fronted by Evangelist preacher Colton Burpo) called Heavan is for Real, high atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. That’s right non-fiction. The God-fearing folks behind this publishing phenomenon claim the book records the “memories” of a visit beyond the Pearly Gates by the minister’s young son while he was under anesthesia during an operation.

Oh. Where to begin? There is so much material here, starting with the implications for the republic of so many people hopping on for this “real” literary ride. A good starting point for that analysis is a recent entry by Washington Post blogger, Susan Jacoby.

But there is hope. The miraculous rise of this small book also inspired Gene Weingarten to produce another one of his brilliant humor columns in the Washington Post Magazine. In the most recent column, Gene describes how he writes to his publisher to report that he had choked to death on a Cheez Doodle, but came back to life with memories of a heaven even more fantastical than the one in the Burpo book. The account started out with John Lennon greeting him at the Pearly Gates, and went hilariously upward from there