you, the columnist
By Dave Lieber
Dallas Morning News columnist
I own almost every book by and about Ernie Pyle. I also own a scrapbook of his World War II columns kept by a family during that time. I bought it at an NSNC Education Foundation auction more than a decade ago.
My collection expanded last week with the arrival of Indiana University Professor Owen V. Johnson’s long-awaited At Home with Ernie Pyle, published by Indiana University Press. (Who else?)
I had the book for 10 minutes and started crying. Serious. You should get this book.
Here are 10 reasons why:
1) The book highlights Pyle’s loving relationship with his home state of Indiana. Johnson, an emeritus associate professor of journalism, has organized hundreds of Pyle’s columns by subject. It’s quite remarkable. If you love Pyle, this is a must-have.
2) What? You don’t love Pyle? Well, then you’ve not read him. You can’t read him and not love him. Get the book.
3) Pyle is the patron saint of the NSNC. Our Lifetime Achievement Award is named after him. And National Columnists Day is celebrated by us every April 18, the day he was killed in World War II.
4) More than anything else, this book is about good writing. It’s impossible to spend time with the book and not become a better writer immediately after.
5) This book displays Pyle’s deep commitment to his column subjects and his engagement with readers. Long before “like” buttons and hearts could be tapped on social media, Pyle, as a columnist brand, was embedded in the hearts and minds of millions of readers because of the approachable writing style exhibited in this book.
6) Ernie Pyle wrote a column almost every day for nearly two decades. Johnson does a masterful job of organizing and presenting highlights.
7) This is an authoritative book destined to be respected along with other landmark books about Pyle.
- His on-the-road columns in Ernie’s America: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s 1930’s Travel Dispatches, edited by David Nichols
- His aviation columns in On a Wing and a Prayer: The Aviation Columns of Ernie Pyle, co-edited by our own beloved late great Mike Harden
- His World War II columns in both the biography Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II by James Tobin and also Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches edited by Nichols
8) As I write this, Johnson’s book sells for $30 on Amazon. I promise it will be the best $30 you spend on your writing in 2016.
9) Why? Better than any writer I’ve seen, Pyle knew how to show, and not tell.
10) Oh, why was I crying five minutes after opening the book? My book now has tear stains on page 90-93. I’ve read Pyle’s stories before about the death of his mother — how he learned of it and what he wrote about it afterward. To me, these are among the finest words found in 20th-century American journalism.
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Dave Lieber is The Watchdog investigative columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Along with former Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus, he co-founded National Columnists Day every April 18 to honor Pyle and columnists everywhere. DaveLieber.org • @DaveLieber.
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This piece first was published in the January 2016 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.