Saturday, May 25, 2013

Riddle of the Labyrinth: a kind of extended obit

From Kathryn Schulz' review of New York Times senior obituary writer Margalit Fox's The Riddle of the Labyrinth -- The Quest to Crack and Ancient Code (Ecco Press 2013) in New York Magazine:

That beat does not normally make celebrities of its practitioners, so it says a lot about Fox’s writing ability that her obits have acquired something of a cult following. The form demands three things: a nose for interesting facts, the ability to construct a taut narrative arc, and a Dickens-level gift for concisely conveying personality.

Here is Fox's take on her craft and how she became interested in the work of Brooklyn College classics professor Alice Kober, who died in 1950.  Her cursory, resume-like obit at the time barely mentions Linear B, an endless series of pictograms unearthed in ancient Greece no one could decipher.  Yet Kober's largely unrecognized work over decades made cracking the code possible.  Fox's newly released Riddle of the Labyrinth seems like the best kind of book to come out of newsrooms, in which writers decide to take a subject that's not due at 6 p.m. today and follow it wherever it leads. 

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