In praise of Byliner

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 17, 2014 10:16 PM

As everyone knows, a byline is just that. A writer’s name below an article. This piece written by. A line on which the name appears. It’s a big deal, a byline. It always has been. It lends credibility and helps a writer to build a reputation. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists have powerful stories associated with them, by them. Knowing who wrote a piece is how someone is nominated.

There is now a site called and it is a recent find of mine. I am absolutely addicted. I stumbled across it several Saturday’s ago when one of the blogs I read, The Dish by Andrew Sullivan, linked to a piece. Byliner is subscription only, but each Saturday, Sullivan has been able to make one piece available for 24 hours, free of charge. I read that first piece, an article written about the writer Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It. I was riveted. A week later I read a piece about Boyd Martin and his horse Neville Bardos, and the horrific fire that occurred in Martin’s barn several years ago, a fire that left the horse nearly dead. Again, riveted. I subscribed to Byliner that day.

From an article in Forbes: “While e-books are not killing the paper book just yet, there can be no arguing that digital is indeed the future, and one of the early changes that the growth of e-books is bringing is an embrace of shorter-form content. One publisher focused exclusively on this digital short sweet spot is Byliner. According to the company’s CEO, John Tayman, Byliner publishes books designed to be read in two hours or less.”

Today I read a piece called The Man with the Electrified Brain, a short memoir by the writer Simon Winchester. It chronicled his sudden, inexplicable and recurring bout with mental illness and how he was eventually “cured” in the late 1960s by electroconvulsive therapy. Again, riveted. The first paragraphs:

“I was standing on the very edge of the crevasse, an edge sculpted smooth by years of blizzards and sunshine until it had been chamfered to a near-perfect glassiness, its surface like pure white obsidian. The edge arced down from the Greenland ice cap into a blue abyss of incalculable depth, out of which echoed the sounds of meltwater torrents raging far down at the base of the glacier. To slide down into the gash would be instantly and horribly fatal—and yet, in my strangely floating state of mind, detached as I was from the scientific inquiry that had brought me to the Arctic, I just then didn’t seem to care. It seemed so easy simply to slide away into the comfort of the deep. I wasn’t deliberately suicidal. I wasn’t frightened. It was that I didn’t appear to care what happened, so long as what was just then discommoding my mind could be somehow made to go away.

“Some months before this expedition, I had begun to experience what would turn out to be a prolonged and debilitating disarrangement of my brain. As it happened, I survived the Greenland incident. But for the subsequent four years my life was ruled by onsets like this of an unpredictable malady, one that I have never fully understood. For decades afterwards—and still today, given the persistent mysteries of the brain and the attendant complications in mapping it—I have worried that the debilities of those years might return. To some bizarre degree I have blamed this fear, irrational though it may sound, purely and simply on the writings of Somerset Maugham.”

Byliner site offers articles by some of the most exquisite writers. It offers short books by some of the world’s most prolific writers including Margaret Atwood and the late Christopher Hitchens, and Andrew Sullivan, whom I mentioned earlier. I’m just learning the site, and I’m currently on a “free” subscription, meaning I’m signed up and they have my credit card but I can cancel within 30 days and nothing gets charged. I have no intention of canceling. I’m enjoying it way too much. As a writer, the opportunity to read good, clear, pristine writing by others is like the chance to explore the minds, imagination and thought processes of those I most admire, and to meet some others along the way.

I’ve had many bylines myself over the years. It’s a good feeling, no matter how many times it happens, to see your name in print. By Lorin Shields-Michel. There’s pride there, accomplishment. I hope to someday get my byline on the site as well. Until then, I’ll read the bylines of others, revel in their words and celebrate the prose. It’s one of my ideal ways of living out loud, silently.

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live out loud

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