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Lessons from “Factory Man”

By Todd Marcum, President

I enjoyed reading “Factory Man,” Beth Macy’s fine chronicle of the furniture industry’s rise and demise in our region. It’s a great business cook, a compelling historic novel, and an interesting look at the character and characters that make our part of the world special.

Beth’s first effort landed on the New York Times best sellers list and has caused quite a stir in literary circles, most especially when a doting endorsement was tweeted by Tom Hanks.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer gal.  I had the privilege to work with Beth at The Roanoke Times for three years and have enjoyed her friendship and good humor since.

There are tons of places you can read reviews of her book, virtually all of which are overwhelmingly positive. So let me simply add my endorsement of it as a worthy read. I would have never figured I would have found a book about the furniture industry to be a real page-turner, but it is.

The thing that really impressed me about the book was not simply the story but also the writing style in which it was written. Beth is a nationally-acclaimed newspaper writer, one I have enjoyed reading for a number of years. Her stories are generally features, but she has taken on a wild range of topics from the trivial yet interesting to the riveting and important. 

As a writer myself, I wondered if her full-length work would take a different style than her column work. I found that in form and voice, it really didn’t. That was one of the things that made it such an easy read despite the fact that the topic was often pretty technical, especially when it turned to the litigation of American furniture makers against cheaper Chinese imports. “Factory Man” is written with a reporter’s research and insights combined with a feature writer’s flair.  It holds up as well in a full-length book as it did in a two column bright.

There’s an old saying for writers to “write what you know.” Another lesson shines through in “Factory Man”…write HOW you know. Good writing is always good writing.  

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