I was flattered as anything when I received this book for Christmas a few years back. I had seen it on the coffee tables and book shelves of the intelligentsia for years, strewn carelessly about the swankiest of liberal-thinking, independent bookstore-patronising clever-clogs households. Because Jon Ronson is a journalist for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, of course. One of the last bastions of the fourth estate.
This is the first of his books I have read, but it will not be the last. A collection of more than a dozen of his articles from that hallowed publication, across several decades, it not only showcases his talent as a keen observer of human nature, it is also shows off his investigatory skill and ability to build rapport with his subjects. Some of the stories on which he reports in here are quite extraordinary. Some are poignant. Some are devastating. And some are very mysterious indeed.
I don’t often follow the news. If the outrage doesn’t make it to my Twitter feed, I rarely know about it. Years ago, I read a New Yorker article about the possible retrial of American Amanda Knox, convicted in Italy of murdering her flatmate under a cloud of dubious detective work, and I was so shocked I turned to my friend Brad and said, wide-eyed: “Have you heard about this Amanda Knox situation?”
“Everyone knows about that,” he replied. “It happened five years ago.” I must have looked startled, because he reiterated. “Rach. Everyone knows.”
That is how little I know about what is happening. But the news is just too upsetting, usually. I avoid it when I can.
So most of the events in this book, which doubtless made worldwide news, were totally news to me. I’d never heard of the religious cult Alpha, or the Disney cruise worker who disappeared from the ship, or the child sex charges of music impresario Jonathan Kingsley. I’ve seen the movies The Men Who Stare at Goats and Frank, but had no idea they were based on real people and that Jon Ronson wrote their stories to begin with. So this book was a revelation about so many weird, wonderful and/or horrible things that I feel very well informed about… well, decades-old events, having read it.
But more than anything I am conscious of a huge amount of admiration. Ronson has a unique journalistic voice. He’s a presence in the stories but aa self-deprecatory and patient one, as he lets his subjects lead the way and tell their own tales. The topics he chooses are uniformly interesting, and the manner in which he reports them feels thorough and genuine without ever becoming weighed down in too many erroneous particulars. His is a kind of subjective objectivism, and I love it.
Also, I just love that I know so much more stuff now than I did earlier today. And it was a pleasure to learn.
Maybe I should pay more attention to the news, after all.
TBR DAY 82: Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Journalism, Travel Narrative
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.