There are two authors in my reading life whose work is best read after having heard them read it themselves. They are also two authors whose restrained, understated, off-the-wall approach to observation and storytelling continues to blow my mind.
Both of those authors also happen to contribute to one of my—if not the—favourite podcasts of all time, This American Life. One of those authors (Jon Ronson) is the feature of this blog (the other, David Sedaris, will no doubt be profiled when he next, eminently brilliantly titled book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, is released in a few months’ time).
I wasn’t, despite being an insatiable Ronson reader, aware that he had released a new book until my brother returned from five weeks in Europe. I knew my brother had spent five weeks in Europe primarily because his opening words to me upon his return were: ‘I carried this book through Europe for five weeks for you.’
The book in question was a clearly heavy hardcover copy of Ronson’s Lost At Sea. Its rather ragged dustcover hinted at the multi-country, tumble-drier-effect travel it had endured on its way to me. No matter. I was so excited and touched that my brother had gone to the trouble, I nearly sat down on the floor and commenced reading then and there.
I definitely didn’t have the heart to burst my brotherly love bubble to tell my sibling that I really appreciated the effort but the book had been released here—in paperback, no less—while he’d been away. Besides, as I wrote before, I hadn’t been aware of the book’s forthcoming nature, much less its release.
Lost At Sea is unlike Ronson’s breakout book, Them, which follows conspiracy theorists, including those who believe the world’s leaders are in fact giant, shape-shifting lizards, and is instead more like his What I Do book of columns.
Lost At Sea is a compilation of a diverse and arguably disparate series of articles published by such places as The Guardian. The articles are linked, of course, through Ronson’s peculiar talent for seeking out the quirky in that which at first appears entirely normal or mundane. They’re characterised by his uncanny knack for helping us readers see the story in an entirely fresh, perspective-changing way.
I’ll not deny that I was a little disappointed to discover that this was piecemeal book—I loved Them and The Men Who Stare At Goats far more than What I Do. Indeed, as you’d expect, some stories in this latest release are undeniably stronger than others. But for the most part Lost At Sea was like a Ronson version of a caffeine hit first thing in the morning—something you’ve been craving and that leaves you sated and able to cope with the daily, grinding, life and work hurdles.
In the first, hooking story, Ronson goes behind the scenes on the UK’s Deal or No Deal game show to learn about the contestants, the host, and the various game play methods and conspiracy theories. What he uncovers, in his distinct, distilled, restrained way will ensure you never look at Deal or No Deal in the same way. His other stories include:
- finding out what inspires an experienced broadcaster to confess—falsely—to the mercy killing of a lover 16 years earlier
- foraging through Stanley Kubrick’s house and uncovering his love for typography (he was a san-serif man)
- hiring an Aston Martin and retracing James Bond’s London-to-Geneva journey in Goldfinger
- trying to get to the bottom of a plot by 13-year-olds to kill their classmates at the North Pole
- and following the trial of the couple accused of cheating Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, via the rather rudimentary and obvious method of coughing at the correct answer, out of its major prize.
The articles are peppered with such pared-back exchanges as the following (best read assuming Ronson’s voice in your mind):
The flight attendant was there to meet us as their airstrip.
‘Welcome to your plane,’ she said to us. ‘I just want to tell you that Snooop Dogg uses this plane a lot. What I’m saying is,’ she added in a lower voice. ‘You can do anything.’ We all looked at each other. We’re middle-aged now. None of us could really imagine what ‘anything’ might mean anymore.
‘Are we allowed to stand up as the plane lands?’ asked Brandon.
I’m not sure when Ronson’s next book is coming out (or what he’s even working on), but I’m hoping I’ll know its on its way and be able to save my brother some back-breaking trans-continent carrying. In the interim, Sedaris’ forthcoming Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls , which is coincidentally going to be released as a less-favoured-by-me hardcover, should tide me over for a few days.