The Man Who Stares At Goats And Them

Jon RonsonSome weeks ago I asked about the merit or otherwise of re-reading books, but have since realised that I’ve forgotten one key reason for re-reading: excellent authors who have released few books.

It starts with a book recommendation or a simple stumbling across a writer whose fabulousness you can scarcely believe and whose writing you wonder how you previously existed without. It finishes with a mad dash to find and devour their back catalogue of books. Which is great, until you exhaust the supply.

Then begins the trawling of the internet and the author’s and publisher’s websites to find out if or when the next book will be released. When there isn’t the promise of a forthcoming fix, you’re left with the option of either re-reading the published works or reading nothing (ok, or reading something someone else wrote, but bear with me here).

In spite of my reluctance to revisit books—largely because I worry that re-reading one book means potentially never reading another in this lifetime—after writing the blog about it I found myself lured back to Jon Ronson’s works.

He’s best known for The Men Who Stare At Goats, which was recently made into a film that I haven’t yet seen. But my favourite of his books is the simply titled Them: Adventures with Extremists.

The Men Who Stare At GoatsRonson (whose name I constantly have to check in my head as I can never remember if it’s Jon Ronson or Ron Jonson; and even though it’s the former, it’s the latter that always springs to mind) is a creative non-fiction writer and journalist with a knack for finding the interesting in the apparently ordinary.

I spend half my time marvelling at how and where he finds his subjects and stories and the other half at how powerfully he conveys them through understated writing.

For example, in The Men Who Stare At Goats, Ronson investigates a secret, unacknowledged arm of the American army dedicated to researching how mind power can give them the upper edge.

These are the super-educated, super-intelligent men who try to walk through walls or who stare at goats in an attempt to will them to drop dead (for the record for other animal lovers out there, they weren’t overly successful—one goat fell over once).

In Them, Ronson seeks out and embeds himself in the daily lives of the people we’d label ‘extremists’ and who are, given that he’s Jewish, unlikely to let him in. There’s Omar Bakri Mohammed, who’s living on social welfare in London and who’s both applying for British citizenship and openly plotting to overthrow the UK and turn it into an Islamic country.

There’s the media savvy Ku Klux Klan leader who’s trying to preach love for white people rather than hate for black people, and who discourages his followers from wearing the famed hooded outfits or use the N-word.

There’s the people who believe that the world is controlled by the Bilderberg Group, which comprises of a small, select group of all-powerful people who meet annually in secret locations. Then there’s David Icke, who actively believes that the world is actually being run by extraterrestrial, shape-shifting giant lizards. For real.

Part bumbling Bill Bryson, part David Sedaris, Ronson is a writer and speaker with whom I’ve fallen in love. Which is a problem, because his books take an eternity to research and write. Which means that he doesn’t release them all that regularly. Which means that in the absence of new Ronson releases, I need to revisit his books to get my quota of his writing.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.