Be warned – I’m feeling restless after a long winter and an even longer (and colder) spring. I need to escape the confines of my cosy central-heated abode and do some serious literary gallivanting.
The Aye Write organisers must have been aware of readers chomping at the bit because they scheduled a couple of preview events. ( The main festival’s not until mid-April.) And so it was that I found myself in the Mitchell Library March 12th waiting to see Jon Ronson.
I had been meaning to read The Psychopath Test but it got lost in the stacks and Ronson has since released Lost At Sea. Not having knowingly read Ronson – I know, I know, this is one party I’m late for – I thought I’d start with his most recent. And so it was that as I was reading it in preparation for the event, once again in February I found a book that I know is going to figure in my best of 2013 because …
what a page-turning piece of entertainment – fact really is stranger than fiction
what an eye-opener.
Lost at Sea consists of 25 pieces of investigative journalism examining the strange and mysterious world in which we live. We’re not talking occult here although there are a couple of stories with a psychic flavour – including the opening chapter about the superstitions surrounding the TV shows Deal or No Deal. There are strange facts all over calling for the Ronson treatment such as the number of people who simply vanish from cruise ships – 171 since 2000 or the reincarnation of vigilantes disguised as superheroes in American cities. And why, for example, do credit card companies inundate those can least afford it with their offers of cheap credit – the subprime customers. More to the point, how do they identify them?
I found that story fascinating particularly as a) Ronson wrote it prior to the American subprime mortgage crisis; b) it involves a piece of software that I use in my off-blog working life and c) it also explains why I’m, thankfully, no longer bombarded with junk mail of that kind nowadays.
At his event Ronson entertained the audience with the experiment he conducted with fictitional alter-egos, John, Paul, George, Ringo, Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and Titch. Funny it may be but with deadly serious undertones. Ronson’s interest was first triggered by the 2005 suicide of a man who was sinking ever deeper into credit card debt.
There are other serious notes also. Asked by the audience whether he maintained contact with all his interviewees, Ronson replied yes, with a few exceptions. For obvious reasons some are featured in The Psychopath Test. As I was reading Lost at Sea, I got the impression that a few of the relationships here may have soured particularly when the subjects were less than happy with the resulting write-up. Ronson is never malicious. Just less flattering and more observant than they would have wanted him to be.
I found this book extremely thought-provoking, so much so that I have mentally added Ronson to my completist list. It had to be done for how else can you deal with someone who borrows an Aston Martin to drive from London to Geneva, a recreation of Bond’s journey in Goldfinger, and hates the experience. The name’s not Bond, it’s Ronson, Jon Ronson and it’s one that will be reappearing here in the not too distant future.