exclusive, ongoing RRJ series featuring leading Canadian journalists
and their top picks for pieces every journalist “must read,” “must
watch” and “must listen” to before they die.
TODAY: Ian Brown
Toronto-based journalist Ian Brown is a roving feature reporter for The Globe and Mail and host of The View From Here, as well as Human Edge, on TVOntario. He won the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize, a $25,000 award that recognizes excellence in non-fiction, for his memoir, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for his Disabled Son.
Ian Frazier: Great Plains
“He tells an incredibly complicated story in an incredibly clear, accessible and moving way. He takes a subject that would seem fairly uninteresting – the Great Plains – and proves exactly the opposite. He’s a brilliant writer. At one point, he’s describing listening to the radio while driving across the plains, and he describes how a good bluegrass song, like ‘My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling’ by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, comes at you ‘like a truckload of turkey gobblers.’ If you’ve ever heard that song, or heard a song like that, c’mon, that’s exactly the way the song comes on – like a truckload of turkey gobblers. He has a very precise way of writing and he’s very free. He never tells a story in a way that you’d expect a story to be told. I re-read it every year.”
Tom Wolfe: “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson ”
“First of all, [Tom Wolfe] goes into the South that’s supposed to be about southern revivalism and conservatism and races, and what he finds is this incredibly vital car culture. Within that car culture, he finds the biggest hero of all the car fans, Junior Johnson. Then he finds out what made Junior Johnson who he was. [Wolfe] connects up NASCAR with running moonshine and he does it in a way that makes it seem like he’s sitting right next to the guy. That’s pretty hard to do. Once you’re in a story and you’re part of it and you’re driving down the road with Junior Johnson, it feels like he’s at your side; it feels like you’re in the car with him. To actually put a reader into the scenes…that’s pretty skilled and requires an incredible amount of reporting.”
Nicholson Baker: U and I: A True Story
“In terms of writing about books and reading, you would go a long way to find something better than Nicholson Baker’s little book called U and I: A True Story. Books are pretty serious things. Literature – it’s almost like the pinnacle of cultural achievement. So most writers, when they write about books, get pretty serious and respectful, and they write about ideas and why this idea matters and they try to connect to strains or examples, partly to make them sound smart and partly to make the story sound smart. Baker does that too. He traces the influences of Updike, but he also writes about books and literature in a way that actually affects you. He’s not writing about the way Updike influenced him just as a writer... he’s also writing about the way an older, famous writer can really start to obsess a younger, yearning writer that’s completely ridiculous and irrational. It’s beyond belief how good it is. As a piece of critical writing, it’s very astute, but as a piece of reporting, it’s really brilliant and honest.”