A sparkling collection of features by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post columnist.
For readers who come to Weingarten (Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs, 2008, etc.) for humor, there are plenty of smiles and laughs scattered throughout the uniformly strong pieces assembled here. But the author is about more than grins and giggles. In even the slightest of the essays—seeing his daughter off to college, honoring the memory of his childhood baseball hero—his storytelling, keen observation and deft reporting startle and amaze. Whether profiling cartoonist Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau or The Great Zucchini, a little-known children’s entertainer whose messy personal life belies his talent for beguiling preschoolers, Weingarten reliably delivers the goods. He’s equally adept at exhuming quirky stories of the dead, including that of Leslie McFarlane, who as “Franklin W. Dixon” spent a good portion of his frustrated writing career churning out the Hardy Boys mystery series, Mary Hulbert, who died never disclosing the details of her intimate relationship with Woodrow Wilson; and William Jefferson Blythe, killed in a 1946 car crash, who left behind a pregnant wife whose son would grow up to be President Bill Clinton—neither he nor his mother ever knew about Blythe’s previous two marriages (to sisters!) or of the stepbrother one union produced. Weingarten shines especially when he sets himself a puzzle. Which among this country’s many worthy towns merits the distinction as “The Armpit of America?” What’s it like living daily with terror? Is what’s happening at the bedside of a brain-dead girl in Worcester, Mass., a miracle or a hustle? If you pick a place on the map and travel there, will you find a good story? So we journey with him to blighted Battle Mountain, Nev.; ponder communion wafers that allegedly contain blood and icons that weep oil; explore Savoonga, the Bering Sea island where the native Yupiks weather a teen-suicide epidemic; and watch world-class violinist Joshua Bell playing in a train station before thousands of mostly oblivious commuters.
Every page is a pleasure.