A wholly satisfying greatest-hits collection of nonfiction.
Just as Dave Eggers and other McSweeneyans get anthologies of their own, Ira Glass—host of NPR’s show of gloriously meaningful weirdness, This American Life—now has a bully pulpit from which to proclaim his view of what nonfiction writing should be. From his bashful introduction, Glass defines the wide spectrum of collected items thusly: “There’s a cheerful embracing of life in this kind of journalism, and a curiosity about the world.” It’s as good a description as any to introduce this fine anthology from the likes of Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Orlean, David Foster Wallace and many more. Subscribers to The Atlantic and the New Yorker may have read many of these stories before, but that’s no reason not to take them in again. There’s Klosterman’s hilarious essay on the unexpected weirdness of Val Kilmer (“He’s a Christian Scientist, and he owns an inordinate number of reference books”) and Dan Savage’s seminal take on infiltrating the GOP as a gay delegate (“I know there are gay Republicans in Seattle—I’ve beat up enough of them”). But what makes Glass’ book better than expected is the editor’s diligence in digging into the archives for some great oldies. There’s Lawrence Weschler’s classic “Shapinsky’s Karma,” a mid-1980s tale of obsession and the fickleness of the modern (art) world. The most rewarding selection is Lee Sandlin’s “Losing the War,” a 1997 long-form think-piece from The Chicago Reader in which he forces readers to acknowledge all over again what most World War II books and films try to make us forget: what an absolutely miserable, pointless, blundering, screaming bloody hell it was. Lastly, any book that includes even a bit from Bill Buford’s magnificent piece of football hooligan reportage, “Among the Thugs,” is one that deserves attention.
A journalistic mixtape for the ages.