A collection of first-person journalism edited by former Washington Post reporter Harrington (The Everlasting Stream, 2002, etc.).
Harrington (Literary Journalism/Univ. of Illinois, Urban-Champaign) here aims to dispel the old journalistic cliché: that a journalist writing about him/herself is always “self-indulgent and, quite likely, narcissistic.” He couldn’t have put together a better lineup of writers to make the point that it doesn’t have to be. Scott Anderson’s “Prisoners of War,” a 40-page mini-opus about the thrill and horror of being a war reporter, depicts with astonishing honesty the almost limitless selfishness that moves danger-seekers. The author flickers back and forth between his quixotic, quite possibly insane search for a missing man in one of the most dangerous parts of Chechnya and his near-execution, along with brother Jon Lee Anderson (known for his reports from Baghdad), at the hands of Tamil Tigers. Anderson’s piece is almost matched by Davis Miller’s “My Dinner with Ali,” in which the writer goes looking for the aged boxer and ends up practically getting adopted by the champ’s family, who are quite used to Ali bringing home strays. Even lesser pieces are well executed: “A Day at the Dogfights” may be laden with tired hardboiled clichés, but Harry Crews crams it fit to burst with vivid imagery; and Mike Sager’s “Last Tango in Tahiti,” the Apocalypse Now–esque story of hunting down Marlon Brando for an interview, is as funny as it is self-aggrandizing. “Her Blue Haven” is a Sunday-magazine-style recollection by L.A. sportswriter Bill Plaschke of his meeting with a rabid Dodgers fan afflicted with cerebral palsy. It could have been the most sentimental piece of the bunch; instead, it is a crushingly painful story rendered with true beauty.
Not just some of the country’s finest personal journalism, but some of its finest journalism, period.