What I Do
Jon Ronson is one of my favourite authors, and I was delighted when I discovered that a film has been made of one of his most fascinating books, Men Who Stare at Goats.
I've just finished the latest collection of pieces he's written for The Guardian, and was absolutely absorbed from the very first essay. I read the whole book in just a couple of hours.
His latest conceit is to record the most embarrassing and humiliating things to happen to him each day, and this makes up the content of his newspaper column. Now, in lesser hands this could become annoying very quickly, and there is a kind of inverted Erma Bombeck-ish quality about his observations on family and social encounters. But there is something so sympathetic about the character of Jon Ronson, something so instantly recognisable, that it is hard not to get involved. His desire to be recognised and acclaimed, his pathetic anxieties, his inability to perform social obligations in a successful manner - all are shared by many in the modern world, particularly by men who are slowly waking up to the fact that they are no longer as young or as hip as they once imagined themselves to be.
There is a running gag about wanting a neighbour to acknowledge Ronson's own minor celebrity which will be painfully familiar to any writer, and his rather devastating piece about being inordinately proud of the technology he possesses made me cringe, more from recognition than anything else.
It's also worth pointing out that Ronson is a smart guy, with an interesting take on most things, and What I Do is filled with bits of information I simply didn't know. I was intrigued by the whole Richard Bandler thing (especially as someone who spent years of his life selling his books), and he t alks about a voluntary code of ethics for bloggers drawn up by Jimmy Wales that I plan on pinning to my wall.
I guess that Ronson is so sympathetic simply because he struggles to be a good person in a modern, urban society where all of us are tempted to be difficult, priggish and vain - indeed, we are often rewarded for such behaviours. In a heart-breaking section he explores the ethics behind contemporary bank lending and credit practices (timely, what?), and interestingly he invents a whole cast of characters based on him to see who will attract the most junk mail. But what he is really doing is fracturing himself into a series of unattractive, two-dimensional parts that each expresses his own fears about the kind of person he might actually be.
In this book, Ronson captures some of the schizophrenic nature of contemporary existence. And he manages to be very entertaining in the process.