Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 9

The ninth book I've read for my shelf-sitter reading challenge is Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson. It was a Christmas present-- one of the last books to make it on the shelf-sitter list. I'd never heard of Ronson, and frankly, it was one of the books I was sort of dreading having to read. Then I stumbled across a TED talk by Ronson, and realized that he wrote The Psychopath Test (which I heard about on This American Life), and that he's a pretty interesting guy. The book jumped to the top of my TBR list, and I felt like a brat for feeling put-upon by getting a cool book for Christmas.

Lost at Sea is a collection of articles (mostly written for The Guardian) that are all loosely connected by the theme of self-deception. Ronson interviews people who believe in weird stuff (indigo children, alien abductions), people who try to sell their beliefs to others (evangelical Christians, self-help gurus, psychics), people who have managed to rationalize the way they hurt others (pedophiles, credit card companies), and people whose self-deception has led to tragedy.

I thought half the articles were brilliantly done-- by turns amusing and chilling, depending on the subject. The other half weren't bad, certainly. Just less successful. Some felt too short and/or too glib. A few weren't effective examples of self-deception, and seemed out of place in the book. And a couple felt like the kind of article you write when your interview shits the bed and you wind up with nothing substantial to say, so you just write the hell out of it and hope no one notices the big pile of nothing in the center. Even in my own exceedingly piddly journalistic career, I've been there. It happens. But why put it in a book?

Also, there were too many copy editing errors. My own definition of Too Many is more than two in a book. I probably noticed five or six in Lost at Sea. This is obviously not Ronson's fault, since he is not a copy editor, but I did notice it and it did annoy me.

These quibbles aside, I recommend this if you're in the market for interesting, short non-fiction pieces about total wackos. And I'm adding The Psychopath Test to my TBR list.

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