Friday, May 23, 2014

‘Lost at Sea’ (Book Review)

Not everyone gets to interview a robot, retrace James Bond’s steps in Goldfinger, and investigate a death on a Disney cruise. But we might get the impression that such things are ordinary in the glamorous life of Jon Ronson. The Guardian journalist known for The Men Who Stare at Goats, which later became a movie, has had some strange assignments over the years, leaving him with many stories to tell…some that will probably raise your eyebrows as they did mine.

You see, Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries tackles some heavy and controversial topics – celebrity sex offenders, assisted suicides, religious cults, the SETI program. But oddly enough, Ronson still comes across as insightful and fresh, even when I’m not inclined to agree with his perspective. The author’s engaging mix of investigative and “gonzo” journalism makes for a great bedside read that might end up keeping you up longer than expected. I had to read it twice before finally settling down to review it. I also got a great deal of unexpected laughs out the book. And although there’s a bit of language – as would be expected these days – the author, I’m happy to say, isn’t the type who resorts to crude humor. His interviewees provide him with enough real material for the readers to laugh at.

Although I enjoyed the book (and now take a peek at Ronson’s articles online now and then), I have to wonder: What was he trying to accomplish with Lost at Sea? It’s not his final book, but feels a bit like a memoir, a sort of “best of” collection of articles. When googling Ronson, I half expected to find him retired, but he’s still writing for The Guardian, interviewing some rather unusual characters, and planning his next big journalistic adventure as a passenger aboard a Virgin Galactic’s space ship. If Lost at Sea wasn’t some sort of farewell, it starts looking like an attempt to cash in on one’s popularity. I really hope not. I would hate to see Ronson’s great writing cheapened that way.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary uncorrected proof copy of Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries from the Penguin Group. A favorable review was not required.