New Finds

Enemy of the Good

A terrific debut novel set in Rome with a zany ensemble of journalists providing stories.

Book Cover Tom Rachman’s debut novel The Imperfectionist (Dial Press) obviously makes use of his newspaper experience working at the Associated Press as a reporter in Sri Lanka and India, and as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. Perhaps it’s my inattention, but Rachman’s fictional international, English-language newspaper by which a motley crew of journalists are employed is never named—or is it?

At any rate, the book follows an F Troop of scribblers, whose personal travails and foibles are played out (mostly in Rome) against the cumulative difficulties with which newspapers do battle in the Internet era and the paper’s own 50-year-old history.

Janet Maslin astutely observes, “Mr. Rachman may write about other subjects with equal grace and ease. But this book, his marvelous first, will always seem like one from the heart,” and continues:
Just as The Imperfectionists is much bigger than the sum of its parts, it’s also much farther reaching than the lifecycle of any particular profession. The effects of time and technology (the segments can also be dated by whether dot-matrix printers are obsolete, whether the BlackBerry is in use yet) can be felt in any personal or professional environment and will take their toll.
Though slightly off point, I was intrigued by this snippet from a Q&A with Tom Rachman—not the least because it made me aware of an Evelyn Waugh novel:
Q. Do you have a favorite book and/or movies about journalism? I remember one editor who used to watch The Paper once a week to cheer himself up.

A. The Paper is a very good newspaper movie. It does degenerate a little at the end with the inevitable “Stop the presses!” moment, something that almost never happens. That said, I recall its depiction of the newsroom as highly realistic. All the President’s Men is also a classic, though grander and more glorious in its conclusion than the experience most journalists know. My favorite depiction of journalism, however, is the novel Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. This is pure satire and, as such, not strictly realistic. But in a comic tone, it captures so much of the spirit of the business. Not to mention, it’s hugely entertaining.
I can’t think of many novels about the newspaper world, but I did amuse my self trying to assemble a list of movies: Citizen Kane; True Crime; The Pelican Brief; Front Page; Continental Divide; Between The Lines; A Case of Libel; Absence of Malice; State of Play.

Then, while not strictly about print journalism, the following films center around war-zone reporters and photographers, with the first being a minimally disguised portrayal of the world of a gossip columnist, according to Walter Winchell: Sweet Smell of Success; Salvador; The Quiet American; Under Fire.

All these films are worth watching, especially as the culture and calling they portray are—sadly—very endangered species.
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