Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, by Jon Ronson

A collection of previously published newspaper and magazine columns by Jon Ronson. This was a 99p Kindle Deal of the Day - quite a few of the reviews were critical that this book contained material that's in other Ronson books, but since I don't have any of them, that didn't worry me.

Ronson has a style a bit like Louis Theroux, although he perhaps plays it a little less ingenuously, and it felt to me like he's a bit more honest about his subjects, as well as his reaction to them.

The stories in here are fairly short, but they were all interesting and readable, frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

From a section about robots that have been designed to imitate humans, when he has a conversation with one of them:

A strange thing happens when you interview a robot. You feel an urge to be profound: to ask profound questions. I suppose it's an inter-species thing. Although if it is I wonder why I never try and be profound around my dog.
'What does electricity taste like?' I ask.
'Like a planet around a star,' Bina48 replies.
Which is either extraordinary or meaningless - I'm not sure which.

When he sets out to follow in the footsteps of James Bond by driving an Aston Martin to Geneva, stopping at all the hotels, and eating the same meals, as Bond did in Goldfinger. He taks to someone at the James Bond literary estate about his:

'Great!' Zoe says. Then she turns serious.
'For copyright reasons,' she says, 'it's essential you make it clear you're following in the footsteps of James Bond and you aren't actually James Bond.'
'I'll make that clear,' I say.

He meets Robbie Williams (he seems to be on friendly terms with quite a lot of famous people) and travels with him on a private jet to a conference about UFOs:

'Welcome to your plane,' she said to us. 'I just want to tell you that Snoop Dogg uses this plane a lot. What I'm saying is,' she added in a lower voice. 'You can do anything.' We all looked at each other. We're middle-aged now. None of us could really imagine what 'anything' might mean any more.

On the trail of a story about a wealthy man who killed his wife and daughter then set fire to his house and burnt everything he owned:

'He kept his barn spotless.' [says Ian, one of the neighbours]
'That's weird,' I say, in a dark chuckle, 'to keep a barn spotless.'
'I keep mine spotless, too,' Ian says.
'Oh, well, not that weird ...' I say.
We reach Ian's barn. It really is spotless. The hay is as smooth as a freshly made bed at a posh hotel. 'Our horses are our lives. They're everything to me and the children. I'm going through a divorce at the moment -'
'Anyway,' I interrupt, 'something weird happened a month before the murders ...?'

He covers the trial of Jonathan King (someone else he's already acquainted with). King compares his situation and trial with that of Oscar Wilde, who was charged with the same offence.

we perceive Wilde to have been injustly treated by a puritanical society from long ago. I wonder if the reason why we look less kindly upon Jonathamn King is because he sang 'Jump Up and Down and Wave Your Knickers In the Air', while Oscar Wilde wrote De Profundis.

In one story he sets out to meet a series of people, each of whom earns 5 times the pervious one. Third in the series is himself:

Five times Dennis and Rebecca, there is me. I make $250,000, double that in a good year - if, say, George Clooney is turning one of my books into a movie. Which doesn't happen often. Just the once, in fact. Being a panicker, I live my life convinced poverty and disaster lie just around the corner unless I constantly and frantically work. Which I do.

But I have none of Dennis and Rebecca's struggles. I can vacation anywhere. I haven't noticed rising gas and grocery prices other than hearing myself murmur a vague, 'Oh. That seems a bit more,' and then forgetting about it. I have never felt so rich and so fortunate as I do as I drive away from Urbandale that morning.

He does editorialise a bit though, e.g. when interviewing a series of people in America who dress up in superhero costumes and go out looking for street crime to fight. Talking to one of the men, self-style "Zero", about one of the others:

'Is any of this because of Phoenix-' I begin.
'We're not going to comment on Phoenix Jones,' snaps Zero, shooting me a look.

I didn't note this at the time, but there was another section where he mentions getting a letter from someone he did a story about, who complained about this sort of "snaps Zero" thing, and to his credit, Ronson says he went back and re-read it and agreed. But it does still happen a bit. The superhero story was quite good: the main problem seemed to be that they never came across much in the way of street crime to fight:

By 3am we are giving up hope. Phoenix is reduced to suggesting we rent a hotel room, phone some prostitutes and ask them on their arrival if they need help escaping the web of prostitution.
'I think the problem with the plan,' I say, 'is if a prostitute turns up at a hotel room and sees three men in masks, she's not going to immediately think, Superhero. Plus, she may have to travel right across Seattle. It'll be an hour out of her night.' They agree to abandon the idea.

A pretty entertaining read, and I'll look out for more (albeit having to be careful that the next one I get doesn't contain all the same stories).

Completed : 28-Jun-2015

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