By Jon Ronson
After my last review on a book that I discovered through an article by Jon Ronson, I remembered that I hadn’t checked up on his works for a few years, and he had published twice since then. Lost at Sea is made up of dozens of short chapters, each a standalone essay describing Ronson’s interaction with a wide variety of people and groups. (I believe they were actually originally articles for the London Guardian.) It made me laugh several times, but it also made me kind of sad, as each group seemed to be simply looking for connection and meaning in life, and having to go to some extreme lengths to find it.
It took me far to long to realize this, but the title is actually very apt – these are all stories about people who have lost their way in one way or another. The stories get progressively grimmer, too, starting with stories of roboticists attempting to create artificial intelligence and parents raising “indigo children,” thought to be the next evolutionary stage with psychic abilities, to a planned school massacre in Christmas, Alaska, and suicides over mounting credit card debt.
One of the more powerful essays for me, though, was one where he takes the general income disparity in the United States, and divides it into 6 sections, each one five times the income of the previous one. So, the first he talks with a dishwasher earning $10,000; then a family that lives paycheck-to-paycheck on $50,000; then Ronson himself is $250,000 (this is also the briefest section); a high-level executive in the entertainment business who wished to remain anonymous and earns roughly $1.25 million; one of the first investors in Amazon, who earns roughly $6 million, and finally at the top, a man who helped establish the storage unit industry and is worth billions at this point (at this point it is almost impossible to establish an annual income). I have read a lot of articles on income disparity and what it means for our society and economy as a whole, but this was the first that broke down what it means for day-to-day living and helps explain why it is so difficult to understand the lives of people that make significantly different amounts of money.
Several of the stories included the subjects expressing anger at Ronson’s writing style, saying that he including snarky lines like “I’m met with silence” in order to connote something underhanded without actually state it outright. And while I enjoy his style and his snark, I could see their point, that he does offer his own interpretation of pauses and body language in ways that certainly influence readers’ views. I’d mentioned before that one thing I like is how much his own presence is included in his writing, which is unusual in journalism, but after the third or fourth subject lashes out at him, I began to wonder about it. While he is often self-deprecating, he does vary how much he is present in writing in ways that are complimentary to him, so I could certainly see how his subjects felt manipulated and their personal crises used simply to showcase Ronson in one way or another.
So, I guess by the end of the book, I remain a big fan of Ronson’s writing, but perhaps not quite such a fan of Ronson himself.