Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anywhere You Want To Go

If you could go anywhere you wanted to go, and then write about your experiences, where would you go?

To the decks of the USS Constitution during the War of 1812? To Gettysburg, to the pounding of the Golden Spike that signalled the formation of the transcontinental rail line?

We can't go back in time, but you could find civil war on the streets of Chicago every Friday and Saturday night. You could head on over if you chose, but you wouldn't want to become one of the victims and who could provide you safe passage?

No gunfire erupting on a train, right? You could sign up for one of Amtrak's writer's residency slots and travel cross-country, but the rest would be left to your imagination. No buffalo roam these days, the prairies are under cultivation, and the west isn't at all wild. If you want to actually experience something, you have to stick to the present.
Floating city

Writer Geoff Dyer experienced the modern version of Old Ironsides and wrote a book about his observations. Another Great Day At Sea is the result of his dream to go someplace where he normally would not be allowed to go, coupled with a fascination for the military.

Mr. Dyer won himself a residency of sorts on the USS George H W Bush, which is the modern equivalent of the battle frigate. How do the sailors live day by day, what do they do and what exactly is life like on board a ship that sails for months at a time? The questions he wondered about could only be answered if he sought out the answers himself.

The result is a book, which is the point of a writer's residency. The New York Times provided him with a platform to promote it with an interview that does not get into much detail about his time aboard ship. It's just enough to stir some interest in the hope that you'll buy a copy. Riding on the new book's coattails, Mr. Dyer's publisher is also re-releasing two of his earlier novels, again in the hope that some new readers will like what they see in a work of non-fiction and then sample something that was largely made up or embellished.

Interested in life as a policeman, perhaps one of those who clean up the mess after another shooting? Wonder what goes on in the station house, what happens after hours, and how does a typical day run for a uniformed officer?

Maybe you'd like to follow Mayor Rahm Emanuel around to experience life as a Chicago politician....No, wait, CNN did that already. That didn't work out as planned, but when the subject controls the message, there isn't enough reality for a writer to build a book around. And that CNN documentary was far too much fiction for a writer to use as the basis for a work of non-fiction.

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