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Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Portraits and Encounters", when journalism was art

The Gay Talese Reader. Portraits and Encounters- Gay Talese

Long long time ago, becoming a journalist was an admirable purpose. Before transforming in a corrupted and vile beast (quoting Norman Mailer, "the press is like a donkey you can feed with garbage") journalism was a noble profession, full of responsibilities and values towards society. Now that that's ancient history, regrettably, this anthology of magazine articles from Gay Talese reminds us how delightful and absorbing an article could be. This collection is his masterful lesson:
  • A lesson of style. Talese writing is one of the most striking beautiful I ever read. His elegant prose never gets pedantic (sorry Tom Wolfe) and is always precise. His dialogues and ability to construct the article "scene-by-scene", like on the best short fiction, is unparalleled.
  • A lesson of, in his own words, "hanging out". To be a good journalist you had to be a good listener and a good observer. Talese is simply superb, with an unerring eye for capturing the detail.
  • A lesson of commitment for the story. Exhaustive research, zero ego. Wether the writing is about a city  ("New York City Is a City of Things Unnoticed"), a period in time ("Looking for Hemingway"), a celebrity (Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, etc.) or a "common" person ("Mr. Bad News"), what matters is capturing something, a place, a human being, and the story behind the story. Take "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold", for instance, and you'll have not only a wonderful piece about one of the greatest American heroes in modern history, but also the best insight on popular culture, fame, family, gender relations, politics of the country. Take "The Loser" and behind the boxer, you will find a tremendous dissection on fear, guilt, isolation...a terrific essay on human condition.
  • A lesson of passion towards a profession. He affirms "I was always proud to tell the stories as they were, without exaggerating them". With that premise, the sum of the previous factors, creativity and an enormous talent, Talese is capable of making something way more interesting and profound than the material he initially had, creating not just articles, but brilliant pieces of "fiction with real names".
An absolute must. He should be a compulsory read in every single faculty of journalism. And it should have a reserved place in every library that wants to include one of the best North-American writers.

SCORE: 9,25/10

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