Wednesday, 6 June 2007

A sort of book review

“Jon Ronson is a genius”, I tell my friends. There is a silence. My friends don’t read the Guardian. And nor did I until a couple of years ago. Even now I only do so sporadically, because it’s so ridiculously unwieldy, but that is beside the point.

It wasn’t until my final year at uni that I happened upon Jon Ronson’s columns and articles, which now sadly - thanks to a haze of third-year stress, drug misuse and a mournfully-recycled pile of Weekend magazines - are but a faded memory.

I instantly recognised in the columns the kind of neurotic, rabbit-in-the-headlights view of life that myself and many others share. I sought solace in their humour, and wondered at Ronson’s colourful depictions of everyday (and sometimes not so everyday) people and events.

‘Out Of The Ordinary’ is a collection of Jon Ronson’s work from the Guardian. Brilliantly (for me) it is also home to some of the very first articles of his I ever read (‘The Frank Sidebottom Years’, the hilarious and eponymous Out Of The Ordinary columns). Brilliantly (for everyone else) it is one of the best and most enjoyable reads one could possibly wish for.

Like football and dividing things by two, it’s a game of two halves. Part one is made up mainly of Ronson’s lighter side: in it he details trips to Lapland with his son (forged from an ill-thought-out pledge by Ronson to remain forever at his boy’s side - dressed as Santa); his time as a member of Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band and a cavalcade of mishaps, misapprehensions and misanthropic neighbours in the columns that lend their name to the title.

Part two is a step into darker, more serious Ronson territory. This will be the side most recognisable to people who have seen his documentaries, like the excellent (and quite worrying) ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’. It begins with accounts of two trials.

The first of these is an illuminating insight into that of Major Charles Ingram, who was accused of cheating to win the million pound prize on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The second is an altogether more uncomfortable affair, focusing on the trial of convicted paedophile and former pop music mogul Jonathan King.

The final chapter in the book is entitled ‘Citizen Kubrick’ and concerns Ronson’s visits to the late film director’s estate in St. Albans. Without wanting to spoil too much of what the author terms the book’s ‘happy ending’, it is revealed that Kubrick, as well as being a brilliant director, was also a meticulous and masterful researcher.

Having read this book one gets much the same impression of Jon Ronson. A careful listener, squirrel-like accruer of facts and details, he never fails to squeeze every last drop of significance out of even the smallest minutiae, so that his readers come away feeling that they know something, well beyond the facts, of what he’s experienced.

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