Wednesday, November 2, 2011

You Must Read The Fiddler on the Subway

I recently read The Fiddler on the Subway, by Gene Weingarten.  He's a reporter for the Washington Post, and the book is a collection of the articles he's written over the years.  I can't imagine how I never heard of this book, even though it has been out since July 2010 and won two Pulitzer Prizes. 

I love reading nonfiction.  I used to be a big fiction reader when I was younger, but as I've gotten older I've found that sometimes things that really happened are more interesting than things that someone made up.  Also, I like to learn.  Generally I lean toward historical fiction, but practically anything nonfiction is usually fair game.  Due to my obsessive nature, once I hit on a topic and like a book, I seek out other books on similar topics.  For example, after reading And The Band Played On (THE absolutely most fascinating book about the beginnings of the AIDS crisis), I read The Great Influenza (1918 influenza pandemic), Polio: An American Story (finding the cure!), and The American Plague (yellow fever).  After I read The Great Deluge (Hurrican Katrina), I read A Crack in the Edge of the World (1906 San Francisco earthquake), Krakatoa (Krakatoa eruption), and The Johnstown Flood (self explanatory).  And when I get into a queens and kings kind of mood, there are a million books on all the monarchs. 

Needless to say, I'm always looking for good nonfiction.  I picked this one up during one of the Borders blow out sales, right before the one on State Street went out of business.  It's not a very long book, and as I mentioned above, consists of investigative articles written by the author for the Washington Post, which means you can read them out of order, or whenever you want.  Every story in the book is fascinating. 

I enjoy it when reporters think of somewhat strange and different things to write about, and then follow that path, and do it well.  For example, the titular story is based upon the question of "Would anyone notice if a world renowned musician played his music in the subways of D.C.?"  Weingarten recruited Joshua Bell, a violin virtuoso to find out the answer.  Another story, The Great Zucchini, describes the life and job of one of Washington D.C.'s foremost child party performers, a man who shows up in jeans and a t-shirt, without all the usual props, and manages to keep kids enthralled for hours.  Another of my favorites was Snowbound, where Weingarten goes to a nearly isolated, snowy place, and learns about the people there.  The Ghost of the Hardy Boys discusses the life of the man behind Franklin W. Dixon, and his hatred of the Hardy Boys.  In The Armpit of America, Weingarten attempts to find just that.  And in Fatal Distraction, he masterfully deals with parents who have accidentally left their children in the backseat of the car to die.  These are only some of the articles contained within the book. 

As you can see, he covers a range of subjects, and his investigative reporting and writing are amazing.  I cannot even express how much I enjoyed this book.  I'm thinking about buying it for my mom and sisters for Christmas.  It's simply fascinating.  And now, I'm on to read Steve Jobs....