Last night I began reading “The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers“, by Robert S. Boynton – the subject matter is self-explanatory from the title. I’m hooked. I’ve only gotten past the intro, preface and first chapter and have already lost count of all the notes scribbled into the margins.
The first chapter is a conversation with Ted Conover, who’s probably best known for riding the rails with hoboes in his 1984 book Rolling Nowhere and his 2000 work Newjack which chronicles the daily lives of prison guards at New York’s Sing Sing. The latter required full immersion: he applied for and got a job as a guard.
I found this exchange, on immersing oneself into a new place, of particular interest:
Q: Do you have any reporting routines you follow when you arrive in a new town?
A: I pay a lot of attention to place in my writing, so when I arrive in a new town I try to do what Lawrence Durrell recommended in his essay, “Spirit of Place”, which is to get still as a needle, as he puts it.
Boynton then thankfully adds the Durrell reference:
“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’
Most travelers hurry too much… the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not too much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling… you can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.”
The stack of immediate essential reading just got a bit higher. It’s time to seriously consider a kindle.