I don't have a whole lot to say about this book, but it was a request on LibraryThing, so I'm happy to oblige otherwise.
I basically found this book on a Borders Express super-discount rack. Despite my profession, I have trouble picking up newspapers/magazines for fun. (My obsessive personality makes it hard to switch gears and care about everything in a magazine all at once.) But I really dig news article collections. Gustav brought Katrina back to my consciousness, so I picked this up off my shelf (and finished it right when Ike was about to hit). Call it keeping a sort of a vigil.
The press, especially print media, gets a lot of scorn these days, especially from people upset with the current administration. The major news networks seemed to be doing better than normal from my vantage point during that that time, though, I think, but I've read of others feeling very differently.
But one thing I think is impossible to dispute is how The New Orleans Times-Picayune
rose to the occasion. One of the reporters there was an alumni, and he came back to talk with us about what was going on. He told us stories about his time reporting in the Superdome. How he lost his car but would sometimes canoe through the flooded streets to get a story. In the book, Chris Rose talks about how they reported without an office, wiring the information to Baton Rouge.
And take Rose himself, for an example. He was the ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST. And overnight his column turned into a series on the trials, tribulations and the unique people, those who survived and those who didn't make it or couldn't take the aftermath, of the city. The columns range from portraits of a man who walks around taking magnets off discarded refrigerators and a piano store whose business becomes not only selling pianos but also hearing people's stories of their memories of their old pianos - a relic of a past time now lost in the storm to Chris Rose's earliest memories of first coming to New Orleans after RUNNING AWAY from a hurricane to humorous excoriations of Mayor Nagin's gaffes.
They're really, really great stuff. "They make you laugh AND cry" is such a cliche of reviewing, but it's true here. Rose's portraits of a large sign nearly destroyed by Katrina spinning in the air as Rita blows through or of a couple whose suicide pact was only half fulfilled meshes with a couple cheering when their house falls down (because flood insurance wouldn't have been enough to fix it, but home insurance would replace it now that the roof caved in) and Rose carrying a bag full of naked Barbies through the airport when he goes back to Maryland, where his children are staying. It sounds messy, but like life, this stuff works.
Two things become clear about the author as you read this book. One: You can see he's starting to lose it. It's hard to notice sometimes, as Rose downplays events which should give him greater cause for alarm, like when he flips out at a guy in a parking lot for littering or he falls on the ground and can't move for hours. I knew the ultimate ending, but I can't imagine if I didn't, one of his last columns in the book would have still been a shock. Two: He will go to bat, and often goes to bat HARD for the worth of New Orleans. "About Mardi Gras: We're having it," he says. When nine people write angry letters to USA Today
saying rebuilding the Superdome was frivolous, he writes a whole column defending it as important not only for the economy, but also the spirit of the city because in 2006 they're STILL talking about the hurricane and not something like sports, which everyone everywhere else gets to talk about. I hate sports, but after that column I wasn't going to argue with him.
The one thing I really didn't like about this book, though, was that the columns were arranged by subject and not timeline. I get the idea of related columns following each other, but I'd rather have seen the progression of time as a whole. As it is, the hodgepodge left me feeling a bit unmoored. I also wasn't too impressed with his college commencement speech. The "I'm so old and uncool! Look at me be self-deprecating!" shtick went on far too long.
Still, I do recommend this book for those who like really good first person journalism and want a ground's eye view of what went on after Katrina. Scrounge your own Borders Express bin to see if they have it, because it deserves to be read.Read here for more on Chris Rose.