Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman

In today's world, newspapers and magazines may be finding themselves displaced by the web sites, podcasts and RSS feeds more and more, but there's still an innate fascination in what goes on behind the scenes with those who report the news. And that innate fascination is the root behind Tom Rachman's quite enjoyable book, The Imperfectionists. Set at a fictional English-language newspaper in Rome (think the International Herald-Tribune), the book follows—in somewhat related and connected stories/chapters—reporters, editors, fact-checkers, news directors, copy-editors and management staff at "the paper." (So referred to because you're never told what the paper is actually called.) Interspersed with these stories are anecdotes on the founding of the paper, and how it increasingly falls victim to less-involved family members of the founder.

Almost every one of these vignettes is really enjoyable, and many could even be the source of its own novel. From the opening story of a past-his-prime reporter in Paris still trying to make it, to the almost-makes-you-cringe tale of the paper's chief financial officer flying from Italy to the US seated next to a staffer she recommended get fired, Rachman created some terrific characters and situations, and I really felt as if I got to know a little bit more about what made each one tick. One chapter, which chronicled a novice trying to be a string reporter in the Middle East, grated on me so much I actually skipped it, but I really enjoyed everything else. If you're interested in the human situation and following the foibles of people working together in close quarters for years, I definitely recommend this book.

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