Over a month ago I mentioned that I was reading Gene Weingarten’s book Fiddler in the Subway.
I lied. I read the introduction, then used it as a coaster for the rest of the summer while I dicked around on Reddit and watched every episode of Breaking Bad. I’m not sorry for spending 30+ hours watching meth shenanigans with Walter White (seriously, if you’re not watching, you’re missing out) but I am sorry I didn’t dig into this book sooner. I’m two chapters in, and Weingarten’s doing a pretty swell job of restoring my faith in my chosen profession.
I’ll be honest and say that spending day after day in the newsroom sapped me of some of the blind idealism that’s taken me this far in journalism. It’s one thing to crank out a couple well-received stories a semester on your own time with unlimited space, it’s another to be constantly bombarded with assignments and deadlines and interviews and notes. It wears you down after a while. It makes you question who you’re working your ass off for. Who’s really reading it? Who really cares?
I once had a caller who told me that I should be a dog walker, because it would do more for society than the stuff I was writing for The Star.
Maybe he was right. There are thousands of cramped canines who could benefit from my legwork, and maybe that would earn me more karma than writing a story about a local oil painter or a gay Presbyterian minister. But Weingarten’s book, a collection of his best stories for The Washington Post, is a perfect example of why features matter. The guy has an amazing ability to see the deeper meaning in the everyday.
He sees an overpriced Washington children’s entertainer, explores his flaws and deconstructs his psyche without destroying his reputation.
He finds a box of musty old books and gives long-denied praise to an unknown literary legend.
These stories don’t expose injustice. They don’t hold criminals accountable or educate the public on matters of national importance.
But they exist. They show us the importance of the mundanities that we see day after day. And if someone like me isn’t around to see those things and think about them and write about them, will anyone?