Freelancin', Social Interaction and Air-quotes Gone Wrong
To be honest, I don't even know where to begin, talking about John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead, except to say that I'm going to order his other book. I really like the stuff about the freelancers, as it made a bit nostalgic. In two ways, first, off I can only imagine how mucn nicer it must have been in many ways to freelance before the internet. Based on my own search for freelance work (mainly from around 04-06, when I was a journalism major), the whole dynamic seemed to be significantly different. (Perhaps the other difference is that I wrote primarily for crappy little publications that would accept work from virtually anyone). Anyway, it seemed like most places called for specific coverage of events or topics, rather than having writers just attend events, and then send stories off to whoever would publish them. Alternatively, for the less timely stuff they just took open submissions and either published you or didn't. Again this can mostly be attributed to my lack of a degree, but I think in part it probably has to do with the internet. It seems like for a similar story now, it would be a whole lot easier to just find some freelancers in Charleston whose plane tickets you don't have to pay for. Obviously, this is different for regular reporters for the major news outlets, but for freelance, it would seem to make more sense.
Anyway, that said, I really think he nailed the attitude of a jaded freelancer. Just the whole idea of "excreting" twelve hundred words, pretty much sums it up. I remember a two day Forest Service conference that I reported on for the American Receation Coalition in Boise, Idaho, (I lived about 4 hours away) which was mind-numbingly boring, and despite my youthful enthusiasm for the occupation, "excreting" was pretty much how I'd describe the process through which I wrote the article. It's even more apt to describe virtually ALL of the online content I ever did. Anyway, I guess this story just reminded me of that experience.
On to the writing aspect of it:
The way in which Whitehead perfectly articulates social interactions is just insanely skillful. The extended metaphors he uses to describe minor events works out splendidly. The scene on the plane was awesome, the way in which he was able to accurately relate all the thoughts and feelings throughout a subtle, silent, yet supremely realistic social interaction was completely brilliant. The level of detail, coupled with clever imagery and sardonic humor just really makes it a joy to read.
Plus, any story that involves a man losing his eye during an air-quoting accident is just ridiculously funny.