Every good review, every message of praise of my book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, makes my day.
Two reviews, both by former colleagues and lengthy for an Amazon page, have been especially rewarding.
The latest popped up on Wednesday, written by Ron Cohen, an editor who encouraged me when I was a rookie reporter at United Press International in New York, and went on to become managing editor of UPI.
I hesitate to use the word “literature” in reviewing a memoir — mostly out of fear that my old UPI colleague Ken Becker will cross the border into his native land, track me down, and kill me. But literature it is, in the finest sense.
The stories are interesting, the pace compelling, the writing snappy. There are many phrases I wish I had written and would like to steal — one of my personal measurements of quality “literature.” The central character performs some feats of derring-do, but understands that even brash and bluster sometimes encounter uncrossable lines.
Having recently completed a memoir, I know full well what a slog it can be. Mine took seven years — there is a fine line between braggadocio and clear-eyed self-examination, and Ken Becker has toggled it beautifully. Read this excellent book and take a journey through the mysterious world of journalism that denizens of “The Outside World” rarely are afforded.
The first review posted came from the first person – as far as I know – to buy and read the book, Ken Ernhofer, a favorite coworker from my CBC days, now at CNN in Atlanta.
Ken Becker weaves his own life story as a disinterested kid and baseball fan growing up in New York, through his first marriage and travels abroad, into journalism with some of its legendary figures. Ken will have you laughing or outraged and yelling at him, probably both at the same time. He is a blunt, no-nonsense character — yeah they once made movies about this kind of guy — who writes news leads that will grab you by the throat. He’s been insulted by at least one prime minister. And he’s made enemies all over the place, but also lifelong friends. The section about how he taught journalism to university kids who couldn’t write has so much good advice about writing, news gathering, and life it could be a textbook, but no textbook was ever so entertaining. It helps if you know something about journalism, but you do not need to be a reporter to like this book. Breathing will suffice.
Yeah, I know, a rave on a screen is not a printed page in the New York Times Book Review. But I’m operating at a disadvantage here.
I didn’t have a literary agent to sell my manuscript to a publishing house which, in turn, has a publicity department to courier review copies to newspapers and other media, and publicists to promote the book.
I’ve had to solicit reviews in emails to book editors at the major newspapers in the United States and Canada.
I tailored the message to fit the paper, its geography and readership, added the Amazon link to The Expat Files, and ended with the same line: If you are interested — but not enough to buy the book — I would be happy to send you a review copy.
I have no idea whether the Times, or the Washington Post, or the Globe and Mail, or the Toronto Star, or any book editor, has ordered my book. None has asked for a review copy.
In the meantime, I pass my days playing publicist – as I am doing now – and taking pleasure from every review, every note from readers:
- From my cousin Brian Meyer, the rabbi (pictured above), in Portland, Oregon: “I am loving this book … Beautifully written. About the grit of life.”
- From Hugh Wesley, a great companion with a camera on assignments for the Toronto Sun: “A good read – smooth as butter.”
- From my son-in-law, Hugh McCrie: “I just flew through this book, only disappointed when I ran out of pages.”
- From my accountant, Peter Newhouse: “Excellent story … Well written and easy to read.”
- From my old tabletop-baseball pal Gord Shank: “More like a fireside chat with an extremely interesting journalist than reading a book.”
- From an old acquaintance not forgotten, Greg Eby from Thunder Bay: “I really enjoyed it … Very well done! I hope it is widely read, and a ‘best-seller’!”
Why are they all men?
Sorry. Almost forgot an email from an old drinking companion and fellow scribe in Vancouver, Christine Hearn: “I loved your book. I read it in two huge gulps … What memories … Those early newsroom years seem like yesterday. The clatter of the typewriters, people yelling ‘copy,’ deskers screaming, long nights at the press club.”
Look forward to the next one.