The Book Catapult

A Year of Reading, Week Ten

Books read (all or part of) this week:
The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

I know that last week I was sure I would I finish and write about Justin Go’s book for this post, but I drifted into Charlie LeDuff’s book Detroit this past week instead. (I also considered writing about the LA Times Festival of Books-Amazon-thing, but it sort of exhausts me at the moment, so that might have to wait.) It’s been a long week, what can I say. So, Detroit:

“But what you gonna do? You ain’t gonna be reincarnated, so you got to do the best you can with the moment you got. Do the best you can and try to be good. You dig?”

I did. We are born to a time. What you do with it is on you. Do the best you can. Try to be good. And live.

Charlie LeDuff – GQ’s reigning Madman of the Year and bad-boy TV reporter – grew up in the outskirts of Detroit but left it behind him as a young man, like so many others have. He went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the New York Times, mainly covering issues of race and poverty in America. He left his post with the Times in 2007 amid some controversy – the way Charlie tells it, his editors had a dislike for his coverage of “losers” – and returned to his hometown to raise his daughter among family and a semblance of “a culture.” He took a reporting job with the fading Detroit News and spent the next few years covering the decline of what was once one of the richest cities in America. 

Detroit might be the epicenter, a funhouse mirror and future projection of America. An incredibly depressed city in its death swoon.

And, man, forgive me, but Detroit is a fucked up place. This book – Detroit: An American Autopsy – reads a bit like several dozen LeDuff articles stitched together, but it still packs a wallop. Massive City Hall corruption, an arson epidemic, rampant urban decay, murder after murder, lack of police response to just about anything, a fire department with broken equipment and no funding, and a general, oppressive depression hanging over the whole city. But LeDuff’s point in all this death & destruction is to bring an awareness to the plight of this crumbling metropolis and to be one of the bright spots in the city he loves. If everyone turns their back on Detroit, including the people who are left living there, what’s the point? There’s still a city to be saved there – a place that deserves to be lifted up from its own ashes. A place where no matter how bad it may appear is still home to many, many people. It’s not just a wasteland, a lost cause, a dead city. LeDuff proves with every sentence that there is very much life still left in the shell of Detroit Rock City.

LeDuff’s raw intensity – his fury at the injustice of it all – is downright enviable, to be honest. Which lead me to wonder what is in my own life that I feel that passionate about? And if there is something, what am I doing about it? How am I furthering whatever my own cause might be?

I have to admit, I’m hardly feeling the writing thing this week – part of why this post is so much later than I’d have liked. The first quote I excerpted here from LeDuff is pulled from the very end of the book – and really struck me in its simplicity. “We are born to a time. What you do with it is on you.” It’s such a simple sentiment and not anything I haven’t heard or thought before, but I’ve been thinking about my own career path a lot lately and wondering where that path might be leading me. At 38 – and 13 years after my first bookstore job – I’m still not sure. I’m in a huge working-life rut at the moment and I’m not sure how to get myself out. 

But I do know that it’s on me.

How’s that for a book review?
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