Book Recommendation: Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
Growing up, my dad taught me many important lessons. They included things like vitamin-popping, punctuality, and the lesson he reiterated the most: “Katie, people aren’t rational. Remember that.” Bestselling author Jon Ronson and my father are of the same mind. In Lost at Sea, Ronson takes us on a journey through the weirdness, superstition, and delusions that consume “ordinary” people. The book traverses the outer reaches of normality in outer reaches of the globe: North Pole, Alaska, chateaus in northern France, with various pit stops in between. Ronson hunts down interesting people like Guy Fieri hunts down diners, and the results are just as meaty.
Ronson splits his work into five parts, categorized as “The Strange Things We’re Willing to Believe,” “High-Flying Lives,” “Everyday Difficulty,” “Stepping Over the Line,” and “Justice.” There are multiple tales within each section, but I hesitate to call them short stories, as it is only when taken together that the work could really sing.
From a reclusive billionaire renaissance woman commissioning a robotic replicas of her one true love to Stanley Kubrick to a down-on-his-luck-Englishman-gone-murderer, the characters in Lost at Sea sound larger than life. But Ronson’s gift is his union of irony and matter of factness. Surely his characters do not seem normal, but he debunks the notion that “normal” really exists for any of us. His profiles of the most ludicrous scenarios never involve judgement or patronization.
Above all, Jon Ronson is fair. Before discounting a radical religious movement, he does his darndest to speak in tongues. Before believing that everyone in North Pole loves Christmas, he seeks out the one girl who doesn’t. Many of the most powerful moments in the book are simple reported speech. It is impossible not to admire the clever, empathetic journalist who could elicit such complex statements of human existence. Try this: “What we’re doing...compels us to think about all the things we should be thinking about. What is life? What is intelligence?...And if nothing else, it is a great deal of fun.”
That, readers, was in reference to making contact with aliens.
While my old man’s warning of irrationality may have kept me cautious at 4-way stop signs, Jon Ronson has taught me that illogic is more pervasive than we ever could have imagined. That television evangelist, Paul McKenna? He’ll teach you to manipulate people by touching their elbows. That cute 8-year-old on the bus? She thinks she’s an Indigo child who can telepathically communicate with other Indigo children. And you? Well, you won’t be able to stop turning pages.
Source: I was given an ARC from the publisher, Riverhead Books.