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Book Review The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten

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Gene Weingarten’s latest offering carries one of the longest subtitles ever, The True Story of What Happened When a World-Class Violinist Played for Handouts…and Other Virtuoso Performances by America’s Foremost Feature Writer.

If you know this double Pullitzer-winning storyteller’s humorous, excellent writing, you’ll probably want to own this collection of some of the brightest gems in his crown.

He’s a long-standing feature and profile writer for The Washington Post, with a humor column so beloved and accessible that it is syndicated all over the country (where newspapers are left that can afford to buy syndication material).

The book’s title introduces one of the two articles for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing (in 2008). The narrative arrives, however, at the end of the book. Inside lurks this year’s Pulitzer-winning feature about dead babies in cars. It sounds bald and cruel, stated that way, but Weingarten effectively demonstrates the power of naked news to jar us out of complacency.

Author Gene Weingarten

His writing also reveals his softer, gentler side, as in the piece about his daughter leaving for college. It’s a joyfully anticipated state of affairs, he confirms at the beginning and then slips through denial until at the end, he’s injuring himself throwing and catching a baseball until it’s lost. In the pouring rain.

To my mind, warped as it may be after finishing this book, no one should miss “The Great Zucchini” story about an incredibly gifted children’s performer who commanded large sums of money for his appearances, yet had a weakness that left him nearly destitute. Often.

And the rare profile of Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comics exposes the breadth and depth of Weingarten’s research efforts to produce a well-rounded view of a subject. “Pardon My French” will have you snorting whatever you’re drinking as the writer fails in attempt after attempt to verify American stereotypes of the French.

Weingarten claims to have been Dave Barry’s editor at The Miami Herald and to have learned all he knows about humor from him. I think not. How could he have edited Barry’s work without knowing how to humor himself?

If only he’d been my editor when I wrote for the Herald, maybe I’d be in Barry’s underpants. If you want to know why I ended the last sentence with that particular word, you’ll have to read the introduction to Weingarten’s book. It should be mandatory reading for every journalist. It might even help fictionalists.

Barry, however, claims that, “Gene Weingarten is the best writer in American journalism. He’s a master at finding a story that nobody else would have thought to pursue, researching it doggedly, and telling it in such a riveting way that you feel as though you’re reading a terrific novel.” Hear! Hear! I couldn’t have said it better myself, and that’s why I copied it from the back cover.

Weingarten has also written Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs, The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death, and I’m With Stupid: One Man. One Woman, all published in the last decade. To follow Weingarten’s guiding principle of good storytelling:  read them at your peril for you’ll probably die laughing. What a way to go!

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About Georganna Hancock

Retired San Diego publisher, journalist, freelance editor and writer, blogged almost daily for eight years at A WRITERS EDGE. She helped writers on the path to writing success with critiques, edits and publishing advice. Find her author page on Amazon and her tweets on Twitter, where she's aka @GLHancock. Georganna's first writing appeared in print in the 1960s. She worked as a journalist for many years. She reviewed books for the FORT PIERCE NEWS TRIBUNE and THE LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL and wrote for THE MIAMI HERALD, regional publications, and many national magazines. She was a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the San Diego Professional Editors Network and the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, for which she served as Web Manager. Books reviewed may have been received as gifts. All her writings are protected by U.S. copyright law.