inspiration reading

YOCR #16 – The News: A User’s Manual

Book: The News: A User's Manual by Alain de Botton.
Book: The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton.

I wasn’t sure whether to count this book among my Year of Creative Reading, but decided I must when I realized it gave me an idea for a class I could create. Hey, if a book is that inspiring, surely it should count toward creative reading.

I found this book quite by accident at the library. It’s called “The News: A User’s Manual” and was written by Alain de Botton. After looking through de Botton’s list of other published works, including “Status Anxiety,” “Religion for Atheists,” “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,” and “The Architecture of Happiness,” I’ve concluded I need to read more of his books. The writing style in “The News: A User’s Manual” has cinched that for me and I’ve already got “The Architecture of Happiness” queued up by my bedside.

The language usage in “The News”  is gorgeous, at once complex yet easy to comprehend. It reminds me of how Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond speak on the British car show Top Gear (which is on the tellie as I write this). I see from an online search that de Botton is Swiss-born but makes his home in Britain, so I don’t know whether to attribute some of his language usage to Britain or Switzerland or Europe in general. I just know that it sounds better to my ear than American English, although I would have to do more reading and comparisons in order to figure out why. It’s simply a pleasure to read.

As for the inspiration, I received it from a section near the front of the book, starting on page 26 with this quote:

“News organizations are coy about admitting that what they present us with each day are minuscule extracts of narratives whose true shape and logic can generally only emerge from a perspective of months or even years — and that it would hence often be wiser to hear the story in chapters rather than snatched sentences.”

Yes! Having worked as a local historian for the past 19 years, poring over past newspapers attempting to put together a full historical narrative on a story, this is exactly what I’ve experienced. Only I’ve had the benefit of being able to peruse the sweep of over a hundred years of newspapers in order to reassemble a particular bit of history. This is a process that can take years, although not as many years as it took for the original story to unfold. The ravine story I wrote recently is a case in point. I kept running across hints about the local ravine as I was looking up other news items and after 18 years or so, I finally had enough to figure out what had happened to it.

My experience coupled with de Botton’s description of how the news is presented gives me the idea to teach a class using past newspapers in order to show people how to follow a story over time. I’ve got to suss out how best to do this, but the inspiration is now there thanks to “The News.”


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