Review: The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman

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To Go: 87

Book List:
11. Blue Monday — Nicci French
12. Mrs. Kennedy and Me — Clint Hill
13. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman

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The moment I read the description for Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, I knew I had to buy it. No book has called out to me quite the way this one did. Unsurprisingly, it’s about journalists, the news, and the fate of journalism as an industry. Also unsurprisingly, I’d recommend it to all journalists. (And even people who aren’t journalists!)

In the interest of making myself look better, I actually finished this book on the train home on Thursday, but didn’t get a chance to review it until now, because of work and family commitments.

The Imperfectionists is a collection of vignette-style stories that focus on a group of journalists who work at an English-language newspaper in Rome, each with their own concerns outside of their shared workplace. Woven through the chapters is the history of the paper, from its impulsive founding by millionaire Cyrus Ott to its eventual downfall decades later, including a look at all the people who’ve had a hand in running it.

Tom Rachman knows his way around a newsroom, and in The Imperfectionists fabulously intertwines the newspaper’s growing list of problems—no website, no overseas coverage, and a dying readership—with that of the journalists who populate it. It’s at once an examination of an industry that’s in the midst of redefining itself for a digital age, and a character-driven narrative, and both parts are executed flawlessly. The Imperfectionists is filled with neurotic, troubled characters who make you hate them one minute and root of them another; laugh-out-loud moments and a couple of journalism inside-jokes; and more than a few heartbreaking twists.

For the past two days I’ve been trying to isolate in my mind two or three stand-out chapters, but that turned out to be a difficult task: each vignette was in its own way perfect, even with the radically different tones they set, and I started to wonder if I could actually pick favourites. But I guffawed my way through Corrections Editor Herman Cohen’s chapter (“Sadism Hussein” is the best typographical error any journalist, real or fictional, has ever made) and Cairo Stringer Winston Cheung’s failings in Egypt; was moved by Kathleen Solson, the editor-in-chief who flirts with the idea of an affair, and how News Editor Craig Menzies’s pride gets the best of him with his live-in girlfriend; and hated Copy Editor Ruby Zaga until the very last pages, when suddenly I wanted to cry for her.

Without a doubt, The Imperfectionists is one of my all-time favourite books. And on that note, I wanted to leave you with a quote from it that stuck with me long after I put the book down:

“‘The Internet is to news,’ he said, ‘what car horns are to music.'”

Next book: I think it’ll be Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler by Trudi Kanter.

– Kelsey


4 thoughts on “Review: The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman

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