Like most journalists, I'm a junkie for journalism books. So when The New York Times reviews a new novel about the newspaper business twice in the same week, using words like "splendid," "spectacular," "marvelous" and "hilarious," I pay attention. When one of those raves, on the front of the Sunday Book Review, comes from the terrific Christopher Buckley, I'm on Amazon ordering the book before I even make it to the jump.
The book is "The Imperfectionists," by Tom Rachman, and it lives up to the effusive praise. It's the tale of a newspaper, newsroom and newspeople in decline from a glorious past that reads, as they say, as if it was ripped from today's headlines. Or at least today's Romenesko headlines. It's a hoot, not the least because it gets so many details of the news business and the characters who populate it so right.
The book's unnamed Rome-based English-language daily bears more than a passing resemblance to the International Herald Tribune—in fact, it bears more than a passing resemblance to just about any newsroom you can think of. It's filled with a menagerie of newsroom characters, lovingly lampooned: the swashbuckling foreign correspondent, the pathologically bitter copy-desk lifer, the grammar and style Nazi, the burn-out case, the bloodless corporate "suit," the clueless boy publisher, the slightly too-slick executive editor. And so on.
They're all there, and they cleverly interact in what amounts to a series of short stories about each character, all skillfully interlocked to tell the larger story. Rachman does an amazing job of bringing these people and their travails to life, and he gives each chapter a nifty little twist at the end to make the reader smile, or frown, or raise an eyebrow.
The "Imperfectionists" ranks up there with Evelyn Waugh's infamous "Scoop" and Calvin Trillin's underrated "Floater" as books that get the workings of the journalism racket just right and nail the oddities and frailties of the news business and the people who inhabit it. Appearing now, as the industry goes through wrenching change, Rachman's wonderful book is perfectly timed.
"The Imperfectionists" is a loving eulogy for journalism as we thought we knew it. It may be the last great newspaper novel, celebrating a world that—as the book documents in its bittersweet way—is rapidly fading away. Don't miss it.