Book Review - Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper
My intention when I started reading "Dispatches from the Edge" by Anderson Cooper was to understand why everybody in the world loved this guy.
I mean I know guys who say when they watch cable news, they only watch Cooper and girls who say they desperately want to wax him, and anytime Oprah needs a special report, she goes to either Lisa Ling or straight to Anderson Cooper, who as a CNN anchor was voted one of People magazine's most beautiful. Who knew gray hair could be so sexy?
I was no fan of Anderson Cooper. I first saw him when he was anchoring the early morning news on ABC, occasionally. I didn't think much of him at the time. He was just the funny, young-looking guy with white hair. I thought he was charismatic and I later remembered him as the host of the The Amazing Race-like, ABC show "The Mole," but since his time on CNN, I've never really given him a second thought.
So, I was curious as to why this man was so universally liked, why HarperCollins would pay him a million dollars to write this book, why it would spend a couple of weeks as #1 on the bestseller's list.
But, it would only take me six pages into the book to realize the answer.
I haven't done a lot of reading since college, so I'm no expert, and most of the books I've read so far this year I've hated.
Stephen King's "The Cell," I hated. Macaulay Culkin's "Junior," I hated, and Ann Coulter's "Godless" was too politically vitriolic for me to really enjoy. And, I still have to read the new book by Larry McMurtry, the Oscar winning screenwriter for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Also on my must-read list is the new book by Augusten Burroughs, who has a new film based on one of his novels coming out next month, as well as the latest writings of Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike.
But, as of right now, I can say whole-heartedly that Anderson Cooper's memoir is going on my list of favorite books of 2006, and yes it is a memoir but in light of the whole James Frey thing, Cooper does put an author's note at the end stating that everything in his book is factually correct.
In short, I loved this book. I really did, and not just because the book itself is short. It's a quick read (unlike this email) but it's an effective one, effective because he only reports those thoughts and experiences, which had the most effect on him and by the end you're left satisfied knowing who this man is or at least knowing what drives him.
And, I don't know if it's what the average American out there watching Cooper on TV has picked up on, but reading his book and learning what drives him is what made me fall in love with him or at least respect and appreciate him more than I did before.
It's even stranger when I find myself identifying with the person I'm reading about, and I definitely did that here, seeing and hearing a bit of myself in his thoughts and feelings, but he and I are far from being the same person.
Both Cooper and I work in the same industry, but I envy Anderson and can only dream of aspiring to become half the journalist he is. Both he and I are born storytellers and work to use cameras to do so, but with Anderson you know it goes beyond just a general interest. Journalism is like breathing to him.
And, unlike me, Anderson has a courage and a conviction that I long for. This is a guy who only a few years out of college at the age of 24, after only working as a fact checker, takes a fake press pass and a Hi-8 video camera and goes to Thailand all by himself, no protection, no training, to talk to Burmese rebels amidst mortar gunfire.
Anderson goes on to describe how he was able to sell his video to various news organizations impressed by his boldness, aware of the fact that he could have been killed, as he at times blindly and sometimes stupidly puts himself in harm's way.
He again goes by himself, shooting with his own camera and equipment, as a one-man-band into war zones and desolate areas like Bosnia, Somalia and Niger.
But, how Anderson sets up the book is that he starts out his story on New Year's of 2005, as he's covering the Times Square festivities for CNN. You detect a loneliness in him, despite being in a crowd of thousands, an uncomfortable nature. He definitely doesn't want to be there. He gets a call and we then follow him as he's sent to Sri Lanka to report on the devastating Tsunami, which just hit a few days earlier.
Anderson gets there and he sees the death and destruction and literally floodgates open for him, and what they are are memories, memories of death and destruction he's seen before, death that's all very similar, and from then on we follow Anderson for the whole year, as he goes from Indonesia to Iraq to Africa and finally back to America to witness the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And, throughout the various experiences, he keeps flashing back showing us the similarities of previous experiences. He points out, "Every report is the same: incalculable loss, unspeakable pain."
Anderson describes himself as being like a shark when it comes to journalism. He says it feels like "cold, silver steel skin... never resting, always in motion... hurtling across oceans, from one conflict to the next, one disaster to another, I sometimes believe it's motion that keeps me alive..."
But, before you think him some kind of sadist, getting off on seeing tragedy, or as a danger junky or some kind of thrill-seeker, you learn that the reasons is that Anderson has some deep-seated issues that he may not ever get over, and that his need to be in the thick of important stories, foregoing much of a personal life, isolating himself from friends and family, comes from him trying to deal with those issues the only way he knows how.
Anderson writes in a style that's very much like a reporter. In fact, the whole book reads like a collection of newspaper articles, but his language flows so smoothly even when he's jumping back and forth in time that it's like you're in his mind, as he's remembering the past and connecting it to the present and you go with it.
I like his descriptions of things like how a loved ones' death can create pieces in your head of his or her life as "fractals, shards of memory, sharp as broken glass."
I like the scenes and incidents he chooses to tell us about that are at times disturbing like a malnourished child in Niger whose skin starts to peel off to a floating corpse in New Orleans whose shoelaces have to be tied to a stop sign to keep it from "swimming" away.
I like his sense of humor from his analysis of the Civil War, being that his father's descended from Confederates and his mother's relatives come from Union soldiers, as being the battle between mommy's side and daddy's side to his comparison to the late and overabundant troop response in Louisiana as being like the storm troopers in STAR WARS.
I like his various movie references to films, which if you're a film geek like me you'll get instantly like his references to THE GRADUATE, to HOTEL RWANDA, APOCALYPSE NOW, and even to GONE WITH THE WIND.
I like. I just like the kind of person he is, the kind who cares and who's so not about superficial bullshit, who's honest and real, a man who's really of the world, who's seen it and who comprehends what's important about it, but a man who's not perfect and who still wrestles with his own ghosts, a man who rises to the three edicts I set for myself and anyone searching for success, passion, perseverance and perspicacity. I loved this book.