Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ann Patchett incites a riot

I recently read an article in the travel section of the Wall Street Journal by novelist and travel journalist Ann Patchett. Her piece, Did I Kill Gourmet Magazine?, bemoans the loss of a decade of opulence when Patchett was sent to report on worldwide destinations on the now defunct magazine's expense account. With tongue in cheek, she doesn't hesitate to implicate herself in having taken full advantage of her position:

"When I told Sertl [her editor] the trip should include Venice, he reminded me that the opera house in Venice had burned to the ground ten years prior. I said that I still thought it was important, you know, spiritually. He understood."

My girlfriend had set aside the article for me, thinking it both illuminating and funny. I did too. Guilty as charged! And though, as of today, 243 Facebook fans also "like this," less fortunate readers were "infuriated by this self-absorbed, self-congratulatory article."

Even professional travel writer, Kara Williams, aka 'ColoradoGal,' who usually sticks to blogging on destinations, resorts and hotels at The Vacation Gals, devoted her October 17 post to her furor and offense at Patchett's stance. Admitting her envy over the author's good fortune while the rest of us are working piecemeal, Williams is "just shocked and incredulous that she’d put these words on a screen."

Williams calls Patchett "boastful, attention-seeking, and arrogant." Most readers (of the original article and the blog) follow suit with their name-calling. Patchett is cocky, off-putting, obnoxious. Vain and vapid. Self-interested, self-absorbed and self-congratulatory. And to think she made me laugh.

Williams insists Patchett is "not funny to the hundreds of other freelance writers who are also lamenting the demise of good-paying magazines in recent years." While I'd like to count myself among the mourners, Patchett failed to incite in me the hostility engendered by so many others for her "blithely unconcerned tone."

With a hint of irony Patchett does point to her own fallibility: "Did I think about the fact that I was probably bankrupting the magazine?" She reveals that "magazine work was a beautiful party and we all just figured it would go on forever," admitting to her own greed within the context of an industry not unlike any other corporate culture of excess. Call me whatever you want, but I enjoyed the comic glimpse of the heyday and its absurdity.

Patchett's article is "a snapshot of a mostly bygone era," responded Tim Leffel, award-winning travel writer, author of Travel Writing 2.0 and editor of Perceptive Travel online magazine, "the same way you read about the decadence of Studio 54 or Apple Records (the latter having an office with regularly refilled bowls of hash in each office). Or when you watch Mad Men and go 'Hey, my dad’s office didn’t have all that free booze and hookers on call for clients. No fair!' "

Now you're talking. Show me the martinis and shrimp cocktails!

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