As the digital media bubble pops, journalism is in "panic" mode. Read our take.
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Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Coach Eric Taylor he's not. You'd never catch Buzz Bissinger, author of the book behind the wildly popular TV series Friday Night Lights, rousing teenagers for an early morning practice. (And for that matter, you'd never catch his football coach protagonist going off on Twitter about "juice douching.") Yet Bissinger has remained engaged with the world of sports, regularly churning up strong reactions with his columns, which tackle subjects like Linsanity and how Americans love football because of its violence. A 57-year-old father of three boys, he has managed a successful career as a journalist and author, nabbing a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting at the Philadelphia Inquirer and serving as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
But for his new nonfiction book, Father's Day, Bissinger turns to something a little more intimate: his tumultuous journey as a parent. The book centers on his relationship with his son Zach, then 24, a sweet-natured savant destined to spend his life bagging groceries and believing in Santa due to brain damage incurred at birth. In an attempt to feel closer to Zach, Bissinger drags him on a road trip from Philly to Los Angeles—"the worst cross-country route ever contemplated," it turns out, thanks in part to his son's predilection for amusement parks and distaste for scenic landmarks.
While Zach is compelling, it is Bissinger's wry and uncharacteristically self-deprecating meditations on his shortcomings as a father, a guardian, and a writer that elevate the book from a troubled parenting memoir to a worthwhile rumination on the meaning of life. I spoke with him a month before the release of After Friday Night Lights, a Kindle Single published as a follow-up to his best-selling 1990 book—despite Bissinger's insistence that he's sick to death of hearing about that book.
Mother Jones: What led you to drag Zach on a road trip?
Buzz Bissinger: I wanted to do something where we could spend real time together. Cross-country trips to me have been seminal, whether it was with college friends or my future wife Lisa, and I wanted to share that with Zach. Unfortunately, he really didn't like the car very much. But as the trip progressed, we really became closer and closer and fell into a rhythm of being on the road.
The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign seeks to stop new coal plants and shut down existing ones. Our handy map shows you which proposed plants have been blocked, which ones are still progressing, and which ones are already operating.
For the past decade, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has helped toss out two-thirds of 249 new coal plant proposals, avoiding more than 654 million metric tons of carbon that would have seeped into the atmosphere each year. Since 2001, only 23 of those proposals have transformed into functioning coal plants, while 167 have been defeated. Next up on the agenda? Closing all of the some 580 coal plants already existing around the nation. Beyond Coal hopes to close a third of them by 2020 and all of them by 2030, and has employed a full-time staff "working on nothing but figuring out how to shut down these plants and replace them with clean energy," says Sierra Club's executive director Michael Brune.
Various Artists The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12and Beyond Universal Republic
The soundtrack to the highly anticipated film version of The Hunger Games (opening Friday) draws inspiration from the futuristic Appalachia that's home to Katniss, our young protagonist. Funny, then, how it sounds much like a playlist one might create from some of this era's hottest indie, roots, and pop stars. Featuring tunes from the likes of The Decemberists, Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire, and Punch Brothers, the star-studded roster didn't exactly transport me into author Suzanne Collins' post-apocalyptic world. But The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12and Beyond has its moments. Its piercing lullabies, for instance, ring true to the story's emotional angst and loss of innocence, and...District 12 makes for good listening, even if its intended identity is never fully clear.
Set in a future Dark Ages, Collins' dystopic young-adult trilogy reimagines America as a feudalistic society controlled by a decadent Capitol where reality TV, plastic surgery, and brutal repression reign supreme. Katniss lives in one of 13 zones under the Capitol's control, a mining province called District 12. The plot surrounds a morbid annual competition forced on the impoverished districts, each of which—in a distant echo of Shirley Jackson's classic short story "The Lottery"—must select two of its teenagers to battle to the death in the Capitol's surrealistic amphitheater until one champion remains. The battle is broadcast as entertainment for the citizens of the Capitol, whose hunger for melodrama rivals the literal hunger of the combants and their families back home. Katniss is a scrappy and fearless heroine (weapon of choice: bow and arrow). The story centers on her struggles to protect her younger sister and mother, choose between love interests, and, oh, yeah, dodge her bloodthirsty opponents.
The meteorologist-turned-adventurer Felicity Aston has had a soft spot for Antarctica ever since she learned of the ill-fated British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who loomed as large for her growing up, she says, as characters like King Arthur and Robin Hood. But unlike most of us, Aston never abandoned her dream of emulating her childhood hero. In January the 34-year-old became the first woman to cross Antarctica alone and the first human to traverse the 1,084 mile-long continent without dogs or snowmobiles—although, because she had two food drop-offs, Guinness World Records won't credit her for a solo crossing.
In any case, the trek took her 59 days of pulling two sledges behind her on skis, securing her tent against ferocious windstorms, navigating glaciers, and rationing a small tub of peanut butter—her only luxury. In the process, she fell even more in love with "that white place at the bottom of the globe." I spoke with Aston last month, two weeks after her return from the Hercules Inlet, where her journey ended.
Mother Jones: When did you first become interested in Antarctica?
Felicity Aston: I've always had this appreciation that Antarctica was somewhere where you went to prove yourself and where all these kind of legendary people were made. After university, I got a job with the British Antarctic survey and was sent to a research station for three years as a meteorologist looking at climate and ozone. And that kind of bit me with the bug, really. How do you follow that up? Certainly not a 9-to-5 in a London office somewhere.
Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room
By Geoff Dyer
Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 sci-fi film, Stalker, left such an impression on Geoff Dyer that he felt obliged to pay it homage decades later. The film—not a prerequisite for the book—follows three men through a postindustrial paradise toward a room where one's ultimate wish is granted. Even if Stalker bored many observers ("Tarkovsky is the cinema's great poet of stillness"), Dyer's musings on everything from on-set disasters to his desire to join a threesome make for a rich and wacky sojourn. At its heart, Zonais about how art changes perceptions: "If I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties, my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished."