The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
While I don't work in the newspaper industry, I work for a newspaper mogul family a lot like that of Herr Huntzberger... and I work in a building that houses the paper I grew up reading. The presses no longer whir day and night, the conveyor belt isn't delivering the fresh ink and warm paper to paperboys that will get the latest news to the homes of our neighbors and families. But the newspaper still lives. Day and night, my coworkers consult the AP wire and world news outlets to ensure that the local residents are well-informed about the happenings of the world surrounding them. And while the 24 hour news cycle and the advent of the internet has made ink on your fingers and newsprint lying around your house something of a romantic notion, it still exists and it's still going strong. With the invention of ereaders, people everywhere were crying that this was the end of the physical, paper book as we knew it. But lo and behold, physical book sales are up while ebook sales are pretty stagnant over the past few years. There will always be a place for the written word in our society... and there will always be people to support it.
The Imperfectionists is a sad and tragic tale of a newspaper's birth and demise. While we lament the perceived death of the newspaper, the role the newspaper has filled in our community has just changed immeasurably. And like with anything, it's the people and companies who refuse to acknowledge that change and rail against it that are forcing themselves into their own obsolescence. The paper in The Imperfectionist denied the power of the internet. They pushed back against progress in their refusal to add color to their product. And while we romanticize things that maintain their original form... we rarely stick with those things. We go the way of our society and we start to look for a product that fulfills the needs we have as citizens in a digital society. It's nice to have things stay the same... but I'll just say that I'm glad slavery is no longer legal and that women can vote. So the romantic notion of a world in which we stay true to the original form is enticing... it's wholly untenable.
The world changes and (as an individual or as a company), you either hop onboard the train or you get left behind. And while you're definitely doing a disservice to your company in refusing to grow, you're also negatively impacting the society at whole who rely on your product. Too many companies discover this too late... as was the case with the English language, Rome-located newspaper in The Imperfectionists.
The final lesson I learned from this book was... ALWAYS HAVE A WEBSITE. And don't hand control of your business over to someone who would rather spend all day talking to his dog. Things will end badly... for you AND the dog. Just sayin'.
Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it—and themselves—afloat. Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor in chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a personal tragedy; Abby, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way. Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family’s quirky newspaper. As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper’s rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder’s intentions. Spirited, moving, and highly original, The Imperfectionists will establish Tom Rachman as one of our most perceptive, assured literary talents.