Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paul M. Barrett

Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. His books include American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America, and the newly released Glock: The Rise of America's Gun.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've been on a David Foster Wallace kick lately, catching up with my wife, the documentary film maker Julie Cohen, who is a DFW scholar and admirer. Consider the Lobster is probably the best collection of nonfiction essay-like journalism I have ever read. Wallace simply had no peer in noticing the telling detail or recording the way people really talk. His combination of dismay at, disgust over, and ultimately compassion for his subjects--e.g. the porn performers and promoters of "Big Red Son"--strikes me as one of the most sane takes on contemporary American culture. The poor man was too sane for his own good, of course.

The stories in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men are often amusing and typically so repulsive they actually made me wince. I'm most of the way through Girl With Curious Hair, which stands up remarkably well, despite being published in 1989 and collecting stories that are even older. "My Appearance" has more to say about the irony bath of post-modern television (and life) than practically anything else I can recall reading.

One self-serving note about Wallace: He has a brilliant throw-away passage in Infinte Jest which I cited in my new book, Glock: The Rise of America's Gun, as an illustration of the cultural influence of the Glock pistol. The Wallace character, a junior tennis player (a favorite type for an author who was himself an outstanding junior tennis player), takes a Glock with him onto the court and threatens to blow his brains out if he loses. Naturally, his opponents are distracted, and he always wins.

On other fronts, I have lately read a very good history of gun control in America: Gun Fight, by a law professor named Adam Winkler. My book is a biography of one iconic gun, with passing references to how attempts to restrict the Glock consistently backfired and helped sell more of the Austrian pistols. Winkler's look at the history of the Second Amendment is not specific to any one firearm but has its own surprising lessons.

Finally, just as I was finishing the manuscript for my Glock book, I decided to go back and re-read E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate, because there is so much in the novel about the dark glamor of American violence, and especially gun violence. I enjoyed the story as a whole, again, and especially the brilliant passage about the allure of the handgun (which I quoted in my book).
Visit the official Glock: The Rise of America's Gun website.

--Marshal Zeringue