Can it possibly be a coincidence that the three most famous writers currently resident in Berkeley are named Michael? Think about it: Michael Pollan, Michael Lewis and Michael Chabon. Somebody is hiding something.
Two of the Michaels — Pollan and Lewis — are on stage tonight at the Berkeley Rep in a fundraiser for the university’s Graduate School of Journalism. It’s billed as a “conversation about writing, storytelling, books and journalism”. There’s plenty of evidence that the J-School has lined up two of the most accomplished writers around for the evening. Lewis’ The Big Short is in the middle of a 26-week run on The New York Times’ hardcover non-fiction list, currently sitting at number seven. Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma has a 145-week run going on the paperback non-fiction list, at 17 at the moment. His In Defense of Food is 30th on the same list, and his Food Rules is number seven on the paperback advice list (note: Berkeleyside has a policy of not providing Amazon.com links: go to your local bookstore or the Berkeley Public Library instead).
There’s plenty of long-form journalism from the two authors as well. You won’t read a better — and funnier — account of the financial crisis in Greece than Lewis’ recent Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds in Vanity Fair.
As California Magazine pointed out, however, there’s some slight irony in Lewis helping the J-School, and serving as a Koret Teaching Fellow and lecturer. In a 1993 article for New Republic, J-School Confidential, he had this to say:
Journalism schools are not alone in their attempts to dignify a trade by tacking onto it the idea of professionalism and laying over it a body of dubious theory. After all, McDonald’s Hamburger U. now trains Beverage Technicians. But the journalist’s role is precisely to cut through this sort of obfuscation, not to create more of it. The best journalists are almost the antithesis of professionals. The horror of disrepute, the preternatural respect for authority and the fear of controversy that so benefit the professional are absolute handicaps for a journalist. I doff my cap to those who have survived the experience of journalism school and still write good journalism. They deserve every Distinguished Alumni Award they receive, and more.
If you want to just hear the conversation, tickets are $125 (it is a fundraiser). $500 gets you to a pre-program reception as well, and $1,000 covers the reception, the program and dinner at Revival after the program.