Thursday, 24 March 2011

Book #11 The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns

I wasn't looking to read another non fiction so soon, but I'd had The Corner on my Kindle app for a while, and it just sort of looked at me and I thought why not? The book itself in physical form is a doorstop, a paperweight, a tome, it's MASSIVE, and the handy thing about it being in electronic format is I didn't have to lug it around with me or have it weighing me down as I fought with it in order to actually keep reading!

I chose to read The Corner for two reasons:

1) I loved the HBO series The Wire, which itself was written by the same guy that wrote The Corner. I actually love The Wire so much that it's theme song is the ringtone on my mobile phone (cell)

2) Somebody I admire and respect, also a big fan of the Wire had over the previous year recommended it to an almost evangelical degree

so it's basically been hanging out, waiting its turn.

The book is so long and I spent so much time hunched over reading it, that I now, two days after finishing it have a pretty uncomfortable crick in my back, be warned.

The Corner is an astonishing piece of journalism, take one street corner, watch it for 12 months and write about events there, on my street corner or most street corners this would make a pretty dull premise and a pretty dull book. Not this street corner.

The Corner focuses on an area in Baltimore, were drug dealing is open and rife, the lives of its citizens perilous and short, if the bullet doesn't get you then the dope will. The conditions they live in have rightly been termed Dickensian with its citizens not only poor but living in absolute poverty.

My difficulty with The Corner was that although I loved the stories of DeAndre and Gary, Fat Curt and Blue, Fran, Ella Thompson and a motley crue of characters worthy of Dickens, I found the points at which the narration turned from these characters to Simon and Burns discussing the wider issues at large tough going.

This was because having already seen The Wire, I had as a viewer reached many of the conclusions which the authors spell out, I understood how the decline of blue collar jobs had contributed to neighbourhood decline, how when kids start small time drug dealing at 13 and 14, the education system has little to offer them that in any way resonates with or resembles their lives outside the schoolroom. How the war on drugs will never be won when those caught dealing or in possession return to the Corner with a suspended sentence, the prisons overcrowded, and even when they don't, there's always somebody ready to replace them.

As a wider issue those trying to make solutions, are making middle class solutions for problems and communities they don't understand, and some excellent points are made about the hypocrisies entailed.
Particularly the political candidate who held up The Corner on camera saying he would solve these problems, to be told that the essence of the book states the problems are beyond solution and was forced to admit he hadn't read it.

But, in the reading, as opposed to in the watching, I felt patronised, as though as a free thinking individual I wouldn't have the ability to look at all the sides and myself reach the same conclusion without Burns and Simon telling me their conclusion. I felt lectured to a degree.

But I did enjoy the human stories of those beaten by The Corner and those who beat the odds to survive it, and their stories are still in my head, and I wonder now fifteen years after the work was published, just how they're all doing. It is a great work of journalism, and must have taken the authors some time to write, and like Skloot in her book, also set in Maryland to gain the trust of those whose lives they placed under a microscope    8/10

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