I finally finished a book!
Sorry it has been so long since I’ve been able to write a post like this, but I’ve had a hard time finding the time to read lately. But never fear, another Recent Read post is here.
This weekend, I finished David Simon and Ed Burns’ The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.
The Corner, a work of journalism (in the long, long form), follows the lives of people living near the corner of Fayette and Monroe in inner-city Baltimore in the early 1990s. Simon and Burns followed these folks for a year, taking part in their lives in the role of observer.
Fair warning: this book can at times be difficult to read. It’s hard to track who everyone is at first. And the subject matter isn’t happy and fluffy very often.
But as an educational perspective, especially for someone who hasn’t worked or lived in a big city, it is incredibly useful.
The access Simon and Burns got was unprecedented. I can’t even begin to imagine the lengths they must have gone to in order to earn the trust necessary. And I can’t begin to imagine the pain they had to endure watching people they were beginning to care about suffer and not do the things that they could to get help for their addictions. These men had to stand by and watch people commit violence, shoot hazardous chemicals into their bodies and run their lives and the lives of those around them into the ground.
Yet, they told the story of Fran, DeAndre, Gary, Curt, Ella and others in a way that shows them as real human beings. Humans that are struggling with so much on a daily basis. You feel empathy for these characters. Some of the commentary that Simon provides about the “war on drugs” still rings true nearly 20 years later. And will likely ring true 20 years from now.
Simon created “The Wire” in part based on people he met in this book. “The Corner” was also a short-lived television series based on this book.
As I was finishing the book, I tried to find out what happened to the characters/people involved. It’s been nearly 20 years since the book was published, and the reporting took place years before that.
I found that DeAndre died in 2012. Simon wrote a remembrance for him on his website. Fran, well Fran doesn’t turn out like you expect based on reading about her.
The author’s note at the end of The Corner provides insight into how Simon and Burns earned the trust of their subjects. As a journalist, it was fascinating for me to read that. I’m so curious about how other people who have reached the pinnacle of this profession have achieved their access, which in turn has led to success.
It was also interesting for me to read about this subject matter. I cover drugs and violence and crime in my reporting and I don’t usually interact with these folks until after they’ve been arrested or charged. Seeing them through Simon and Burns’ eyes before they were in lockup challenged my traditional way of thinking about these cases.
Simon also wrote Homicide, where he embedded with the Baltimore Homicide Squad for a year. It’s sitting on my bookshelf and after reading this piece, I can’t wait to crack it open.