Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Can I See Your [Review of] I.D.?”

In March 2008, writer J.L. Bell suggested I contact a not-yet-published-but-already-under-contract writer named Chris Barton. Chris's first published book was more than a year off, and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman wasn't out yet, either, but John (that’s what the “J” stands for) thought Chris and I would get along based on the kind of nonfiction we liked to write about: unconventional. No textbook names here.

I barely even knew John at the time; now I consider both he and Chris my friends. One perk of my friendship with Chris: an advanced reading copy of his third and most recent publication, Can I See Your I.D.?

Well, it was advanced when I received it, but the book has since come out. So I’m late out of the gate in covering it here. As penance, I now must compete with the mob of other reviews, most of which are giddy about I.D.

I wonder if it’s too soon to say that this book is vintage Barton. His subject matter: quirky in the best way. His writing style: breezy and controlled.

This is what I especially liked about the book, in order of appearance:

  • page 5—the wink to his first book The Day-Glo Brothers
  • page 33—the last line about Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, bringing even more poignancy to the story
  • the entire Solomon Perel story, my favorite in the book; chilling and skillfully done
  • page 83—the nerve-racking finale of the Ellen Craft story; even though good cliffhangers are hard to come by, it must’ve been tempting to continue the story there rather than in the brief “What happened next?” postscript
  • pages 87-88—the diverse, quick-cut vignettes that set up the John Howard Griffin story
  • page 96—that conversational “like” slipped into the third or so line of the Riley Weston story; the reviews I’ve seen that comment on Chris’s bold choice to write this book in second person single out the repeated use of “you,” but here is an instance where second person goes past mechanics and reveals character—that one word is enough to convey “teen,” which is the falsely assumed identity of the story
  • Chris’s approach to the Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. story—thanks to the Spielberg/DiCaprio/Hanks movie, Abagnale is probably the most widely known figure profiled in the book, so in lieu of a condensed version of Catch Me If You Can, Chris wisely focused on only the first step of Abagnale’s astounding con career

I found the Riley Weston story interesting in another way. I almost certainly read the exposé about her in Entertainment Weekly in 1998, yet I don’t remember it in the slightest. As I often say, memory is unreliable, which relates back to Chris’s book because he clearly meticulously researched it via both original interviews and primary sources. I wonder, though, if a person has two or more identities, does s/he have multiple memories, too?

Here’s a little “Can I See Your I.D.” story that didn’t make the book but
should make every bookstore employee handbook.

(Coincidentally, one of the people who commented on that post is the talented Paul Hoppe—the illustrator of
Can I See Your I.D.?)

In a sense,
Can I See Your I.D.? reminds me of my book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing, which came out in 2010.

Both are compilations of short, high-interest nonfiction about people who disappear (in my case literally). At school visits, I have found Vanished to be far more popular than I anticipated; it’s not gory or otherwise exploitative, but it is, nonetheless, creepy. If there’s one thing kids love, it’s candy. And iCarly.

And creepy.

So even though kids don’t typically read reviews and therefore won’t know the praise Chris’s book has gotten, I have a feeling that he will experience similar reactions, if he hasn’t already.

Speaking of reactions, I would love to see a blog post sharing
reactions to the book from people in it, several of whom are indeed still alive.

Don’t worry—Chris wouldn’t post any without first checking I.D.


Donna said...

Fabulous review, Marc. And I agree that you and Chris appear to have similar topic interests. Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of both of your works.


Paul Hoppe said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Marc! It's been a lot of fun to work on Chris' great book, and it's nice to see such a warm reception for it!