I discovered One Day by Gene Weingarten on NPR’s Best Books of 2019 List. It looked interesting, but I wasn’t sure I had the time to read it. When I found it available at my library on audio, I decided that was the perfect solution. I’d listen to the book in my car. For me, listening to a book is a very different experience from reading it. I generally prefer reading, where I can easily glance back if I find I’ve stopped paying attention or want to confirm a name. Because this book consists of a number of relatively short, non-fiction stories, I was hopeful I would be able to pay attention.
Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist at The Washington Post. He and a friend came up with the idea for this book. They would pick a day at random, some time between 1960 and 1990 (or something similar, I can’t remember), and write a book about that day. Weingarten wanted the date far back enough in history that he could see further developments, but he didn’t want it so far back that there would be nobody left to interview. He had a family in a bar pick out the numbers from a hat, and he ended up with December 28, 1986. Apparently the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a notoriously slow news day, but Weingarten couldn’t change the date without nullifying his premise that you could find newsworthy stories at any time.
And Weingarten came up with over twenty chapters, each a story around the country that is unique, interesting, and occurred on December 28, 1986. Some of the stories involve fire, murder, and lives changed forever while others show a little glimpse of what was going on in the eighties. This includes the AIDS epidemic and the beginnings of Instant Replay in the NFL.
There can be a little bit of fudging with the date even though it is always a date with some importance. For example, once December 28, 1986 is the date of a marriage, although the real story happens some years later when that marriage is falling apart. Another time, the date is when a young girl wins a video game, but it is only later that she becomes a famous blogger. Anyway, I like the idea that there are interesting stories everywhere if you only look hard enough, and I appreciated the gimmick.
The story that most captured my attention was a true-crime tragedy that involved the murder of a 20-year-old San Diego State University student, Cara Knott. Her body was found about six a.m. by her family on a lonely freeway exit that was no longer in use. Her car, with the keys inside it, was located nearby. This one was very disturbing and stuck with me for quite awhile.
My only complaint is that a couple of times it felt like Weingarten was actually writing this book in 1986. He made a couple of comments that had me wondering if I’d heard the reader correctly. Once he stated that a famous surgeon coming to visit a hospital was very touchy-feely with the nurses and laughed it off like the surgeon was another adorable old man. Another time, ***SPOILER*** Cara Knott’s murderer turned out to be a California Highway Patrolman that liked to pull blondes over on deserted highways and use his power of authority to talk and flirt with them for over an hour–sometimes petting their hair or shoulder. Weingarten called this behavior “harmless” until it led to Knott’s killing. Yes, congratulations, until the murder the CHP officer did not assault anyone, but his actions were far from harmless. And the murder was more than a misunderstanding. ***END SPOILER***
Sometimes I have problems with books of short stories because it’s hard for me to keep identifying with new characters over and over again with nothing tying them together. I found all of these stories interesting, but with over twenty of them, they were hard to keep in my head or feel that they worked together. However, I liked the book, and I was consistently entertained. Recommended.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.