Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tribute to a Great Columnist: Jon Carroll

I will say this flat out: In my opinion, Jon Carroll is the best columnist writing today. He has been a San Francisco Chronicle columnist for 35 years, and I have been faithfully, enthusiastically, and joyfully reading his column all those years. The hard part is describing his column, because it is so various, and yet one always, always feels the presence of a thoughtful person behind the columns, no matter what the topic. He writes about politics, current events, literature, San Francisco, Oakland (where he lives), childhood, his family, music, theater, his cats, the small pleasures of life, and so much more. In all those years I can’t remember more than a handful of times that I haven’t found the column of interest. I am not a cat person, and used to skip the cat columns, but then I read some and enjoyed them, so after that I never skipped any of his columns, ever! There have been hundreds -- probably thousands -- of times when I have thoroughly enjoyed his column and learned from it. And among those hundreds of times, there have been dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of times that I felt the column was pure genius. Because of Carroll’s wide and deep knowledge of so many topics, his many years in journalism (he used to write for and edit several magazines, such as Rolling Stone and the Village Voice), his left-leaning but never polemical politics, his own experiences, his open-mindedness, his appreciation of life, his wisdom, his humor, his thoughtfulness, and of course his wonderful way with words, every column feels informed by all of who he is and what he knows and thinks and feels, and reading him is pure pleasure. Today, for example, he wrote about the great San Francisco Beat poet and founder of the famed City Lights bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, still going strong at age 95. Then Carroll wrote about his own love of poetry, and about poetry in general, with a few side trips along the way, ending by coming back to his tribute to Ferlinghetti; it was a rich, lovely tribute both to Ferlinghetti and to the appeal and joy of poetry. How he can consistently write so well, always with fresh and engaging and thought-provoking ideas and expressions, day after day (now four days a week, down from when he used to write five days a week) is amazing to me. In 2008, Carroll was given the prestigious Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, an award given annually by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Thank you, Jon Carroll, for your wonderful columns over all these years, and may there be many, many more.
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