Brilliant writing. Blurb on the cover says it all: "Imagine George from Seinfeld sent to cover the Iraqi war." Can't wait for the movie.
Make no bones about it, Chris Ayres is human. The British newspaper reporter continually imagines he's afflicted with one fatal illness or another, suffers seemingly random panic attacks, and when his editor asks him to go to Iraq to cover the war, he agrees only because he's afraid to say no. Such candor, coupled with Ayres' sharp wit, charms readers from page one of his best-selling debut, published in 2005. He's since written three other non-fiction books including Death by Leisure, a memoir of his free-spending single days in L.A. Ayres' self-deprecating style will appeal to fans of Calvin Trillin or Bill Bryson. In an especially memorable passage, he tells how in a desert miles from a toilet, he squatted over a hole he dug in the ground. "...as I was covering up my mess, I noticed...black, hairy legs...climbing out of one of the holes...There were killer spiders out here. And I'd just squatted over a tarantula's nest." In spite of the title, much of War Reporting for Cowards takes place before the invasion of Iraq, starting with Ayres' final days in journalism school, when a professor advises him to shave the "bum-fluff" from his face. The advice evidently works. Ayres gets a job with the prestigious Times of London and in no time is sent off to work as a correspondent in New York, then Los Angeles. The title leaves impatient readers wondering when he'll ever get to Iraq. Ayres, though, has reason for the long buildup. By the time he heads into war, embedded in a Marines artillery unit, readers know the bespectacled misfit well enough to understand his retreat nine days later. Though critics have called his book "hilarious" and "rip-roaring," it is, above all, sincere. Ayres neither idolizes nor condemns the Marines he accompanies into battle, but shows them to be human beings who, unlike himself, have no opportunity for retreat.