‘The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism’ by Ken Becker

“The answers are in the journey, every step and mis-step. As it happened. No punches pulled.” 

Ken Becker often started stories with a quote, so I thought it fitting to do the same. How did a young man who couldn’t type and couldn’t spell become a journalist? How did a college dropout become a college teacher? Reading this book appealed to me for a number of reasons. First, the title intrigued me because I am married to an international aid worker, and I have also been an expat for most of my adult years (US, UK, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone). Second, the topic was interesting to me because in addition to being a teacher librarian, I am also a writer. I’ve never made much money at it, but I love it. Third, and finally, with full disclosure, Ken is my neighbour and who doesn’t want to know more about their neighbours? When Ken kindly put an offer of Life Story writing in our mailboxes one summer years ago, I kept the paper which included his website and blog link (thebeckerfiles). When I recently went back to check them out, I discovered he’d written a book, which I found out was available at the Mississauga public library (and also on Amazon). I couldn’t resist, and put a hold on it right away.

Becker, a rugged non-conformist New Yorker, pulls no punches as he recounts his rocky road in life and journalism in this readable memoir. I appreciated his honesty, humour, and short snappy writing style. I’ve always found journalists to make good authors, because they know how to be compelling and avoid boggy writing. Becker was indeed, always striving to cut through the  b*llsh*t to get to what really mattered. Unfortunately, with his acerbic wit he may have p*ssed off some people in his life, burned some bridges, perhaps not realizing that his manner could be off putting. Or else he was just being recklessly forthright, in an effort to be true to himself. Either way, he also made a lot of friends, and it is evident from the book, that he is clearly devoted to his craft and to his family. He’s always been a pleasant neighbour, even though our dogs don’t get along.

His craft is writing, and he has written about an impressively wide variety of subjects: crime, travel, sports, politics, entertainment, etc. There are all kinds of interesting stories about famous people he has interviewed and private anecdotes that never made it to press. The inside scoop is why we love memoirs so much. A good memoir should also point to something beyond the individual, and this one does that as well. It gives a veteran’s view of journalism over the last 50 years. Being a journalist requires curiosity, grit, determination, hard work but also vulnerability. Putting your hard won well-crafted words ‘out there’ can be scary. I’ll end with another quote from Ken because it speaks to the value of memoir and passing on our stories. “While most people make arrangements to pass on accumulated riches, whether substantial or meager, many fail to recognize the value and uniqueness of their life stories.” Thanks for your contribution Ken! It’s inspiring.

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