Tim Rutten turns his LAT Regarding Media column today into a tribute to his longtime friend John Gregory Dunne, who died last week. A snippet:
Dunne was a master of several writerly genres that matter the novel, nonfiction narrative, criticism and, increasingly in recent years, the essay. But whatever the form, his work always was grounded in a reportage so rigorous that it seemed a reproach to workaday practitioners of the journalistic craft. He had a wry suspicion of poetry and unapologetically disliked theater, in large part, one suspects, because its inherent artifice seemed to devalue the coin of the reportorial realm, facts.
John also had an Irishman's sly love of gossip, even when it wasn't malicious. Like most reporters of a certain age, he had spent irreplaceable hours standing outside locked doors, waiting for guys in suits to come out and lie to him. Whatever the cynical residue of that experience, it left him with an abiding faith in the value of the "back story." So, whatever the topic, his gossip was always of a particularly fine quality, since he reported every anecdote as diligently as a story being prepared for publication.
His faultless ear for accurate dialogue was the product of a childhood stammer that never quite left him. His abiding love of reporting came from an even deeper place:
"The world is fundamentally divided between people who are utterly fascinated with the drama of their own lives and those who are completely uninterested in themselves," he once said. "I am completely indifferent to the drama of my own life and that indifference has freed me to be truly interested in other people and their lives. Every really good reporter I've ever known enjoyed that same liberty a freedom from self-absorption."