Project Journalism


Watching the movie Julie & Julia over the weekend, I was reminded of one of my favorite literary genres: the project book. Choose a task (like making all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et al), give yourself a year to do it, write about all your experiences related to it, and voila! you’ve got yourself a book.

It’s almost certainly not as easy as it sounds. I mean, one must certainly clear the schedule, make some serious (and pricey) reservations, and, oh mercy, pack thoughtfully for something like a three week trip around the world (see Nicholas Sparks’ project book/memoir Three Weeks with my Brother). And there’s some serious research to be done before embarking on a year of eating only things grown locally or, better yet, in one’s own backyard (see Barbara Kingsolver’s family’s food diary, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

It may all be worth it, though. Think of the years (months? seconds?) that a plunge in Siberia’s icy Lake Baikal might add to your life (perhaps enough to balance the years’ lost from the vodka Peter Thomson had to drink riding the Trans-Siberian railway for his book Sacred Sea). Imagine the hoot your children will have someday over Dad’s ridiculous but Torah-mandated beard (see AJ Jacobs’ facial hair progress in The Year of Living Biblically). And think how much fun you’ll be at parties when you tell people that you travelled cross country with Einstein’s brain (yes, it’s true—see Michael Paterniti’s Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain).

If I were to write a project book, I wonder, what task would I undertake? Certainly I could remove something from my life: TV, automobiles, electricity, frozen food, purchases of anything new, my hair, hand sanitizer, cardboard. I could add something to my life: a part-time job…training animals…at the circus. I could go somewhere: does the laundramat count?

So I guess I’ll just throw it out there. Ideas, anyone?



  1. Lorraine said,

    August 25, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I have learned something new today! I’ve never heard the term “Project Journalism” applied to this type of product. I can’t wait to fit it into a conversation.
    Personally I think I could indeed do a year of observing Laundromats and their users. My favourite experience was in Munich. Now matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find a spot to put the money. A local lady took me under her wing – she spoke no English and my German is minimal – but by the time Dieter arrived I knew everything about that Laundromat. I knew where the money slot and control board was, that after the washing machine I needed to transfer the clothes to a spinner (and pay more money) before I could put them into the dryer. I knew how much each would cost me and how long they’d take. When Dieter arrived she was just finishing off my initiation into Munich Laundromats and he said to her, in German, “She doesn’t understand, she doesn’t speak German.” Her reply was, “Of course she understands.” She was right, I did, I reckon there is an “International Language of Women”. Well at least in Laundromats!
    Then there was the time in Ireland ………..

    • scheirmad said,

      August 25, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      I love it!!! And, seriously, no worries about the typo-s. I have an edit feature and can fix them from here! Neat, yes?

      Two stories:

      In college, I was buddies with the laundry room guy. He did some kind of maintenance somewhere on campus, but he always talked to me, asked how I was doing in school, etc.. I was down in the laundry room with Craig once, and saw the laundry room guy who greeted me like an old friend, and Craig said, “You KNOW that guy?!?!”

      Also, on the non-laundry front, at a street market in Sofia, I somehow managed to derive ‘helicopter altimeter’ from a Bulgarian’s mix of pointing and rudimentary sign language. It made me think that, with the right kind of diplomacy, anything is possible!

  2. scheirmad said,

    August 25, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Oh, by the way, I made up the term ‘project journalism.’ I met Peter Thomson (who’s mentioned above) at our Delaware Book Festival, and when he told me about his book, I said, “I love project books!!” and bought it right then and there! Besides, he was very sweet, asked me what I did for a living, and didn’t mind that Jake and Hayley were running laps around the two of us. That was pretty cool.

  3. Lorraine said,

    August 26, 2009 at 9:08 am

    We are in the midst in South Oz of Book Week for children- this year’s theme is “Book Safari”. My campus is so big that we do it over two weeks so everyone can join in. Last Friday the staff put on “performances” (and I use the term loosely) for the students. I haven’t seen the junior primary performance yet but apparently one of the teachers stole the show by being a cow (she had the costume) lost on safari! The primary teachers performance was based on the book “Giraffes can’t dance”. I was the narrator – in my brown moth outfit which much to my surprise the children all thought was a butterfly and told me I looked “beautiful”! Our principal was Gerri Giraffe. She is a total ham as were all the teachers who took part. It’s lots of fun and I really believe it’s the stuff that makes good memories for the kids. We’ve had some well known South Oz children’s authors visiting school and I got to meet one of them. Lots of lovely book-based activities. My class is writing review of the teachers’ performance and they are quite interesting responses.

    • scheirmad said,

      August 26, 2009 at 11:17 am

      Yes, so where are the pictures, Ms. Moth?!?!

  4. Monica said,

    August 28, 2009 at 10:02 am

    It’s funny that I too went to see Julie and Julia movie this past weekend. I really enjoyed it and have been reading the Life in France book.
    I haven’t had any luck coming up with a project book idea for you. If I do I’ll let you know. 🙂

    • scheirmad said,

      August 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm

      Speaking of adventurous cooking projects, loved the flan!!!! Thanks for thinking of us!

  5. Monica said,

    August 31, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Glad to hear that you liked it. 🙂

  6. Craig S. said,

    August 31, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I have to share that when Jake heard “flan” he asked, “Isn’t that another name for b… [something that comes out of your nose]?”

    My response was a twisted line from the movie the Usual Suspects — “the man with the flan.”

    Thank you. It was very good.

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