“Dispatches from the Edge” by Anderson Cooper

The first time I was introduced to Anderson Cooper was when I was interning at the Seoul Bureau of ABC news. The girl who was interning with me bought his book, “Dispatches from the Edge”, telling me what a great reporter he was. I’m embarrassed to say, I had no idea who Anderson Cooper was back then, and although I was in the so-called news business, I had little interest in a reporter who, to my eyes, was just one among many other talented ones. I was also doubtful as to the contents or influence of his book, like I am to most memoirs or autobiographies. I guess this is a problem on my part and not the authors’ (obviously). Instead of being inspired by the considerably tremendous achievements and will powers of these successful people, I tend to compare my life to theirs and become slightly depressed at the inevitable fact that I don’t seem to have achieved as much and that the possibility of me having something similar to their lives is quite slim.

However, it didn’t take me long to be mesmerized by the talent, the objectivity, the attention to detail, and the devotion Anderson Cooper emanates in his program, AC 360. His silver-like white hair, blue eyes, and his surprisingly childish yet charming giggle only added to the awesome personality I quickly became enamored with. Yet, it is only years later, when his book was one of the only two decent English books lying on the shelf of a Korean second-hand bookstore, that I decided to buy it. I first thought of quickly skimming through it at the bookstore, but it didn’t take more than ten lines into the book for me to be convinced this was not a book to be skimmed, standing in a bookstore. This was something I would be proud to have on my shelf, at my house. (The considerably low price may also have made the purchase easier).

The most surprising fact this book offers, and one I was immediately struck with, was how much pain Anderson holds. I had absolutely no idea. I knew he had lost his brother at a young age, but the few accounts of his father and his brother he manages to subtly incorporate throughout the book, among his ‘adventures’ in war zones, unavoidably overwhelmed with such a sadness and emptiness it was hard not to shed a few tears for him.

What I liked most about his book is the extremely delicate balance he manages to maintain throughout his narrative. I had initially imagined him unfolding great stories of how he was touched and moved by all the pain and danger in the regions devastated by war he went to report on, how he was making a difference through his reporting, and how awesome he was to throw himself in these risky zones (albeit with more subtleness). What I found myself reading instead, was an honest and humble tale. He doesn’t exaggerate how for instance, he met with innocent eyes of children in Niger that would change him forever, or how the sight of bloated bodies in Rwanda is a sight that transformed his life. Instead, he manages to convey the exact amount of emotion, enough to move me, yet without making me feel like a total loser for not doing anything in the sight of all the ugliness that is going on in certain parts of the world (I realize this is a very selfish way of reading, thinking of how I should feel when people are unfairly dying in all corners of the globe). He doesn’t pretend to be doing something extremely important, but nor does he discount his experiences and his encounters. He conveys his emotions (or sometimes, his lack of emotions) and his thoughts with a candor that I think, must be difficult to maintain, with all that he’s seen and gone through. He knows the limits of what he can do and how much (or how little) his work can contribute to the decrease of such pain, and doesn’t belittle the reader for sitting comfortably at home and perhaps having a delicious cup of coffee while reading about parents losing their last child to famine or little girls being raped at the age of three (but seriously, what kind of animals rape three-year old girls???). Yet he is passionate and is empathetic, and after all he’s gone through, he still manages to be sad and angry at the injustice, the lack of accountability and the powerlessness he has to face everywhere he goes.

In the end, I was still a little bit embarrassed to know that I would never be able (although, never say never, right…) to have the courage or the devotion to change the world, even for just a bit, for something just a bit better, like he did, and still is. But it is worth it.

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