Tom Wolfe and Anthony Bourdain were absolutely essential to my adult literary cannon. And they were both instrumental to my own personal career path and where I am today.
Let me explain.
Wolfe’s wrote Bonfire of the Vanities 31 years ago. It was a story that wrapped finance and journalism around a crime novel, set in 1980s New York City. It was far ahead of its time in its critique of inequality of both outcomes and opportunities. It was as scathing against the elite of New York, which was done in a way that didn’t even caricature the rich set – it was all completely accurate, which makes it even funnier and more prescient, since the New York elite has become a caricature of a caricature of itself in recent decades.
But at the heart of the story was finance and journalism. I was hooked immediately. I wanted to be a journalist – a writer, a creative, an outside observer. Yet at the time I read Bonfire, I was working in finance. It wasn’t the elite bond trading finance, with shoeshines in the office, but I was close enough to see that, and I knew plenty of people who wanted to be Sherman McCoy, that I immediately saw how funny, accurate, and piercing Wolfe’s description of finance was. I like finance and economics, but I certainly never wanted to be the embodiment of finance and economics. And Bonfire still sticks with me as being able to straddle the two worlds of money and creativity. And guess what – that’s exactly what I do now.
Bourdain was a bit different. He had an incredible backstory, who worked his ass off to do something different, and was able to find such a unique angle and voice that was absolutely brilliant and completely original.
He had a big impact on my writing – finding a unique voice and unique angles, telling a story in a way that truly captures all sides without being wishy-washy, and taking chances on something that may or may not work.
He had a big impact on the way I travel: He was the gatekeeper and arbiter of what was “good” because I trusted not only his taste, but his authenticity to go for what’s good as opposed to what is perceived as good or what you should think is good. Any new city? Go where Bourdain went.
And he had a big impact on my outlook. Bourdain was never one to judge, because he would always, always try to understand the person and the situation before making any decision on their own life, politics, or taste.
There are many, many excellent post-mortems of both of their bodies of work, and I’m not breaking any new ground here. If there is anyone who deserves many thorough, glowing evaluations of their work, it’s Wolfe and Bourdain.
But if I may just leave you with one suggestion for each, read Wolfe’s Bonfire. It’s hilarious, sharp, and an incredible guide for understanding the age of Trump, despite being written over three decades ago. The Right Stuff is also excellent, but it doesn’t have as much of Wolfe’s personality in it, when he can let loose at the Manhattan haute bourgeoisie.