There's No Such Thing As An Ordinary Day, Gene Weingarten Argues

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Commuters walk across London Bridge. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Commuters walk across London Bridge. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The extraordinary story of one ordinary day in America. So much happens in just 24 hours.


Gene Weingarten, author of "Below the Beltway," the Washington Post weekly humor column. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner. Author of "One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America." (@geneweingarten)

Heather Armstrong, founder of the popular blog Dooce, in 2001, chronicling her experiences with motherhood. (@dooce)

Ellen Krug, attorney. Author of "Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change." (@elliekrug)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from "One Day" by Gene Weingarten

From ONE DAY: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten, published by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Gene Weingarten.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "'One Day’: What happened on a December day in 1986? A little bit of everything." — "In the heyday of print news, human interest stories were part and parcel of daily newspapers across the country. The point of such pieces was to reveal human nature, not to cure it. Gifted columnists and feature writers deployed prose powerful enough to bring readers to tears over a veteran down on his luck or a humble prizewinning zucchini.

"Maybe that’s why I felt clubbed by nostalgia when I read Gene Weingarten’s new book, One Day. Here, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist indulges his uncommon storytelling gifts on behalf of the (mostly) common man and woman. Weingarten takes immense pleasure in sifting through facts for meaning, then selecting the right language to draw readers close. I hadn’t even noticed how much I missed such stuff.

"One Day is built on an appealing — if familiar — gimmick. Readers may remember A Day in the Life of America, a handsome coffee-table book that aimed to show a nation to itself through a montage of photographs all captured on May 2, 1986, a day no more notable than any other."

The Christian Science Monitor: "Q&A with Gene Weingarten, author of ‘One Day’" - "Dec. 28, 1986, is not a day that lives in infamy. At first glance, and at second glance, not much of interest happened. But then Gene Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and humor columnist at The Washington Post, began digging and didn’t stop for years. The result is his fascinating 'One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America.' Mr. Weingarten described to Monitor correspondent Randy Dotinga how he chose that day to chronicle, what he found, and the life lessons within.

"Q: Where did you get the idea for the book?

"Like all origin stories involving writers, this one involves desperation. My editor and I were bouncing ideas off each other for books, and I wondered what happened on May 17, 1957. He said that’s a good idea, try to find a single random day, the most irreducible unit of human experience really, midnight to midnight, and examine the idea of whether there’s even such a thing as an ordinary day. Or does every day encompass the full human condition?

"Q: How did you choose the day?

"My editor wanted to blindfold me and have me throw darts at a sheet of numbers. My feeling was that would open me to charges that I peeked. So we went to a restaurant with an old fedora and a bunch of crumpled pieces of paper. We had strangers, two of them children who happened to be dining with their parents, draw slips of paper out of a hat. We wanted a date that was far enough away that it felt like history but near enough that we could find living people who could remember."

Washingtonian: "Why Did Gene Weingarten Pick the Subject of His New Book Out of a Hat?" — "Gene Weingarten, the longtime Washington Post writer and editor, chose the subject of his new book by picking a date out of a hat. His idea: Take one 24-hour period from the past and find stories connected to that day. It didn’t matter which date it was; the randomness was the point. The one he ended up with was December 28, 1986, which turned out to be 'grotesque bad luck,' as he puts it, because it was a Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s—typically one of the slowest news weeks of the year.

"No matter. The resulting book, One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America, is full of riveting tales, such as—to pick just one example—the story of a couple who got married on that date and then lived on the lam for years under an assumed name after one spouse nearly beat the other to death; their son, Bobby Ryan, was the NHL’s number-two draft pick in 2005 and currently plays for the Ottawa Senators.

"Chronicling events from 1986 meant probing people’s memories that weren’t always entirely reliable, and Weingarten had to abandon many stories that he says he couldn’t confirm to his satisfaction: 'There was a lot of time lost running down leads that weren’t exactly true or weren’t true enough for me to buy them.' He also had to weigh the effects of revisiting the worst day of some people’s lives. The work could be grueling, and not without its own drama; Weingarten’s marriage ended during the years he spent reporting, and 'the stress of this book was not immaterial' to the divorce, he acknowledges. Originally planned as a two-year project, One Day ended up taking him six years to complete."

This program aired on December 20, 2019.

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David Folkenflik Host, On Point
David Folkenflik is a former host of On Point.


Adam Waller Freelance Producer
Adam Waller is a freelance producer for On Point.



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