"I really don't know anyone in media who's been given the freedom I've had to spout off on a wide range of subjects," Jon Katz wrote in his 1998 farewell column for HotWired. As a writer for web venues such as HotWired and Slashdot, Katz has waxed enthusiastic about Internet culture and championed "geek life." As a contributor to Wired and Rolling Stone, he's written articles on technology, politics and culture. And as a book author, he's penned mystery novels, memoirs and more, at the rate of nearly one per year since 1990.
Katz began his career in traditional media, as a reporter and editor for the Boston Globe and Washington Post and as a producer for the CBS Morning News. His experiences in television became fodder for fiction in his first novel, Sign Off, which Publishers Weekly called "an absorbing, well-paced debut" about the corporate takeover of a television network.
Disenchanted with the world of old media, Katz signed on to the cyber-revolution as a contributor to Wired magazine and its then-online counterpart, HotWired. As pundit and media critic, Katz became a prominent voice of the libertarian, countercultural, freewheeling spirit that prevailed on the Web in its early years. After HotWired underwent a corporate transformation, Katz moved to Slashdot, a free-for-all e-zine that allowed him to continue spouting off on a wide range of subjects (for Katz, "open source" is not just a method of software development, it's a metaphor for free expression).
Meanwhile, Katz began a series of "suburban detective" books featuring private investigator and family man Kit DeLeeuw, who operates out of a New Jersey mall. The intricately plotted mysteries serve as "a framework for the author's musings on suburban fatherhood, a subject on which he is wise and witty and honestly touching," wrote Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times.
In 1997, Katz's digital-age pontifications took book form in Virtuous Reality, which tackled censorship, online privacy and the shortcomings of the media. Katz struck a more personal chord with Geeks (2000), a work of gonzo ethnography that follows two computer-obsessed teenagers and their struggle to escape the Idaho boonies. "Katz's obvious empathy and love for his 'lost boys,' his ability to see shades of his own troubled youth in their tough lives, gives his narrative a rich taste that makes it unlike other Net books," said Salon writer Andrew Leonard.
Katz turned to himself as the subject for a meditation on middle age, Running to the Mountain (2000) which chronicles the three months he spent alone in a dilapidated cabin in upstate New York. The result is "a funny, moving and triumphant voyage of the soul," according to The Boston Globe.
Then there's Katz's other pet subject: dogs. In A Dog Year , Katz writes about a high-strung border collie -- a canine "lost boy" he adopted and gradually bonded with. "Dogs make me a better human," said Katz in an interview. Given his recent contributions to The Bark magazine, dogs may make Katz an even more versatile and prolific writer, if that's possible.
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Katz is so persuaded of the power of interactivity that he's refused to have his work printed by publishers unless they'll run his e-mail address with it. His published e-mail addresses include firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a Slate writer made a disparaging comment about Katz's basement, Katz wrote a column describing the basement office where he works. Its accoutrements include a wooden cherub, portraits of Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln, and a collection of gargoyles. A Haitian voodoo "frame thingy" (in Katz's words) graces his computer.
In our interview, Katz told us more fun facts: "I see every movie that comes out, usually alone in a megaplex. I love the New York Yankees because they win a lot. My one brilliant move in life was marrying my wife Paula."
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In the winter of 2003, Jon Katz answered some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. His powerful writing and courage inspired me in many ways; as a writer, and as a human in search of a way to live as good a life as possible. Merton was lonely, angry and uncertain, yet he never wavered in his heartbreaking pursuit of the truth about life -- his and everyone else's. I still read from his journals every day of my life. He has always been a source of support and inspiration for me. I read of this journey as a vulnerable teenager and learned there is joy in learning to live with oneself. I also learned it was not only all right to be an outsider, but it was in itself a spiritual experience.
What are your favorite books?
A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul would be on the list. Some of Solzhenitsyn's
works. Love In the Time of Cholera and some others by Marquez.
- High Noon
- Apocalypse Now
- The Godfather Parts One and Two
- High Noon
- The second Star Wars
- Anything with Jackie Chan
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
The LBJ series by Robert A. Caro. Johnson was the most interesting political character in my lifetime.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my favorite author. I can't describe what makes his writing special, other than to say his great passion and vivid use of language are transporting. I like the fantabulists. But I have trouble rating writers and books. I just can't put one over another. There are too many to like.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing a non-fiction book, Women and Dogs, exploring why it is that so many breeders, vets and dog owners are now female.
What else do you want your readers to know?
I love reading, going to the movies, walking, being with my dogs, especially shepherding with them. My time with Orson and Homer out in the pasture with a herd of sheep is great. I also love being in my cabin in upstate New York. It's incredibly peaceful there. I feel the same way about the dunes around Provincetown. Wonderful, peaceful places. It's the only hobby I've ever had and the best.
I walk a ton, and read alone a lot. I love taking walks with my wife, and am never happier than going to dinner and a movie with her. The only better thing is when my daughter Emma is around to join us. If I haven't mentioned it, she's the world's finest child, and I am so proud of her I puff up obnoxiously like a Blowfish whenever I mention her name.
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