Dubner, Stephen J. 1963-
DUBNER, Stephen J. 1963-
PERSONAL: Born August 26, 1963, in Schenectady, NY; son of Paul (a newspaperman) and Florence Veronica (Greenglass) Dubner; married Ellen Binder (a photographer). Education: Appalachian State University, graduate, 1984; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1990.
CAREER: Journalist. New York Times Magazine, New York, NY, editor, 1994-99.
Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Confessions of a Hero Worshiper, Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: The youngest of eight children in his Roman Catholic family, journalist Stephen J. Dubner decided to investigate his family history. In 1996 he published an article in the New York Times Magazine in which he recounted the discovery of his family's Jewish origins, his parents' conversion to Roman Catholicism, and his own return to the Jewish faith. When the article garnered interest, both positive and negative, Dubner expanded it into the memoir Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family. By using two narrative voices—telling his parents' story in the third person and his own in the first person—Dubner was able to include the viewpoints of other relatives, such as grandparents and siblings, as well.
Turbulent Souls captured reviewers' attention. John Moryl, writing in Library Journal, remarked that the memoir "reads like a novel," and predicted that most readers "would find the story fascinating." Likewise, a Publishers Weekly critic found the work to be "searching," "poignant," and "captivating." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, contributor Jonathan Wilson praised Dubner for his "intense" and acute observations as well as his "splendidly evoked" scenes of life in the family's ramshackle farmhouse in upstate New York. Wilson also found it interesting that, compared with his parents' radical Catholicism, Dubner's practicing of his Jewish faith was much less devout. Charles Colson, writing for Good News, saw Dubner's experience as typical of many Americans who "shop for faith" rather than believing in a religion because it is true.
Dubner followed up with another very personal book on the quest for self-awareness, this time focusing on the intense bond that can develop between a fan and a star athlete. Since the age of ten, when his father died, Dubner had idolized Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, whose "Immaculate Reception" in 1972 lives on in football lore. In Confessions of a Hero Worshiper Dubner recounts that boyhood fascination and his efforts to track down Harris in adulthood. While Dubner does get to meet his idol, his hope of getting Harris to collaborate on a book about the relationship between hero and worshiper ultimately proves futile. Instead, Dubner provides a "veritable Searching for Bobby Fisher for sports fans," wrote Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor, as Harris cancels or simply misses subsequent interviews and Dubner finds himself placing frantic calls to Harris's acquaintances in an effort to understand the man behind the football legend. Frustrated in his attempt at a true collaboration, Dubner instead tries to illuminate the mysterious hold that this substitute father-figure had on his adolescence. The result is "primarily a psychological memoir," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. While finding this approach "somewhat disjointed," a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Dubner's elegant, deeply honest writing will keep readers engaged."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Confessions of a Hero Worshiper, p. 1031.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of Confessions of a Hero Worshiper, p. 1747.
Library Journal, January, 1999, John Moryl, review of Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family, p. 105.
New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1998, Jonathan Wilson, review of Turbulent Souls, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of Turbulent Souls, p. 61; December 16, 2002, review of Confessions of a Hero Worshiper, p. 54.
Good News, http://www.goodnewsmag.com/jan98/colson.htm/ (February 2, 1999), Charles Colson.
Stephen J. Dubner Web site, http://www.stephenjdubner.com/ (November 15, 2003).*