Katz, Jon 1947–
Katz, Jon 1947–
Born August 8, 1947, in Providence, RI; son of George and Eve Katz; married Paula Span, October 1, 1972; children: Emma Katz Span.
Home—NY. Agent—ICM, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]
Journalist and author. Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, reporter, editor, 1973-76; Boston Globe, Boston, MA, editor, 1976-78; Baltimore News America, Baltimore, MD, managing editor, editor-in-chief, 1978-81; also served as reporter and editor for the Washington Post and the Dallas Times-Herald; CBS Morning News, executive producer, 1983-85; New York University, New York, NY, associate professor, 1986-88; served as contributing editor and media critic for various publications, including New York, Rolling Stone, Wired, HotWired, 1993-99; Slashdot.org, Andover, MA, columnist, critic, 1998-2002; University of Minnesota, visiting professor, 2000.
Poynter fellow, Yale University, 1997; twice a finalist for National Magazine Award.
Sign Off (novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Virtuous Reality: How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like William Bennett (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Media Rants: Postpolitics in the Digital Nation (nonfiction; compilation of his HotWired columns), afterword by Wendy Kaminer, HardWired (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Running to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 1999.
Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 2000.
A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 2002.
The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 2003.
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 2004.
Katz on Dogs: A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living with Dogs, Villard (New York, NY), 2005.
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life, Villard Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm (nonfiction), Villard (New York, NY), 2007.
"A SUBURBAN DETECTIVE MYSTERY" SERIES
Death by Station Wagon, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
The Family Stalker, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.
The Last Housewife, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
The Fathers' Club, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Death Row, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Author of "Media Rants" column for online magazine HotWired, 1996-98. Also wrote for the Slashdot Web site.
Jon Katz is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. Katz began as a journalist, working for a number of major metropolitan newspapers before becoming executive producer of the CBS Morning News. After leaving CBS, he wrote his first novel, Sign Off. An indictment of the shallow and greedy corporate culture of the 1980s, Sign Off tells the story of Peter Herbert, the producer of a morning news program for a fictional network. When the network is taken over by a ruthless real-estate tycoon, Peter is forced to cut the jobs of his longtime coworkers, only to be downsized in turn. Unwilling to sink passively into oblivion, Peter orchestrates a clever sabotage campaign against his own employer. While the book naturally exploits Katz's insider knowledge of the news media, its message about the human cost of a profit-driven society has broader relevance. "[Katz's] real subject is what work means," wrote William Henry III in Time, "how a job becomes an identity…. Katz proves that fiction can be far more evocative in making this loss of personhood really matter to the rest of us." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Sign Off "an absorbing, well-paced debut," while Ken Tucker in the New York Times Book Review described the book as "a solid novel that both entertains and enlightens." Tucker added that "Sign Off is both valuable and amusing as an admonitory crash course for anyone who's dreamed of a career in television." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Don G. Campbell concluded that "vengeance is sweet, and novelist Katz has great fun with it."
Katz's fiction since Sign Off has been in the mystery genre. His detective, Kit Deleeuw, is a former Wall Street trader who gets transplanted with his family to suburban Rochambeau, New Jersey. A "sensitive male" inversion of the hardened, booze-and-dames detective, Kit is an attentive father to his two kids while finding time for some private investigating on the side. From his office in the American Way mall, Kit ventures out in his battered Volvo to track down deadbeat dads and runaway teens and to solve the occasional murder.
Death by Station Wagon, the first in the "Suburban Detective Mystery" series, centers around the deaths of two local high-school students, Ken Dale and his girlfriend, Carol Lombardi, in an apparent murder-suicide. Ken's soccer-team comrades don't accept the explanation and hire Kit to investigate. Learning the tricks of the detective trade as he goes along, Kit discovers that a similar crime was committed a hundred years earlier in the same location. A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "The suburban trimmings … are a joy."
In The Family Stalker, Kit is called in when one woman suspects another of plotting to systematically destroy her family. (The two women know each other from a "Buns of Steel" exercise class.) With the bathtub murder of his client's husband adding to the intrigue, Kit confirms the stalker's home-wrecking agenda, one rooted in the kind of traumatic childhood that is a Rochambeau parent's worst nightmare. As Marilyn Stasio observed in the New York Times Book Review, the book is laced with "keen anthropological observations on divorce, adultery, emotional abandonment, financial reversal, career burnout, peer pressure, [and] child worship."
The next installment in the series, The Last Housewife, explores the stay-at-home versus working-mom dynamic. Kit sets out to clear a woman accused of murdering the feminist middle-school principal poised to expel her bra-snapping son for sexual harassment. Some reviewers believed the novel's concern with issues of political correctness tend to overwhelm the plot, weakening the book's interest as a crime story.
In the fourth Kit Deleeuw mystery, The Fathers' Club, the suburban detective is on the trail of delinquent alimony-payer Dale Lewis. Dale is murdered, and further probing reveals shady real-estate deals and an organized-crime connection. At the same time, Kit is drawn into the fathers' support group to which Dale belonged, where his role as investigator blurs with that of parent to a troubled teenager. Booklist reviewer Stuart Miller called The Fathers' Club "a thoroughly entertaining mystery." New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Stasio praised Katz's "wise and witty and honestly touching" reflections "on the existential angst of suburban dads."
Katz continued the "Suburban Detective Mystery" series with Death Row. Kit's friend Benchley suffers a stroke and is placed in a nursing home to recover. When Benchley dies from a drug overdose, Kit knows he must do something to prevent other people from getting hurt. Death Row met with mixed reviews from critics. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "While the pacing is slick, getting past Kit's vapid and sometimes pompously delivered worldview isn't easy." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, on the other hand, remarked: "Not only does he do a terrific job of portraying modern suburban life, but his mystery is so well plotted, and so shrouded in ambiguity, that the reader can barely guess what crimes have been committed, much less how they will be solved."
Katz has also crafted a career as a media critic for several high-profile magazines, including Rolling Stone. Encouraged by an editor to familiarize himself with the Internet, Katz became fascinated with the new medium. Working for Wired magazine, he was soon recognized as a leading apologist for digital technology and Web culture. His first nonfiction book, Virtuous Reality: How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like William Bennett, takes issue with public intellectuals, like former Education Secretary William Bennett, who associated cyberspace with the moral decay, apathy, and alienation prevalent among America's youth. Branding such alarm over the new media's supposed ill effects on society as posturing and technophobia, Katz depicts an old guard (i.e., his former employers in print and broadcast journalism) as purveyors of a one-way discourse slavishly pandering to corporate interests. Their power threatened, traditional media have fought back, blaming interactive technology and popular culture for a host of deep-rooted social problems, from violence to poor performance in schools. But "the Sensible Person will not buy Luddite notions that new technology is destroying civilization and turning us into ignorant zombies," Katz maintains in the book. Rather, the free acquisition and exchange of information will lead to a more active, pluralistic society and may, by fostering communication, help solve group conflicts.
A major theme of Virtuous Reality is the comparison between the present electronic revolution and the American Revolution itself. Katz sees the advocates of the evolving media as successors to men like American patriot Thomas Paine, embattled champion of a free press and free-thinking individuals. He even calls the recent Communications Decency Act, which arose partly in response to the availability of obscene materials on the Internet, a "Stamp Act for the digital community."
With its controversial topic and often contentious style, Virtuous Reality was not universally liked by critics. Deirdre Donahue in USA Today criticized Katz for simply dismissing as overblown "the visceral fear and anger many parents, particularly deeply religious ones, feel when they sense that alien values are being imparted to their children." Andrew Wolfe's review in the Washington Post Book World questioned the ideal that total access to information is inherently good: "To create a society in which ever larger numbers of people will be kept ignorant, design one that gives its members complete control over their information. Its people … [will] never be educated. A society that cannot protect the democracy of its political institutions against the democracy of its culture will not be democratic for long." Others reviewers praised Virtuous Reality. Gerard Martin in a BookPage Web site review stated that the book "promotes a unifying vision of unveiled defiance that celebrates the principles that are the foundation of America's rich cultural life and identity." New York Times Book Review contributor J.D. Biersdorfer called Virtuous Reality "a thought-provoking treatise," and Mary Carroll, in Booklist, wrote that the book "offers sensible advice to media producers and consumers, especially parents and kids."
Upon turning fifty, Katz purchased a cabin in the woods of upstate New York and spent time there reevaluating his life. His book Running to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change examines how he changed his life in different ways, such as setting new goals and dreams for himself. Having gotten away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Katz returned to his hometown rejuvenated. In a review of Running to the Mountain on the Spirituality and Health Web site, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote that the book contains "poignant observations on the search for meaning, the alchemy of internal change, the way people and places can be surprising spiritual teachers, and the bounties of silence and solitude…. This journey of faith and change helps us all to see more clearly."
The writing of Katz's next book, Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho, was prompted by an article he wrote for the Slashdot Web site about boys and girls who are ostracized and isolated by their high-school peers for being different. The article prompted thousands of e-mails from teens and young adults who experienced pain and humiliation at the hands of their classmates. An e-mail from a recent high-school graduate, Jesse Dailey, caught Katz's attention. In Geeks, Katz chronicles the lives of Jesse and his friend Eric Twilegar. These two computer-savvy teens were not very popular in high school and, like many "geeks," felt like they were on the outside looking in. The two found solace in the anonymous world of the Internet, playing computer games and interacting with other tech-obsessed individuals. After graduation, the two began working at a computer repair store and spending their free time online. Katz flew to Idaho to meet the two boys, and even encouraged them to seek jobs as technical support operators. Geeks follows Jesse and Eric as they make their move from Idaho to Chicago, find new jobs, and try to make new lives for themselves.
Andrew Leonard, writing in the New York Times, commented on the geek culture Katz discusses in the book, writing: "Not only are computer geeks now vital to the functioning of modern society, but they are also cool—even horn-rimmed glasses are hip." A Publishers Weekly critic observed: "Katz takes us inside the lives of these two young men, shows us their sense of isolation, their complete absorption in the cyberworld, their distrust of authority and institutions, and their attempts to negotiate an often hostile society. He breaks through the stereotype and humanizes this outcast group of young people." Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman remarked: "Katz's involvement in [Jesse's and Eric's] threadbare lives coincides with the shootings at Columbine [High School], which adds urgency to his compelling insights into the geek nation's unique blend of alienation, fanaticism, and improvisation." Leonard reflected: "Katz's obvious empathy and love for his ‘lost boys,’ his ability to see shades of his own troubled youth in their tough lives, give his narrative a rich taste that makes it unlike other Net books." One problem Leonard found was that "whenever Katz declaims about the entire geek nation, he loses focus," but, the critic pointed out, "when he stays close to his subjects, he's right on target."
After writing about the isolation felt by thousands of teens across the country, Katz felt that he needed to break away. He told Julia Lipman of the Pop Politics Web site: "I was actually close to getting obsessed about it. A bunch of my friends said, ‘You've got to stop doing it … your whole life's work is just basically being a transmitter of all this misery.’" Katz left his position at Slashdot and concentrated on other interests. His next book, A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me, is an autobiographical account of how in one year, his two Labradors passed away, and two new Border collies worked their way into his life.
At the beginning of A Dog Year, Katz introduces readers to his two noble, well-behaved yellow Labs, Stanley and Julius. Then Devon, a high-energy, two-year-old Border collie mistreated by his previous owner, arrives. Katz realizes early how challenging it will be to train the intelligent, high-strung dog. Devon opens the refrigerator to sneak food, escapes from the fenced-in yard, chases school buses, and leaps atop moving mini-vans. Despite all the trouble, Katz never gives up. He even adopts another Border collie, Homer, to train. As the year passes, Stanley and Julius both fall ill, and Katz must come to terms with their untimely deaths. By year's end, Devon and Homer are trained and have even tried their paws at herding sheep. Though it was difficult to get the dogs to that point, Katz does not regret the journey at all.
A Dog Year received good reviews from critics. "This touching saga, comprised equally of heart and humor, chronicles the experience of loving two dogs and losing them while trying to master a third and then a fourth," summarized Maryann Miller on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site. Lynn Nutwell commented in School Library Journal, "Katz's smooth, flowing writing style and engaging manner of describing the personalities of his four dogs will captivate even reluctant readers." "From Devon's frenzied entrance into Katz's life, escaping from the confines of his crate into a busy airport, to his exultant, trusting leap into Katz's arms one year later, this memoir is warm and heartfelt," wrote Library Journal contributor Cleo Pappas. Heather Grimshaw of the Bookreporter.com Web site noted: "What readers will find hidden—or buried—in chapters and humorous anecdotes are nuggets of wisdom from a true dog lover." Grimshaw continued: "Spinning a web of human emotions that range from rage to sheer joy, Katz captures the essence of what it's like to love dogs that can outwit and out-love their human companions."
Katz again focuses on dogs in his book The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family. Katz examines the increasingly important role dogs play in our lives. No longer are they for herding sheep or guarding houses, but rather, dogs are companions that humans rely on for emotional support and strength. People reviewer Cathy Burke noted: "[Katz] does a terrific job of examining how dogs are handling their ‘new work’: serving as many a family's nurturer in chief." "What readers discover," wrote Grimshaw on the Bookreporter.com Web site, "is that, while some dogs are loved more than ever before … they are purchased to alleviate the emotional needs of their owners, an unfair prospect for the sweetest of canine companions." Grimshaw called The New Work of Dogs "a good read by an excellent author."
Katz continues to chronicle his experience with dogs and advice on how to handle them in The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me. The book follows Katz through a year of breeding border collies in New York State while also farming, an experience that included keeping sheep and helping through lambing season at the end of an unseasonably harsh winter. Katz regards his experiences with a humorous eye and the same light tone that is found in his earlier books. A reviewer for School Library Journal noted that "readers feel Katz's frustration, joy, and triumphs."
In Katz on Dogs: A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living with Dogs, Katz combines his knowledge gleaned both from training his own animals and from working with other people's dogs to offer dog owners sound tips for the best ways in which to train their own dogs. He not only gives the basics of training itself but offers advice on how to go about choosing a dog, and explains why the training process itself is so important and necessary. Nancy Bent, in a review for Booklist, praised the book, stating that "Katz writes in a calm, measured tone … with examples, both positive and negative."
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life is the story of a troublesome border collie named Orson, who stole Katz's heart while driving him nearly to his wits' end. Orson was a difficult animal with a tendency to misbehave in outlandish ways, including barking and threatening to bite visitors, chasing a neighbor's cat straight through a screen door, and going after school buses. Katz tries everything to calm the dog, including training and homeopathic remedies, finally relocating from New Jersey to a farm with sheep where he hopes that the opportunity to exercise his herding instincts might focus the animal's energies more productively. Unfortunately, Orson fails to respond as Katz wished, and Katz is left with a difficult decision regarding his pet. Several critics found the book a tad melodramatic, but a reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "when … Katz gets some psychological distance, though, his subtle, evocative descriptions … vividly capture the fascinating, enigmatic lives of animals." Eva Lautemann, in a review for Library Journal, commented of Katz: "His devotion to Orson shines throughout; in turn, Orson helps Katz appreciate sunsets and star gazing."
Katz's next offering is Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm, a series of reports updating readers on his life on his farm and his progress in creating a balance between human and animal life. His major challenge is maintaining his relationship with his wife, even while answering the needs of the animals and his chores. Writing for Library Journal, reviewer Florence Scarinci remarked of the book that "a vivid picture of a 60-year-old man attempting to live the rugged rural life emerges."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Katz, Jon, A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me, Villard (New York, NY), 2002.
Katz, Jon, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me, Villard (New York, NY), 2004.
Katz, Jon, A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life, Villard Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Katz, Jon, Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm, Villard (New York, NY), 2007.
Animals, fall, 2002, Sy Montgomery, review of A Dog Year, p. 32.
Booklist, May 15, 1996, Stuart Miller, review of The Fathers' Club, p. 1572; January 1 & 15, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of Virtuous Reality: How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like William Bennett, p. 792; July, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Death Row, p. 1864; February 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho, p. 999; January 1, 2002, Kathleen Hughes, review of A Dog Year, p. 786; September 1, 2005, Nancy Bent, review of Katz on Dogs: A Commonsense Guide to Training and Living with Dogs, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1992, review of Death by Station Wagon, p. 1469; December 15, 2001, review of A Dog Year, p. 1739; March 1, 2003, review of The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family, pp. 362-363.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Janet Julian, review of A Dog Year, p. 38.
Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Cleo Pappas, review of A Dog Year, p. 130; May 1, 2003, Edell M. Schaefer, review of The New Work of Dogs, p. 146; September 1, 2006, Eva Lautemann, review of A Good Dog, p. 167; May 1, 2007, Florence Scarinci, review of Dog Days, p. 95.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 24, 1991, Don G. Campbell, review of Sign Off, p. 6.
New Jersey Monthly, January, 2004, Teresa Politano, review of The New Work of Dogs, p. 20.
New York Times, February 20, 2000, Andrew Leonard, "Good to Be a Nerd," review of Geeks, p. 16.
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1991, Ken Tucker, review of Sign Off, p. 9; April 3, 1994, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Family Stalker, p. 22; June 23, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Fathers' Club, p. 28; February 23, 1997, J.D. Biersdorfer, review of Virtuous Reality, p. 7.
O, The Oprah Magazine, June, 2003, Pam Houston, "Man's Best Therapist? The New Work of Dogs," p. 120.
People, June 30, 2003, Cathy Burke, review of The New Work of Dogs, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1990, review of Sign Off, p. 44; June 29, 1998, review of Death Row, p. 39; January 3, 2000, review of Geeks, p. 68; June 26, 2006, review of A Good Dog, p. 42.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Linda A. Vretos, review of Geeks, p. 214; September, 2000, interview with Jon Katz, p. 19; December, 2000, review of Geeks, p. 56; June, 2002, Lynn Nutwell, review of A Dog Year, p. 174; March, 2005, review of The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, p. 245.
Time, February 18, 1991, William Henry, III, review of Sign Off, p. 67; June 2, 2003, Andrea Sachs, "Love Me, Love My Dog," review of The New Work of Dogs, p. 81.
USA Today, September 8, 1997, Deirdre Donahue, review of Virtuous Reality.
Washington Post Book World, January 19, 1997, Andrew Wolfe, review of Virtuous Reality, p. 6.
Baltimore City Paper Online,http://www.citypaper.com/ (March 8, 2000), Heather Joslyn, review of Geeks.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (January 14, 2003), Lynn Hamilton, review of A Dog Year; (January 14, 2003), Robin Taylor, review of Geeks; (January 2, 2008), Gerard Martin, review of Virtuous Reality.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 14, 2003), Heather Grimshaw, review of A Dog Year; (May 12, 2004), Heather Grimshaw, review of The New Work of Dogs.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (January 14, 2003), Maryann Miller, review of A Dog Year.
Hodder Headline Australia Web site,http://www.hha.com.au/ (January 14, 2003), "Jon Katz—Hodder Headline Author of the Month," reprinting of an original posting by Jon Katz at Amazon.com (December 6, 1999).
Kate Connick's Courteous Canines, LLC,http://www.kateconnick.com/ (August, 2003), Kate Connick, review of The New Work of Dogs.
Pop Politics,http://www.poppolitics.com/ (April 10, 2001), Julia Lipman, "Being Jon Katz: It's Not Easy Leading a Revolution—Particularly when the Masses Are Divided."
Review Zone,http://www.thereviewzone.com/ (January 14, 2003), review of A Dog Year.
Spirituality and Health,http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/ (January 3, 2008), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Running to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change.
Working Dog Web,http://www.workingdogweb.com/ (January 3, 2008), Barbara Petura, "A Conversation with Jon Katz, Author of A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me," e-mail interview; (January 3, 2008), Barbara Petura, review of A Dog Year.