Fire Bone: A Maverick Guide to a Life in Journalism
In over 80 years Robert Bone has enjoyed quite a journey. Readers will surely enjoy sharing it vicariously through his memoir, Fire Bone!. He has blended two distinct periods of his life, essentially two halves. He glides from recollections of his childhood, youth, and developing career to his more established but still peripatetic achievements in photo-journalism and travel writing. The balance is weighed on the years before he ‘settled’ in Hawaii for almost forty years, though such a word is moot as he has been blessed (for himself and the reader) with lifelong wanderlust.
Bone grew up in the Midwest and he soon spread his wings to travel from one continent to another over the years. The memoir draws from meticulous personal records, perhaps diligently kept diaries. He reminisces about long-lasting friendships and romances, daringly mentioning the names of the latter despite changes in social behaviors in the past half century.
Bone, keen on photography as a youngster, becomes a photo-journalist, publishing images and articles for magazines and newspapers that take him to work places as far apart as Boston, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Japan. Once Hawaii became familiar territory he became a pioneer in writing travel books that took readers beyond the hotels-and-restaurants descriptions. Hawaii, terra incognita to most travelers in the early 1970s became the first subject of his Maverick series: the book ran to over 20 editions and half a million copies.
While it is tempting to say that the first part of the book is either better or more enjoyable, the later years are at least equally compelling so that the imbalance in length contrives to work effectively. The second part is especially agreeable as his wife, Sara, is included in every day of his life. Together they visit her ‘rellies’ (relatives) in New Zealand, quite an experience for an only child with few cousins. They circle the globe together with no adventure more nerve-wracking than crossing the Berlin Wall, back then a serious threat.
Two special features stand out in Fire Bone!: the first is his clear description or explanation of how and why technological advances impacted his career and those of others in the same field. He includes flying from one part of the world to another by jet, improved photographic strategies, the advent of computerized printing and, above all, the computer. He was a frontrunner in using the computer journalistically, confounding editors by nonchalantly promising he could have his articles on their desks within minutes.
With a fine sense of humor, and an eye for the unusual, Bone remembers whimsical anecdotes such as his New York cat who was bewildered when arriving in Mallorca to feel grass under her paws for the first time. No less, he recalls sending pages of his high school variety show script down the laundry chute for the players rehearsing in the basement. In the 1980s he frowned on the Guam appeal to Japanese tourists who crowded shooting galleries where they could use guns with live ammunition, an activity forbidden to them after Word War 2. The title itself refers to an employer who threatened to ‘fire’ him, then thought better of the threat! And these tidbits are just a hint of the pleasurable reading the memoir offers.
Bone’s acknowledgements pay tribute to all who helped recreate a long and interesting life. Where these are personal friends he might consider identifying them separately, perhaps following the epilogue, as they are so numerous to become confusing when included in the text.
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