Toby Lester: back to the future

Toby Lester’s writing is a dance that I am not familiar with. I am currently taking a History of Journalism in America course in which we spend a lot of time deconstructing journalistic technique. Lester’s articles “The Other Vitruvian Man” and “Armchair Travelers” both conflate the past and present in an untraditional way. As a reader, I feel as though I am in the past which strikes me as funny but also as riveting. When Lester quotes Petrarch in the opening of “Travelers,” I feel as though Petrarch is his casual subject: “‘Each famous author of antiquity who I recover,’ he fulminated.” Additionally: “But reviving them, Petrarch quickly realized, wasn’t going to be easy.” The un-distancing of the past engages me about a subject matter I might otherwise take little interest in. Rather than examining Petrarch’s writing in a history textbook manner, the reader is up close and personal with his thought process. Similarly, that Lester approaches the new Vitruvian Man sketch from a personal relationship creates a refreshing dimension to historical journalism that I would not expect. We are able to look over Sgarbi’s shoulder at his research and access a past perspective through trained eyes. We see him “discover, to his amazement” the sketches, and we can follow his hunch about Leonardo and Giacomo Andrea collaborating. It is very “inside baseball” but “inside the historian’s office.”

Some questions I have for Lester might be:

  1. How did you break into this genre?
  2. How do you feel your writing on historical subjects differs from the writing of others?
  3. What was your first job out of school? It is on everyone’s mind…
  4. How are your days structured now? What kinds of things are you working on at the moment?
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