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Thursday, September 10, 2015

I'll Read When the Baby Goes to College: September Book Blog

The book: Personal History
The Author: Katharine Graham
The publication date: 1998
What it’s about: Katharine Graham was at the helm of the Washington Post for over 20 years. This fascinating book won the Pulitzer in 1998. It is the story of her life: her childhood; her courtship and marriage and struggle with her husband’s manic depression, abuse, and suicide; her professional life and role in the reporting on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. She talks about her insecurities, her pioneering in a male-dominated field, and her friendships with famous people including presidents of the United States.

What hooked me: I used to flinch when my kid was taught in elementary school to “make personal connections” with literature, but indulge me. I picked this book up because I can remember as a kid seeing press conferences where this fascinating, no-nonsense, self-confident older woman fired questions at whoever was on the podium. And how her aura commanded respect. I wanted to know who she was and hear her story.

Stuff I learned:
• There was a time when the newspaper, the printed word, was the ONLY way people got their information about what was going on in the country.
• There was a time when newspapers had an entirely different level of influence and relevance, not to mention ethics and a sense of crusading for truth.
• What it took to put out a paper before digital anything: when typesetting meant arranging paragraphs, sentences, and words one letter at a time. That was largely still true in 1975.
• Had it not been for the Washington Post, the public might never have known the whole story (or at least as much of it as we do know) of Watergate.

Parts I especially liked:
• Reading about her friendships with Kennedy, Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson, Adelai Stevenson, Henry Kissinger, Warren Buffet, and Ronald Reagan
• Reading about her travels, particularly to the Middle East, and her interview with Muammar Gaddafi, whom she photographed. The picture was printed, with her freelance photographer byline, and she earned $87. This was when she was CEO of the Washington Post, for heaven’s sake.
• Reading her take on “All the President’s Men,” the movie. (She’d been pretty worried about it; she thought it was great.)

Why I recommend it: It reads like a novel and it touches on history that I remember. It is the best kind of memoir: reading it is like listening to the author, while always thinking, “tell me more.”

Other books I recommend: 
• Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb by Trobaugh: Love long-buried family secrets? Grab this one, set in the quiet rural south in changing times.
• Shine, Shine, Shine by Netzer: “The story spliced together marriage, motherhood, and space travel to breed a hybrid of romantic comedy and scientific reverie.” – review by Ron Charles. POV character Sunny is a true piece of work. And fascinating.
Skellig by Almond: From the Juv section, this book is beautifully written and tender. “British novelist David Almond works magic as he examines the large issues of death, life, friendship, love, and the breathtaking connections between all things,” says the Amazon review. Check out the recorded version — read by the author — for listening in the car with the kid(s).
Mistress Masham’s Repose by White: This book was mentioned in “The Giant’s House,” a book I read (and loved) in 2005. Here in 2015 I viewed its entry on my “to read” list with suspicion. A book from 1946? Really? Surprise: I found it charming. Imagine “The Borrowers,” imagine them descended from the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels, and imagine their “normal-sized” child/friend as the ancestor of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. A witty and fun read.

Book I wish I’d flung in the first chapter: Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut: I wrote down three sentences in the first chapter and expected to love it throughout. When it bogged down about a quarter of the way in, I kept thinking that based on the first chapter he’d pull it together. He didn’t. It’s full of fruitcake characters only marginally likeable, and the whole thing revolves around a crackpot religion that amused me until it bored me. It is probably brilliant satire, but since it was written in the 50’s, a lot of it went right over my head. To save you the trouble, here are the memorable quotes I wrote down: “Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. *Foma = harmless untruths.” “I, by contrast, felt bristly, diseased, cynical . . . My soul seemed as foul as smoke from burning cat fur.” “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”


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