Katharine Graham: Personal History

Books about journalism have always interested me, so I couldn’t resist this rather tattered copy of Katharine Graham’s autobiography when I saw it for $8 at a local flea market.

Graham, the legendary publisher of the Washington Post, won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for this book, which is a fascinating insight into the world of American journalism, Washington high society and the rich and powerful.

It’s quite a tome, and I’ve been at it since before Christmas – with a break for some lighter fare along the way – but it’s a great read. As well as the parts about journalism, Graham gives a look into a world that no longer exists (or maybe it does, but I don’t know it). As a young woman in the 1930s and ’40s, she took a back seat to her husband Phil, who took over the Post from her father (who owned it). After his death, she was thrust into the publisher’s role and pulls no punches in telling of her struggle to adapt to the position and to working with newspapermen.

That she did it with great dignity is part of history. She had firm ideas about the role of the media; ideas perhaps considered old-fashioned today, but certainly still entrenched as late as the 1970s and early ’80s.

The cover features Katharine Graham and Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The cover features Katharine Graham and Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Katharine Graham is synonymous with Watergate, and the book cover is a shot of her with reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. American politics plays a big part in the book, as the Grahams were friends with presidents and power-brokers, including the Kennedy clan.

The book was written in 1997, when Katharine (always known as Kay) Graham was 80. It is full of reflections, on the role of the media, the status of women and how it has changed, and life in general. Despite her wealth, Graham did not always have an easy life and she holds little back.

I’m not quite finished reading it, but I thought it was time to write about what I’m reading right now. If you can find this book, you are assured of a great read.

Personal History, by Katharine Graham, Phoenix Press, 1997.

Posted in Autobiography & Biography, Journalism, Non-fiction | Tagged , | 5 Comments

To Kill A Mockingbird

DSC_0328My copy of Harper Lee’s classic has a $1.45 price tag still on it.  Now for my admission: it’s stolen. Or salvaged…as I prefer to think of it.

The previous owner was my former sister-in-law, and the book is an old school text book, published by Heinemann Educational Books in 1970. I think I rescued it from a clean-up when it was destined for the charity shop.

And now the exciting news that Harper Lee’s first novel – based on the same characters, and long believed lost – is to be published in July.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author is now 88, and wrote Go Set a Watchman before most of her fans (including me) were even born. It will be published in Australia by Random House Books.

According to the publisher, the new book is set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird and features the character of Scout as an adult woman.  

I’m sure I won’t be alone in lining up for a copy! I’ll be interested to read it, but I’ll also be interested in the reception it receives; times have changed, readers have changed and the civil rights movement has moved on. Will Harper Lee’s important theme resonate as much, more than half a century later?

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Another loss: vale Rod McKuen

American poet and songwriter Rod McKuen has died in Beverly Hills, California, aged 81.  McKuen had huge commercial success but was often panned by the critics for his prolific poetry.

I can’t remember who introduced me to his work as a teenager, but it appealed then, if not so much now. Nevertheless, I’ve never ditched my hardback copy of The Rod McKuen Omnibus, a collection of three books – Listen To The Warm, Lonesome Cities and Stanyan Street And Other Sorrows – plus 14 more other “never before published” poems.DSC_0329

Published in 1975, the jacket blurb describes McKuen as “one of the most important poets writing in the world today”. Critics were not always so kind, but he had a huge following and sold millions of books.

Rod McKuen was also a prolific songwriter, with his work recorded by some of the big names, including Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Madonna and more. He was an Academy Award nominee for the music and lyrics for “Jean”, from the 1969 movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and for the title song for the animated Peanuts film A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1971.

Running away from an abusive home at the age of 11, McKuen drew on his life on the road – as a ranch hand, railroad worker, rodeo cowboy, newspaperman and late-night radio host –  for many of his poems. 

You learn from hobos
the art of catching trains.
Locomotives slow at trestles
and whistle stops
to hook the mail.

Diving through an open boxcar
you lie there till your breath comes back.
Then standing in the doorway you’re the king
as crowns of hills and towns go by
and night-time eats the summer up
and spits the stars across the sky.

(From Lonesome Cities ‘The Art of Catching Trains’)

Rod McKuen wrote 30 volumes of poetry and produced around 200 recordings. I’m keeping my book.

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RIP Colleen McCullough

DSC_0326Best-selling Australian author Colleen McCullough has died on Norfolk Island, aged 77. I was never a huge fan of McCullough’s books, although as a teenager I devoured every word of her most famous book, The Thorn Birds.

I still have copies of The Thorn Birds and of  her first novel, Tim  (which I read later) in my bookcase. They look a bit worse for wear, faded covers and yellowing pages. The Thorn Birds was published in 1978 and Tim in 1974. I don’t think I ever read anything else she wrote (oh, maybe An Indecent Obsession); the Masters of Rome series seemed a bit daunting.  But still, she was a vibrant, larger-than-life character and her loss will be felt by many book-lovers all over the world.

I was appalled at The Australian newspaper’s obituary, apparently written years ago and not reviewed, which described her as “plain of feature” and “certainly overweight”. Can you imagine anyone writing a similar description of a male writer? I don’t think so. The public outrage has been well founded.

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Thanks for visiting my book blog! What you’ll see here is about what I’m reading now – and a few bits of news about writers and books, especially if they are represented on my bookshelves. I have so many friends who are avid readers and who like to talk, borrow, buy and recommend books, and I hope you’ll feel free to comment or recommend as well. My reading tastes are eclectic – everything from biographies to crime fiction, literary novels and blockbuster best-sellers to travel narratives. There’s a strong Australian bent to a lot of it! 

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The Mayor of Lexington Avenue

james sheehan coverThere’s nothing quite like a good crime novel to read over the holidays, and I picked this one from my sister’s bookcase while visiting her over Christmas. Although I’ve read a lot of crime fiction, I’d never heard of author James Sheehan before but I was soon enthralled and am now looking for more of his books. It turns out that The Mayor of Lexington Avenue was his first novel, published in 2007, and since then he’s written three more.

James Sheehan‘s hero in this book is Jack Tobin, a crack Miami lawyer who takes up the case of a young man on death row. A young man he believes is innocent.  There’s a back story to it too, of course, which reveals – eventually – how Tobin has been given the nickname that is the title of the book. Some of the story is written in flashback, but it’s more enthralling than confusing, and I couldn’t put it down (spurred on by the fact my departure date was looming and I wanted to get it finished before I returned home).  Jack Tobin’s a great character, and the ring of authenticity about the book perhaps comes from the fact that Sheehan, like his protagonist, grew up in New York before becoming a Florida lawyer. Jack Tobin features in two more of Sheehan’s books and I’m on the hunt for them!

If you love crime thrillers, you’ll love this one.

The Mayor of Lexington Avenue, by James Sheehan, Random House, 2007.

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