I'm on vacation for the rest of the year, but before I go, here's my annual top-10 reading list. See you in 2013!
Douglas Brinkley’s biography of the broadcast icon is also a tale of America in the 20th century, and essential for fans unfamiliar with his career before he became the face and voice of the CBS Evening News in 1962. The book includes extensive reporting on Cronkite’s rise as a print journalist, beginning in Kanas City, and his frustrations about not having the chance to initially cover the story in the early 1940s, World War II, for United Press.
Brinkley’s Cronkite reveals the broadcasting icon warts and all. One of his lowest moments came at the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco, when he was strongly encouraged to spread the wealth with other reporters and not be such an “air hog.” He didn’t, and that misstep led to a low point in his career. With the ratings tanking, CBS President William Paley essentially fired Cronkite from that year’s DNC in Atlantic City, a huge embarrassment to the highly esteemed newsman.
But there’s so much good stuff. For those of us who weren’t watching TV during the days — not day — but days of the first walk on the moon in 1969, the account of Cronkite’s coverage is breathtaking, as are the stories of his all-day, all-night broadcast on July 4, 1976, and of his behind-the-scenes role in Robert F. Kennedy’s decision to run for president in 1968.
Vietnam and Watergate are prominently reported, of course, as is the bitter enmity that Cronkite felt for his successor, Dan Rather (Rather comes across quite unsympathetically). It was an astounding life, considering that he lived nearly a third of it “retired” from CBS (who forced him to quit at the age of 65). Well worth your time.
2) May We Be Forgiven
A.M. Homes’ sixth novel — her first since 2006 — has a somewhat unconventional story structure in that its most important moment takes place in the first 25 pages. Then what? Laugh-out-loud funny, and at times brutal satire that surprises you in the end. Call it the death of the American Dream
3) Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple’ s clever and ultimately moving novel begins as a sharp-edged satire of all things Seattle, but then develops into an addictive narrative about a misanthropic (and somewhat tortured) artist and an intense depiction of a mother-daughter bond.
Lauren Groff’s novel about growing up in an upstate New York commune traces the rise and fall of an idealistic society.
5) Making Heavy Peace
This was the year of the rock memoir. Neil Young’s book came out around the same time as Pete Townshend’s, and let’s just say the comparisons weren’t favorable to good ’ol Neil. So know going in that this book should probably be subtitled “For Serious Fans Only.” But if you are a hardcore fan, you have to read this book.
Yes, there are way too many words expended on his many obsessions. Deal with it. Or don’t. Neil doesn’t care, as he writes early in the book. In fact he says it was only because he injured his foot that he had the time to work on it — that, and dealing with the fact that he was no longer drinking or smoking weed for the first time in nearly five decades.
6) True Believers
Kurt Andersen has been one of the kings of NYC-based establishment media for decades, going back to his work editing (and co-creating) Spy magazine. In True Believers, his third novel, a former Supreme Court nominee sets out to write an autobiography that will reveal a deeply held secret from her radical 1960s past. Andersen describes his main character as Hillary Clinton — if she hadn’t met Bill.
Loaded with sex and drugs, Joshua Cody’s account of being a 30-something composer living in NYC and dealing with a cancer diagnosis was derided by one critic as a “pretentious mess.” Not for everybody, for sure, but Cody is economical with his prose and his story is pretty unforgettable.
CL featured Eric Deggans on our cover the week before his controversial book Race-Baiter was published, and it’s been interesting to see how the national press has reacted to the Tampa Bay Times media critic’s opus on race in the media. In Entertainment Weekly, critic Ken Tucker wrote that “Deggans makes a smartly presented call for more civil discourse.” On CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz accused him of being “really rough on Fox News” and ”painting with a broad brush,” and in the Columbia Review of Journalism Amanda Hess wrote, “Unfortunately, most students won’t find their own media diets reflected in Race-Baiter’s critique, which is focused on legacy platforms like cable TV news, network television, even talk radio. The Internet is an afterthought in Deggans’s book — even though online sources now constitute the critic’s biggest competitors.”
9) Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, and The Perfect Knuckleball
R.A. Dickey’s book is the baseball memoir of the year, from a player who endured heavy adversity but ended up having his greatest season at the age of 37.
10) Great magazine and newspaper stories.
I read and enjoyed many, many stories over the year, but these stood out:
• “Never Let Go,” by Kelley Benham. An amazing three-part series about the premature birth of the author’s daughter last year.
• “The Yankee Comandante,” by Thomas Gann, The New Yorker. Clocking in at nearly 22,000 words, this epic story is about William Alexander Morgan, an American who went to Cuba, joined in the revolution against Batista, aligned with Fidel Castro, and died at the age of 32.
• “Listen and Learn,” by Nathan Heller, The New Yorker. A fascinating look at the phenemonen of TED talks.
• “The Boy They Couldn’t Kill,” by Thomas Lake, Sports Illustrated. Before Chancellor Lee Adams was born 12 years ago, his father, then Carolina Panther player Rae Carruth, hired two people to murder him and his mother. Chancellor survived with the support of a loving grandmother. An incredible story written by a former Tampa Bay Times reporter.
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