This Week in Reading: Jeff Himmelman and Robert Sawyer -The Toast

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Hey! I’ve probably mentioned this, but I’m in Canada for a lot of the summer, because my mother just had another knee replacement (moms, right?), so my reading habits are firmly in Rural Canadian mode. Which is to say: plenty of re-reading, and finding out how successful my familial book recommendations have been recently (very!) This, of course, is also why you don’t know how I feel about the new season of The Newsroom yet. I hear it’s a little better, but I sure hope it isn’t. Being a little better would ruin the experience, you know? Then it would just be a mediocre show. On to the books.

Before I talk about our main book this week (Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee), I wanted to let you know that I just finished Bring Up the Bodies this morning, and am in dire straits as a result. Now, I thought Wolf Hall was the stronger of the two, but mainly because it’s in Wolf Hall that Mantel gets to really create Cromwell for us, front-ending his childhood and his marriage and his relationship with Wolsey, etc., which is her really extraordinary achievement. This is excellent, but it’s more “here is the second-finest novel about the Tudors currently in existence,” and less “I must move to England and worship at your feet.” But now, you see, I’m dreading/anticipating the third. There’s such a weird pathos in knowing what’s going to happen, right? I mean, HISTORICAL SPOILERS, Cromwell is going to push Anne of Cleves on Henry, and it’s going to cost him his head, and I’m pretty fond of him at this point. I wish I could send him a kitten poster. Or just rock him in my arms and say “tell me about your day.” Or…more. Did anyone else develop really specific feelings for Cromwell? Or is he my Teen Wolf [Hall]? Sorry.

I’m really here to talk about Jeff Himmelman’s book.

It was excerpted in Vanity Fair, I read the excerpt, I enjoyed the excerpt, I did what publishers hope people will do after reading excerpted books in Vanity Fair. And then, after gulping the entire thing in a sitting, I sent it to my father and my uncle and my mother and one of my other uncles. The same copy, I should mention. There’s nothing that brings divorced sixty-somethings together like having to responsibly co-parent a large hardcover about Ben Bradlee.

It’s tremendous, is what I’m trying to say. It’s really great. I feel like we should hear more about it. It’s just relentlessly engaging. And, as my Dad said, “I almost put it down after he finished talking about Watergate, because who cares what the Post did after Watergate, but then we were into Janet Cooke and the whole Sally Quinn shitshow.”

(It’s a real shitshow. You don’t want to miss it.)

I was interacting socially with an editor at Vanity Fair, and attempted to extract a promise that VF would immediately commission a piece on “the Yoga Boys,” because, Jesus, have you ever heard anything which seems more like there should be a really long piece in VF about it with lots of pictures and anecdotes?
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What I found particularly enjoyable, though, apart from the ROLLICKING TRIP THROUGH 20TH CENTURY HISTORY AND JOURNALISM and the sex parts (JFK kept trying to get up on Bradlee’s second wife) was Himmelman’s obvious effort to write a good and correct book. He was coming in with a lot of hero worship, Bradlee gave him access to everything, and the picture of Ben Bradlee you get seems to have the right number of liver spots.

Oh, and he also produces really clear evidence that Woodward and Bernstein got a member of the grand jury to talk to them (the judge having previously stated that the only reason they weren’t put in jail for jury tampering was that no one actually responded to their entreaties), not to bury the lede.

The other book I want to briefly mention is Robert J. Sawyer’s The Terminal Experiment, which lives in my old room, and I tend to find myself reading it whenever I spend more than a few nights there. He’s one of my favourite Canadian SF writers, and this one is just exquisitely Robert J. Sawyer, and about medicine and souls and great apes and killer computers and marriage and predicts FreshDirect (it was written a few decades ago.)

Okay, what are you reading this week?

Works Referenced:

Jeff Himmelman, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee (Indiebound | Amazon)
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (Indiebound | Amazon)
Robert Sawyer, The Terminal Experiment (Indiebound | Amazon)

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