Saturday, August 29, 2009

Three Books I Haven't Quite Finished

I started two books this summer and attempted to get through more of a third:

Personal History, by Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post during the Watergate years and wife to a manic-depressive husband. As soon as I learned her husband was manic-depressive, I stopped reading the book. I guess I didn't want to know more about her husband's suicide and her "failures" to get to the bottom of his issues. The book was interesting enough, but it has a real sense of entitlement throughout. Ms. Graham really does believe the Post is the best newspaper in the world and that she was instrumental to that development, apparently. I didn't finish the book, but she was enormously proud of a business deal early on that I felt was more important to her than to the quality of the paper -- a merger, of all things, between two different Washington papers that gave the Post a dominant position in the "morning" slot. That may have been key to the Post's success, but it seems so prosaic compared to the romantic view I have of newspapers as guardians of the public trust, not as businesses. So this book opened my eyes to the business side of things, but it's not something I really wanted to have happen.

Next up was Ulysses, which I continued reading for a little bit before putting down again. I read up through a lengthy discussion of Shakespeare and some avant-garde interpretations that are more or less accepted as fact by the general public nowadays -- that Shakespeare was gay, that he was a Catholic, that he was a woman-hater. I do think Shakespeare was Catholic, but the "gay" concept is ahistorical, and the woman-hater charge is pure bollocks. Anyway, the lengthy discussion kind of wore me out as a reader, but I may try to get back into the swing of this novel again later.

Finally, there is Parting the Waters, a brick-sized volume on "America in the King Years" that is riveting in parts and mind-numbingly complex in others. The factual description of the violence perpetrated against the early Freedom Riders in particular is stunning. The book describes the chaos and confusion of the early King years, and I'm looking forward to the triumphant March on Washington. The complexity of the story, though, is threatening to overwhelm me as a reader. Maybe I'll take a page from Monty Python and "skip a bit."
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