What I’ve Been Reading — November 2005

First off, I’m aghast at the number of books we bought or checked out this month, only one of which was actually read. Second off, I’m very giddy about my new Penguin book collection that should be coming any day now. Expect next month to be nothing but readings from that.


Books bought at the First Lutheran Church Bazaar:

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction – J.D. Salinger
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Best American Sports Writing 1991 – David Halberstam (editor)
Hard Laughter – Anne Lamott
150 Ways to Play Solitare – Alphonse Moyse Jr.
Merriam-Webster’s Crossword Puzzle Dictionary (2nd Edition)

Books checked out from the library:

The Winter of Our Discontent – John Steinbeck
The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
Book Lust and More Book Lust – Nancy Pearl
On Writing Well – William Zinsser
Travel Writing – L. Peat O’Neil
The Writers Idea Book – Jack Heffron
A Reporters Life – Walter Cronkite

Books Read:

Edward R. Murrow (and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism) – Bob Edwards
A Reporters Life – Walter Cronkite
On Writing Well – William Zinsser (portions)
A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd (not quite finished yet)



Oh how our lofty goals are pierced.

Look at the mess of books that we brought into our house this month. Look at all the words that were accepted and then discarded.

I could blame Kerrie for bringing in a bunch of neglected books, though the only thing I can really accuse her of is having fun at a used book bazaar without me. I woke up one morning to find she had shuttled off to First Lutheran Church, snatched up some books, and brought them back home to fill our bookshelves. I wasn’t surprised – well, except for the fact that I forgot there even was a bazaar to begin with – because Kerrie suffers from the same disease I do. It’s one that forces us, regardless of any actual “need,” to buy books from used bazaars and library sales by the box load.

She brought back some doozies, too: a great old Salinger paperback, one that would look wonderful on a bookshelf even if I never read it; a David Halberstam edited sports writing anthology (from 1991, so it’s only a little dated); and my personal favorite, a crossword puzzle dictionary.

Quite possibly none of these books will ever be read. Anne Lamott is a favorite author of Kerrie’s, and I’ve heard good things about McEwan, but they were purchased out of opportunity, not desire, so they’ll likely be filler reading.

Our library trip was no better, I’m afraid. I grabbed books like they were about to be thrown away, hoarding them in my hands to take home. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was genuinely interested in the selections I made, or if it was just that I found so many books in our library, where often I have trouble locating anything of note.

Really, if there was any familiarity or interest whatsoever, I checked it out. I looked and found three books on writing. I checked them out. I found two short Steinbeck novels that I thought I’d be interested in. I checked them out. I had heard of the Book Lust collections and thought they might be informative. I checked out Book Lust, then turned around and checked out the sequel, More Book Lust. I wanted to read about Walter Cronkite. So, naturally, I went out of my way to a different branch of the library. Once there, I checked it out. It was “demand and supply” for me and the local libraries this month.

Here are some quick notes before I go on to the books I actually read:

1. Book Lust is a series that suggests books based on categories. It’s not a particularly interesting read, however, so don’t buy it. Just peruse through it at the library or book store.

2. William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is a great book if you want to learn the art of non-fiction writing. I found it to be a good resource in learning the newspaper style. The only down fall is that it’s nearly 30 years old. This is a book I’ll renew when the due date has arrived.

3. I’ll also renew The Writer’s Idea Book, only because I never got a chance to even open it up. Ditto for Travel Writing.

4. Kerrie checked out a crap-load of books herself: Susan Wittig Albert’s Bloodroot, Joe Ortiz’s The Villiage Baker, local culinary celebrity Sanaa Abourezk’s Secrets of Healthy Middle Eastern Cuisine, The Laurel Kitchen’s Bread Book (which was later purchased used at The Book Shop,) and Carolyn Humpheries’ How to Freeze.

See? It wasn’t just me.

I’m not going to bother going too deeply into Shepherd’s A Christmas Story only because you’ve all seen the movie and can recite the hilarity line for line. This, along with my 1980 Hallmark The Night Before Christmas pop-up book, are the two pieces of our library that we bring out only during the Christmas season. I haven’t yet read Shepherd’s book, so (with the Christmas spirit still blooming inside of me) I started reading it.

A Christmas Story is a collection of Shepherd’s short stories – primarily the ones that were borrowed from to form the screenplay to the movie — and each story is wonderfully detailed in comparison to the scaled back versions that were brought to the big screen. It’s hilarious. I haven’t finished it, though, so I’ll hold off on it. Chances are, this is the last you‘ll hear of it until next year.

My real feat this month was getting through the biography of Edward Murrow and the autobiography of Walter Cronkite – easily the two most important people in broadcast journalism’s short 60-year history. The feat was further accentuated by the idea that my reading resolve was tested numerous times this month. I managed to spend the first three days reading a book I had said I finished last month (East of Eden), then I spent the next three days working, drinking, and saying goodbye to friends. To top it all off, I started doing crossword puzzles. I really didn’t have as much time as I’d hoped to get through some of the books I foolishly checked out or purchased.

I digress; back to the broadcast journalism titans. Both books are well written, so we can get that out of the way right now. In fact, Cronkite writes in a very eloquent way, using lots of great words and asides. At times it seems as though he’s rambling a bit but, really, what guy in his 80’s doesn’t ramble occasionally.

What I was more interested in was the history behind these two broadcasting greats. Murrow’s name has been in the media quite a bit lately thanks to Good Night and Good Luck, the new film about his fights with Joseph McCarthy during the days of the Red Scare. Cronkite, on the other hand, is so much a part of the history of broadcasting that he became the prototypical news anchorperson – so much so that for years Sweden called their news anchors “cronkiters.”

I found a lot of things interesting about these books. Edwards describes the horrors of World War II well enough to make the reader wonder why anyone would want to risk their lives in London during the Blitz just to broadcast news – news that was likely going to be censored, as it often was with foreign correspondents. I tried to imagine living in a city where thousands were dying due to bombing, yet very few, relatively, fled the city. It wasn’t hard – Edwards does a great job recreating the scene that Murrow lived through when he would almost heroically broadcast the results.

Murrow was a man that believed in equal time and equal coverage. He believed in unbiased radio and television broadcasts. He helped shore up the pro-American news broadcasts that were so popular during World War II by bringing more unbiased reporting into the field. He took on those that were trying to defame journalism’s ideals – people like Joseph McCarthy – and ultimately won. The sad thing, however, is that his career was cut short because people simply stopped caring about the true news and started focusing on entertainment. Murrow had become too controversial for the news department he had helped create.

Murrow, or a person like him, is almost unbelievable today. How could a man, who thought television should be an educational tool used to present a story and let the viewers decide through equal viewpoints from both sides; who pioneered the Public Broadcasting Service (which is now viewed as a left-wing benefactor simply because it presents a unbiased view of both sides without the spin that keeps the cable news channels afloat), succeed in today’s Fox News/The Daily Show-filled, 150-channel world?

Murrow has a great speech, which is included in the book, on the downfall of television and how it’s sanitizing all that we do. At times, Cronkite touches on these things in his book as well. Both find repulsion in the idea of a lowest common denominator element dictating what news broadcasting should be. Both are disgusted with the fact that serious news for the sake of true education has been replaced with news that can sell ad time – news that is truly sensationalistic.

I got the idea to read Cronkite’s autobiography from certain passages in Edward’s book on Murrow. Murrow was a tolerant colleague of Cronkite’s, but was never the biggest fan, for whatever reason. I thought I’d see what Cronkite’s side would say, and additionally I like reading these books for the historical aspect of the news. Murrow took me through our nation’s history from World War I to McCarthy’s red-baiting, and Cronkite was able to continue the story. More and more the month became a study, of sorts – of learning the history of my adopted field-to-be; much like a new NBA rookie might study the lives and games of Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Michael Jordan.

Cronkite mirrors a lot of Murrow’s ideals as far as broadcasting is concerned, so there ended up being a lot of parallels between the two books. Where he goes a little further, though, is in describing the inequities of sacrifice that those in wars face, especially a war like Vietnam. During World War II, people in the United States made sacrifices to help the war abroad – women went to work, families saved supplies and helped where they could, etc. During Vietnam, however, there was a stark difference in the sacrifices that were made – the public didn’t have to give anything up for the war, but the soldiers were facing even worse conditions than during WWII.

There’s an entire chapter dedicated to how the press’s right to be informed and their right to inform can be mussed up thanks to government intervention. How can we trust a government that won’t tell us the truth and won’t let an impartial force report on the facts? We vote these people into office: they work for us, they work for our country, and we have every right to know what they’re doing while they’re on the job.

It’s not all politically charged, however, and I found myself amazed that Cronkite, regardless of his position at the time, had some small part in everything important that happened from World War II to when Dan Rather replaced him as head anchor of the CBS nightly newscast. Cronkite doesn’t just write his own history – he writes the history of our country, and at times, the world. It’s mind boggling that Cronkite remembers all of the stories of his life.

It’s not an easy field to work in, I’m sure, but it seems as though the true talents in broadcast journalism have all passed us by. My generation doesn’t have a Murrow or Cronkite. We don’t have anyone that’s as talented and willing to take risks as these two men.

Really, we’re all to blame for this. And we’re all at a loss because of it.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 2nd, 2005