In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

March 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, March 08, 2018
Have you seen The Post yet? I loved it. The Pentagon Papers is just a dim memory from my teen years—I think one of our teachers may have mentioned at the time it was happening—we weren’t very well informed about current affairs at our school. The Post is as much about Katharine Graham as it is about Ben Bradlee, the famous journalist and executive editor of the paper, who also went on to expose the Watergate scandal. Graham’s highly engaging Personal History is a great read. Graham inherited the Washington Post from her late husband, who had inherited it from his father in law—Graham’s father, and her memoir is a fascinating look at a life full of highs and lows from someone who used the immense privilege she was born into to eventually to forge a really extraordinary career—included in which, the choice to publish the Pentagon Papers, which started a domino effect that ultimately ended the Vietnam war.

A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures is a memoir of both Ben Bradlee’s working and personal life. Written in a very easy to read, journalistic manner, it’s a fascinating account of an ambitious, clever man, who always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Thrice married, and leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him, he never makes excuses for his behaviour, or tries to justify it. This could be rather challenging in real life, but makes for a really refreshing read—I admire his forthrightness. One of the central relationships in his earlier life was his friendship with John and Jacqueline Kennedy—this started when they were all young parents living near each other. His admiration for Kennedy is very clear, and he claims to have had no knowledge of his torrid private life. It transpires that Ben Bradlee’s sister in law, the painter Mary Meyer, was one of the president’s mistresses at the time of his assassination, a fact Bradlee claims not to have known until later, when she was brutally murdered, and her diaries were found.

Of course it’s an author’s prerogative to pick and choose what they leave out of their stories, and it’s also important to remember there are many versions of the same truth. Jean Kennedy is the last one living of the nine Kennedy children, and her memoir The Nine of Us: Growing up Kennedy has been written looking through very rose coloured glasses. Nevertheless it’s a surprisingly moving look at a growing up in this large family who have already been extensively written about. She glosses over all the scandals, and doesn’t dwell on the tragedies, but she obviously had very strong connections with all her siblings—even the much older ones, and a particularly cohesive bond with Edward, who was her junior. The book is also a tribute to her mother Rose, who was clearly a paragon of will and organisation, given that she still managed to generate a lot of fun for her children, who were all very strong individuals. Illustrated with black and white photos, this is an endearing little book, well worth reading if you are interested in the Kennedys. Louise

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