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January 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Never Imagined I’d Trigger a Twitter Meltdown by Geraldo Rivera


Last Saturday afternoon I was working in my home office, waiting for the NFL playoff games to get started for the day, when I tuned in C-Span’s Book TV, which I often do on weekends. I was pleased to find they were airing an interview with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik discussing his current book, Murdoch’s World, which I first covered on this blog during BEA last June.Murdoch's World

Folkenflik told a story, new to me, involving Geraldo Rivera, FOX News, that prompted the above tweet, with the vulgar epithet from Roger Ailes. To be accurate, Folkenflik never accused Rivera of lying, that’s the conclusion I drew in my tweet while watching the Book TV segment. About an hour after I sent out my tweet, Rivera, whose Twitter handle I had used in the message as a matter of record not to provoke him, saw my message and quickly chose to renew a feud with Folkenflik that he’s nurtured since 2001. You could say Rivera took bait I put out there, though I hadn’t imagined he would chomp on it, or quite so hard. The whole thing happened more than twelve years ago, but for Rivera, whose reporting and honesty were to many observers convincingly questioned by Folkenflik’s reporting, it must be fresh as yesterday. As noticed widely on Twitter, and even yesterday by Politico, in a mounting series of  rage-filled tweets, Rivera has directed ad hominem venom at Folkenflik. Here’s an as-concise-as-I-can-make it rendition of the story Folkenflik told, quoting a modest chunk of his book to amplify what he said on TV.

It begins in 2001, when Folkenflik was the Baltimore Sun‘s media reporter, before he moved to NPR. On Book TV he explained that after 9/11, Rivera “bristled at the idea of staying behind a desk while a war raged elsewhere,” so he left a hosting job at CNBC and went to FOX, to become the network’s chief correspondent in Afghanistan, which the US had invaded a few weeks after the terrorist attacks in NYC and DC. The book picks up the story:

“He was, Rivera announced, on a quest to track down ‘the dastardly one’ (his personal term for Osama Bin Laden). On an early December day, he showed footage from Afghanistan, twice in a twenty-four hour period, in which he prayed over the site where he said three American soldiers and numerous allied Afghan fighters had been killed by a US bombing raid in what was euphemistically called a ‘friendly fire’ incident. He said he had seen their tattered uniforms and showed himself, on video, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”

A day later he filed his broadcast story from Tora Bora. Thing is, the only incident of friendly fire suffered by American troops that occurred in the same time frame was in Kandahar, 300 miles from Tora Bora. Folkenflik continues in his book, “I talked to reporters in Afghanistan, people who handled logistics at rival networks, senior staffers with international relief agencies and human rights groups active there, and US military officials. None of them thought the journey from Tora Bora to Kandahar and back was feasible by road in less than twenty-four hours, while an official at the Pentagon said Rivera certainly had not hitched a ride with US forces or aircraft. When I asked [FOX] how he could have made this round trip down and back in a single day…a FOX News spokeswoman angrily asked whether I was saying he made it up.”

No information that FOX or Rivera subsequently produced, nor anything he told Folkenflik in a “vivid and livid interview by satellite phone” from Afghanistan convinced him that Rivera was telling the truth, either at the outset of his reporting on TV, or later, amid excuses he offered for what he finally attributed to “the fog of war.” For their part, FOX, not wanting to push their own guy too far under the bus, gamely said he had made “an honest mistake.” That would be nice, were it true. I believe that FOX and Rivera–who always casts himself at the center of his reporting, a De Mille of the small screen–had wanted a great ‘get’ for his broadcast, and claimed to be at the burial site of US troops. This was an early example of politicizing US troops and losses of life, in a way that the Bush administration, and right-wing media with FOX leading the way, became very practiced at over the next several years, a veritable dark art of the Bush years.

That pretty much brings us to last Saturday, when Rivera went ballistic over my tweet that showed Folkenflik was discussing the long-ago incident in his book interviews, including Ailes’ colorful gloss on the matter, uttered some years later when Folkenflik and Ailes met for the first time. In social media since last Saturday, Rivera has called Folkenflik a “punk,” “a lying leech,” “a rat,” “a skunk,” and an ass-kisser.” His Twitter handle is @GeraldoRivera, if you want to see his tweets for yourself. For the record, yesterday, in Day Four of this story, he also posted a lengthy self-defense on his Facebook page. I have been amused and somewhat amazed to see how my tweet lit up things over the past several days. I’ll continue to live tweet Book TV in weeks to come, though I don’t expect to have quite so dramatic an impact next time.Folkenflik on Book TV

Meantime, I’ll be continuing to read Murdoch’s World, and enjoying Folkenflik’s keen reporting on NPR. I recommend his whole book–for the record the 2001 story on Geraldo Rivera is on pages 61-65. I look forward to hearing Folkenflik, with Gabriel Sherman–author of the new book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country–at the New America Foundation’s New York space on January 27, when the two will talk about Murdoch, Ailes, and maybe even Geraldo Rivera.

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January 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s Visionary Novel “The Rowan Tree”

Rowan Tree cover

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s The Rowan Tree

In 2011-12 one of the most enjoyable assignments I undertook was the editing of the manuscript of The Rowan Tree, a novel by noted thinker Robert W. Fuller.

Though I last worked on it a year ago, I’m writing about it today because I recently received a copy of the printed book from the author, and have been dipping in to it again, relishing the formal book presentation of a work I had last read on-screen. In 2013 Fuller self-published it and just before Christmas let me know that the book has been doing extremely well, finding readers all over the world. That’s fitting, as it’s truly a global book.

It opens in the late 1960s with the installation of protagonist Rowan Ellway as the new president of a small Midwestern college; it closes in 2030 amid the climax of a U.S. presidential campaign involving Rowan’s son Adam, who was earlier Speaker of the House of Representatives. The novel’s sixty-year arc touches on campus life, ballet, college basketball, interracial relationships, world government, and the bright red berries that drop from the rowan tree. At the same time, readers are treated to memorable characters like Easter Blue, a female African-American student who becomes Rowan’s ally in reform and soul mate in life; Marisol, a talented ballerina and Adam Blue’s half-sister; Élodie, a French-Vietnamese doctor with Doctors Without Borders; and Lahiri, a metaphysically-minded professor of geology in India. The Rowan Tree captures the universal quest for dignity in our time and envisions this quest in the decades to come. The novel relies on realism for its storytelling yet is unabashedly speculative in its vision of the future, in the sense that Margaret Atwood uses the term ‘speculative fiction.’

Fuller’s background is as fascinating as the novel, and key to the writing of it. His father worked at Bell Labs where he invented the solar cell. Bob was a childhood prodigy who attended Oberlin College at age 15, then got his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton, at 18. At 24 he co-authored Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics, a textbook still widely used today. At 33 he was named president of Oberlin College, then the youngest college president in the nation. In the years that followed, he worked with the government of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi to alleviate famine; with President Carter on the Presidential Commission to End World Hunger; and with Soviet scientists to reduce nuclear stockpiles during the Cold War. With the collapse of the USSR, Fuller’s career as a citizen-diplomat ended. From his status as a former college professor, president, and envoy, he reflected that at times in his life he had in society’s eyes been a ‘somebody,’ whereas now he was a comparative ‘nobody.’ This led him to identify the abuses of power inherent in unmerited rank as the unexamined prejudice of our age, and write through that prism.

While the novel outlines his vision of a just society, it is no mere manifesto. It’s an exciting and pacy story with an engrossing plot, structured like an Arthurian quest, climaxing with a vision of a world in which the attainment of dignity for all—the holy grail—is at last within reach. You might say the novel is a “Fountainhead for liberals.”

I’m happy for Fuller–his book is totally worthwhile and it’s a great read. He also sent me a screenshot (shown below) that shows that his book is finding readers on Amazon, where readers have left worthy comments like this one, which I’ll assign the last word in this post: “The narrative takes the reader to unexpected places, cleverly spanning history with glimpses of a future possible. The philosophy could have so easily been overdone, but instead allowed the characters to evolve in each of their own story arcs. I have been reflecting on my own responses ever since. Read it and allow the lessons to shape your own story…” The Rowan Tree


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December 18th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

A Freelance Writing Assignment to Grow On

Bonnie Clyde from History® websiteBack in September, thanks to a referral by publishing friend David Wilk, I was hired to write a 1200-word article for the November/December issue of H Magazine, the publication of the cable channel known as History® (formerly History Channel®). On a rush basis, they asked me to do a piece about what would be History®’s December 8-9 broadcast of a new 4-hour miniseries on Bonnie & Clyde, airing simultaneously on History® and sister networks Lifetime® and A&E®. Materials I could review–for a sense of the production–were scant. Before accepting the job, I submitted a brief opener to what I might write, a kind of imagined interior monologue of Clyde Barrow sitting behind the wheel of a car waiting for Bonnie Parker. When I heard back that they liked that bit, I knew I had a path to successful completion of the article. When I handed it in five days later the editors liked it, and so it runs below pretty much as I turned it in, with them adding their own title (I had called it “A Bonnie & Clyde for Our Times,) pictures, captions, and their own headlines and sub-heads. 

A few days after the mini-series aired last Sunday and Monday, I got some print copies of the magazine in the mail. I’ve scanned the relevant parts of the issue and am sharing them all below. I later found it’s also online, but I think it’s more interesting to read the actual glossy pages, so here they are. You may read them in full by pausing the blog’s slide show at the top right corner. As readers of my blogs will know, I write a lot of personal, reportorial, expository, and essayistic prose, which made it a special treat to channel my imagination in to the fictional exercise that makes up the first half of the article. This is a sort of writing I have not done for a long time, and I’m glad I had the chance to do it here. Hoping to do more like it in 2014. Thank you David Wilk, History® and the editors of H Magazine. Please click here to view the scanned pages.

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December 5th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Honourary Canadian; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

In a Moment of Difficulty for a Friend, Thinking of Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

December 15 Update: Just after publishing the post below, the fine radio program CBC Sunday Edition carried a lengthy interview with Roméo Dallaire which I linked to on the sister blog to this one, Honourary Canadian. It was a very moving conversation.
Shake Hands with the DevilIn 2005 when I was an editorial executive with Carroll & Graf Publishers of the Avalon Publishing Group I brought out the U.S. edition of a Canadian bestseller, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. Its author was Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, a career officer in the Canadian forces, a national military that more than most in the modern world has cultivated a strong tradition of serving as peacekeepers helping to end conflicts in lands distant from their own. In 1993 Dallaire was commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda when that country was swept in to genocide and ethnic cleansing by Hutu militants. The member nations of the world body refused to resource Dallaire’s mission adequately, even after he presented them with a military plan weeks before the genocide that would likely have blocked the carnage before it ever began. Horror ensued. Dallaire and fewer than 500 soldiers (he’d asked for 4,500 more troops) sheltered and saved approximately 25,000 people, yet 800,000 Rwandans died. Dallaire returned home to Canada from the Rwandan mission a nearly broken man, suicidal and afflicted with severe PTSD.

In Canada, where the tragic failure of the mission under Dallaire’s command was well known, the book from Random House Canada struck a huge chord and it had already sold over 100,000 copies when I acquired the rights. Many US publishers, including Random House in New York, had declined to publish the book here. I knew why they had–in the States, Dallaire was hardly known at all. As an acquiring editor at publishing houses for more than twenty-five years, I had never minded a situation like that. I welcomed the challenge, and loved working to promote an author, who on the merits of his/her book and their compelling personal story, deserved to be widely read and better known, thus allowing the book, with a solid foundation, to be built up in to a big success. Going in, I knew I needed to help the book find as large an audience as possible in the US, or better yet, bring as big an audience as possible to the book. I commissioned an original Introduction by Samantha Power, who’d recently published the Pulitzer Prize winner, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. We also caught a break when publication coincided with release of the movie, “Hotel Rwanda,” in which Nick Nolte played a Hollywood version of the general. The movie portrayal, though very inaccurate, did elevate Dallaire’s notoriety, and enabled us to generate major reviews and book him on shows like Charlie Rose, and many NPR programs.

Samantha Power of course is now serving as US Ambassador to the UN. Ironically, when Shake Hands  was published, the Washington Post asked former US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright to review it. I considered this a very interesting, even a daring assignment by the Post book editors. After all, the Clinton administration’s failure in Rwanda along with other countries was still fresh in mind, raw and painful. To her credit, in her review Albright gave Dallaire and his book their due. While conceding she’d been a part of many failures in Rwanda, she also pointed to flaws in the world system that leads to failures like Rwanda. Almost a decade later, failures like this still occur–look at the current civil wars in Syria and the Central African Republic. These recurrences are the sort of thing that torture Roméo; they can tip him in to a new flare-up of post-traumatic stress.

Despite the severe illness, Dallaire has rebuilt his life and psyche and gone on to do very important work in conflict resolution. I accompanied him to several of his NYC interviews, sitting in the back of taxicabs and in green rooms with him. We became friends, and I found him a dear person. Despite everything Roméo had endured–and the treatment and therapy he’s still engaged with regularly–he has a good sense of humor with an almost merry glint in his eyes. I mentioned this to him and he said, “I’ve always tried to be like that. A commander without a sense of humor will not be respected by his troops.” He’s a soldier-humanitarian, kind and sensitive, Gandhi-like in his way. From the position he holds now as a Canadian Senator–where a major scandal has been coincidentally been raging the past few months–he has moved on in his life to advocate for the end of the practice of armies conscripting child soldiers. The Carroll & Graf edition of Shake Hands  sold well over 60,000 copies the first year after I published it, and it’s still selling well today.

With the 20th anniversary of the genocide approaching next year, and four recent suicides of Canadian veterans of the Afghan War, Dallaire had a traffic accident this week due to severe insomnia and sleeplessness he’s been enduring as these events prey on him. He was uninjured but shaken by the crash. The same day he made a statement of apology to his colleagues in the Canadian Senate, ironic since so few others there have been anywhere near as forthright in admitting their own missteps. I shared my concern for Roméo in a few tweets earlier this week.


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November 4th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Romare Bearden and Albert Murray Enjoying a Harlem Afternoon

The important African-American artist Romare Bearden was at one time good friends with my late author, Edward Robb Ellis, author of A Diary of the Century: Tales from American’s Greatest Diarist (1995). Ellis wrote at length about their friendship in that book, which reflected on Bearden’s upbringing in Pittsburgh, and the life he lived that led to his distinctive style of collage-making and painting. In the years since I worked  with Eddie, whenever I read about Bearden, I feel I almost know him, from Eddie’s fulsome recollections. When the writer and critic Albert Murray died last August, he was eulogized in many venues, most memorably for me by Paul Devlin in Slate, where I was delighted to be reminded that Bearden and Murray had also been very close, as friends, and indeed as frequent collaborators (when Bearden needed something written, Murray often wrote it). Typifying their relationship is the revealing video I tweeted out earlier tonight, and which I’m eager to share here, too.

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October 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Oct 11–Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler” & Anne Hillerman’s “Spider Woman’s Daughter”

Collaboration#FridayReads, Oct 11–Ben Urwand’s The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler & Anne Hillerman’s Spider Woman’s Daughter, a new installment in the long-running Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mystery series established by her late father, the mystery master Tony Hillerman.

Notwithstanding the controversy I’ve reported on earlier that’s greeted publication of The Collaboration, which I had made part of my #FridayReads a few weeks ago, I have been continuing to methodically read it, even while still reading fiction. It’s ironic about all the hubbub, because I am finding it so far, about 80 pages in, an unsensational, moderately engrossing and well-documented account.

The narrative opens by examining “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1930 WWI drama released by Universal Pictures that to German officials, dangerously advocated pacifism while also showing cowardice and dishonorable conduct by their troops. The government, two years before Hitler was to win power, viewed it as a threat to to the nation, and sought to have whole passages of the film cut, scenes changed, and dialogue rewritten.  They threatened to remove it from all German screens, and to make it harder for other American pictures to be exhibited in Germany.

After this key opening example, the book becomes a chronicle of the willing cooperation of some American film industry executives–who along with a number of American functionaries and bureaucrats, and at least one Jewish communal organization, the Los Angeles branch of the Anti-Defamation League–worked to suppress American-made movies being produced about contemporary Germany.  Some of this suppression was triggered by German trade officials who after the Great War’s ignominy zealously attacked films from foreign countries that seemed to hyper-sensitive German governments (even preceding Nazi rule) prejudicial against their country and “damaging to their reputation abroad,” or potentially “demoralizing to morale” at home, as they put it, as with “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Hitler was an enthusiast of cinema and theatrical performances of all kinds, as earlier shown in a book I edited and published,  Ibsen and Hitler: The Playwright, the Plagiarist, and the Plot for the  Third Reich. Once Hitler was in power, with hyper-awareness of both the positive and the damaging  effects of propaganda, he focused his regime on how messages might be spread by movies. With that, the Nazis began even more aggressively lobbying foreign filmmakers to alter the scripts of movies in production, or edit and recut ones already being exhibited on German screens.

For a rundown of the controversy surrounding the book and the overheated things some of its critics have said about it, please see my recent post, Questioning the Critical Reaction to Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler”Collaboration blurbs

A Second #FridayReads, Spider Woman’s Daughter, Anne Hillerman’s new Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Mystery Novel

While reading The Collaboration, I am intercutting it with Anne Hillerman’s Spider Woman’s Daughter. I’ve read and loved the Leaphorn and Chee series for years, and made his 1982 book Dark Wind one of my #FridayReads last year.Hillerman paperbacks

Tony died in 2008. About the revival of the series, Anne has written, “When I emerged from the worst of my grief after Dad’s death, I realized that I was also mourning the end of his mystery series. I missed those detectives [Leaphorn and Chee], and I especially regretted that Bernadette Manuelito would never get a book that put her in the spotlight. And then I thought: I could try writing Bernie’s book myself. . . .In addition to Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, I had written several other books, so I knew part of the challenge that faced me. I jotted down some ideas as a rough outline and got to work.”

I’m loving her new book. The protagonist, Bernadette, is a young police officer in Navajo Country, married to Jim Chee, who learned how to be a cop under the tutelage of Joe Leaphorn, wise man of the tribal police force. She witnesses a startling assault on a fellow cop in the book’s opening chapters, which forces her to the sidelines of an important investigation. Despite her chief’s order to drop any involvement with the case, she continues trying to riddle it out, even while Chee and her fellow officers pursue every lead. Bernie’s unauthorized efforts take her all across the dramatic landscape of Navajo Country, speaking with people who may help her understand what’s really going on. Just as in Tony’s books, the sense of place and people is indelible.

Coincidentally, over the summer, working as literary agent for author J. Michael Orenduff, I licensed his 6-book POT THIEF mystery series to Open Road Integrated Media who will publish them in ebook and print editions in January 2014. The books are are set in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico, and feature dealer in Native American pottery Hubie Schutz. They’re titled The Pot Thief Who Studied PythagorasThe Pot Thief Who Studied PtolemyThe Pot Thief Who Studied EinsteinThe Pot Thief Who Studied EscoffierThe Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid.  When not digging in the desert for ancient pots, or crafting copies of artifacts with his own hands, Hubie’s usually absorbed in reading a classic text. In their earlier editions, the POT THIEF books won numerous awards and raves from mystery readers, including this one from Anne Hillerman herself: “I inhaled this book. Witty, well-crafted and filled with unexpected plot turns, The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid will delight J. Michael Orenduff’s many fans—and win him new ones.”

It’s a small world out there for mystery writers and readers and I’m really excited that Anne Hillerman’s brought back her father’s great characters, and that fans of the Leaphorn and Chee books will soon be able to discover and enjoy the POT THIEF mysteries.Anne HillermanAnne Hillerman back cover


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October 9th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

GalleyCat’s New Directory of Editorial Professionals is the book industry blog for the collection of media blogs that come under the rubric of It’s a valuable source of daily information on the book biz. I was glad when I saw galleycat had recently started a Google Docs directory of independent editors. I registered on it this morning. The simple sign-up asked for areas of concentration, notable books I’ve worked on, what kind of editing I do, and the url for the Philip Turner Book Productions page on this website. I’m glad to be part of this directory where authors, agents, and publishers seeking editorial help can learn about my consultancy.

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October 5th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Technology, Science & Computers

#FridayReads, Oct. 4–Katie Hafner’s Exquisite Memoir “Mother Daughter Me”

Mother Daughter MeI began reading Katie Hafner’s journalism in the NY Times in the ’90s in what was known as “Circuits,” a section of the Thursday newspaper that covered the era of Web 1.0. Everything about tech was new, to me at least. Katie, and “Circuits,” helped make obscure things clear to me, then a not very tech-oriented book editor. Around 1999 I read a cover story Katie had written for Wired magazine and now I was really smitten by her work. Her story was a long one by magazine standards, about 40,000 words, on The Well, an early online community that emerged in the Bay Area starting around 1984. I was amazed–members of The Well had used a kind of proto-listserv and chat system that allowed them to share cyberspace together in a way no one had done before. But that historical first-ness wasn’t the only reason I wanted to make Katie’s article in to a book if I could. It was because of the extraordinary insight in to people that accompanied her reporting. In its early days, The Well had been a tight world where members supported each other like neighbors in a small town. They abided by founder Stewart Brand’s credo, “You own your own words.” Katie’s narrative, with used long threads of online conversations including multiple characters that the reader came to know and care about, was riveting.

In 2000–after a three-year stint for Random House, where the bulk of the time I worked at Times Books, with a big part of my job liasing with editors at the Times to make books with content from such departments as the Book Review, Real Estate, City, and Dining–I joined Carroll & Graf Publishers and contacted Katie with one of my first new book acquisition ideas. I asked if she’d be interested in turning the Wired article in to a book. I remember one day when she was in NYC from the Bay Area we met for coffee near Times Square. She was petite and had a great smile; I found her immediately likable. She talked like the voice of her journalism: a bit funny, and economical with her words that every so often sported a memorable phrase. Though she had not been trying to turn the Wired reporting in to a book, she was intrigued with my idea, and we made a deal to go ahead with it. I edited it with her revising and expanding the manuscript a bit and in 2001 we brought out The Well: A Story of Love, Death & Real Life in The Seminal Online Community. Among the many superb endorsements we printed on the back cover was this one from the proponent of communitarian philosophy Amitai Etzioni: “The best book ever written about communities and the Internet.” The book didn’t set any records, but it did well enough to justify C&G’s investment in it, and I was quite proud of it, as I believe Katie was, especially once the World Wide Web became such a big part of modern life that it was hard to remember a time before it existed. For anyone who wanted to know the prehistory of online interaction, it was right there in The Well.The Well cover

After the book had run its course, Katie and I stayed in touch, but only occasionally. In 2002 I was startled and saddened when I read that her husband Matthew Lyon had died suddenly while on a visit to Seattle for his job with the University of California. He was 45. Katie and their young daughter survived him. I found something to say and wrote her a card with my condolences, grieving with her from a distance.

Katie HafnerLast year, I read that Katie would be publishing a memoir with Random House. I was excited because I had never read anything by Katie about her own world. Mother Daughter Me came out in July and I was thrilled when I got a copy two weeks ago. After making it my #FridayReads last week, when I was only a little ways in to it, I now can say that it is gripping throughout, and likable, like Katie, even while it chronicles some pretty difficult and sad but ultimately transcendent Hafner family business. It begins with her mother’s move from San Diego to be with Katie and her now-teenaged daughter in San Francisco. I finished it the other day during a break while on a bike ride, and scrawled these words on a piece of scrap paper, anticipating I would use my first impressions in this #FridayReads essay:

“Exquisite, in many senses. Exquisitely painful, as it recounts the failures of her drink-addled mother to provide parental stability for Katie and her older sister when they were young. Exquisitely produced and edited with nary a typo or broken letter in the volume. Exquisitely truthful and unflinching in the way Katie examines her own behavior, no less than that of her mother and her daughter. As good a reporter as Katie is when writing about other people, she is somehow even more insightful and penetrating when the subject is herself, her widowhood, and her own family. I walked with her every step of the way on the difficult journey that she takes with her mother and daughter and am very glad I did. An amazingly honest book.”

I recommend Mother Daughter Me to anyone who’s still trying to riddle out truths about their family; to anyone who’s ever argued with a sibling, child or parent; to anyone with an aging parent who ponders future options for them, from living with you to “aging in place,” a term you will encounter here. I will add that like a particular Vaughan Williams symphony that I love–I believe it’s his 6th–this book winds up with a beautifully orchestrated cascade of multiple endings that transit from tragic to reconciled to fulfilled. If you’re like me, your eyes will be very moist as you finish reading Mother Daughter Me. This is a great book.

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