I read a lot but too much of it is on my computer. So I choose carefully when I decide to pick a up a book, and am likely to put one down if I am not taken with it.
This year I’ve read two outstanding books: Working by Robert Caro, and The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre (a pen name for David Cornwall.)
Many might know Caro from his Pulitzer Prize winning biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses, the architect of much of the landscape around New York City.
He started as a reporter in New Jersey. That is key to his brilliance. He was your classic reporter, fascinated by the story he was reporting, and a fast worker. He grew fascinated with political power as told through the toll on the victims as well as the cost to the powerful.
Working is a series of essays on how he works, on who he’s met and what it takes to do the kind of work he does. It’s beautiful. It rings every bell of my 30 years in journalism. It’s the kind of writing that the very best reporters do if they had thousands of pages to tell their stories. I just can’t wait for the more.
In 2016, John Le Carre wrote a memoir called The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. Le Carre, famous for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honorable Schoolboy. The memoir is a series of essays of how he researched and wrote his spy novels for the last nearly 60 years.
Le Carre had been part of British Intelligence in Berlin during the 1950s before leaving to write fiction in 1963. It is obvious from so many of the stories in The Pigeon Tunnel that his readers, from foreign governments to desperate refugees, continued to think he had connections in the intelligence community. He denies it all.
Like Caro, he believes in doing his own research. His friends in the journalism world took him into danger when he asked so he could get the background he needed for his novels. Over the decades, Le Carre was occasionally told he’d told too much about the British Secret Service but it’s very clear from the memoir that he kept so much back.
What do both of these writers show through their memoirs? Empathy for all the humans involved. Caro puts you into the world of 1930s Texas Hill Country that molded Lyndon Johnson. Le Carre puts you into the world of the Cold War and spies, and the deaadly consequences of careless actions. He also has wonderful stories about real espionage traitors such as Kim Philby.
Both books are worth a summer read, and may stay with you long into the Fall.
(One of my resolutions for 2019 was to blog every month, so consider this July. We’re only halfway through August, so prepare for another posting before Labor Day. Hopefully)