The late Katharine Meyer Graham (1917-2001), publisher of the Washington Post, was one of the most fascinating and powerful women of the twentieth century. Personal History won a well-deserved Pulitzer when it came out in 1998. Graham gives us a tense, fascinating insider’s view of the newspaper during an era when the Post printed the Pentagon Papers and when Woodward and Bernstein were reporting on Watergate. But the book isn’t just an inside-baseball look at the newspaper world. It’s a very honest, sometimes painful memoir about Graham’s life – in particular, her loving but extremely difficult marriage to Phil Graham.
If the name Mindy Kaling rings a bell, you’re likely a fan of “The Office,” where she plays ditzy Kelly Kapoor. What I didn’t know until recently is that Kaling is also one of the show’s writers — in fact, she’s behind some of my favorite episodes, including “The Injury,” where Michael Scott burns his foot on a George Foreman grill. Last fall in The New Yorker I read an excerpt from her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and immediately put the book on my to-read list.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is primarily a collection of personal essays, some short, some long. Kaling shares memories of showing Monty Python to her uncomprehending high school pals, tells us about her years sharing a tiny apartment with her two BFFs in New York, and explains how she landed a junior writing job on the unpromising-looking reboot of a beloved British sitcom. I would like to send her essay on why it’s OK to be overlooked in high school to every teenage girl I know. She also tells us a lot about her love of shopping, an annoying incident at an LA cupcake bakery, and why she’s avoided one-night stands (she’s afraid of being murdered, like all of those people on Law & Order: SVU. I can relate).
Robert Massie is one of my favorite popular historians. My European history teacher assigned us passages from Dreadnought in high school; I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read the rest of the book. In college, when I was assigned Nicholas and Alexandra, I read the whole thing in two or three pleasant afternoons. On the other hand, I’ve been reading Peter the Great off and on for over a year and I still haven’t finished it.* So I wasn’t sure what to expect when a family member bought me Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman at Christmas.