Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Reviews

With all the airline miles I've been racking up - I've been doing a little page turning too. Everyone else is using the economy as a scapegoat so I'm going to attribute the tacky inflight movies up to the recession as well.

This month's reviews are two media hounds only in slightly different flavors: Barbara Walters and Chelsea Handler.

I'll start with Handler. I may be the only one in my generation who hadn't heard of this comedian. But about two pages into this book I was hooked. I read this bad boy in one sitting (discretly of course on my bicoastal voyage.) With a title like My Horizantal Life, even I blushed a little. But the clever snapshots of this poor woman's sexual exploits are a stand up godsend to the likes of Tucker Max and crew.

And although not as graphic as I was expecting, whew, the visuals are just classic. Like a woman in a green M & M costume shoving herself through her first floor kitchen window, legs flailing because she locked her self out. Only to be rescued by her ex-bf/landlord at 6 am as we walks casually through the front door and pulls her through, wire costume and all. HILARIOUS.

Babs was a great read as far as a memoir goes. But not going to lie - as a journo junkie, I was drawn to the 500 page brick in hopes of tale of a self-aware ball buster who blazed a trail for journalistas.  What a got was a way too detailed affair list and a passive narrator who interviewed "just the nicest/kindest/sweetest" people. Hokie Dokie shallow cookie. Sure everything was sugary sweet. Look Babs you're on the verge of retirement from one of the greatest careers EVER. I'm sure you stepped on a few feet to get those interviews. Let your hair down and ask yourself the questions you would ask those in your hot seat.

Nonetheless, she is one of my career heroes because as she says she has, " traveled everywhere and met almost every important person there was to meet. I achieved more than I could ever have imagined."

Here are a few lessons I walked away with from Audition:
"No matter how high my profile became, hom many awards I received, or how much money I made, my fear was taht it would all be taken away from me." I've worked as hard or harder than anyone else, accepted most every assignment, done my homework, kept my complaints to myself, finished the job and move don. That is not a bad formula for success."

On her career:
"I am most often asked whether being a woman in what was an still is to a degree such a predominantly male profession has been a hindrance or help - the answer is both. On the negative side, there are always those who were threatened by the thought of a woman as their professional equal. But there are other times when being a woman can be an advantage. Sex rears its happy little head and a sought after male subject chooses you to do the interview in the hope that somewhere along the line the romantic side- or at least the flirtatious side- will surpass the professional. 

I have absolutly used the latter to my advantage on occasion.
On interviewing, get to know the person behind the person. In the case of Martha Stewart rather than focusing on life in jail, she delved into Martha's childhood. Among the few nuggets:

"BW:Why does everyone hate you?
MS: I think sometimes I may be insensitive, but I have a job to do."
BW: "Martha as a child was turning out to be every bit as formidable as Martha the adult. But at least you could understand her drive and her huge accomplishments."
Confession: It's no secret I'm attracted to power...hell just look at what city I moved to. It was like a magnet...I even told my mother as I was packing up for the east coast I was going to marry a politician. Well died when I met the future POTUS pool at GW.(just ask them.) But it has never ceased my desire to interview them. Babs may have nailed what is so attractive about them.

"Heads of State. Oh the power, oh the glory. Oh the climb, Oh the fall. From the democratically elected to the chosen at birth, chosen by coup, chosen by war, chosen by edict, chosen by hook or by crook. I have tried to think of what each had in common with the others. One quality stands out: belief in yourself. The conviction that only you can do the job."
But even more attractive than their confidence is the interview appeal.
When I am doing an interview with a so-called enemy, I keep my personal opinions to myself and let my questions tell the story. If the person hangs [themselves] with the answers, I have also done my job. In any case I consider it importatn for a journalist to be able to present the views of people even our own goverment can't or won't talk to."

Noble but difficult. But herin lies the power of the interview. They're exhausting especially when you have to stay one step ahead of the interviewee by framing the question so you get the answer you're looking for. Walters technique for preparing for an interview is simple but effective:

"I wrote down on 3x5 cards as many questions as I could think of, then asked anyone who walked into the office, 'If you could ask any question of whomever, what would it be?'"

  Staying ahead of the interview is half the battle. The other half is staying removed. Tragedy is a separate beast all together.
"It affects you, it stays with you. You don't remember it every day, but it is part of what makes you appreciative of your own life and sensitive to to enormous difficulties that others face."
And when the danger arrives on your doorstep, "a reporter usually loses all fear. For a time you put your real life aside. "

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