Friday, October 05, 2007

Latest reads--African-American journalists, flower industry, Shakespeare

Terry, Wallace. Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers; Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2007.

Oh, how I loved this book!! What an amazing group of people! Black journalists--print and broadcast, newspaper and magazine, talk about how they got into the field, about some of the major stories they covered, and some of the obstacles they faced.

Ethel Payne was the first black woman to ask a question at a White House Press Conference. Ben Holman was the first black reporter for CBS. Ed Bradley writes about his experiences in Vietnam, and also how he worked his way up from volunteering at a radio station to working for CBS. Carl Rowan worked for Lyndon Johnson. Barbara Reynolds wrote the first biography of Jesse Jackson.

Some describe how some of the major stories of the last 70 years unfolded. These reporters covered the Emmett Till trial, were on the front lines with a black unit in WWII Italy, went undercover with the Black Muslims, and travelled with guerrilla fighters in Angola. One filmed the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan--his was the first film to get out to the media. He was just a few feet from the shooting, and managed to keep filming in the chaos. Another describes his efforts to cover the Jonestown mass suicide, how the journalists, and the world, pulled out bits and pieces of the story.

These journalists also talk about the discrimination they faced--they were usually the first blacks in whatever news organization they were in. Carole Simpson discusses the double whammy of being black and female. Max Robinson discusses his fight to anchor the ABC evening news--he was the first African-American to anchor a nightly newscast.

Even the less inherently dramatic stories--a black reporter visiting a very white town in Arkansas in 1978, realizing she was perhaps the first black ever in the town, at least since these residents had been alive--was fascinating.

All these stories are told in a compelling way. Footnotes explain historical events and the roles of individuals mentioned in the histories. Accounts move from World War II to the 1980s and 1990s.

Other journalism-related books I've reviewed:
My First Year as a Journalist: Real-World Stories From America's Newspaper and Magazine Journalists and Real Sports Reporting, reviewed September 8, 2007.
The Pulitzer Prize: The Inside Story of America’s Most Prestigious Award., reviewed May 2, 2007.

Stewart, Amy. Flower Confidential. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2007.

Another book I loved. Stewart describes three main parts of the cut flower industry: breeding, growing, and selling. This work takes her to the Netherlands, Miami, and South America; she also writes about places and people close to her California home. There's a lot about the history, especially in the U.S. of flowers as a commercial enterprise. She never loses sight of the beauty of flowers, the happiness they bring, something she feared she might do when seeing flowers treated as a commodity. I, too, was relieved. She doesn't sugarcoat things--she talks about tradeoffs in the floral industry, and how the Dutch auction houses are, for the people who work there, just warehouses and offices. She talks about the conditions of the workers who cultivate and pick the flowers, and about the movement towards organic flowers, and the struggles to market them. She profiles an eccentric breeder, a far-thinking executive, and local florists.

I personally wanted to read more about florists, what it's like to run a floral business. But Stewart provides some great snapshots of life in a florist shop. Part of the point of her book is that for those involved, the floral industry can be just another office, warehouse, or shop--just a place to work.

Lynch, Jack. 2007. Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright Into the Bard. New York: Walker, 2007.

About how Shakespeare moved from just one of quite a few 17th-century playrights to becoming the "immortal bard." That history, as told by Lynch, zigzags quite a bit. It didn't flow together for me exactly, but I certainly learned a lot. His chapters are divided by theme rather than chronology, though you could argue the themes are kinds of stages Shakespeare went through. There are chapters on performing, altering, domesticating, co-opting, and forging Shakespeare, and eventually worshipping him. A few parts made me laugh out loud. I recommend it, though it's not what I expected.