Katie Couric Likes Books on Paper, and Articles Onscreen – The New York Times

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“Sometimes I read my iPad in the bathtub, which is probably not a great idea,” says the broadcast journalist Katie Couric, whose new memoir is “Going There.”

What books are on your night stand?

Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You” and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot” are both on my night stand. “The Vanishing Half” is nearby; I still haven’t had a chance to read it, but I’ve heard Brit Bennett is brilliant. I also bought “Oh, William!” I have read every book Elizabeth Strout has written, so I’m excited when I can stop thinking and talking about my own book and start reading others.

What’s the last great book you read?

I recently read “Becoming Duchess Goldblatt” for the second time — it’s a memoir, written by anonymous, about a working woman in the throes of motherhood and divorce who takes on an online persona named “Duchess Goldblatt” and develops a special relationship with … Lyle Lovett. The book is quirky and moving and Duchess has become a wise, comforting voice on Twitter that provides an excellent counterbalance to all the vitriol.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

“Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. My daughters both read it in high school and I finally caught up. I loved the lilting lyricism of the prose.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I love reading newsletters and articles in the morning when I wake up. I spend about an hour reading the news and saving pieces that are too long and would keep me from ever getting out of bed. At night, I dig into them on my iPad. I love The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Time, Medium and so many other great publications. These pieces always restore my faith in journalism and thoughtful, nuanced writing. Sometimes I read my iPad in the bathtub, which is probably not a great idea.

But I still love the feel of holding an actual book in my hands. My favorite place to read is at the beach in the late afternoon. That’s where I read “Fleishman Is in Trouble” (I love Taffy Brodesser-Akner) and reread “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” by Lori Gottlieb, because she and I are developing the book into a scripted series.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Amor Towles, Lisa Taddeo, Isabel Wilkerson, Jia Tolentino, Joan Didion, Colson Whitehead, Bob Woodward, Cheryl Strayed, Michael Lewis, Ibram X. Kendi, Curtis Sittenfeld.

Do you have any comfort reads?

My mom’s copy of “The Best Loved Poems of the American People.” My mom loved poetry and when I read “In Flanders Fields” it always makes me think of her.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

My sister Clara (Kiki) is a voracious reader. A few years ago, she told me what an impact “The Warmth of Other Suns” had on her. She said it was the most important book she ever read. I read it and thought it was a masterpiece. It prompted several rich and memorable conversations between us. Then, when my husband and I were planning to visit Auschwitz a few years ago, my mother-in-law, Paula, suggested I read Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man.” The memoir made the experience even more meaningful and made me appreciate Paula even more.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Sheera Frenkel’s and Cecilia Kang’s brilliant exposé of Facebook, “An Ugly Truth,” revealed the nefarious actions by company executives months before Frances Haugen blew the lid off the whole enterprise. These two should win a Pulitzer Prize.

Even before the pandemic, I’d been interested in exploring the epidemic of loneliness. “Together,” by Vivek Murthy, underscored how loneliness and social isolation damage our emotional and physical health. It’s the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Sanjay Gupta’s book “Keep Sharp” says that occasionally holding your fork with your less dominant hand helps with brain health. Who knew?

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

There have been so many excellent books written lately about the environment and I’d welcome even more. Recently on my podcast I featured Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the authors of “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.” My friends Laurie David and Heather Reisman also wrote a book called “Imagine It!” Both books explain in an accessible way our current environmental challenges, but more important, they help us understand what we can do collectively and individually.

Meanwhile, more and more authors are writing honestly about loss and grief, which is something I tried to do in my memoir. “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi, “The Light of the World,” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “Notes on Grief,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, helped me metabolize my own experience.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

Beautiful, descriptive sentences that play with language in original, unexpected ways. I know I love a book when I read a passage and it stops me in my tracks and makes me read it again. I did this repeatedly when I read Lisa Taddeo’s book “Three Women” as well as her novel, “Animal.”

Have you ever changed your opinion of a book based on information about the author, or anything else?

Katharine Graham was a mythic, almost unknowable figure for me growing up outside Washington, D.C. Her memoir, “Personal History,” was fascinating. It not only helped me understand some of the issues she wrestled with and the challenges she faced running The Washington Post, but it allowed me to connect with her on a deeply personal level, because she was so forthcoming about every aspect of her life.

How do you organize your books?

Easy answer: I don’t. My daughter Ellie color-coded one of our bookshelves and it looks great, but organizing doesn’t exactly fall within my skill set. Besides, there’s something fun about perusing the spines, not knowing what you’ll stumble upon next.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

“Golf Courses of the U.S. Open,” by David Barrett (obviously, my husband’s), and “Ya Wanna Go?,” by Paul Stewart, an N.H.L. referee.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

A dictionary from my father, inscribed, “To my favorite wordsmith.”

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” and Esther in “The Bell Jar.” Antihero: Holden Caulfield, of course.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

When I was little and complained that I was bored, my mom would say, “Go read a book.” I remember sitting in the den, reading our World Books on the lowest shelf of the library. I recently found the paperback copy of “A Patch of Blue” in a box of books from my childhood. I was totally entranced with that book as an adolescent. I loved another book called “Light a Single Candle.” Both were about young blind women. I worked at a camp for blind kids while I was in high school. So that was an interesting theme that ran through my childhood. I also loved anything written by James Thurber. Another favorite was “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” I thought about naming our first daughter Carson, after Carson McCullers. But we decided to name her Elinor instead. I also loved “The Human Comedy,” by William Saroyan and remember being so moved by “Death Be Not Proud,” by John Gunther. Oh, and “In Cold Blood.” That gave me nightmares for weeks.

Have your reading tastes changed over time?

Lately, I’m gravitating to books that help me understand the state of the world. I’m drawn to anything that attempts to explain what’s happening to our country, like “White Working Class,” by Joan Williams, and “Strangers in Their Own Land,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. I try to use history as my guide as well, which is why I devoured “Eleanor,” by my friend David Michaelis. It’s a stunning character study of someone I deeply admire. It also explains how someone can survive a miserable childhood and go on to do great things.

What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?

“Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — a meticulously reported deconstruction of the insane final days of the Trump administration.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I have to cheat just a bit, and invite four: Edith Wharton, Mary Shelley, Bryan Stevenson and Herman Wouk. Bryan Stevenson is my personal hero, and I’d like to show Edith Wharton how much the world has changed. Mary Shelley would be fascinating to talk to, as her life story is like something out of a novel (whirlwind romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley and all). And Herman Wouk was the most charming, spirited and fun writer I’ve ever met.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” (my daughter Carrie’s favorite book).

What do you plan to read next?

“Both/And,” by Huma Abedin. “The Lyrics,” by Paul McCartney. “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” by Mitch Albom. I’m treating myself to all three, the minute I come up for air!

Categories: books

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