Saturday, February 27, 2010

Anderson's Favorite Books

I'm on the hunt for a good book to read and thought I'd take a look at some of the books Anderson has recommended in the past.

Books That Made a Difference to Anderson Cooper

The CNN anchor is bowled over by evocative memoirs—diaries of sobriety and war, not to mention two gorgeous reminiscences from his own parents—plus a pair of classic modern novels.

Some people grow up in homes where sports are important; I grew up in a home where reading and writing had great value. As a child, I had a problem reading. I had a mild form of dyslexia where I would see some letters backward, and I had to go to a special reading instructor. One way she helped was to encourage me to find books that I was really passionate about. I feel very lucky for her coaching.

I remember reading a biography of Helen Keller and a book about people who chose to live in the woods. Eventually, I read Heart of Darkness . That novel, in particular, sparked an interest in seeing what happens to society when everything is stripped away, when you're living without the niceties of modern culture. I don't think it's an accident that I became a war correspondent. I'm interested in stories of survival: how some people make it through desperate times and others don't. If you go to a conflict zone, you find there's never a complete vacuum. There's always some form of authority. It may not make sense, and it's terrifying. You learn that people are capable of horrific brutality but also great kindness. You see things straight out of Conrad—and how a novel from the 1890s still resonates today.

A Death in the Family By James Agee

This is about what happens after the unexpected death of a father. Certainly, the novel had resonance for me because I lost my father at an early age and this book is told from the vantage point of the young son. Dealing with grief is difficult, especially for a child. There are peaks and valleys—grief has a life of its own—and Agee does a good job of exploring that territory. The book opens with a scene of people—men with wives and children—watering their lawns while cicadas are buzzing. There's a poetry to the writing in that it describes events that really cannot be described.

The Quiet American By Graham Greene

I read this novel in college when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. It's set in Vietnam in the 1950s, before heavy United States involvement. It features Fowler, this hard-bitten, opium-smoking British reporter who's world-weary and washed-up, and Pyle, an American secret agent who pretends to be an aid worker. Pyle is filled with simplistic notions about what needs to be done in Southeast Asia, and in trying to do good, he ends up causing deaths. At the time, I saw things in black-and-white like Pyle, but part of the book's lesson is to allow yourself, especially as a reporter, to go into a story with an open mind and heart.

Dry By Augusten Burroughs

Dry is a memoir of Burroughs's struggle with alcoholism. He goes into rehab with this notion that it's going to be glamorous and he's going to see celebrities. Instead he finds that the hospital is horrifically depressing. Yet he continues with the program. Burroughs writes in a way that is both hilariously funny and extraordinarily moving. I think I'm solely responsible for driving this book to the best-seller list, because I gave out so many copies of it.

Families: A Memoir and a Celebration By Wyatt Cooper

My father [the book's author] died when I was 10, and in a sense this book became a letter to me from him. It's about the family he had as a child in Mississippi and also about our own—my mother, my brother, and me. The last sentence of it is important to me; we actually put it on his tombstone: "We must go rejoicing in the blessings of this world, chief of which is the mystery, the magic, the majesty, and the miracle that is life." One of the horrible things about the death of a parent when you're a child is that there comes a time when you can't remember what he looked or smelled like or the way he talked or walked. I feel lucky to have a book that is all those things.

It Seemed Important at the Time By Gloria Vanderbilt

I always thought the worst thing in the world would be to hear your parents talk about their sex lives. It turns out, the worst is learning that your parents' sex lives were more interesting than your own. This is my mother's latest memoir, looking back at the loves in her life, both long lasting and one night. At 17 she went on dates with Howard Hughes and Errol Flynn, and later met up with Marlon Brando. I feel boring by comparison, but I think it's cool that my mom has reached this age, 81, and has a sense of humor about her life. She has the perspective to say, "This, too, shall pass," and that the troubles we fret about now won't seem so important in a few years.

The Journey Is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon Edited by Kathy Eldon

I met Dan Eldon briefly when I was starting out as a reporter and he as a photographer. In 1993 he was beaten and killed by a mob in Somalia. Afterward, his mother assembled from his journals this beautifully printed book of collages. Dan would write and paint over his own photographs. The title is from a phrase he used in the pages, and it is a notion that's been helpful to me.

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ACAnderFan said...

Good post Quitty. Its interesting to see what books Anderson likes reading. Its obvious he likes deep emotional books.

judy said...

Quitty, this is a fine selection of books, all of them fiction, except for his parents and Austen Burroughs who I have no interest in and can not relate to.
I read "Death In the Family" and enjoyed it.
In "Heart of Darkness" you quote Anderson as saying something to the affect "There's never a vacuum in conflict. There's always some authority." I think that quote is important in retrospect, if only because in Haiti, which seemed to effect AC so emotionally, there was only conflict and really no authority. There wasn't a war but the people were fighting for their lives just the same, so his belief was not upheld.
Personally I recommend his mother's book. "It Seemed Important At The Time." It is humorous and does give you some insite into her own thought processes that she probably passed on to "This too, shall pass."
Very wise words to live by.

newtobloggin said...

Thank you for posting these books that AC suggested.

Anonymous said...

>It Seemed Important at the Time

Glorious Gloria!

All men mentioned in the book have wiki entries.

Define socialite!!

Anonymous said...

>At the time, I saw things in black-and-white like Pyle, but part of the book's lesson is to allow yourself, especially as a reporter, to go into a story with an open mind and heart.

Sounds good. Look at China, Chinese people and current Chinese government with an open mind and heart.

Shan zai!

Anonymous said...

How come non of my posts get approved?


Anonymous said...

>Hellen Keller

We used this book as teaching material when I was China.

A few years ago, I met a young Chinese student in nyc, and he started to use "n" word. I was horrified and explained him that it's derogatory term - only those days (Hellen Keller), white folks used it.

Later I really had a good laught. Some of the stuff they use in China in school are very out dated. I wonder some teachers may not realize it.

Jacq said...

Quitty, thanks for the list. They all look like good summer reading. A few years ago I tried to get a copy of Anderson's dad's book and I couldn't find a copy. I tried the regular BN, Border's, etc. and a few online sites, but I couldn't find it. Any suggestions?

ACAnderFan said...

@Jacq, I got my copy of "Families" off of I have the hardback edition, but know a friend who has a paperback edition which costs less.

Anonymous said...

@Jacq: You can try ebay for his father's book but all editions are costly.
Also, if it is out of print, which it is, there's a reason and you should be aware of the one is particularly interested in a tome. Very tedious reading. JMO

Nebraska Fan said...


I was amazed to find a copy at my local library. You wouldn't get to keep it, but at least you'd get to read it which I've done several times. Any that you can buy are typically pretty expensive.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post! i really enjoy reading posts that contain personal info on AC.

Jacq said...

Thanks for the advice on finding the book.