Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chunkster: His Paper Chase


Journalist Harold Evans’ memoir My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times sat on my bookshelf waiting to be read for months. And I’ve been mulling over its review for almost as long (meaning a few days). At first glance, this looks like an intimidating read—600 pages about journalism by a journalist…OH BOY. You think, “Is this going to put me to sleep? Is it going to be a political rant? Or is Evans just gonna ramble his way through the decades?” And if he sucks at writing, you might as well give up before you begin.

Luckily, none of these things happen. First of all, this isn’t an autobiography. The distinction I have recently made between autobiography and memoir is that an autobiography will focus on a whole life (probably starting with “I was born here, and my parents did this, and I went to school there”) while a memoir has more of a focus—usually the author’s experience with something much bigger than him. In this case, Evans tells us about his life with journalism.
Evans was born in 1928 in the English countryside and decided early on that he wanted to be a journalist. He got his first job as a newspaper reporter at sixteen, and his drive, ability, and understanding of the profession led him quickly through the ranks. Evans is a Renaissance man of sorts—in his 60+ year career, his titles have included editor of the Sunday Times, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, the founding editor of Condé Nast Traveler, and president and publisher of Random House (just to name a few).
One of the book’s strongest points is the detail with which Evans tells his stories. How can an 80-year-old man possibly remember all that he remembers? [Oh right, he’s a journalist. He probably wrote it all down]. He flavors the major time periods of his professional life with the stories that defined them. During his tenure at The Northern Echo, he campaigned for preventative tests for cervical cancer; The Sunday Times gave him the most action, including a major campaign for the British Thalidomide Children, the investigation of a Soviet spy, the unsolved murder of a Times reporter, and the eventual clash with Rupert Murdoch; his life in the U.S. led him to new industries and a new relationship with publishing power Tina Brown.
Evans does such a great job of storytelling within a frame of context that I always understood the importance of what he was saying, despite my lack of existence during about 80% of the book’s timeframe. You can tell he knows how to write, and he writes in a way that keeps people interested. I was never bored, and he’s never bogged down by his words. For a book about a man I’d never heard of, I was pleasantly surprised by how engrossed I was in his story. This is a book that will make me feel cool to have on my shelf in 30 years and say, “Yes, I read it.”
Side note: I was a journalism major [for about 3 months until I decided I didn’t want to interview strangers about sensitive topics and switched to the much broader Communications], so the subject matter interested me from the beginning. But the most memorable thing for me was when Evans said he went through a rigorous interrogation prior to being named Editor of The Sunday Times. The Board of Directors actually made him vow to not let the parent company’s other business interests influence his report of the news! My, how times have changed!
NPR did a nice little feature when the book was released in November.
Review copy provided by the publisher–Little, Brown, and Company.


Heather said…

Wow, that does sound fascinating. I took one Journalism class in college (had to, English major) and while I didn't really enjoy it, I can see where others would. I've long found the actual job interesting, I bet I would like this book…at least when I'm in the "non-fiction mood." Next time that hits, I'll try to give it a read! Great review Kari.

Salvatore said…

Sounds like fun despite the length. It probably would be fascinating to hear how journalism has evolved, even within Evans's lifetime. And how he and his wife (Tina Brown) have changed it. It's too bad I can't really get behind her NPR Morning Edition discussions…

softdrink said…

Sounds good. There's nothing worse than a memoir written by someone who can't write. Unfortunately, the travel memoir section seems to have a lot of marginal talent.