In the hands of a great reporter and a thoughtful individual, a set of essays can become a way of having a wonderful conversation. In Into The Story (Simon & Schuster, $26) David Maraniss has included an array of work—pieces from his books on Clinton, Roberto Clemente, Vince Lombardi—and from his journalism. He offers the moving portrait of Clark Welch’s return to Vietnam and a horrifying eyewitness account of the events of 9-ll. The collection showcases the range of Maraniss’s interests: politics, sports, friendship, and family. While I had read many of the articles before, I found myself rereading them with great pleasure. Gathered together as chapters in this book, they reflect Maraniss’s admirable craft and sensibility. A great reporter does more than relate the news; he filters it through his education, experience, and moral sense. It is particularly the last of these which I enjoyed here.
Jules Feiffer, the great and original cartoonist, playwright, and children’s-book writer has written an aw-shucks memoir with Backing Into Forward (Nan A. Talese, $30). I am only a few years younger than Mr. Feiffer and the times he writes about are my times. I found the memoir incredibly evocative, from the amazingly puritanical relationships between young men and women in the ’50s, to the emerging counter-culture of the ’60s. Of course, many of Jules Feiffer’s finest cartoons illustrate the memories. Feiffer invented his own comedic process, which evolved from his way of viewing the world and his sensitivity to his own neurosis. He turned his army years and the scary Joseph McCarthy period into satire. He apprenticed with Will Eisner. He came of age as the Village Voice was beginning and became intimately identified with the fledgling alternative paper. He worked on a number of projects with Mike Nichols, including the iconic movie Carnal Knowledge. He knew everybody working in comedy and comics. This is a happy memoir from a man who has accomplished what he wanted to do with his life and had great fun doing it.
Joel Litvinoff is defending a group of Arabs (one year after 9/11) in court when he keels over from a stroke. His years as a radical lawyer end as he lies in the hospital hooked up to tubes. His British-born wife Audrey, who has shared forty years with him, finds it impossible to leave his bedside or imagine life without him. Their daughters Karla and Rosa have troubles of their own. Karla, overweight and suffering from low self-esteem, is so grateful for a husband that she never considers whether or not she’s happy. Rosa has just returned from four years in Cuba where she grew disillusioned by the regime and now attends services at an Orthodox Synagogue. Lenny, the adopted brother, son of a radical serving a life prison sentence, is always stoned or cadging money to get stoned. Zoë Heller writes with such zest about the family secrets. Once I finished The Believers (HarperCollins, $25.99), I wanted to go back and reread it to enjoy Heller’s humor and her commentary on family and politics.