My idea of a great vacation is great reading. I don’t do anything until I have one or two books finished. I don’t engage in conversation much. I don’t launch into projects or explore. I just read from sun up to lights out.
I didn’t plan a theme for this year’s beach books but ironically I found links to the world of journalism in almost everything I read. Gail Godwin’s new book was on the top of my list. She is a 1959 graduate of UNC’s J-school and a favorite author of mine. I went to her book-tour stop in Raleigh and bought Flora, a story about a young girl and the relative who took care of her one summer in North Carolina during WWII. It’s a small novel with terrific writing. Godwin started her career as a journalist after graduation and became a celebrated writer. I like to think that what has made UNC’s J school so nationally respected–and what has been its mark of distinction–is the emphasis on writing built into the school’s DNA. Godwin embodies that brand of strong, intelligent, clear good writing. She also can tell a tale. I like to think we still graduate great storytellers – in print, on air and on line.
I also picked up for vacation reading a memoir by Kati Marton, a former broadcast correspondent who I met early in my ABC News career. Marton left the world of fast paced television news and began writing books. She won more accolades for her books than for her reporting and her memoir traces her journalistic life through the lens of a romantic city. It’s called Paris: A Love Story. Marton was married to two important men of our time: Peter Jennings of ABC News and the diplomat Richard Holbrooke. I was taken at how she seemed more involved and more moved by the events she shared with Holbrooke who was a major player on the world stage than the well-known Jennings. News seemed so fleeting as she retold tales of her reporting or what she shared with Jennings. World events had deeper consequences. Both Jennings and Holbrooke have died and Marton faces a world she must define again. This story of a journalist turned writer convinced me she would create a strong new chapter.
Ironically, next I picked up a book of novellas that I’ve had by my bedside for a few years. I keep it there because I have so enjoyed earlier novels I’ve read by Mary Gordon . I read the middle story of the three and realized I was on a journalism dean’s holiday. I had three books under my belt and all had connections to those who are drawn to the call of journalism: the public record of one’s time, the public debate, the world outside. The novella revolves around the narrator’s five year relationship and what keeps her connected to a war correspondent. The woman is an accomplished doctor specializing in children with autism and who is making a life with a journalist who constantly faces death. He returns home to her after each assignment but is unable to live the rhythm of a daily life, called instead to those places and events in the world that are most dangerous.
In 2013, a time when journalism is challenged as a career and as a business, and when the articles in newspapers and magazines seem to talk only about what journalism is not, it was wonderful to feel deeply–through these books–the clarion call of a profession. Journalism may not offer a lifelong career like law or medicine, but it is a profession that is rich in experience, powerful in its impact, and flexible in where it may lead you. Journalism. A word that still calls me.