Book bits

Alaska Story, by Kay Fanning with Katherine Field Stephen

Many Monitor readers will recall Kay Fanning as the Monitor's first and only female editor. Some may also remember that she came to Boston in 1983 from Anchorage, Alaska, where she had been the publisher of the Anchorage Daily News since 1971.

Fanning was working on this memoir when she passed away in 2000. Her daughter, Katherine Field Stephen, has published it, appending to it essays by friends and colleagues who knew something about those Alaska days.

They were never easy, but always exciting.

Fanning, newly divorced, left Chicago for Alaska in 1965, arriving in a station wagon with three children in tow. She took a $2-an-hour job at the underdog Daily News, filing clippings and photos in the paper's library.

By the next year, she had married Larry Fanning, former editor of the Chicago Daily News, and together they blazed a journalistic trail in the country's newest state. Despite counsel that they were making a fool's bargain, the Fannings purchased the Daily News, a fledgling liberal paper overshadowed by the dominant and conservative Anchorage Times.

Armed with a scrappy, young staff, and a commitment to the "unfettered flow of ideas," the Fannings' Daily News energetically pursued environmental issues, gun control, Native rights, and local politics.

Larry's sudden death in 1971 thrust the reins of control into Kay's hands. Many say it was her steady grace and unwavering religious faith that kept the paper afloat. A Pulitzer Prize was another victory.

Journalism is often described as the first draft of history. And in many ways so is this memoir. Readers may feel they are stopping by the desk of a remarkable woman, loaded with interesting personal objects and a project half completed. Much is left to be said about this extraordinary life. Nevertheless, Fanning's voice rings true with warmth and humble insight. If you didn't know her, after reading "Alaska Story" you will wish you had.
– Kendra Nordin

Three books about black history

Those weeks in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 were the final chapter in the life work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and also the scene of a dark battle for labor and civil rights. University of Washington professor Michael K. Honey offers a moving and detailed account of this poignant chapter of history in Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign. Honey includes fresh research and first-person interviews in a book with the drama of a novel.

Elizabeth Jacoway grew up in Little Rock throughout the drama of school desegregation in the 1950s, but she says she was an adult before she grasped the significance of what had taken place around her. She has since spent three decades researching all that happened at that time and the result is Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation, a full chronicle of events, including numerous first-person accounts.

Throughout the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, Harlem was the setting for a vibrant chapter of African-American culture. Harlem Speaks, edited by Cary D. Wintz, tells the rich story of this era through a collection of essays highlighting the lives and works of the artists, writers, and thinkers behind the cultural explosion. Integrated with an audio CD, this book is an ideal text for students of the era.
– Marjorie Kehe

Books on Broadway

How many bestselling Authors have their works adapted for the Great White Way? Plenty. When Joan Didion's memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking" begins in previews on Broadway next week, Didion will be in good company. However, the stage fortunes of book authors have varied wildly. Recent success/sob stories include:

Nick Hornsby. His 1995 bestseller "High Fidelity" survived on Broadway for only 14 performances last year.

Alice Walker. Her 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winner "The Color Purple" opened on Broadway in 2005 and received 11 Tony nominations (although only one award).

Victor Hugo. He spent 33 years writing "Les Misérables" only to have it panned by critics. The 1985 Broadway adaptation has shattered attendance records – but earned little respect from critics.

P.L. Travers. Travers sobbed in 1964 when she first saw the relentlessly cheery Walt Disney film version of her more acerbic "Mary Poppins." The current play is unlikely to have suited her any better.

Readers' picks

Call It a Gift by Valerie Hobbs is a sleeper from a small press with no publicity. It is a love story of older adults who try to balance family responsibilities with their own needs. It is amazingly sensitive.
– Julia Mayberry Palo Alto, Calif.

I have no interest in Kalahari Bushmen whatsoever, but I couldn't put down The Old Way: A Story of the First People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. She writes of her experiences in the Kalahari many years ago and of the recent sad, destructive changes. She is a most empathetic and observant anthropologist and writes clear, engaging, and provocative prose.
– Dennis Lynch, Glenshaw, Pa.

I just finished Loung Ung's second book Lucky Child. She does an excellent job of explaining her thoughts as she evolves from starving refugee to thoughtful adult.
– Patricia Jones Akrabawi, Tulsa, Okla.

Small Island by Andrea Levy is a story of emigration to England in 1948. Levy evokes the desperate turmoil of postwar England in this novel of a young Jamaican couple facing prejudice and poverty in their bid for a new life in the "Mother Country."
– Judy Weaver, Merrill, Wis.

Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas, about World War II naval combat in the South Pacific, focusing on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The story is told through two Japanese and two US officers, and shows how stereotypes helped shape pivotal battle decisions.
– Ben Beach, Bethesda, Md.

The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, required reading for understanding our place in the world.
– Linda Genteel, Richmond, Va.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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