Author: Sheila Weller
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Thoughtful, even-handed, with lots of great quotes, this book brought to life three fascinating women and highlighted the state of women in journalism today.
Like really great historical fiction, this biography did a wonderful job bringing to life not only individuals but also a larger setting. I found Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour’s histories and inspirations fascinating. They’re all incredibly interesting women with many unique life experiences. Although I probably would have described this as narrative nonfiction, the author explicitly states that she thinks of this not as narrative nonfiction, but as journalistic nonfiction, told largely through quotes from primary sources. I’m not sure those two genres are mutually exclusive, but I did notice and appreciate all of the direct quotes the author used. Most flowed smoothly with the narrative bits she’d written. Together, they presented what seemed to be an unbiased and well-rounded view of each woman. Despite obvious similarities, particularly their success in a male-dominated profession, the author also clearly highlighted their individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.
The author also occasionally digressed from their individual stories to discuss other female journalists and the overall status of women in this profession. I wasn’t sure I liked this at first, in part because I have a strong preference for chronological storytelling in the absence of clearly labeled time jumps. At the end of the book though, this turned out to be one of my favorite parts. It put the stories of these individual women into a greater context. It also brought the time period and experience of being a woman in news reporting into focus.
Another part of the book I wasn’t sure about was the focus on the clothes each woman wore and the romantic relationships she was involved in. The obvious question was whether or not the author would include such details if we were reading about men. I think the answer is no. However, I ended up feeling as though this wasn’t sexism on the author’s part, but a deliberate choice to include information about facets of these women’s lives that influenced how the public perceived them. The author’s tone was always neutral, without judgement of her own. She factually conveyed the way the public judged these women without inserting her opinion. In fact, this initial concern ended up feeling like one of the book’s strengths as well. The author captured a lot of detail about each woman’s life and discussed every issue, from possible sexism to any controversy surrounding each woman, in a very even-handed way.
After reading this, I would definitely look for more books labeled as journalistic nonfiction. This depends a bit on the topic, but I almost always prefer an author who can approach their subject in a neutral way. Direct quotes are also something I enjoy seeing. It’s fun to get a first-hand perspective on a story and also can help keep the story free of the author’s biases. The section labels helped me keep track of who was who, as did the author’s ability to bring these women to life through incredibly detailed descriptions. I think she did these women proud.
I’m curious what you all think of a book like this including details about a woman’s clothing choices. It might be hard to judge without having read this particular book, but in general, do you think the fact that people may judge a woman based on what she wears makes those details worth including? Or does it just support continuing to judge women based on their looks?