Books acquired: none.
Books read: “All the President’s Men,” “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; “President Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer.
“Doonesbury” repeats this spring reminded me that Nixon resigned 40 years ago this August, and that made me think this would be a good summer to read the two Watergate books on my shelves. So I did.
I really liked “President’s Men,” which was published in early 1974. Told in the second person, it follows the two reporters as they chase leads, hit brick walls, knock on doors, meet a source in a parking garage and occasionally flub a story. These were two intrepid guys, and they were far more dedicated than I am, or any reporter I’ve ever known. Another thing I learned: Woodward was a registered Republican. Rather than trying to bring down a president, he and Bernstein were both shocked and disturbed that the trail of Watergate led as high as it did.
With that finished, did I want to read the 500-page “Final Days,” an inside look at the last months of Nixon’s presidency? I thought I’d read it a while and see. Well, I thought it was fascinating, and there was no question of not finishing it. In this one, private meetings and conversations are quoted as if they’re unfolding in front of us, reconstructed either by interviews with the participants or with people they shared their version of events with. It’s a neat trick that allows for privacy-invading scenes like Nixon forcing Kissinger to pray with him, and if asked Kissinger could plead that he wasn’t one of the direct sources.
Normally I’d say these sort of books aren’t my thing, but the subject was one that has always held an interest for me because Watergate occurred on the edge of my consciousness, being 9 and 10 at the time, and I was glad to finally know more about it. (I’m likely to write a column about it in August.)
Obviously I read “President Fu Manchu” the same month as something of a joke. But it legitimately was the next book in the series; I’d left off with book 7 a couple of years ago and I was overdue for book 8. In this one, the only volume set in America, the evil genius (and here I’m referring to Fu Manchu, not Richard Nixon) is pulling the strings of a populist candidate for president who would institute a dictatorship. Online sources say the 1936 novel pulls from real events involving Huey Long and Father Coughlin. So that’s neat, although the novel is otherwise the least distinguished so far.
One weird side-note: Fu has a lair reachable by a river tunnel under New York’s Chinatown, and the hidden entrance is referred to as his “water-gate.” You can’t make this stuff up.
I don’t recall where I got any of these three books, although I’ve had “Final Days” for maybe 10 years, picked up “President’s” maybe five years ago, and “President Fu” around the same time, all used.
What were you reading in June? Speak a little louder, I’m not sure my secret taping system is picking you up.