Struggling newspaper operations, journalists having to reinvent themselves, the story is familiar, but in this case, it really is a story – a best selling one at that. For our January Reader’s Review we discuss a novel by Tom Rachman. It’s called “The Imperfectionists”. The book follows the lives of a group of reporters, editors, and executives who work for a failing English language newspaper in Rome. Join us to discuss the novel, “The Imperfectionists”,

Guests

  • Deirdre Donahue book critic for "USA Today"
  • Lisa Page president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and creative writing teacher at George Washington University.
  • David Ignatius columnist, The Washington Post; co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com.

Transcript

  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Tom Rachman's novel, "The Imperfectionists," revolves around a group of characters who work for an English language newspaper in Rome. The reports, editors and executives in this story are closely connected to one another at work, but cope with very different challenges at home. Joining me to talk about the novel for this month's Readers' Review, David Ignatius. He's a columnist at The Washington Post and co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com.

  • 11:07:41

    MS. DIANE REHMDeirdre Donahue is book critic for USA Today. Lisa Page is a freelance writer who teaches creative writing at George Washington University. Since this book has been on the bestseller list for quite awhile, I would imagine that many of you have read the book. We'll open the phones shortly, join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org, fell free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.

  • 11:08:31

    MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.

  • 11:08:31

    MS. DEIRDRE DONAHUEGood morning.

  • 11:08:31

    MS. LISA PAGEGood morning.

  • 11:08:32

    REHMDavid Ignatius, as one who served abroad editing an international newspaper, you, I think, could probably feel some of this novel. Tell us about your reactions.

  • 11:08:56

    IGNATIUSDiane, I have to say at the outset that I loved the book. I did edit the International Harold Tribune in Paris for three years. Our author, Tom Rachman, worked as an editor at the IHT, although after I was there. He also has worked in Rome and I think he's captured in this book what the news room of the IHT in Paris felt like, but in a way -- and I think this is what makes it a book worth taking seriously, newsrooms everywhere. There's an almost elegiac sense about this book, about a business that's loveable with quirky, loveable characters whose lives never quite work out.

  • 11:09:41

    IGNATIUSThat's heading down and we all feel that. We feel it slipping away in the book as connections aren't met and things don't work out. And that's really the situation in which our business finds itself, but I have to tell you that having seen it close up as an editor in Paris, it looks pretty much the way it's described in this book.

  • 11:10:03

    REHMHow about you, Lisa?

  • 11:10:05

    PAGEWell, I loved it and I loved it because it's a story about journalists. It's a story about real life journalists and what happens in their lives, how their work is at the center of their lives. And very often, their personal lives take a backseat to that or become problematic as a result. I just adored the book and found it very realistic.

  • 11:10:26

    REHMAs one who is married to an active journalist, Clarence Page, your own perception of the book may resonate with you personally.

  • 11:10:39

    PAGEAbsolutely. Well, he has a quote that journalists -- he says, journalists were as touchy as cabaret performers and as stubborn as factory machinists.

  • 11:10:49

    REHMOh, my.

  • 11:10:50

    PAGEAnd that's dead on.

  • 11:10:51

    REHMIs that Clarence (laugh) ?

  • 11:10:53

    PAGEI'd say so.

  • 11:10:55

    REHMAll right, Deirdre, how about you?

  • 11:10:57

    DONAHUENo, I didn't care for it at all. And I read it twice because I do know this got some of the best reviews I've ever read. I mean, really, people were rushing in. And I frankly found -- I have worked in newsrooms since 1981. Maybe I found it too much shop talk, but what I look for in a novel is something -- I was very struck by the fact that all of the reviews, these have rave reviews, were by people in journalism. And in fact, I think it did slightly reflect the self-absorbed nature of journalists, that we assume that this is somehow -- you know, somehow sort universal.

  • 11:11:30

    DONAHUEIn fact, I didn't find -- I found the fact -- I didn't find any of the -- I didn't find the characters compelling. I felt there was no pixy dust. There was no sense of -- there was something that someone who did not know all about copy editors and their quirks, would find -- a reader outside of journalists, I just don't think they would find this book gripping and a lot of people on Amazon who've actually shared this opinion.

  • 11:11:54

    REHMInteresting that certainly, the book reflects a lot of the tensions that go on within the newsroom. The concerns about the editor, who's going to be fired or laid off next. My concern with the book was that to me, it felt like a series of short stories, delineating each character within the book, but not completely bringing it together as a novel until almost the very end, David.

  • 11:12:34

    IGNATIUSI think that's a fair comment, Diane. This is a collection of short stories. It's a collection of vignettes of personalities who work in this newspaper. It's only called a paper, it never has a name. And it's really only at the end that you see the larger design on the novel. And I think that it is, in the end, a novel and not a collection of short stories because you see that this is a tragic love story and you understand the dimensions and it doesn't really hit you -- it didn't hit me the first time I read it.

  • 11:13:07

    IGNATIUSMany months ago, it didn't hit me until the last two chapters. And I was so struck by what the author had accomplished, it snuck up on me that this was a story with much deeper resonance it terms of a love lost. That I -- like Christopher Buckley in The New York Times, I had the desire to start reading the book from the beginning again to see how the author had pulled this off. How he'd taken us to this point where suddenly the pieces that seemed disjointed begin to mesh?

  • 11:13:40

    IGNATIUSAnd so I understand what Deirdre's saying, that there's a lot that's suggested that, you know, I'm sure that the ones appreciation in this book is enhanced by being a journalist. That said, I do think this is a quite a magical novel and I think the reception of it -- I'd be surprised if 10 years from now, we weren't still talking about this as an important...

  • 11:14:01

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:14:01

    IGNATIUS...book.

  • 11:14:02

    REHMWhat about the expatriate factor, David? Surely that must have resonated with you.

  • 11:14:10

    IGNATIUSIt did. I can't tell you or listeners just how well Tom Rachman captures the odd characters who wash up on the shores of a newspaper like the International Harold Tribune or the Daily American in Rome. These are people who've lived overseas for many years, who've in many ways taken on the coloration of the country where they live. They speak the language, they know the food, they're detached from America and yet they're not really of the place that they're in, either.

  • 11:14:41

    IGNATIUSAnd, you know, even the little figures, the copy editor, Ruby Zaga, the business reporter, Hardy Benjamin, these are all characters in the book. I have to tell you, these people just light up in front of my eyes.

  • 11:14:52

    REHMThey grab you.

  • 11:14:53

    IGNATIUSBecause I've seen them.

  • 11:14:54

    REHMWhy do you think the book is titled, "The Imperfectionists," Lisa?

  • 11:15:00

    PAGEBecause no story is perfect. Because every new story that comes out isn't finished. You only have so much time to get it done. You're on deadline. You do the best you can, but there's something that you weren't able to squeeze into that column or that page. It's an imperfect business. It's an imperfect business.

  • 11:15:20

    REHMAnd the -- each of the characters has its imperfections, Deirdre.

  • 11:15:25

    DONAHUEYes. And I frankly have to say, I found most -- I will say the one that dealt with the death was actually -- I thought, that character, that to me at that moment, I felt something that I felt -- if someone said, I want to -- you know, I want to recommend something for my book club, that story, I thought, okay, there was something there. There was something universal, that he was putting aside his career because he really did love his child, okay.

  • 11:15:51

    DONAHUEThe grief and the way he moves into sort of the way -- what he does in terms of that story where he goes from the death of a child and then sort of reinvigorates his career, which is slightly strange, but interesting. That, to me, resonate and I thought the bewildered young guy in Cairo was, like, just being taken advantage of by sort of a, you know, two kind of much older shiftier characters.

  • 11:16:14

    DONAHUEYou know, he is so exploited. I love the fact he hates newspapers so much, he won't even put them in the, you know, cage in the monkeys. But other than that, I have to say, I found, like, the sort of endlessly, you know, frankly, I thought mechanical manipulative twists at each story that, like, you know, the dog, the woman in the hotel. I, frankly -- I just -- it didn't resonate.

  • 11:16:38

    REHMThe threads that hold it together are between chapters when we learn in italics about the family who owns the newspaper.

  • 11:16:51

    PAGEYes, the Ott family. And it was started by Cyrus Ott who -- I mean, that's the love story piece of it is that he has really started it because he's in love with a woman who is a journalist. And she comes back with her husband to run that paper. And he buys art to impress her, he does all kinds of things. And the Ott family -- he is succeeded by his son and then his grandson over the years throughout the novel.

  • 11:17:20

    REHMAnd did that family sort of resonates again, Washington Post, New York Times, David?

  • 11:17:28

    IGNATIUSWell, I think, I wouldn't say the Ott family is the Sulzberger family or the Graham family. There's more happenstance in the story of Cyrus Ott, but I think that the way this story is told is deliberately meant to evoke the romance of newspapering. This newspaper is created as an act of love so that Cyrus Ott can showcase this woman, Betty, who he's met and fallen in love with, but can't bring himself to marry.

  • 11:17:59

    IGNATIUSAnd to give her this perfect world in which she can do her work of journalism. And through the book, you have characters who in different ways have a romance with this goofy business. It doesn't treat them very well, it often doesn't accomplish its purposes. And I think, you know, if you love newspapers and are sorry to see them increasingly in trouble, you're likely to like this book. If you're not a newspaper fan, a lot of this is going to leave you cold.

  • 11:18:28

    REHMDavid Ignatius, he's a columnist for The Washington Post, co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com. And of course, a novelist in his own right.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMWelcome back. Our Readers' Review for this month is, "The Imperfectionists," by Tom Rachman. Here's an e-mail from William who says, "I love 'The Imperfectionists' and I don't think you need to be an insider to appreciate it. It follows in a great tradition of books about newspapers that include Evelyn Waugh's 'Scoop,' Michael Frayn's 'To the End of Morning.' The characters were vivid, funny, flawed and accessible to all readers. The structure of alternating chapters between the novel's narratives and the paper's back story was a great trick the author pulled off flawlessly. I was delighted that such a substantial grown up novel has achieved commercial success."

  • 11:21:05

    REHMGrown up, that's interesting. What do you think?

  • 11:21:07

    PAGEWell, it's grown up and it's also realistic in terms of the newspaper. I am a big fan of old newspaper movies and the romance of newspapering, but this is real life newspaper, people and the business itself. And I want to go back to what you've been arguing about in terms of the structure of this novel and how you had problems with it because to me, you don't get to have one character throughout this book...

  • 11:21:33

    REHMRight.

  • 11:21:33

    PAGE...that you follow.

  • 11:21:34

    REHMRight.

  • 11:21:35

    PAGEAnd that -- I mean, I like to get involved and see what happens to the -- and I struggled with that as well, but at the same time, to me, the center of this novel, really, is the paper. That's the character, that's the character that's evolving and changing and in the end is used, you know, for leftovers.

  • 11:21:55

    REHMAnd it's as though we're reading different aspects of that newspaper. In the first chapter, we meet Lloyd Burko and he is desperate. Symbol of a declining newspaper?

  • 11:22:13

    IGNATIUSHe is a freelance writer in Paris who has no money, no stories to write, doesn't even have a computer to send the stories if he found them. He's just desperate. He actually has a kind of sweet and decent ending in which his son, who is as lost as he is, takes him. I thought that was touching, but he was almost, you know, beyond journalism (unintelligible).

  • 11:22:43

    REHMDesperate.

  • 11:22:45

    IGNATIUSNo. I -- you asked a moment ago, Diane, why this is a grown up novel and I thought that some of the descriptions of relations between men and women -- I particularly think of the chapter in which the editor-in-chief, Kathleen Solson falls for a man she's lived with for six years earlier in her life. And there's scenes of mutual flirtation and seduction that are as delicately written as anything I know in modern fiction that I think capture the way men and women bump against each other, the scenes in cafes, the encounters, the not quite catching each other. I thought that was extremely well done. And if you read it in a short story or a novel about any subject, you'd say, that's good writing. That captures the way people live.

  • 11:23:36

    REHMI felt so sorry for her.

  • 11:23:39

    IGNATIUSShe's a character who's really caught in the psychopathology of newspapering, if you will. Her lover describes her at one point as conditional, instrumental, manipulative in the way that a newspaper person often is.

  • 11:23:53

    REHMDierdre.

  • 11:23:54

    DONAHUEI have to say, I'm sorry. And this is -- I do find that journalism does tend to be -- particularly newspapers, 'cause I have worked at magazines as well -- I have to say the constant self-mythologizing does begin to drive me insane. And I must say I think the people -- I just -- it just sort of enraged me that this newspaper didn't have a website. I mean, I do think -- I can't bear this sort of nostalgia and this constant sense of how -- there was never a sense, I'm sad to say, with people going, how do -- what is it that the readers want to read? What is it? How can we connect?

  • 11:24:31

    DONAHUEThere's always the sense of, well, they just want to read trash on the -- you know, on their iPhones. I don't necessarily think that's true. I have to say, I think that you could say it does capture one of the things that I think the general public begins to tire, the endless braying on about, why don't you love us? The caravan has moved on and newspapers, I think some -- have to bear some of the fault.

  • 11:24:50

    REHMThe readership is about 30,000.

  • 11:24:55

    IGNATIUSFifteen.

  • 11:24:56

    REHMFifteen thousand.

  • 11:24:56

    DONAHUEIt's dropped to 10,000.

  • 11:24:58

    REHMAnd it drops to 10,000 and yet, the Ott family wants to continue this newspaper, which fascinates me. I mean, he's pouring money into this, he's not making his money back. Why does he feel so strongly about continuing it? And then, why does his son? And finally, we get to a guy who is a grandson and he doesn't care so much.

  • 11:25:32

    IGNATIUSWell, the newspaper's founded by Cyrus Ott, as we were saying earlier, as an act of love. He really wants a way to be near his beloved who has married somebody else, but he falls in love with the mission. I think we would say about great newspaper families that they believe in the mission of public service that their newspaper represents. And so they're prepared in tough times to take losses. They feel that it's a public trust.

  • 11:26:03

    REHMBut do you think he cared about the quality of what was in that newspaper?

  • 11:26:09

    IGNATIUSI think the newspaper was incidental to the real love that was animating him, which was the spine of this novel. I think his son, Boyd, actually does a better job at being a steward of the newspaper and ends up hiring Kathleen who's a pretty good tough no-nonsense editor. The way in which it collapses with this sort of pathetic grandson, Oliver, who just wanders around Cyrus Ott's mansion on the Aventine Hill with his dog, just trying to avoid contact with anyone. I mean, if that's the way the newspaper industry's finally going to implode, that's a sad end.

  • 11:26:55

    PAGEBut I think that's the metaphorical nature of the book. I think that what you're talking, about in terms of this sort of narcissism of newspapering exists, as does the people who are completely detached from it like Oliver Ott, who uses the newspaper for his dog. Those are different aspects of how we approach journalism and the world of journalism, but there's also the integrity and the strength.

  • 11:27:24

    REHMAnd the phones are open. If you'd like to join us, whether you have read the book or not, we'll welcome your comments, 800-433-8850. Let's talk about Winston, the reporter in Cairo. He's also one of the paper stringers. How does his story contrast with that of Lloyd Burko? Deirdre.

  • 11:27:55

    DONAHUEWell, honestly, that -- I have to say, I did enjoy that one because he's this young guy, he's Asian, he's from Minnesota, he has dropped out of a PhD program, I believe, in primate, so he's very aware of status and submission, alpha male and he finds himself -- he has flawed Arabic, if that, and he's in Cairo and he's absolutely totally in over his head. And I do think that that was a charming thing of the situation where you have this young guy who is, you know, in an -- he's impossibly young and impossibly unprepared. Which, you know, you realized they've just thrown him in.

  • 11:28:31

    DONAHUEThen he has the world's most obnoxious narcissistic -- but obviously had gotten some very good stories, this foreign correspondent, who literally seizes everything, sucks -- and you can see the sort of -- that kind of unbelievable, everything is about my story, everything is about -- it's always the fate of the republic rests on him at every point. It's like he takes his laptop, he takes the girl he's interested in. He -- I mean, he doesn't -- it's just -- and I thought that that was kind of a broad humor, you know. And the fact that he -- but that -- see, again, I thought that was a much more effective, universal moment where you see an older person, you know, sort of exploiting youth in this guy.

  • 11:29:13

    DONAHUEAnd this kid is just -- and then they're wandering around on the streets of Cairo and the guy's going, well, ask the -- you know, the woman -- the chick in the coat about sex, you know, in its -- you know, this is obviously a Muslim country. This woman is, you know, in a burqa. You know, the people are, you know, staring horrified, so I thought that was a lighter moment.

  • 11:29:31

    REHMDavid.

  • 11:29:32

    IGNATIUSWell, it's a wonderful comic chapter. The character of the, you know, experienced tough war correspondent, his name is Rich Snyder in the book.

  • 11:29:46

    REHMYes, right.

  • 11:29:47

    IGNATIUSAnd Rich Snyder is sort of the ultimate Roland Hedley-esque, if we remember the Doonesberry character.

  • 11:29:52

    REHMSure.

  • 11:29:53

    IGNATIUSHe's just such a bs artist.

  • 11:29:55

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 11:29:56

    IGNATIUSAnd he manipulates this poor kid. It was a great line where he's telling the kid how great he is and he says, yeah, you may have read my series about gypsy aids babies.

  • 11:30:07

    IGNATIUSWhich is just a perfect cliché newspaper series. And he says, yeah, it was suggested for the Pulitzer Prize. And Winston, the young wide-eyed kid says, it was nominated for a Pulitzer? No, it was suggested...

  • 11:30:20

    REHMIt was suggested.

  • 11:30:21

    IGNATIUS...it was suggested for a Pulitzer Prize.

  • 11:30:22

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 11:30:23

    IGNATIUSHe's just -- he's a classic. I mean, you know, that's -- I would say to Deirdre that maybe the saving grace of this book, if you think newspapering is a self-absorbing thing, is the self knowledge about just how ridiculous and in some cases loathsome newspaper personalities are, as in the case of Rich Snyder.

  • 11:30:41

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, take a caller in St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning, Carol, you're on the air.

  • 11:30:50

    CAROLGood morning. Thank you. Yeah, my comment was, I keep reading newspaper articles that are really press releases and the reporter just reports whatever he's told and does not do any background and that just -- that's not newspaper reporting, you know...

  • 11:31:11

    REHMSo...

  • 11:31:11

    CAROL...when you just -- when you just come out with whatever the politician or whoever says and you don't look at the other side of it.

  • 11:31:20

    REHMYeah, I think there is a lot of criticism about that kind of simply reflecting what the administration puts out or what a Congressional office puts out and not much depth beyond it. David.

  • 11:31:36

    IGNATIUSI think the caller's absolutely right. Journalism requires independence and independent evaluation of information that's put out. One thing that worries me, frankly, is that people are increasingly turning toward what I call imbedded media, which are websites, sometimes publications that basically have an ideological slant. They're imbedded with a particular point of view, sometimes with a movement and they tell you what you think is right and what the people you don't like think is wrong. And they exist to reinforce your prejudices. I think that takes it a step beyond what the caller was talking about, which was sort of neutral dissemination of press releases to something even more dangerous.

  • 11:32:21

    IGNATIUSBut no question, journalism is about independence, standing back, making evaluation, trying to give the -- trying to serve the reader by saying, here's what we think is true.

  • 11:32:30

    REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Jim.

  • 11:32:44

    JIMYes, Diane. I'm a reporter at a small newspaper in the Charlotte area and some of the things you guys are saying -- I haven't read the book. I think I'm going to read it now, but they just ring so true. Everybody's sorta concerned about the demise of the paper. And of course, the internet is the new medium. It just all sounds interesting to me that this is -- you know, the lovers of, I guess, newspapers somebody -- one of your guests commented on. I guess I would be one of those people, even if I didn't work at a newspaper. I think it's just -- the point you guys were making about this time we're in.

  • 11:33:58

    JIMThe paper I was at about five or six years ago, there was -- we were discussing how the -- and maybe even longer, seven or eight years ago, we were at the sort of nexus where, where do we move on 'cause circulation was dropping like a rock and it continues to do so. I mean, I think newspapers now don't measure circulation on terms of how much they've increased, but how -- but by how little they have decreased.

  • 11:33:59

    JIMAnd -- I don't know, I just wanted to comment that it is an interesting time we're living in right now. We're in that sort of -- I think we described it at one of the meetings I've been in at my newspapers that I've worked at as this sort of gray area where -- you know, I think there's some people out there that believe that -- for example, I don't think anybody under 30 reads the newspaper. Our audience now right now that we're trying to hold onto is probably 40 and above, actually. And you know, eventually, those people are -- you know, as you guys mentioned, the iPhones and the whatnot, it's gonna take over and...

  • 11:34:34

    REHMSure. Jim, I do think you'd be interested in reading this book. It does hit home in exactly that way. Deirdre, you wanted to comment.

  • 11:34:45

    DONAHUEYes. And actually, it's not that I’m some terrible person, I -- I think what makes me incredibly sad is the fact that -- and I don't know whether the spiral can be reversed, but there is -- I have to say, there is also -- there is a moment why I do feel sorry for accounts payable with the idea of it is a business, okay, and you must have the business model working.

  • 11:35:10

    DONAHUEAnd one of the most interesting things I thought was actually an op-ed I think that David Simon of The Wire did about, you know, the Baltimore Sun where he said, wait a second, maybe -- then maybe readers never really loved us. They just wanted the classifieds. Well, those have gone off to Craigslist. Maybe they wanted, you know, the sport scores. They're getting them online. And they wanted the coupons and now they can get them, you know, at the store.

  • 11:35:32

    DONAHUEI mean, it's very painful, but I do think that there is a sense that a lot of the problem is the fact that, you know, the web has destroyed hierarchies. And it's a fact that people are no longer willing to accept the concept of sort of medium mandurance interpreting the information. I think that there is nothing more, you know, impressive than, let's say, you know, the essay about the series on Walter Reed, but there is something wrong in a profession that constantly gives each other prizes ceaselessly. People don't say, I want to write a story that will absolutely transform -- you know, people will literally weep when they read it. It's more the idea of the constant ambition.

  • 11:36:13

    DONAHUEAnd you -- I find it angering that people -- the -- the sense that you are serving the reader. And I think that sometimes we work constantly at giving readers something that they perhaps did not want as much.

  • 11:36:25

    REHMWell, there is a chapter, somewhat funny, somewhat poignant, where Arthur, the obituary writer, goes to interview a famous writer to prepare in advance her obituary. How does that go?

  • 11:36:47

    PAGEWell, that's a common thing. First of all, newspapers have obits written ahead of time very often for people -- well known people before they die, but what got me about this chapter was, I mean, he's an obituary writer who becomes very acquainted with death because his own daughter dies in the process of his interviewing this woman. And it's the irony of his subject matter suddenly becoming so personal. Up until that point, he's been sort of lackadaisical...

  • 11:37:21

    REHMYes, that's the word.

  • 11:37:21

    PAGE...in terms of his work. He doesn't really care, he doesn't come in on time. But then with the stuff he ultimately manipulates things so that he's promoted to cultural editor.

  • 11:37:33

    REHMLisa Page, she's a freelance writer, she teaches creative writing at George Washington University. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd Jay in Jacksonville sends an e-mail saying, "I'm not a journalist and I love this book. I thought parts of it were profound, especially for such a young writer." How old is he, David?

  • 11:40:19

    IGNATIUSWell, I think he's in his mid 30s and he is a first rate journalist. We ought to note that. His brother's a famous columnist for the Financial Times, so it's a newspaper family.

  • 11:40:30

    REHMAnd Jay goes on to say, "My favorite line was toward the end when one of the characters wanted to avoid unstable businesses in the future so she went to work for laymen in London. The grass always seems greener elsewhere." All right. Let's go now to Blowing Rock, N.C. Good morning, Michael.

  • 11:40:59

    MICHAELHello, ma'am.

  • 11:41:00

    REHMHi.

  • 11:41:01

    MICHAELI appreciate your seriousness.

  • 11:41:03

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:05

    MICHAELYes. Journalists need to be held to a high standard, as do we all. I wanted to mention Thaddeus Kozinski, the philosopher. He is someone who deserves our attention, a man of moment for our times.

  • 11:41:29

    REHMI'm not sure I know that name, but, you know, we are focusing in this hour on one book and that book is "The Imperfectionists." So if you have a comment about "The Imperfectionists," I'd be delighted to hear it.

  • 11:41:54

    MICHAELIt's not so much a direct comment on the book, as we all need to step up our game, please.

  • 11:42:01

    REHMOkay. Thanks for calling, Michael. Let's go to Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air, Ellen. Ellen?

  • 11:42:12

    ELLENHi, yes, hi, Diane.

  • 11:42:14

    REHMHi there.

  • 11:42:15

    ELLENI'm worked at a lot -- and I'm a librarian and I worked in a newspaper years ago and I think this is spot on with everybody, especially the copy editor. I've pressed this book into many, many hands at the library. I've really enjoyed it. But I wanted to ask, maybe Lisa could answer this, it seems to me that so many books now are designed like this book, a series of short stories with one single thread running through them to tie them all together, such as "Olive Kitteridge," something like that. It seems many books. Is this a trend in literature right now?

  • 11:42:57

    PAGEYes, it is a trend. It is a trend. And I think it reflects the sort of attention deficit disorder that the country is developing as a result of being online all the time. That's my personal opinion.

  • 11:43:09

    REHMReally?

  • 11:43:09

    PAGEYes.

  • 11:43:10

    REHMReally. "Olive Kitteridge" is...

  • 11:43:12

    PAGEA wonderful book.

  • 11:43:12

    REHM...a wonderful, fabulous book.

  • 11:43:15

    DONAHUEI loved "Olive Kitteridge," but I mean, "Dubliners" is also sort of a series of stories, you know, that comes together. I mean, I actually -- I didn't -- I mean, it -- I was surprised at how many readers were annoyed by the fact that they felt that this was a short story that was passed off as a novel. That didn't bother me at all.

  • 11:43:34

    REHMHere's an e-mail, let's see, from Tony, who says, "I totally concur with David Ignatius' comments. This is one of the best novels I've ever read, ever. And I am not a journalist. Please have your panelists comment on the way the author intertwined humor with bittersweet sadness, a technique I found to be engrossing and sometimes painful."

  • 11:44:05

    IGNATIUSWell, as a novelist, in addition to be a journalist, I was really astonished by his technical skill in this book. He does things with such a light touch. It's so easy as a writer to overwrite, to steer the reader, to assemble a plot that's architectonic that's just too overdone. And I think one interesting thing about this book is if you don't like newspapers and newspaper people and think they deserve what they get, you have all the evidence you could want here.

  • 11:44:45

    IGNATIUSIf you love them, you know, if it's a romance for you, you get all the evidence you could want. I do think the scenes between men and women, this book -- a book in which love generally doesn't work out and the ways in which it doesn't connect, I think that's a very modern sensibility. And again, I can't wait to read the next novel, novels that Tom Rachman writes because I think just technically as a novelist, he's a man of very large gifts.

  • 11:45:13

    REHMHere's yet another e-mail from Woody, who says, "I found the novel, which is really a series of short stories, depressing. As a long time journalist who lived through much of the city room environment depicted in the book, I thought the title only a euphemism for losers, which should've been its actual title, though I'm not sure the publisher would've found that sellable."

  • 11:45:49

    DONAHUE(laugh) I mean, I actually thought it was a -- I certainly agree he's a very talented and very funny writer, but I'd have to say I thought it was a young man looking at older people's lives. And he did not grasp the fact that -- I didn't think he had true empathy. And it's not that he's -- that young people cannot write about older people. I think Joshua Ferris' "Then We Came to the End" is one of the most brilliant presentations of a woman in her 40s dying. And that it's -- but I didn't -- I absolutely -- I didn't understand the relationship, for example, between Craig and Annika. That seemed to me inexplicable. I mean, that -- I understood the relationship, but then it goes on to sort of this, you know, strange twist where she's actually returned to the Italian lover who was, you know, extracting money. I'm going, huh?

  • 11:46:37

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:46:37

    DONAHUELike, where was the motivation for her to get involved with him? I saw her -- it was certainly complex, but the essential reason, why was she involved with Pablo and why did she go back to him?

  • 11:46:49

    REHMBut doesn't that make sense, again, in this expatriate setting, David?

  • 11:46:58

    IGNATIUSYes. Certainly living overseas, you see couples like this whose initial connection is somewhat haphazard. In Europe, extramarital sex is just a lot more common and people bounce in and out of relationships. I would agree with Deirdre that I thought that that vignette of Craig Menzies, the managing editor, and Annika, who he lets go. You know, he really...

  • 11:47:26

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:47:26

    IGNATIUS...drives away in the end without understanding it. I thought that was one of the weaker parts of the book. But even so, I thought -- again, I thought it had touches of how people really live.

  • 11:47:37

    REHMHere's a Facebook comment from Maureen, who says, "Although I found most of the characters in this novel rather deplorable, I kept reading each chapter with the hope that maybe the next character might have a redeeming quality. Of course, none of them really do become likeable until the end when they are freed from the newspaper. I actually loved the structure and found myself tempted to reread it when I finished." Lisa.

  • 11:48:15

    PAGEWell, you know, that's funny because that's not how I experienced it. I really felt like these characters, their lives were centered around this paper and that once the paper wasn't there, they weren't, either. That's how I experienced it. It was the opposite.

  • 11:48:31

    REHMThey were just gone.

  • 11:48:32

    PAGEGone. The paper was everything. And interestingly, they all complained about the paper until it was about to die and then they were all in love with it. I mean, that's what I saw happening.

  • 11:48:43

    REHMYou know, and the fact that the grandson, as you've already said, David, just kept walking around his grandfather's mansion and then he gets a call from his brother back in New York saying, the paper's going down.

  • 11:49:01

    IGNATIUSIt's over. It's over.

  • 11:49:01

    REHMIt's over. And we're selling the mansion, so get out. And he goes calmly, coolly into the newsroom, says, you're out of here. And people who've been there for 20, 30 years say, what about my retirement? What about my insurance? And all of a sudden, they think, my life is over.

  • 11:49:26

    PAGERight. And their life is over because their life was the newspaper.

  • 11:49:31

    DONAHUEBut was Ruby's life over? She was the one character who I thought that in fact, she was -- she'd saved money and she was planning to have her family...

  • 11:49:37

    REHMTrue. True.

  • 11:49:38

    DONAHUE...and that she actually did remind me of someone who was -- again, it was a someone who was trapped in a job that she hates so much and she's completely obsessed with -- her hatred for her job defines her. And in fact, I do think that she was liberated. I don't think the rest of them were as much.

  • 11:49:57

    PAGEWell, she's financially set herself up, right, but I thought she also loved that job. She complained and went on and on about how horrible it was, but then she got to stay in the end when she wasn't fired. I mean, she's a complicated woman.

  • 11:50:11

    REHMTo Rock Hill, S.C. Let's see if this little mouse is working here. Yes, there it is. Good morning, Hillary.

  • 11:50:24

    HILLARYGood morning, Diane. I've come into this show late. I'm intrigued by the book and plan to read it. I am a middle school teacher in Rock Hill, S.C. I have three children and we have had the newspaper on the kitchen table every morning that they have come out for breakfast and it's funny. My middle schoolers would start with just reading the star and celebrity news. And then as they've come up into high school, they -- you know, looking over the paper when they're eating, you know, cereal or something like that.

  • 11:50:53

    HILLARYI'm often able to point them to the op-ed page, wonderful column by Leonard Pitts on Mark Twain last week and I am astounded at the number of adults my age, 50, who have never really subscribed to the newspaper. They had it growing up, but they never provided it for their children to kind of encourage them to read that way. And it is completely different reading on an iPad or, you know, a computer. It's a nice leisurely thing to do when you're sitting down eating breakfast.

  • 11:51:21

    REHMWhat's going to happen to newspapers, David?

  • 11:51:25

    IGNATIUSWell, if this woman and her children could be propagated throughout the country and the world, I'd feel better. When you finish this novel, there is -- there are the two senses looking at the newsroom of this -- of the paper in Rome. This room once contained all the world, today it contained only litter. And so I think there is this bleak view that because people don't want the product that we're producing enough to sustain it economically, we're gonna go to different media.

  • 11:52:01

    IGNATIUSAnd as I say, those media are gonna be probably for awhile embedded with movements, points of view that will pay for them. That's what it's like in Europe for the most part. I mean, what's made the International Herald Tribune, the model for the paper in this book, stand out among the newspapers of Europe was that it was independent. Typically, newspapers in Europe have the political viewpoint of a particular party or movement. They're socialist papers, they're conservative papers, they're pro this, they're anti that. And American journalism has traditionally been different. It's getting less different. And maybe that's the way we're going. I'd hate to see it happen, but then, you know, maybe I'm a relic of the old dying culture.

  • 11:52:39

    REHMDavid Ignatius of The Washington Post and co-moderator of "PostGlobal" on washingtonpost.com. He has a new novel coming out in June titled, "Blood Money." David, for the first time the other day, I watched the movie made of your other book. Tell me what it was.

  • 11:53:04

    IGNATIUSIt's called "Body of Lies."

  • 11:53:05

    REHMOh, my goodness.

  • 11:53:05

    IGNATIUSIt has Leonardo DiCaprio. Imagine writing a novel and then having Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe star in it. That was pretty great.

  • 11:53:13

    REHMIt was something.

  • 11:53:14

    IGNATIUSLife doesn't happen like that.

  • 11:53:15

    REHMThat's right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Annapolis, Md. Good morning, Jim.

  • 11:53:23

    JIMMorning. I have two quick comments and a question. One, my daughter is in graduate journalism school. She's in her last semester. I've been extremely impressed by the amount of work she's had to do and the precision and the sort of code of perfectionism in her school. It doesn't comport at all with what I've been listening to on the show (laugh).

  • 11:53:55

    JIMSecondly, I like the new media. There's a story in The New York Times this morning about whether America can compete in renewable energy. And because you can get immediately links to the views of five qualified academics and people in industry, you can't replicate that in a newspaper -- in a paper newspaper. So my question is, do you really think, you know, the world of highly qualified, highly devoted newspaper person is dying or is just being reborn in a different format?

  • 11:54:43

    REHMDeirdre.

  • 11:54:44

    DONAHUEOh, actually -- I actually think things -- I think things will shake out. I think that, in fact, you look at the story in the L.A. Times about Bell, California. I think actually, news will continue actually to become more valuable. I think that what it really is -- the tragedy is in some ways, it's like people are still going -- in the 1930s and '40s, people went to see -- you know, they would watch news reels before the movie. People are still seeing movies. The problem is that the news reel, because of the time factor, became outdated. It's not a question of people becoming less interested in the news, it's the fact that watching a weekly news reel no -- it was all dated.

  • 11:55:20

    DONAHUELife magazine went from record circulation and record profits to closing. Not because people became stupider, but because that advertising migrated onto television. I actually think people will continue -- there will be a shake. I think -- I mean, I have four nieces and they're all in their 20s and 30s, and they, in fact, prefer to read the paper, you know, New York Times. They live in New York, so -- I do -- and I think that -- but one of the things, I think the hubris, which I feel sometimes people never are willing to admit in the world of journalism, in fact, we decided that we were so valuable and so interesting, that we put it all out there for free and then we're absolutely astonished that, hey, it's not like HBO.

  • 11:56:02

    REHMDavid.

  • 11:56:03

    IGNATIUSWell, I think that Deirdre's right that people's appetite to be informed, their desire for news, is a constant and that in our business, we just have to be -- we have to responsive to how our audience is changing. But one thing I'd come back to that's part of our tradition is this idea of independence. And I hope whatever survives going forward will have that at its core.

  • 11:56:31

    REHMThe book we've been talking about this morning, "The Imperfectionists," by Tom Rachman. Thank you all so much. Let me tell you that for our next Readers' Review, we'll take on Oscar Wilde's controversial novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." It was censored in Victorian times for references to homosexuality, but it continues to spark debate about art and morality. So I hope you'll join us February 23. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:13

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

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