STEVE INSKEEP, host:
As many listeners know, MORNING EDITION helps to sort out the massive information flying our way. Hollywood producers come on this program to recommend DVDs; experts recommend non-fiction books. Just yesterday, novelist Richard Russo reviewed some fiction, and this morning Tina Brown is back. The editor of The Daily Beast has her own suggested readings, and she starts with a Vanity Fair article, forthcoming, that reconstructs last year's terror attack at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, India. It includes these words:
Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Beast): All that day, crows flew in uncommon numbers over the red domes of the hotel towards the pool. In room 476, Maria Morris, a Texas oil heiress, awakened late in her suite and thought - why are there so many crows today? Although for nearly a decade, she had been spending months at a time at the Taj, she had yet to learn that in India the crow is believed to bring warnings and messages from the dead.
From his suite over the gateway, Sir Gulam Noon, the frozen foods magnet, referred to in the tabloid press as The Curry King, saw them too. They flew through the banyan trees in the hotel's garden all day long on India's 9/11.
INSKEEP: That's Tina Brown of The Daily Beast reading from "Anatomy of a Siege." The author if Marie Brenner. The subject, of course, is the attack on Mumbai, India last year. And, Tina Brown, in that paragraph, you get a sense of the value of this article. We know how the story's going to turn out but you really get a dramatic sense of what it feels like to be there when the story's happening.
Ms. BROWN: You really do. I mean, she writes in this wonderfully cinematic style. "Anatomy of a Siege" really poses the question of destiny. You know, when a catastrophe hits, we often wonder, how would we have fared in a siege? And she does a kind of "Appointment at Samarra" reconstruction over about 10,000 words, where she blow-by-blow introduces you to these characters, and describes, you know, what happened to them as their fate gradually closed in on them.
INSKEEP: You know, when I read a magazine article about some news event from six months or a year ago, I'm often resistant at the beginning 'cause I think I know the story. And I think the test of a good magazine story is that by the time I get to the end, I feel like I didn't know the story at all.
Ms. BROWN: Well, I agree. I think that she's done an amazing job about that. And I think, you know, Marie knows India very well too - she's traveled there a lot - and this piece is sort of marinated in her recent travels. She has a terrific grasp, really, of atmosphere. She has lovely details like the eerie quiet in the Taj garden. There's a comic fear, she says, that returning to the scene of the catastrophe will invite another catastrophe.
That I thought was a lovely little observation that is a kind of thing that gives this piece great resonance.
INSKEEP: Now, you've also been writing for The Daily Beast about that region of the world. You've been writing about Afghanistan. What draws your attention to them?
Ms. BROWN: Well, I have been a little exorcised lately, that in all the debates about whether or not we should have a surge in Afghanistan or whether we should even consider withdrawing, pulling out, as many want us to do - that the question of women is really being, not even discussed.
I'm not suggesting that we should all necessarily stay in Afghanistan simply for the plight of women there, but I do think we should stop regarding them as simply the collateral damage of war, and actually remind ourselves that if we do pull out of Afghanistan, we cast them back into the darkness from which they've only recently been released, after the Taliban made their lives such hell for those five years.
INSKEEP: Do you feel anxious about that feeling? Because, obviously, people want to help other people, particularly in a country where the United States has been involved. But in the end, decisions get made based on national interest, which might overlook individuals, women under burkas.
Ms. BROWN: Yeah, of course. The point that I was really trying to make is that liberating the potential of women - as we heard in the Clinton global initiative last week, where it was really a major theme of discussion - is not some kind of luxury or some kind of, quote, "feminist concern." It's not some kind of do-gooding cause to help to keep women free, but actually is a great weapon against the encroachment of radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan.
INSKEEP: We're talking with Tina Brown of The Daily Beast. She tells us some of the stuff that she's been reading. In this case, we're talking about something that she's written herself at The Daily Beast. But let's move onto another article here, if we can. The title is "Old Friends: Irving Wardle on Harold Pinter."
Ms. BROWN: Yes, this is a piece that I read in the terrific fairly new magazine. It's called Intelligent Life. It's brought out by The Economist and it's published in the U.K. — but can be found online. And I read, on the way back from London on the plane, a most delightful and interesting memoir about Harold Pinter, of course, the favorite playwright written by Irving Wardle -who is formerly the Times drama critic.
And he just got a very powerful description of what Pinter is like as a person. He just met Pinter in the 1950s, and they discovered they lived near one another, and they became sort of friends; going to the pub together every so often.
He says about Pinter: He was the most visible person I've ever met. It wasn't any particular detail - the pugnacious chin or the dark searching eyes - so much as the sense of power and intention that he transmitted. In comparison with Harold, he said, other people looked blurred.
This is a marvelous memoir, a kind of personal history sort of piece that I haven't seen, lately, in American magazines. And it reminded me of just how, when a memoir like this is well done, there is really nothing more enjoyable.
INSKEEP: Tina Brown, good talking with you.
Ms. BROWN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Tina Brown is editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast.
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