Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Lives Of Others The Daily Beast editor chats with Renee Montagne about the best things she's been reading lately. The focus this month: the perils and pleasures of the personal chronicle, whether it's on the Internet, in a diary, or in a juicy tell-all memoir.
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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Lives Of Others

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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Lives Of Others

Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Lives Of Others

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Tina Brown, of The Daily Beast, joins us again for our regular feature "Word of Mouth," with the latest list of readings that have grabbed her attention. These days, she's been thinking about chronicles of one's life: online, in diary and memoir. And Tina, welcome back.

Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Beast): Very good to be here.

MONTAGNE: These days, many of us are documenting the minutia of our own lives online. I'm not, by the way, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: You will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: And one of your picks is an article in the New York Times Magazine recently - Jeffrey Rosen's - titled "The Web Means the End of Forgetting." Well, in some ways, we sort of know that already. But what was startling for me was his view of the near future and such things as having one's reputation scored the way you have your credit scored, things like that.

Ms. BROWN: It is a scary vision that he paints, because he really talks about how traumatic and dislocating it can become for society if there is no mechanism for forgetting. You know, how do we get to reinvent ourselves when HR departments are going on Facebook and looking at stuff about your private life, your personal life?

He tells a very good story, actually. About four years ago, a 25-year-old teacher by the name of Stacy Snyder in Pennsylvania, who posted a photo on her Myspace page that showed her at a party, wearing a pirate hat, drinking out of a plastic cup with the caption: drunken pirate. And after discovering the page, the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where she was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her underage students. And as a result, a few days before Snyder's scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. This is the kind of thing which I think is scary to people.

MONTAGNE: He does describe some emerging technologies that offer some potential remedies.

Ms. BROWN: Yes, it's interesting. He discusses some new software that's kind of been in the works, which talks about really, how you can create some kind of a mechanism to disappear your data after a certain sell-by date that maybe, you know, your social media and your Facebook stuff, for instance, can stay up during your student years, but hey, you can also press a button and have it disappear when you enter the workforce.

Or there's a firm that he talks about, a new firm called Reputation Defender. And its founder, Michael Fertik, says that the right to new beginnings and the right to self-definition have always been among the most beautiful American ideals. And I really think that's true.

MONTAGNE: Well, your next pick is something that might be called a coming-of-age story. It's a memoir by Randall Lane, who's a Daily Beast contributor, called "The Zeros: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane." And in some ways, it's about the bad behavior of others, the excesses of the past decade. He doesn't spare himself at all.

Ms. BROWN: It's a very entertaining book that Randall has done here. It's real - kind of a naked "Alice in Wonderland" expose of the surreal world that he frequented when he was once the editor of the glossy magazines, Wall Street magazines, which were Trader Monthly, Dealmaker and Private Air. He used to...

MONTAGNE: Which are funny magazines, by the way.

Ms. BROWN: Which are very funny.

MONTAGNE: To the outsiders - Trader Monthly.

Ms. BROWN: Hilarious. I mean, these magazines were just kind of there to feast on the advertising that came from all the excesses of these crazy hedge fund guys. And he describes how he flamed out totally during the recession and how in the end, his - all his dealings and transactions with these guys always meant that he was personally stiffed. So he has this great sense of humor about his own kind of disasters in this world. But at the same time, he's got great stories about what it was like to frequent this group of people, where traders fly Lamborghinis around the world in the belly of a 747, you know. And he could hardly believe what he was seeing, but enormously enjoyed his access to it.

MONTAGNE: Your last pick is another memoir, and this one by someone who is famous for writing about the lives of others, and others who may not have had great reputations in their time, like Cromwell. But the book itself, "Must You Go?" is really a great romance.

Ms. BROWN: It is. It's a wonderful memoir by the historical biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, of her 33-year love affair with the celebrated British playwright Harold Pinter. This was a love affair that burgeoned late in both these people's lives. I remember it very well when I lived in London, the absolute sort of sensation when it broke in the gossip columns that the 40-ish Antonia Fraser, who was - had six children by a very distinguished Scottish member of the nobility, Hugh Fraser. And Antonia had always had little, interesting love affairs on the side, but they were always kept very quiet.

Then she goes to this dinner party given by her sister and meets, across the room, the great playwright Harold Pinter, who was himself married to the famous actress Vivien Merchant. And it's an instant sort of chemical attraction between them, and they're not actually seated together.

And at the end of the night, she goes back into the room to say goodbye to him, and you see the fatefulness of encounters. And she just says goodnight to him, and he turns to her and says: Must you go? And racing through her mind is, oh, my God, the carpool tomorrow morning - you know, with the six kids - the book I'm writing, the research. I have to get back to my family, to my husband. And she just says, well, not really. I don't have to go now. And they stay and they talk until 6 o'clock in the morning, and there becomes this enormous - kind of what the French call coup de foudre, where, you know, you're bowled over by passion. And the two of them start to meet in hotel rooms and have this incredibly escalating affair. And they know it's the love of each of their lives.

And there's a great scene two months later, when Harold Pinter goes to see her husband, Hugh Fraser, to basically inform him that he's going to take away his wife and they're going to live together, and it's the end of the Fraser marriage. And of course, being very British about it, Hugh Fraser, you know, hears the news and then they move on to talk about their mutual interest in cricket and various other aspects of their reading enjoyments, like Proust. But she does leave, and she then sets up home with Harold Pinter, and the two of them really have this 33-year love affair, which is enormously enjoyable to read about because this is a book that's intimate without being confessional. And that's a very unusual thing today.

At the end of it, you feel you had an insight into a great romance that has real passion. But you don't feel that soiled feeling of some kind of confessional book about two famous people. She's really pulled off something of enormous subtlety, in a way.

MONTAGNE: Well, to circle back, though, to how we began this conversation, this memoir is almost quaint. Antonia Fraser is drawing on her most personal diaries.

Ms. BROWN: Yes.

MONTAGNE: It's hard to imagine a book like this emerging from someone who's blogging or posting regularly on Facebook, or caught as somebody's friend on a social media site.

Ms. BROWN: But maybe that was what made their relationship so exciting to each other. It was a private world. Their life was one of great conversations and a mutual enjoyment of the opening of plays, and a certain amount of the kind of London literary glamour. But at the same time, their real life really wasn't sort of shared with anyone else.

And I would argue, and I'm sure she would, that that's one of the things that kept it alive, and maybe if she'd been littering postings about every second of her life online, as opposed to in these wonderful diaries that she kept for 40 years, we wouldn't she wouldn't have felt the need to tell the story with such conviction.

MONTAGNE: That's "Word of Mouth" from The Daily Beast's Tina Brown. Tina, it's been a pleasure talking with you.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you. It was so much fun.

MONTAGNE: And you can find links to her reading recommendations at npr.org.

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