Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Dead And The Undead On the Internet, it helps to be an omnivorous reader — like Tina Brown, who scours the Web for compelling, well-written articles. In an interview, Brown discusses three recent pieces that caught her eye. Among the topics: Vladimir Nabokov's last novel and Martin Scorsese's favorite scary movies.
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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Dead And The Undead

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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Dead And The Undead

Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Dead And The Undead

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We're going to return now to a regular feature of this program that we're calling Word of Mouth. We talk with an omnivorous reader, Tina Brown, editor of the Daily Beast - previously editor of many famous magazines. She's in our studios. Welcome back to the program.

Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor, The Daily Beast): So happy to be here, Steve, actually in person, which is great.

INSKEEP: It is great, it is great. And you've sent us once again a list of recommended readings. And the first one we've got here is from Fortune magazine. Steven Rattner is the byline. Who is this man, what is he writing about?

Ms. BROWN: Steve Rattner was the financial sort of whiz from Wall Street who was tapped by Obama to be the auto bailout guy, the car czar, if you like, with a small C. And he was dispatched to go do it, even though he'd never, ever had anything to do with his cars in his life.

INSKEEP: So you sort of have a quick memoir in a sense of this guy walking into a disaster area. And sometimes these official memoirs are not too yeasty but this one certainly is.

Ms. BROWN: Well, you know, I really enjoyed this piece. I mean, Steve Rattner - actually, he was a journalist, funny enough, before he went into Wall Street. And actually what he does (unintelligible) is he's kind of craved dismay, really, at everything that he found. And the speed, the warp speed, with which he had to kind of assemble this team of financial experts who he describes as a kind of mini-investment bank and do it all in a matter of, you know, five or six weeks, it was an insane project, really, the whole thing.

INSKEEP: Really interesting detail. He says at the beginning, GM, General Motors, was supposed to ask his permission for spending items of greater than $100 million and also give a reason why. And he says that they frequently had no reason why they were spending $100 million.

Ms. BROWN: I know. It's really a really scary thing. I mean, what he says as well is just, you know, how remote the management were from the workers. They had their own elevator that never stopped anywhere near the floor of any of the people that worked there.

And you know, he also describes, which I really like in a paragraph, where he talks about his issues that he had with the chairman and CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner. He says, I found him to be likable, dedicated and generally knowledgeable, but Rick set a tone of friendly arrogance that seemed to permeate the organization. Certainly Rick and his team seemed to believe that virtually all of their problems could be laid at the feet of some combination of the financial crisis, oil prices, the yen-dollar exchange rate and the UAW. It seemed completely oblivious to us, to the fact that they had burned through $21 billion of cash in a year and another $13 billion in the first quarter of 2009.

I mean, you know, it's an amazing amount of money.

INSKEEP: We're getting some word-of-mouth from Tina Brown of the Daily Beast. And I think there's sort of a theme that's going to develop through this conversation with your recommendations, Tina Brown, because we're getting close to Halloween here.

Ms. BROWN: We are indeed. We're getting ready to be scared here.

INSKEEP: We just talked about a company trying to come back from the dead. And now we have an article here, fascinating article, about a novelist who will be publishing a novel after his death.

Ms. BROWN: Yes. This is a very interesting piece that I found in my perusals at the London Observer newspaper. It's about Nabokov, of course, the famous author of "Lolita." He died in '77. And it describes the kind of tormented legacy of the last novel that he wrote and never finished, that was called "The Original of Laura."

And it describes how Nabokov, who was a kind of teaser of his public and teaser of his readers, sort of trailed the fact that he'd written this novel in a little throwaway line that he wrote in the New York Times Book Review when he was doing a Christmas roundup in 1976.

And ever since he mentioned it, of course, all the critics, readers, his adoring public, have been desperate to get a glimpse of this novel. But he didn't actually finish it, and he was such a perfectionist and such a rewriter, he said he wanted to have it burned after his death.

What is interesting about Nabokov is that he wrote these novels of his on index cards in handwriting. He would write the themes, the dialogue and the narrative on these cards and then he would reshuffle them and kind of deal himself a novel. So these cards were left and it was left up to his son, Dmitri, to sort of deal with this fact about whether this darn thing was going to be published.

And it's a wonderful piece by Robert McCrum about the ins and outs of the family's arguments, the critics trying to get a hold of this book, everybody wanting to see it, and how finally after all these years that he's about to see the light of day, because Sonny Mehta, who is the publisher of American Knopf, came up with a very ingenious solution.

He's publishing a facsimile of those index cards, and you can read it as he wrote it. It's going to be in a very collectible edition. It's not just going to be published as a manuscript, you know, into novel.

INSKEEP: See, I want to see this now because, I mean, it refers to this novel being written on 138 index cards, three-by-five cards?

Ms. BROWN: Yeah…

INSKEEP: How do you get a novel on 138 index cards?

Ms. BROWN: I don't know. I was completely intrigued and fascinated when I read that, of course, and now I desperately want to see the facsimile and actually see how he did it.

INSKEEP: Vladimir Nabokov coming back from the dead. And now we have the film director Martin Scorsese. And you for the Daily Beast asked him for some Halloween recommendations.

Ms. BROWN: I don't know about you, Steve, but I never got enough to watch. You know, it's like the Friday comes around and I always say to my husband, oh, I forgot to get any great movies for the weekend. And you scroll around and you try to find some good ones. And I thought it's Halloween coming up, I want a great scary movie.

So, I thought I would ask Martin Scorsese because I've known Marty for a long time. And whenever he talks about movies, it's totally riveting. I mean, the man is a walking encyclopedia of movies. He's seen everything. He's seen them in foreign languages, he's seen them, you know, ever since they were made, he's seen them in remote corners of the globe, and he can remember them all shot-by-shot. It's absolutely extraordinary.

So I called him and I said, Marty, I want to get a list from you of great scary movies. And I thought he was just going to kind of babble off, you know, a few things from the top of his head, but he took this project very seriously. He's been working on it for quite a time. You know, I'd get these calls like, you know, you said I had to have five, can I have 10?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: Actually, he said, okay if it's 11? I know it's an odd number. And it finally arrived, you know, with his little kind of annotations of why he'd chosen them. We're going to show them with clips, and it's going to be immense fun, I think, as a piece that's up on The Beast now. And most of them I haven't heard of, as a matter of fact.

I've actually only seen on his list "The Shining" and "The Exorcist." The rest of them I haven't seen. I've seen "Psycho" too.

INSKEEP: And we can see some of his suggestions on The Daily Beast. Word of Mouth from Tina Brown. Thanks very much.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And if you'd like to read along, the links to the stories we discussed with Tina Brown are at NPR.org.

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