What novel would you say best captures the contemporary Washington scene?
Thomas Mallon’s “Finale” (on the Reagan years) and “Watergate” are both novels that give a realistic look at the modern political scene. Something less contemporary is Gore Vidal’s “Washington, D.C.,” written in 1967 but still resonant of the city today. All of Ward Just’s books about our capital city are still relevant.
What’s the best book you’ve read about journalism?
I would have to say “A Good Life,” by my late husband, Ben Bradlee. It captures the excitement, the exhilaration, the seriousness of journalism, as well as its impact, responsibilities and the importance of its role in pursuing the truth and engendering trust. Also, Katharine Graham’s terrific book, “Personal History,” about which she teased Ben, threatening to call it “A Better Life.”
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I am reluctant to single out anyone. However, I have to say I love anything by Jon Meacham and Karen Armstrong, as well as anything by the playwright Tom Stoppard and the poetry of Mary Oliver. I am particularly drawn to novels which are character-driven, which make you care deeply. Many of those are commercial fiction for a good reason. One of my all-time favorites was “The Mists of Avalon,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I also loved Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series on the history of the Church of England and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
What was the last book that made you laugh?
I don’t usually read funny books. Joseph Heller’s brilliantly funny “Catch-22” was incomparable.
The last book to make you cry?
The honest answer is my own recent book, “Finding Magic.” I wept all the way through the writing of it, so much so that I had to be mopped up from the floor, but it was very cathartic.
The last book that made you furious?
“I Am Malala,” by Malala Yousafzai. Any book about children suffering and any book about hypocrisy and injustice makes me crazy.
What genres do you avoid?
I am not a fan of self-help books and celebrity as-told-to memoirs. I also usually find collections of short stories unsatisfying, especially if they’re good, because they always leave me wanting more.
How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or several simultaneously? Morning or night?
I read paper books because I like to make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages that I want to return to. Generally, I like to read one book at a time but if I’m reading for work, I may have several going at once. I always read at night in bed except on weekends.
How do you organize your books?
Ha! (As with many other resolutions, I plan to start soon.)
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
The entire collection of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. I’m famous for not cooking but I used to be a good cook and have recently been inspired by Ina to take it up again.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
All six volumes of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”; an autographed copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night” in a marbleized case; and Edith Wharton’s “The Decoration of Houses” (all first editions).
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine. Your favorite antihero or villain?
Who could ever top Scarlett O’Hara? I’m from Savannah, Georgia. My mother made me dresses out of old silk curtains, and I had to put on Jergen’s lotion every night because “you could always tell a lady by her hands.” My favorite villain is Tartuffe from Molière’s play of the same name.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick?
In a word, voracious. I was in the hospital for many months at age 10 and read everything I could get my hands on. I loved Louisa May Alcott and Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series, but my two favorites were “Up Goes the Curtain” and “Practically Perfect,” both by Janet Lambert.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
The Bible … oh, never mind. Forget it. On second thought, he might want to take a look at the Constitution.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Max Weber. Riveting! Although Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Christopher Hitchens, all of whom I knew, would definitely not be boring!
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
“A Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel García Márquez. I know, I know! It’s a masterpiece. I tried and tried and just couldn’t get through it. I also put down William Styron’s brilliant book “Sophie’s Choice.” When the Nazis made her choose between her children, it was too painful to go on.
What do you plan to read next?
Two friends have books coming out soon. “The Quantum Spy,” by David Ignatius, and “Leonardo da Vinci,” by Walter Isaacson.