Kirkus Reviews QR Code
REPORTING BACK by Lillian Ross

REPORTING BACK

Notes on Journalism

By Lillian Ross

Pub Date: June 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-58243-109-4
Publisher: Counterpoint

With generous selections from a half-century’s work, veteran New Yorker reporter Ross (Here But Not Here, 1998, etc.) reflects on writing, celebrities, her career, friends, and family.

The author waxes both didactic and nostalgic in this genial hybrid of a volume. Part anthology, part memoir, part reporter’s handbook, part stargazing, this neither challenges nor offends and for the most part instructs and delights. It begins with Ross’s tributes to her principal influences, including Turgenev, Salinger, Hemingway, editor William Shawn, and her older sister Helen, whom Ross thanks very early on—and in the last sentence. She discusses her professional habits and principles: never use a tape recorder, write as clearly as possible, select only subjects of personal interest, employ as much dialogue as possible. When it all falls together well, she states, “It’s sort of like having sex.” Ross declines to enter the debate about the “old” New Yorker vs. the “new”; she loved Old Guard (Shawn, Harold Ross—no relation), and she has flattering things to say about former and current editors Tina Brown and David Remnick. In fact, it’s hard to find a discouraging word anywhere. The author divides her text loosely, a happy decision that permits her to revisit old stories and old friends on her own terms. Thus we read about a wide variety of personalities, from Adlai Stevenson (whom she greatly admired) to Bill Clinton (“I loved him and let him know it”) to Robert Kennedy, John McEnroe, Benny Goodman, Norman Mailer, John and Anjelica Huston, Charlie Chaplin, Lorraine Hansberry, Sidney Poitier, the Redgraves, Robin Williams, Lorne Michaels, Francis Ford Coppola, and others. Most of the previously published selections are short, and Ross provides interesting commentary about each piece and its subject. “Facts are wondrous things,” she concludes. “When you stick to them, no other writing can beat reporting.”

A reminder that many fascinating folk reside on Memory Lane.