What to Read Next (No. 168): remembering McMurtry + interview with NBC’s Katy Tur

Lonesome Dove, Unbelievable, and more.

This week, the literary world has celebrated the works of two beloved American authors who passed away last weekend. Larry McMurtry was 84; Beverly Cleary was, amazingly, 104 (she was born before the Spanish flu pandemic). I’ve not read any of Cleary’s work, but McMurtry holds a beloved place on my bookshelves.

In this edition of What to Read Next, I’ll make my case for Larry. I also review Katy Tur’s Unbelievable, as well as share a fun interview with her—I was thrilled that Katy took time out of her insane schedule as a politics reporter for NBC to give you all some book recs!

Let’s do it.

An Ode to McMurtry (and Lonesome Dove)

Lonesome Dove is an epic Western novel, about nothing and about everything at the same time. If you’re not a reader of Westerns, your eyes might roll at the thought of that genre, but the 900-page door-stopping novel carries far more widespread appeal than you’d expect. It won a Pulitzer after all, which isn’t the last word on a book’s quality, but at least tells you that a broad array of critics enjoyed it.

At the core of the story are retired Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call. They operate a little ranch on the southern border of Texas and decide to make a big cattle drive up to the ever-green pastures of Montana.

Though the backdrop is that of a Western, the book is really about these two old friends trying to find some adventure, and even contentment, after the apex of their careers have passed. As with all of McMurtry’s work, it’s the characters and the dialogue that make the novel shine. Though I read the book about four years ago, the names Gus, Woodrow, Newt, Pea Eye, Jake Spoon, and Lorena come back to me with ease. I can conjure not only the feeling I had while reading it, but exactly where I was at different times throughout the novel—on the green couch in the front room of our house, on a couch at a rental house in Crested Butte on a babymoon trip, a few chapters at a local cafe with a mug full of steaming coffee. That’s the power of a McMurtry novel—they’re so damn evocative.

Lonesome Dove is the Western against which all other Westerns are to be judged and it’s one of my all-time favorite books. (Don’t sleep on the other three books, either. They’re all very good.)

That series just scratches the surface of McMurtry’s work. Last summer, I thoroughly enjoyed Telegraph Days. While young, spunky Nellie Courtright isn’t Augustus McCrae, the cast is quite fun and it’s a rollicking standalone story that kept me well-entertained for a few days. Read the full review of that one here. I’m looking forward to digging into other McMurtry classics in the years to come. Head to your library or local used bookshop and scoop up everything they have (if other readers haven’t beaten you to it).

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur

Published: 2017 | Pages: 304

“We do it because it is important to show the public who is running for president. It’s important to show how they behave. How they think. What they believe. Who they admire and why. Yes, we give Trump a ton of airtime and article space. But that’s because he is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. And despite what folks who don’t like him might want to argue, he is resonating. And we have an obligation to document it.”

Before he was a president unlike any other, Donald Trump was a candidate unlike any other. And though we may not remember it just five years later, he was an after-thought candidate when he first announced his candidacy. It was a media stunt and nothing more.

But, he had to be covered by the press. All the candidates did. So NBC sent a young reporter, Katy Tur, to shadow him, fully expecting Trump to fizzle out within a few weeks.

Obviously, that’s not what happened.

Over the course of 17 months, Tur reported on all things Trump, filing over 3,800 reports for NBC in that timespan, each one with a little more disbelief that his poll numbers only kept improving, no matter what he did or said.

As a reader, it was sure an interesting experience reliving that campaign. No matter your politics, it was just such a strange and unique election cycle. Tur captured that essence perfectly, relaying her personal feelings (not about Trump’s politics, but about the weirdness of reporting on him), the moods of Trump’s rallies and followers, and his presence as a real human being. Even now, it’s hard to think of Trump as a person and not just as a made-for-TV caricature.

Unbelievable was highly entertaining, often funny, frequently head-scratching, and all-around just a very good memoir about a campaign that even Fox News called “the most unreal, surreal election we have ever seen.”

To be clear, this is not a political book. This is a book about journalism. Tur simply reports what happened while following and reporting on Trump during the 2016 election.

A Few Bookish Questions With Katy Tur

1. First off, have you had a chance to read anything other than the POTUS twitter feed for the last 5+ years? 

I’ll admit much of it was consumed by Trump. If not Twitter, the daily deluge of headlines and head-spinning stories. But I did do a bit of reading for fun. Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado was a standout. So was The Secret History by Donna Tartt. 

2. Do you do much deep reading for work—beyond social feeds and attention-grabbing articles? Where does reading fit into your schedule?  

I read before bed. It’s the only time I get away from my computer and my son. Sometimes it’s an off-topic New Yorker article or Atlantic piece (loved David Brooks’ “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.”) Other times it’s work-related non-fiction. I most enjoy the kind of fiction that takes me out of my own head—even if it’s not all that good in the end. 

3. You're a broadcast journalist, but also managed to write a campaign memoir, Unbelievable, after the 2016 election. Are there journalists/writers that have influenced your writing and journalistic style? 

If you read Unbelievable you probably won’t be surprised by my affection for Timothy Crouse or Jimmy Breslin, whom I quoted twice. But to keep it contemporary, I love Mark Leibovich’s writing. It’s funny and cutting. Same goes for Olivia Nuzzi. Also my husband, Tony Dokoupil. He has the lightest of touches. I want to write like him when I grow up. 

4. What do you read for fun/escape/entertainment? Any favorite authors or genres you turn to?

Anything that takes me out of my reality. I love all of Michael Chabon’s work. He consumes you in his worlds. I mostly turn to fiction for pleasure but I’ll devour anything by Erik Larson. I usually have to set limits on myself otherwise I’ll be up all night and done too fast. 

5. What are you reading and enjoying now? What's next on your list? 

I’ve been reading chunks of a few books to try and break down what writing works and what doesn’t for my own purposes. I need a good rec for what to read for fun next. Have anything? [I told her anything by Fredrik Backman.]

6. Do you have any all-time favorite books that have particularly shaped your thinking and stuck with you; books that you find yourself talking about, recommending, and/or gifting over and over? 

The Dud Avocado, The Night Circus, The Boys on the Bus, In the Garden of Beasts, Kavalier and Clay, and Fear of Flying. There are so many more. Stop making me decide which of my children I love the most!