Women, Willpower and Writing

On the threshold of her eighties, newspaperwoman Katharine Graham writes the best autobiography of the year for women of CARP’s generations.

Her Personal History (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.) is a stunningly bold 625-page companion piece to this season’s media focus on the issue of gender equality.

Of "Canada’s top women CEOs", Maclean’s magazine writes, "…they are still few in number and they have paid a heavy price."

Crain’s New York Business says, "They’re still far outnumbered by the old boys." Avon, which makes women’s products, has 13 directors but only four are women. Another, Estee Lauder, lists a lone woman director among six males.

So, Graham is on top of a hot topic. Mother of four, she writes about her manic, two-timing husband, Phil, who suicided when they were in their middle years. Totally unschooled in newspapering, she made herself succeed him as publisher of The Washington Post, which her father, Eugene Meyer, had owned.

"What most got in the way, was my insecurity," she writes. "it stemmed from the narrow way women’s roles were defined, it was a trait shared by most women of generation. We had been brought up to believe that our roles were to be wives and mothers, educated to think that we were put on earth to make men happy and comfortable…this kind of thinking — indeed, this kind of life took its toll. Most of us became somehow inferior."

From that start, she led The Post through epic crises, the Pentagon spy papers, Watergate and Nixon’s ouster, and the historic pressmen’s strike. She fended off persistent high-level sexual advances. She learned how to read balance sheets, hire and fire male executives and survive as a lone woman on top. And now she writes a great newspaper story. And a woman’s, too.


Perhaps I started Anna Porter’s mystery novel The Bookfair Murders (Little, Brown and Company, Canada), too quickly after finishing Graham’s autobiography. I confess giving up on Porter, the high-profile Toronto book publisher, after 38 pages.

Somehow Porter’s bookish cast came through to me too filagreed after Graham’s bare-knuckled real life protagonists and antagonists.

Being brainwashed by the mystery crime masters, Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard, Pete and Colin Dexter, I’m an impatient reader. Porter isn’t the only writer I skip over lightly. You may enjoy her Bookfair if you like it slow and fancy.


Without women, there wouldn’t have been one of World War II’s last untold stories — the 1945 kidnapping of Martin Bormann out from under the Russians’ noses in Berlin.

Christopher Creighton, RN, spotlights one of them, Lieutenant B.W. Brabenove, USN, in his Op JB (Simon & Schuster). Creighton writes, "With her Smith & Wesson, Brabenove could put bullet after bullet, as she herself gracefully expressed it, `up a gnat’s asshole’."

How Creighton, B.W., Ian Fleming (yes, Ian, the 007 man) & Co. pulled it off, saved Europe’s looted treasures, and planted the Nazi boss in an English village to live out his life in disguise, will keep you off the TV beat for a few nights.


Earlier this year, the papers ran pictures of a Canadian woman waiting forlornly for word of her yachtsman husband’s unexplained loss at sea. William O. Kennedy tells how such things might happen in his Siren’s Lullaby (St. Martin’s Press, New York).

This Bermuda race whodunit is mystery fiction of ranking order, a lacework plot of high-stakes, blue water racing crews and their women.

Landlubbers are known to ogle bikinied "cuppies" on Sunday afternoon foredecks as decorative sexpots. Kennedy’s are more than sunburned baubles. They’re killers, too. Which should make sense to a lot of you women readers.