In A Bus of My Own, accomplished journalist, novelist and playwright Jim Lehrer dares that most daunting of literary challenges, the memoir - and succeeds brilliantly. From the public-address booth of a Texas bus depot to the nightly news, with plenty of adventures along the way, A Bus of My Own is a warm, funny, delightfully candid journey of reminiscence in the tradition of Russell Baker and Charles Kuralt. Whether the subject is a hilarious NewsHour near-disaster or a personal crisis, Jimmy Charles Lehrer's ...
In A Bus of My Own, accomplished journalist, novelist and playwright Jim Lehrer dares that most daunting of literary challenges, the memoir - and succeeds brilliantly. From the public-address booth of a Texas bus depot to the nightly news, with plenty of adventures along the way, A Bus of My Own is a warm, funny, delightfully candid journey of reminiscence in the tradition of Russell Baker and Charles Kuralt. Whether the subject is a hilarious NewsHour near-disaster or a personal crisis, Jimmy Charles Lehrer's saga makes terrific copy. His consuming passion for the great days of the intercity bus line, born out of his parents' attempts to found a Kansas bus line in 1946 with three mechanically exhausted vehicles named Betsy, Susie and Lena; his youthful dreams, losses and embarrassments; his picaresque career as a reporter interviewing murderers, con men, Cardinals and Elvis, plus so many dignitaries wandering through the airport that he became known as the only foreign correspondent in American journalism never to leave the city limits of Dallas; his entry into public television in 1970 with a cast of reporters that featured blacks, Hispanics, women with long hippie hair and men with beards ("Some people went crazy and red in the face just looking at us"); his wealth of family, friends and cohorts, such as Robin MacNeil, Eudora Welty and the inimitable Sticks Strahala; his failproof method to stop smoking (have a heart attack); his lifelong hunger to possess "a bus of my own" - all percolate with the candor and wit that are Jim Lehrer's trademarks. A Bus of My Own is jam-packed with marvelous stories, memorable characters and pointed opinions about all kinds of things, among them journalistic ethics, back-roads America and the Kennedy assassination (to which Lehrer had an unusual front-row seat). It will have readers thinking, chortling, even getting misty-eyed from time to time. It is a pure delight.
When Lehrer was 12 years old, his family's inter-city bus company in Kansas went bankrupt, so as an adult the TV commentator and novelist has become an ardent collector of bus memorabilia, and he recently bought a 1946 bus. In this warm, unaffected autobiography tinged with the same irreverent humor that marks his One-Eyed Mack novels, Lehrer writes of life in the Marine Corps (``a ritual to manhood'') and of his 10 years as a reporter in Dallas, which taught him that murderers, sexual deviants and embezzlers have faces and families. Assigned to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy for two years, he deems both the lone-assassin theory and current conspiracy theories full of holes. Lehrer tells of his slow recovery from a heart attack and bypass operation in 1983, which prompted him to give up smoking. He defends the MacNeil/ Lehrer NewsHour against critics who fault its ``rabid evenhandedness'' and nonjudgmental approach. Peppered with anecdotes, this self-portrait limns a likable fellow who takes a daily nap, devours Georges Simenon novels and enjoys ``aimless driving'' through America's small towns. Photos. First serial to Reader's Digest; BOMC alternate; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection. (Sept.)
This is more a memoir than a formal autobiography, and its principal thrust is Lehrer's obsession with collecting artifacts of the nation's bus transportation systems, including a 1946 Flxible Clipper . Lehrer also deals with his near-fatal heart attack, and he offers anecdotal coverage of his journalistic career. Of prime interest, of course, is The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour on PBS. However, it seems that the drama of the growth and survival of the program is never fully told, and coanchor Robert MacNeil comes off as one-dimensional. The book is salted throughout with mental asides, a technique that soon becomes annoying. A publisher's blurb says this volume is ``in the tradition of Russell Baker and Charles Kuralt.'' That's hyperbole. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/92.-- Chet Hagan, Berks Cty. P.L. System, Pa.
The co-anchor of The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour and author of the One-Eyed Mack series looks back on his life so far, including his love of buses and his 1983 heart attack. This is the portrait of a hard-working, ethical, innocent, ambitious man who seems to have become one of America's preeminent journalists by dint of sheer earnestness. The book begins and ends with buses. Lehrer's father ran a Kansas mom-and-pop bus line that failed—and so Lehrer conceived a lifelong passion for bus memorabilia in all forms, and for buses like the Flxible Clipper, the Aerocoach, and the ACF-Brill—exotic mechanical beasts that plied the midwestern bus routes of the author's youth. He is deft with the small moments and habits of life: He chides a Marine drill instructor for mispronouncing his name; asks a Secret Service agent if they're going to put the bubble-top on Kennedy's limousine in Dallas; eats pastrami sandwiches with mayo; and gets a one-sentence lesson on interviewing politicians from Nelson Rockefeller: "Look, fella, if people like you could get me to say things I didn't want to say, I wouldn't be here." For Newshour fans who always suspected that MacNeil and Lehrer dress that way on purpose, there's an explication of the "skivvy shirt rule": "Nothing should be noticed or absorbed except the information....There is no such thing as a pretty slide, a zippy piece of music, a trendy shirt, a dynamic set, a tough question, or anything else, if it deflects even a blink of attention from the information." Lehrer, we learn, was turned on to journalism by a Runyonesque Texas newsman named "Sticks" Strahala, and he himself seems to have kept a boyish, wide-eyed cub-reporterenthusiasm intact in the corridors of power. Sometimes hokey, but down to earth, genuinely affecting, and immensely likable. (Eight pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)
Known to television viewers as the nightly news anchor on PBS, Jim Lehrer has managed to find time to write more than a dozen novels, plus two memoirs and three plays. As he once admitted, he's known as "the TV guy who also writes books." Someday, Lehrer mused, "maybe it will go the other way and I'll be the novelist who also does television."
Jim Lehrer didn't always aspire to be a writer -- when he was 16, he wanted to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since he wasn't a very good baseball player, he turned to sports writing, then writing in general. As a member of what he's called "the Hemingway generation," he decided to support himself as a newspaper writer until he could make a living as a novelist.
After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, Lehrer served for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, then began his career as a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in Dallas. His first novel, about a band of Mexican soldiers re-taking the Alamo, was published in 1966 and made into a movie. Lehrer quit his newspaper job in order to write more books, but was lured back into reporting after he accepted a part-time consulting job at the Dallas public television station. He was eventually made host and editor of a nightly news program at the station.
Lehrer then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as public affairs coordinator for PBS and as a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT). At NPACT, Lehrer teamed up with Robert MacNeil to provide live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, broadcast on PBS. It was the beginning of a partnership that would last more than 20 years, as Lehrer and MacNeil co-hosted The MacNeil/Lehrer Report (originally The Robert MacNeil Report) from 1976 to 1983, and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour from 1983 to 1995. In 1995, MacNeil left the show, but Lehrer soldiered on as solo anchor and executive editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
When he wasn't busy hosting the country's first hour-long news program, Lehrer wrote and published books, including a series of mystery novels featuring his fictional lieutenant governor, One-Eyed Mack, and a political satire, The Last Debate. Lehrer surprised critics and won new readers with his breakout success, White Widow, the "tender and tragic" (Washington Post) tale of a small-town Texas bus driver. He followed it with the bestselling Purple Dots, a "high-spirited Beltway romp" (The New York Times Book Review), and The Special Prisoner, about a WWII bomber pilot whose brutal experiences in a Japanese P.O.W. camp come back to haunt him 50 years later. His recent novel No Certain Rest recounts the quest of a U.S. Parks Department archaeologist to solve a murder committed during the Civil War.
Across this wide range of subjects, Lehrer is known for his careful plotting and even more careful research. Clearly, this is a man who cares about good stories -- but which is more important to him, journalism or fiction? Lehrer once admitted that he's known as "the TV guy who also writes books. Someday, maybe it will go the other way and I'll be the novelist who also does television."
Good To Know
During the last four presidential elections, Lehrer has served as a moderator for nine debates, including all three of the presidential candidates' debates in 2000. He also hosted the Emmy Award-nominated program "Debating Our Destiny: Forty Years of Presidential Debates."
Lehrer lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, novelist Kate Lehrer. The two also have an 18th-century farmhouse close to the Antietam battle site. Visits to the site helped inspire Lehrer's thirteenth novel, No Certain Rest.
Robert MacNeil, for many years the co-host with Jim Lehrer of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, is also a novelist. His books include Burden of Desire, The Voyage and Breaking News.