Long before he wrote “Primary Colors” or became a Time Magazine columnist, Joe Klein wrote for The Real Paper. Klein is back in Cambridge this fall, this time as a fellow at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. He will moderate a panel at 7:30 on Oct. 17 at the Back Bay Events Center, 180 Berkeley St., as part of the Boston Book Festival. Tickets are $6 or $12.
BOOKS: Do you have a sense of what the presidents you’ve covered read?
KLEIN: With Bill Clinton you always did. He is voracious. He loves mysteries. I remember being with him at O’Hare on a stopover when he called the mystery writer Sara Paretsky from a pay phone to tell her how much he liked her books. Bush I can’t speak to. He had that famous but not very credible reading contest with Karl Rove. I know Obama reads, but he doesn’t go around broadcasting his reading the way Clinton did.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
KLEIN: Usually I have three books going. One is a history book; another is on a topic I’m trying to learn or on current politics; and the last is a novel. The history book I’m reading now is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, “In the Shadow of the Sword” by Tom Holland about the centuries right before Islam emerged. The topical one is a beautiful book by David Finkel, “Thank You for Your Service.” It’s a really dark book about a platoon he covered in Baghdad that he then follows home. The novel is the mystery “Anonymous Sources” by Mary Louise Kelly. It’s a hoot.
‘ “Black Hearts” was about a massacre perpetrated by the 101st Airborne unit known as the Black Heart Brigade, whom I happened to be embedded with. It was just a weird coincidence.’
BOOKS: What kind of fiction do you like?
KLEIN: I like really well written stuff. I especially love women writers. I love Jennifer Egan’s work and Ann Patchett’s. I’ve also read almost everything Ian McEwan has written. My favorite is “Solar.” It is wildly funny. The next novel I want to read is Meg Wolitzer’s “The Interestings.” I’m also planning on reading A. Scott Berg’s Woodrow Wilson biography and Reza Aslan’s “Zealot,” a book about Jesus.
BOOKS: Have you read a lot of Middle Eastern history?
KLEIN: From 9/11 until now has essentially been an advanced course in the region for me. There are books I’ve read several times like the excellent “A Peace to End All Peace” by David Fromkin about the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. I’ve been reading a fair amount of memoir about the recent wars, such as the beautifully written “Unremarried Widow” by Artis Henderson.
BOOKS: When you were embedded with troops in Afghanistan could you read much?
KLEIN: That was when I got a Kindle. I remember reading “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick. It was about a massacre perpetrated by the 101st Airborne unit known as the Black Heart Brigade, whom I happened to be embedded with. It was just a weird coincidence.
BOOKS: Could you read much when you covered presidential campaigns?
KLEIN: That’s a really tough time to read. You can read on planes, but you are so exhausted you usually fall asleep. When Bill Clinton ran it was a 20-hour day every day.
BOOKS: Does it bother you when you can’t read?
KLEIN: Yes. Reading has always been crucial. My wife is the same way. It’s one of the things we had in common from the start. Part of the reason I was “Anonymous’’ for “Primary Colors” was because we are big fans of 19th-century British serial novelists who never used their real names. It would be “Sense and Sensibility’’ “By A Lady.’’ Henry Adams wrote one of the first serviceable novels about American politics, “Democracy, an American Novel” anonymously. Everyone thought his wife wrote it.
BOOKS: Have you found politicians generally to be readers?
KLEIN: A lot of them are. When Senator Harry Reid took over as the majority leader he gave my biography of Woody Guthrie to every senator. But then he’s a guy who has a picture of Mark Twain on the wall behind his desk where other people have George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.