Two friends, Jenny Allen and Anne Fadiman, reporters together 40 years ago at LIFE magazine, will have a reunion of sorts next Wednesday, June 20, at 7 pm at Bunch of Grapes bookstore. The two will talk about Fadiman’s new memoir, “The Wine Lover’s Daughter.” Allen’s book of essays, “Would Everybody Please Stop?” was published last year, and it’s just been released in paperback. Allen lives on the Vineyard, and Fadiman will come to the Island in the middle of her annual vacation with her husband, author George Howe Colt, on Naushon Island.
“Anne and I were both part of a small group of young reporters and writers at the revived magazine. It was a sort of an honor to be allowed to write the stories you reported,” Allen said.
Allen remembers Fadiman as a “meticulous reporter,” while she herself wrote about the arts — profiles on playwrights and stories about new wave music and Museum of Modern Art exhibits.
“I’ve written a lot of personal essays, and I’m hoping I can draw from my experience to ask Anne about this intensely personal work about her dad,” Allen said. “Where do you draw the curtain and decide what is better left unsaid?”
In “The Wine Lover’s Daughter,” Fadiman writes about her father, Clifton Fadiman, a well-known literary critic, editor, and radio and television personality. He was also an intellectual and a wine lover. “My father’s two greatest loves were books and wine,” Fadiman said. “You can understand somebody by what they love. I share my father’s love of books, but not his love of wine.”
Fadiman said the two, books and wine, were symbols of upward mobility for a father who grew up poor in Brooklyn, sharing a bed with two brothers while he yearned for a more refined life across the bridge in Manhattan.
The book also delves into Clifton Fadiman’s personal discomfort at being the son of a Russian Jew. “The Jewishness was not something he lied about, but he took on patrician, Gentile trappings during a period of intense anti-Semitism, and was completely uninterested in connecting to this Russian past,” Fadiman said.
Anne Fadiman’s mother was World War II correspondent and author Annalee Jacoby Fadiman, an accomplished female journalist at a time when it was rare. Children of writers get tired of the assumption they have no talent of their own, Fadiman said. “They’re called ‘a chip off the old block,’ and chips are always smaller than the block,” she said.
Fadiman also wrote “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” “Ex Libris,” and “At Large and At Small,” as well as editing “The Best American Essays 2003” and “Rereadings.” She’s Yale University’s first Francis Writer in Residence.
The memoir is something she said she couldn’t have written when her father was alive (he died at age 95 in 1999). “I decided early on it’s not really worthwhile to write about somebody if you only write the good stuff, so I could never have written about him when he was alive,” Fadiman said. The book includes her father’s social insecurities, his sexism and infidelities, things that would have pained him deeply were he alive, she said.
Her father lived through a time when a love of literature and an urge to better oneself by reading “the great books” was alive and well, Fadiman said.
“There are many things about that era that I don’t miss,” she said. “It was an era dominated by white males — the professors and critics and the works of literature they were talking about.”
She does miss the sense that there was a large portion of the American public who wanted to become “better educated by reading and listening to someone talking.”
Listen to Allen and Fadiman talking at Bunch of Grapes on Wednesday, June 20, at 7 pm.