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KERA Journalists On The Books That Shaped Their Lives

Ask a reporter "what book shaped your life?" and you're likely to hear about more than one.

That was the case with four of our radio journalists — Sam Baker, Stella Chavez, Rachel Osier Lindley and Jerome Weeks — who recently got a chance to chat about exactly that.

This month, Half Price Books hosted a Coffee with KERA gathering with contest winners from a recent KERA membership drive. Sam, Stella, Rachel and Jerome discussed their work, how they got into radio and — you guessed it — books that they love.

They shared a list of more than a dozen favorite titles at the meet-and-greet. Here they go into one or two that have especially impacted them.

Sam Baker

Local Morning Edition host and health reporter | bio

The House that George Built by Wilfrid Sheed

» The House That George Built: But With a Little Help Irving, Cole and a Crew of About Fifty by Wilfrid Sheed

The title refers to Gershwin (George), Berlin (Irving), Porter (Cole) and dozens of others composers and lyricists whose work — largely for Broadway and movies — during the first half of the 20th century make up what’s been called the “Great American Songbook.”

Through individual profiles mixing historical research, keen insight, humor and lots of “good dish,” Sheed traces the evolution of American popular song, how jazz influenced its growth and what all of it says about America.

House works as a “straight-through” read, but each profile stands on its own, so you can dive in or even cherry-pick at will to great satisfaction.

— Sam

More of Sam's favorite books:

Stella Chávez

Education and immigration reporter | bio

Dead Wake

» Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania and Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in Historyby Erik Larson

Erik Larson is one of my all-time favorite writers. He started out as a journalist, so I’m often drawn to writers who began their career that way.

As a narrative non-fiction writer, Larson masterfully draws the reader in. I’m always amazed at the amount of research he does for his books. It’s so extensive that when he writes, he puts you right there, in a particular place and time.

Reading his books is like reading a great novel. But you also learn about important historical events, like the deadly 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston or the sinking of a luxury ocean liner, the Lusitania during World War I.

— Stella

More of Stella's favorite books:

        View this post on Instagram                   Had fun today at @halfpricebooks meeting @keratx listeners & talking about our favorite books and our job! #books #bookstagram #halfpricebooks #publicradio #reporterlife #meetandgreet A post shared by Stella M. Chávez (@stellamchavez) on Dec 9, 2018 at 1:37pm PST

Rachel Osier Lindley

Statewide coordinating editor, Texas Station Collaborative | bio

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

» The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte

If you’ve ever watched "Jurassic Park" and wished you could go back and walk among the dinosaurs, you’ll love this book. The author paints a vivid picture of what the world was like millions of years ago. You’ll learn a lot about dinosaurs and the ins and outs of how a modern paleontologist works and makes new discoveries. He uses his own experiences collecting bones in the field as an entryway into the past.

» The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This book takes place in New York, before and after World War II. It follows two cousins who create a hit comic book superhero. It’s a thrilling, fantastical and immersive story, the kind of book that makes you want to leave a party so you can go home and read. The characters are larger-than-life, but Chabon breathes such life and detail into them that they feel like old friends. I recommend this book because it’s fun, while also being a deep look at human connection.

— Rachel

More of Rachel's favorite books:

Jerome Weeks

Senior arts reporter, Art&Seek | bio

City of Nets

» City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s by Otto Friedrich

City of Nets is one of the richest, most fascinating narrative histories of the movie industry. Friedrich did not set out to uncover new sources. Rather, he compiled many of the already extant memoirs, studies and histories into a complex narrative that intertwines the lives and creative output of directors, producers, actors, union leaders, mobsters and political opportunists.

Friedrich begins with what is often considered the peak year for the Hollywood studio system (1939,  which saw the release of "Citizen Kane," "Stagecoach," "Gone with the Wind "and "The Wizard of Oz") through World War II and the immigration of great European talents — some of whom delighted in L.A., many of whom never fit in (the novelist Thomas Mann, the atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg, the playwright Bertolt Brecht).

We move through the battles with unions and the rise of the mob (and its move to Las Vegas) all the way up to 1949 and the arrival of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into the "Red" influence in Hollywood.

City of Nets is not just an indispensable study in understanding this American art form and culture factory; it’s a tremendously entertaining book to read, period.

— Jerome

More of Jerome's favorites:

Christy Robinson oversees social media strategy.