Picks and Pans Review: I Remember
by Dan Rather with Peter Wyden
There’ll be no earthquakes here, no encounters with presidents or dictators, just a series of freeze-frames of my own small-town America and its vanishing lifestyle of 50 years back, an eternity.” So CBS anchorman Dan Rather, now 59, begins this folksy, at times engaging, more often tedious memoir of a Texas childhood.
Rather grew up in the Heights Annex, a rundown Houston neighborhood now vanished, “sucked up by its surroundings as if it were a puddle.” Here, age 9, hawking the Houston Chronicle, he began his journalism career. In 1960 Houston’s KHOU-TV brought him from radio to television. A year later he signed with CBS.
But such career notes are few: I Remember, as promised, is almost entirely recollections of small-town life, of loving parents, of friends, teachers and childhood escapades—and of the great “outside” forces brought to bear, during the ’30s and ’40s, on the insular Heights Annex world: the Depression, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the impact of movies and radio.
Rather is enormously proud of his parents. Father Irvin was a “tough as iron” oil pipeline worker, a devout, proud, inquisitive man. (In the early ’30s, his son recalls, in an effort to understand Hitler, “tight finances notwithstanding, Father dispatched Mother to get a copy of Mein Kampf.”) Mother Beryl, a cheerful woman of staggering energy, not only managed the household hut added income by selling encyclopedias door-to-door, sewing and waitressing. Yet, Rather notes, “I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t home for supper.”
Familial devotion doesn’t quite excuse the wordiness of this book. “I’ve had complaints,” Rather says, “that I sometimes overexplain.” I Remember will produce more complaints.
His grandparents’ home had an outhouse. A “toilet,” Rather explains. A retelling of the Bonnie and Clyde story provokes such windy trivia as “Six movies were made commemorating their lives; the last film, by Arthur Penn in 1967, with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, is remembered as a classic and a box-office smash.” And we could do without Rather’s mother’s recipe for vinegar pie, a ghastly-sounding Depression-era dessert.
Did Rather ramble into a tape recorder relying on coauthor Peter Wyden, an experienced writer-editor, to tighten things up? If so, Wyden failed him. While I Remember has its moments, far too much of it drones. And drones. And drones…(Little, Brown, $19.95)