Books of My Life: Jeffrey Toobin on le Carre, 'The Joy of Sex,' and Isabel Wilkerson
On the heels of the sensational TV show American Crime Story, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s 1996 hit The Run of His Life about O.J. Simpson, the lawyer-journalist now turns his exacting eye on the infamous Patty Hearst case with his latest book, American Heiress. Here, he shares his literary influences.
The books I loved as a child
The Landmark series of history books, which were the same size as the Hardy Boys books (perfect for little hands) but much cooler because they told true stories!
What I read in secret as a teen
The parents of all my babysitting clients had The Joy of Sex. Yes!
The book that changed my life
J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground, about the Boston busing crisis of the ’70s, begins with the protagonist contemplating his life in an office at the Harvard Law Review. I first opened this book…contemplating my life in an office at the Harvard Law Review. I found more richness and wisdom in Lukas’ book than in anything I read in law school. Lukas—not any judge or justice—became my idol and role model.
The genre I’d read if I were limited to one
Anything but science fiction.
The last book that made me laugh
In studying the Patty Hearst story, I’ve been on a big ’70s kick. I laughed often at Brendan Koerner’s The Skies Belong to Us, which is the story of the skyjacking epidemic of that era. Man, those were some dumb criminals.
A book I wished I’d written
Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside. While I was at the O.J. trial, she was documenting murders in South Central L.A. In the larger scheme of things, she may have had the bigger story.
Do I read my books after they come out?
No! When my friends at FX were making American Crime Story, based on my book The Run of His Life, they informed me about all sorts of things that I had written. I concluded that it must be a very interesting book.
The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
The classic I’ve pretended to have read
Anna Karenina. (She dies at the end, right?)
A movie adaptation I loved
My family refuses to watch The Godfather I or II in my presence, because I say all the lines in advance. That’s love—mine for the movies, that is.
The book I’ve read over and over
John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s basically a whodunit (and at this point I know whodunit), but it’s so expertly crafted and beautifully written that I find delight and surprises every time.
My literary hero
Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. An observer and a participant; a good guy and a not-so-good guy; an insider and an outsider. Complicated; real.
My literary crush
Jordan Baker, Nick’s sort-of girlfriend, in Gatsby. She’s not so nice, but she’s very sexy. (Plus, she’s a golfer. I like golf.)
The piece I wrote that makes me cringe—and the one that still makes me proud
Same answer for both! My sports column for my college newspaper was called “Inner Toobin”—which is so awful that it’s kind of great.
What I’m reading now
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, about the great migration of African-Americans from the South to the North. It’s so brilliant that it makes me euphoric—and kind of jealous, too.