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May 30, 2013

E-readers come in handy when traveling

Cooperstown Crier

---- — I recently took a trip to California and it was the perfect time to make use of my e-reader. While I’m still devoted to actual books, I must admit that traveling with a thin, lightweight computerized device beats dragging along one or two bulky hard copy titles. The only issue is finding the right e-books to take on the airplane.

I made use of the Four County website called the “Download Zone.” I knew not to even attempt to find a best-seller because the one drawback to the system is that new titles are rarely available. There’s usually a long waiting list. It’s best to find titles that are over a year old so there’s no problem obtaining them. If you’re that set on reading a best-selling e-book you might as well buy it online.

I decided to limit my choices to biographies because I tend to read a lot of them and am likely to find them stimulating (I hate to use the word “interesting” because that usually means you don’t like something but don’t want to criticize it). The system also limits you to three titles so it’s not like you can check out 15 and just assume you’ll like two or three.

The books I ended up choosing turned out to be good ones. I like both Johnny Carson and Larry King and there were biographies of each available. I would have picked a third but made the mistake of choosing an autobiography of Ralph Branca (the infamous Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher who gave up the pennant-winning home run to the Giants’ Bobby Thomson in 1951) on downloadable audio (which I don’t have). Please be forewarned that if you make that mistake you’re stuck with it. You can’t return an e-checkout early.

The Johnny Carson biography is by his long-time announcer and sidekick, Ed McMahon. Called “Here’s Johnny!,” it’s a wonderful and nostalgic tribute to the man who hosted of The Tonight Show for 30 years. Any fan of Carson will absolutely love it. I started to read it before my trip and had to put it down so I wouldn’t finish it before I left. I was laughing that hard.

There are so many great memories, especially of “Carnac the Magnificent,” everyone’s favorite Carson character. Carnac was the famous “Visitor from the East” who would answer “hermetically sealed” questions without having seen them before. McMahon keeps tossing out some of the classic responses in his book.

Anyone who expects any dirt or criticism will be disappointed. McMahon was a dear friend as well as colleague, and his admiration for Carson is deep. He waited until after Carson died to write the book because he knew “The Tonight Show” host was too private of a person to want to see it published while he was alive. Carson was the rare celebrity who when he retired he really retired. He disappeared from public life.

McMahon himself died in 2009 but further candid discussions of The Tonight Show can be found in McMahon’s autobiography, “For Laughing Out Loud,” and the PBS documentary, “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.” The three titles together provide a comprehensive look at an American icon who was part of this nation’s fabric for a generation.

Larry King is still alive and kicking (although not on CNN anymore) and he doesn’t hide form the limelight. He is constantly grinding out books and appearing in public. His latest memoir, “Truth Be Told: Off the Record About Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions,” is a look back at his career highlights including 25 years on Larry King Live! Although the book is a bit dated (it talks about the “upcoming” 2012 election) it has enough classic stories and juicy tidbits to keep it lively.

King has interviewed just about everybody under the sun so he has a lot of material to choose from. He’s certainly candid and not a brownnoser (he said he never found Bob Hope funny). He has a chapter on each category of celebrity and writes a critique, short comment, or anecdote, about each one. Sometimes he includes a great line or joke (the ones from John Stewart and Colin Powell are classic!). And for the umpteenth time (and who can blame him) he tells the story of how he landed an interview with Frank Sinatra.

King makes the point that he is not like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity where their guests are really just props for them to pontificate. His mantra has always been that if he’s talking he’s not learning anything. He has been accused of asking softball questions, but his guests have opened up a lot more than if they were put on the defensive. His style has been popular enough to have kept him going for 50 years.

Carson and King are television immortals that make fascinating subjects and easy reading. When you’re stuck on a six hour flight they make the time pass quickly. It’s something to keep in mind when you have a long trip ahead of you.   

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at