The Vanity Fair Diaries is the story of an Englishwoman barely out of her twenties who arrives in Manhattan on a mission. Summoned from London in hopes that she can save Condé Nast’s troubled new flagship Vanity Fair, Tina Brown is immediately plunged into the maelstrom of the competitive New York media world and the backstabbing rivalries at the court of the planet’s slickest, most glamour-focused magazine company. She survives the politics, the intrigue and the attempts to derail her by a simple stratagem: succeeding. In the face of rampant scepticism, she triumphantly reinvents a failing magazine.
Here are the inside stories of Vanity Fair scoops and covers that sold millions: the Reagan kiss, the meltdown of Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, the sensational Annie Leibovitz cover of a gloriously pregnant, naked Demi Moore. In the diary’s cinematic pages, the drama, comedy and struggle of running an ‘it’ magazine come to life. Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries is also a woman’s journey, of making a home in a new country and of the deep bonds with her husband, their prematurely born son and their daughter.
Astute, open-hearted, often riotously funny, Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries is a compulsively fascinating and intimate chronicle of a woman’s life in a glittering era.
I had decided last month that I would try and do a non-fiction November because I had noticed it on a few blogs last year and I have a few non-fiction books to get through. Unfortunately, I haven’t read as many as I had hoped because I went on holiday but it did spur me to pick up this book The Vanity Fair Diaries which I am glad of.
I actually haven’t read a memoir in a while and I forgot how refreshing it can be, there is something very intriguing about delving into someone else’s world, I find that especially true when it’s on a topic that I don’t know a lot about. I have heard of Vanity Fair, of course, but I’ve never picked one up before and didn’t really know anything of its history or that of the author either.
Luckily there is somewhat of a working background for both the author and the magazine before diving into the main crux of the diary, it set the scene perfectly and was a bit like the calm before the storm. It gave me the time to get in the right frame of mind for reading before it launched into Tina Brown’s fast-paced world.
What I liked about this format is that you never knew what to expect, some of the entries could be long or it would be a series of short and snappy entries, it also jumped from one thing to the next and then back again. It gives a great impression of what it would have been like working in that type of atmosphere, constantly on the go and having to deal with all things at once.
There were only a few occasions where this lagged for me, sometimes the endless lunches when not very much is happening got to me a little, but usually there would eventually be some anecdote that I would find amusing and then we would be back in the swing of the magazine once again and the pace was back to its breakneck setting.
Some of the people she mentions; at the various lunches and dinners; I have no clue about and feel like maybe I missed out on the glamour of her knowing these people, but as I just mentioned if there was a funny story that accompanied them then I didn’t mind that I didn’t know who they were. I was enamoured with hearing about the photographers and some of the artists and writers though, it’s a different perspective than what I’ve read before so that was enlightening.
I’m not a big gossiper and I’m not all that interested in celebrity culture but I have to say I liked the social commentary on some of the people, even if I didn’t know who they were, I like that she doesn’t hold back her opinion. I know from reading that she is a shrewd editor and will know what best to put in and take out but I’d like to think that it wasn’t too carefully curated. There are a lot of mentions of people being annoyed that she had printed stories about them that weren’t favourable, so I’m glad that she didn’t seem like she was sugar coating her thoughts even about people who she was close to.
Obviously the main draw of this book is because it is a very iconic magazine and you know that there are going to be a lot of influential people mentioned and that there are things revealed that you maybe haven’t heard of before. However, I much preferred reading about the struggles of each issue, the fight for the good story and the difficulties of working under someone who seemed to fire a new person every day or moved people around the company like chess pieces.
There was a personal element as well, there is a lot of commentary on the life/work divide, and a lot of insight into her family life, which I found fascinating. I mean this is something that is still very relevant, how can you be successful at work and a mother without letting things slip or without being persecuted for it. It was good to get to see the changes that having a family created but also meant that I could relate a bit more to her because I am definitely a complete outsider to the life of the rich and famous.
I found there was a difference from when she was talking about her work to when she was discussing her children and family, and it was nice to have that variety of ‘voice’. Most of the stories involving her son I thought were very amusing, whenever she told us the things he had said I always ended up smiling, it’s just the way that kids can come out with the most random but relevant things to say, with the timing of a seasoned comedian.
I’m glad that we got to find out what happened to her after Vanity Fair and where some of the other main names in the book ended up. It did feel like you were taken along on the journey and it wouldn’t have felt right if I hadn’t found out what happened to them.
One thing that did pop into my head when I was reading was that it would have been nice to see some of the images that were being discussed in the book, I got the impression that if it were a printed book that I would maybe see some related pictures and I feel like this would have added to my experience.
Since it was an arc that I was reading there were only a few at the end of her immediate family, but I did swing by a bookshop and had a look at the physical copy and there was a section that had pictures of some of the more iconic covers and the team. I’m not sure if the proper electronic version does have these or not but I would recommend getting the paperback or seeking it out so that you can have a look.
The Vanity Fair Diaries was definitely a pleasant surprise, even if you don’t have any background knowledge it has a lot of very interesting content that draws you in and a pace as fast as the city it’s based in.