Katie Hafner on Books

September 9, 2013

Internet Hall of Fame Advisory Board member Katie Hafner has been writing about technology since 1983. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, she has covered technology issues for national general-interest, technology and business magazines as well. She is the author of six books, including Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (with Matthew Lyon). Her most recent book, “Mother Daughter Me,” is winning high praise for its insightful, funny and brave look at a year she spent trying to live with her aging mother and her teenaged daughter. We caught up with her recently to talk books.

 Q. The adult book “I Capture the Castle” and the children’s book “Horton Hears a Who” are both mentioned glowingly in “Mother Daughter Me.” What are some of your other favorite books? 

A. I love Ann Patchett's “The Patron Saint of Liars.” What's most interesting is that it was her first novel, and I think it's her best – by a long shot. “Bel Canto” got a lot more attention, but “Liars” is a sublime piece of writing.

Q. What are you reading now? What titles are on your night-table?

A. Here are a few: “Dear Life,” by Alice Munro (love love love her); “Where I was From,” by Joan Didion; “NW,” by Zadie Smith; “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 – The Team that Changed the Color of College Basketball,” by Michael Lenehan;  “This is Water,” by David Foster Wallace (his amazing commencement speech at Kenyon College a few years ago; I keep this on my nightstand always); and “Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson,” by William Langewiesche (about Sully’s incredible landing of that plane on the river).

Q. In “Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” you discuss the early days of the web inventors, going back to their origins with President Eisenhower's science advisers. Did your grandfather, who was one of those advisers, inspire you in any way to write “Wizards”?

A. My grandfather didn't inspire me to write “Wizards”; he died in 1986. But my father, who was also a physicist, loved the book and helped us with some of the technical points.


Q. In “Mother Daughter Me,” you talk about your mother coding in Fortran. Can you do that, too?

A. Aaaah, if only I could program in Fortran. It’s my mother who was the Fortran pioneer. She then moved on to VMS, the operating system for Digital Equipment Corporation computers.

Q. Is there a new book cooking in your brain? If so, can you give us a clue as to what it will be about?

A. Yes, there is! But it is in the very nascent stages. I can tell you this: It has a medical theme :-)

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