Kim Barker

Out of the frying pan and into the fire: Dismayed by our disastrous newspaper strike of 2000-01, young Seattle Times reporter Kim Barker jumps to The Chicago Tribune, then stumbles her way into its foreign correspondent desk in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Actually, we think some ambition was involved, but her breezy, personable memoir The Taliban Shuffle (Doubleday, $25.95) makes light of professional motivations. After so many somber post-9/11 books have been written about the War on Terror, it’s a relief when a journalist confesses to worrying about dating in the Green Zone, the dangers of overzealous Kabul beauty parlors (collateral eyebrow damage is inflicted), and what songs to choose on drunken karaoke nights (and there are many in the book, which, as her editor, I would’ve called Bridget Jones’ War Diary). Sure, war (reporting) is hell, but it’s also highly addictive; and Barker is quite aware of her propensity to slide into such addictive caricature. (Her family nickname is “100 Percent Id.”) There are plenty of telling little anecdotes from her reporting between 2004-09, like the incompetence, corruption, and vanity of Mohammad Karzai; and almost every chapter includes an ass-grabbing from the repressed, sex-starved young Afghan and Pakistani men who rate Barker somewhere between homely Bollywood extra and roving hooker. But she takes it all in stride, dumping boyfriends, enduring countless humiliations, and counting herself lucky not to be back home during the Great American Newspaper Collapse. By the time the Tribune’s budget woes call her home, Barker has survived suicide bombings, but she knows the real bloodbath is waiting in the newsroom. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., April 28, 7 p.m., 2011

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