Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Lover’s Diary: Good Summer Stuff

(From today's Times and News-Star)

Mark Twain said the man who won’t read has no advantage over the man who doesn’t read at all.

Sounds a bit egotistical or presumptuous, as it’s hard to make time to read when you’ve got toddlers, the cat threw up on the couch and your plumbing’s backed up.

Nevertheless, Twain’s right, as he was about a lot of things. (Things like “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first,” and “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”)

So read when you can because reading -- to paraphrase what Twain said about doing the right thing – will gratify some people and astonish the rest. If you don’t know what to take with you on vacation, or what to have close on a rainy Saturday, suggestions from some books I’ve read since January:

The best book I’ve read this summer is “Hellhound on his Trail,” by Hampton Sides. I missed its release in 2011 but stumbled on it by accident and finished it last night. It’s about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the search for his assassin, a chase that lasted 65 days. Reads like a crime novel, except it’s all true. Crime novel/history lesson. Jackie Kennedy visited Coretta King at Mrs. King’s home the morning of MLK’s funeral; the two dismissed themselves for a semi-private conversation in a bedroom and were “leaning toward each other,” wrote a Newsweek reporter, “like parentheses around the tragic half decade.” In two months, Ethel Kennedy would join them as one of “America’s three widows.” News about the MLK assassination on television is the first time I can remember watching TV and knowing something tragic and important was happening; I was 8 when King was killed, April 4, 1968.

“The Girl Who Played With Fire” is better/faster than “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” but the final book wraps up this bestselling trilogy. Author Steig Larsson’s death means we will get no more of this “Girl,” one of the most modern and intriguing characters in fiction. You do not want to be on her bad side.

Took three days and re-read the historical fiction classic from 1977, “The Killer Angels,” Michael Shaara’s account of those three days at Gettysburg. (By the way, detective-wise, you can never go wrong with Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Sweet.)

“The Art of Fielding” by first-time author Chad Harbach is friendship and growing up and growing old in a college baseball setting. Not for everyone but I liked it.

If you like Dick Van Dyke, his “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business” autobiography has pictures and an easy-to-read account of what happens when timing and the right personality intersect. He’s the reason I’ve always felt it would be fun to write for a funny TV show, as his character Rob Petrie did for “The Alan Brady Show.” By the way, the older high school friend Van Dyke looked up to was a guy named Gene Hackman.

“A Very Short Introduction to the First World War” is less than 160 pages and is all you need unless you are hungry to keep up with towns and generals you’ve never heard of. Trench warfare moves slow.

I’m out of room but Winston Groom’s Civil War-era “Shrouds of Glory” is good and his new “Shiloh 1862” is better. Second-best book of the summer: “The Last Boy,” the newest on Mickey Mantle, by Jane Leavy. Bittersweet.