Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Has Falling Leaves Too; Don't Miss These

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Let’s quickly review our summer reading list so we can make sure we’re all on the same page.

First of all, the only book I’ve read this year that I wished I hadn’t was “The Last Kind Words Saloon” by Larry McMurtry. Hadn’t read him in years but this was a freebie and, thank goodness, less than 200 pages and with lots of white space. I’ll put bad books down now, just like I’ll change the channel on a TV set, but I read this one to the end because it was Larry McMurtry, who I will always semi-worship thanks to “Lonesome Dove” and “Some Can Whistle” and “The Last Picture Show” and the “Texasville” trilogy. Oh, mercy, and “Terms of Endearment.” But be warned: somebody’s going to drop $24.95 American, plus tax, get to about page 20-something and want to kick the next word that walks by right between the vowels. Read his old stuff instead.

Every other book I’ve read so far this year is a keeper. The weakest was “End of Days” by James Swanson, about the JFK assassination. But hey, that’s on me. It’s not like I didn’t know what was going to happen. His book on Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth was better, but maybe that’s because I went in less informed.

The year’s highlight has been “His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir” by Dan Jenkins, now of Golf Digest, 85-ish, and back in his hometown of Fort Worth after extended road trips to New York City and Florida. His high ranking could be because he is a bit of a hero to me, the best sportswriter to ever breathe air and the reason I wanted to become a writer in the first place. I think it happened around age 10 when I put down my Sports Illustrated long enough to understand that you wouldn’t go to hell for cracking a joke about golf, and that people who wrote about games we loved to play could actually turn them into stories that held their own against anything the Hardy Boys could manage to get themselves into or out of.  

Or the reason I enjoyed it so much could be because it taught me stuff and made me laugh at the same time. Which is why I think you might enjoy it too -- unless you have no taste for history, the foibles of the human race, or giggling. (Which reminds me, thanks to Mr. Jenkins: reading that McMurtry book I just warned you not to read was like being at a nude beach where all the wrong people get naked. High expectations, dismal result. Bummer.)

I’ll say about Dan Jenkins, in a writer-type comparison, what former tour player Bruce Crampton once said when describing the PGA vs. the athletic talents of another pretty fair golfer named Jack Nicklaus: “We all suffer from human deficiencies; Jack just suffers from fewer of them.”

I re-read “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James Cain and would recommend it, maybe because I like thinking about Lana Turner-type people but also because I can be a crime noir guy with the best of them. The passing of Elmore Leonard inspired me to knock out “The Switch,” from 1978. Beautiful. Read Phillip Margolin for the first time; “Heartstone.” Not great writing but a surprising story and yessir, I think I’ll have another. Daniel Silva and “The Kill Artist” was better, and more along the lines of your international intrigue.

Another new author for me is Byran Forbes; loved “The Rewrite Man,” a “Hollywood” novel from 1982. These were all pump-primers for a summer reading schedule that will contain very little Emerson or authors with hyphenated names.

Before I forget, “The Big Burn” by Timothy Egan is about America’s biggest forest fire ever, and Egan, to complete the thought, can write like a house afire. I should have been less surprised because he’s always seemed smart and thoughtful to me, but the actor Gene Wilder has brought me much joy though his movies “Willie Wonka” and “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” and now through his autobiography, “Kiss Me Like A Stranger: My Search for Love and Art.”

Finally, this summer I plan to read – and it’s much overdue -- “The Last Hayride” in honor of the gentleman and pro John Maginnis, who died May 25 and took a backseat to no one in his coverage of our state’s politics. And a steady hot-weather friend is Travis McGee, the John D. MacDonald creation who makes every summer better. I read “Dress Her in Indigo” and “The Long Lavender Look” last summer; now I’m on “A Tan and Sandy Silence.” Trust me, it’s a no-risk deal: you can take Travis McGee to the bank and to the beach.