Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Favorite books I read in 2014

From THE TIMES and NEWS-STAR, Jan. 4
The best book I read in 2014 was two books, the second of which had been available since 1978.

Better late than never.

Herman Wouk's World War II daily double, the historical novels "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance," was my ride of the year. Mercy. And if I can this year watch the miniseries that was so big in the 1980s, I'll die a happy man.

Wouk's effort comes on the heels of my favorite series read last year, Rick Atkinson's WWII non-fiction Liberation Trilogy, and Steig Larsson's "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy in 2012.

All three had been available for a few years before I read them. The good thing about being late to the party is you don"t have to wait for the author to complete the series. Hollah!

I would have read none of the above unless friends had suggested them. A dicey maneuver, suggesting books. But I'd rather cull through the misses than miss the good ones. While we have different tastes and what floats my boat might not float yours, we still need to throw caution to the wind and suggest, with qualifiers. (Such as, "You might hate this, but I loved it!" That warning gets you off the

So please keep the suggestions coming. Here are my favorites of 2014, behind Wouk's home run, which I can't recommend enough. (I enjoyed Wouk's "Don't Stop the Carnival" years ago, and have his "The Caine Mutiny" on tap for this year. Joy!)

Best of Authors I Hadn't Read Before: Phillip Meyer is relatively new on the scene. "The Son" is the best Texas-Western saga I've read since Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove." These next three were, like "The Son," recommended, enjoyed and deeply appreciated and I'll be back for more: "The Rewrite Man," a Hollywood novel by Bryan Forbes (1982); "The Kill Artist" by Daniel Silva (1998), my introduction to Israeli spy Gabriel Allon; "Heartstone" by Phillip Margolin (1978), written in an elementary style (his first of many novels) but with twists you won't figure out.

Biggest Surprise: Not close. "Kiss Me Like a Stranger" by Gene Wilder
(2005) was not only well-written but informative -- if you're a Wilder fan as I've been since "Willie Wonka" -- and emotional. The deeply talented Wilder shares in a helpful and moving way.

Favorites From Old Reliables: "Deadwood" (1986) and "Paris Trout"
(1987) by former newspaperman Pete Dexter. The first is filled with conversation like the kind in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." The second is equally real and disturbing dialogue from disturbing characters. "The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and The Fire That Saved America? (2009) by Timothy Egan is carried even more by Egan's wonderful writing than it is by the story of a 1910 wildfire that had a decent shot at burning up the Pacific Northwest.

Best Autobiography: No question. "His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir" by Dan Jenkins, who long ago retired the "Teddy's Favorite Author" trophy.
His newest effort, "Unplayable Lies," sweeps up stories from the PGA Tour and goat-ranch courses of his youth; it will be available for your reading and laugh-out-loud pleasure in February.

Best Semi-Biography: "The Mantel of Command: FDR at War, 1941-42"
(2004) by Nigel Hamilton. Obviously I enjoy work on WWII, but this is peeking into the back rooms of American policy and witnessing a polio-stricken man holding his country and clashing egos together and getting them to pull in the same direction during the most pivotal time of the 20th century. Hamilton is working on Part II.

Special Salute: To screenwriter and novelist William Goldman for "Adventures in the Screen Trade" (1983) and "Which Lie Did I Tell"
(2000), part memoir and part advice, a lyrical narration of the stories behind the people who make our movies. (A lot of times, boys and girls, they're winging it.)

There are more, but this chapter must end here since this is, after all, not a book. A quick thank-you to my stand-bys like Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald, and to my friends who have the kindness to say now and then, "Hey, have you read...?"

(HA! As I typed that last sentence my phone rang. My main man Dr. Pat Garrett said, "I've got a box of books for you. Just came in. Be over in five or 10 minutes." Hung up. Thank you Dr. Garrett! Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Dewey Decimal and Guy Who Invented the Printing Press! I am usually not an exclamation point guy, but this could be a really good year.)

Got any 2015 suggestions? Bring it! Happy New Year and Happy Reading.