As much as I like delving into a book that’s new (or new to me), I always mix in re-reads of books I once loved.
Recently, that thinking led me back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.
I remember reading an old cloth-bound hardcover version of this that I found in my house, when I was about 11 years old. Though it wasn’t as ancient as I imagined it to be, it had that musty smell and yellowed-paper look that suggested a pirates’ treasure map.
I remember staying up past my bedtime some nights, to see what would happen to Jim and his mother, or how the gunfight between the mutineers and Jim, Squire Trelawney and Captain Smollett would turn out.
Imagine how many generations of young readers were captivated like me?
And then, over 40 years later, I discovered that reading “Treasure Island”— again— made me 11 once more. Never underestimate the power of a good read. It can even turn back time!
Here’s what I’ve been into over the last couple of weeks:
“Now and Then” by Robert Parker (2007) The trouble for Boston P.I. Spenser starts when an FBI agent hires him to see if his wife is having an affair. Politics, and danger for Spenser’s ladylove, Susan, follow. The Spenser series is the best of Parker’s creations, and are best enjoyed in chronological order.
“Make Me” by Lee Child (2015) Another of my all time favorite series, Child gives us ex-MP Jack Reacher. Always on the road, always outmanned but never outwitted. Jack’s in a small town (even the town name is shrouded in mystery), a woman named Chang needs his help, and together they stumble onto what has to be one of the weirdest evil plots in the long Reacher series. I won’t give anything away here, except to say that I love this character and series so much, that the total improbability of the bad guys made little difference to me. You probably don’t have to read Reacher in order, but don’t start with this one.
“Quiller” by Adam Hall (1985) A long running character, Quiller is an unconventional British superagent. Sort of the anti-Bond—no fast cars, fast women or fast gadgets. In fact, his own country often treats him as disposable, or worse. Such is the case here, as he tries to salvage Anglo-U.S.-Soviet “glasnost” when a act of war leads to betrayals and and a harrowing escape from inside Russia. Always good, this might be one of the best in the Quiller series.
“Live By Night” by Dennis Lehane (2012) The second in a series set around Joe Coughlin of Boston. In 2008’s “The Given Day”, we see Joe grow up the son of a prominent Boston police captain, during the time of the police strike and early Prohibition. Now, in this volume, Joe graduates from working for a mobster up there, and eventually becoming the new crime boss in Tampa. Ranks of colorful characters, with a light dose of real-life people and events. While Lehane books often become movies, like this one, and of course “Mystic River”, “Shutter Island”, etc. etc., the books really are, always, better.
“Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul” by John Barry (2012) This book is a mixed blessing, so to speak. It’s less about Roger Williams than the title would suggest, and more about the earliest colonial times in which he lived. There is also an extensive, maybe extraneous early detour through the history of Christianity and its manipulation by European ruling families. By the time we get to the fascinating Williams himself, and his experiences in Salem, Boston, Plymouth and so forth, you realize that Barry needed to make this two different books, if not more. Having said all that, his point is that Williams developed the crucial American idea that religion is too important to us to allow the government to ever enforce it. There are a lot of people across the political landscape today who need to hear this.
“The Devil to Pay” by Ellery Queen (1938) In a twist, Ellery is someone else, somewhere else, but still helping ungrateful police solve murder and mystery. If you know the series, it takes some getting used to for him to be operating in prewar Los Angeles, in disguise, and without his dyspeptic dad. Still a crazy-good read.
“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883) One of the coolest things to know about this all-time classic is that Stevenson was a “serious” writer (and broke) when he devised this young readers’ tale of loyalty and piracy, and its myriad unforgettable characters, like Long John Silver—and he did it all to amuse his bored stepson. It’s been amusing boys and girls ever since, and will make you feel like you are one again.