One of the things I love about having some time off around Christmas/New Year’s is extra time to dive into a good book. Thanks to a certain infamous virus, I had even MORE of that diving time. Here’s what I got into at year’s end.
“The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber (1962) I discovered this legendary American humorist when I was a kid, and long after he had passed. Thurber led a life almost as manic as any of his short stories or cartoons from “The New Yorker”, and I’ve always found layers of humor and pathos in his writing. You’ve probably seen his work even without knowing it (those New Yorker cartoons, the character Walter Mitty) and much more. “Carnival” is a humor/short story/poetry collection I had read before. It was in the best holiday tradition: reuniting with old friends.
“The Girl in The Plain Brown Wrapper” by John MacDonald (1968) MacDonald’s most famous character is the chivalrous Floridian Travis McGee. He’s the precursor to so many of our favorite mystery novel-protagonists, like Jack Reacher. As usual, he’s up against the seamy underbelly of American,and especially Sunshine State, life.
“Lassie, Come Home” by Eric Knight (1940) Like you, I grew up with the Roddy McDowell movies and the tv series, and have had this original issue hardcover for years. Finally, as a change of pace, decided to read it. It’s hard not to project the movie depiction onto each scene, but it holds together really well. It would be a wonderful story to have read to you, at any age.
“Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, The War Years 1940-1946” by Gary Giddins (2018) Giddins is a master historian writing a multi-volume bio of maybe the most inportant American entertainer of the 20th Century. You can hear Bing on every page, and no one has ever done a better job of chronicling not only the artistry but also the private persona of a man we all felt like we knew.
“An Inconvenient Minority” The Attack on Asian-American Excellence and The Fight for Meritocracy” by Kenny Xu (2021) The title says it all. When Kenny joined us on the show this fall, the book was just reaching me and I hadn’t yet read it, only some of his contemporaneous reporting. Turns out, his book is even better. You will thoroughly enjoy being outraged.
“Hit and Run” by Lawrence Block (2008) I’ve loved Lawrence Block as a grand master of mystery writing forever. His series with Matt Scudder and, separately, Bernie Rhodenbarr, are completely entertaining and light. His standalone books too. I’ve never warmed to this character, Keller, a paid hit-man. But if you run out of Bernie and Matt, give Keller a try. Maybe it’s just me.
“Mr. Standfast” by John Buchan (1918) This gentleman is one of Britain and Canada’s most beloved and revered writers, yet virtually unknown in America (he wrote “The Thirty Nine Steps”. “Mr. Standfast” is a ferocious page turner of the type that would come from people like Alistair MacLean, Len Deighton or Jack Higgins decades later. Buchan’s serial character, Richard Hannay, comes back from the WWI front and must pose as the slimiest kind of pacifist, in order to infiltrate a sinister plot. Later in his life Buchan was Governor-General of Canada and elevated to the peerage. It’s incredible that his novel work is not even one of the most important things he ever did.
“The Veiled One” by Ruth Rendell (1988) Wexler is Rendell’s British detective. At this point in her long series, she may have been growing tired of him (you’ll see why), but fortunately for us, she keeps us around. “Veiled One” is a really good example of the series: what at first seems like a simple murder (if there is such a thing) takes on layers of complexity) and you will change your mind more than once about whodunit.
It’s exciting to me to hear that you’ve tried any of these—let me know. And please share what you’re reading. Thanks and Happy New Year!