You can only go back to the leftovers so many times after the Thanksgiving dinner, right? Eventually, they run out, or you just can’t anymore.
For me, a few days off was a chance to extend another feast, that of some great books that waited patiently for me. Before I share them with you, the British statesman Winston Churchill, himself a prolific author, was an exuberant reader. In his youth, before he became the most consequential man of the 20th century, his feast included “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”, “”King Solomon’s Mines”, the poets Horace and Longfellow, and a slender novel I’ll tell you about below.
“The Jaguar” by T. Jefferson Parker (2012) Parker deserves mention with my favorite mystery author, Michael Connelly, and here he has a savage, almost mythic tale about his series cop Charlie Hood going on an odyssey into Mexico to battle the cartels and his own demons. Like Connelly, the line between good guys and bad guys in a TJP book is a fine and thought-provoking one.
“Topaz” by Leon Uris (1967) A novelized version of the Cuban missile crisis that also became one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most underrated films, “Topaz” is a powerful and different perspective on the ’62 emergency. Most who tell the story center it on President Kennedy, and with reason. Uris’ world is made up of American, French and Russian men and women who actually fought the Cold War, or might have. I highly recommend both the book and movie.
“This Storm” by James Ellroy (2019) This author is the ultimate example of an acquired taste—you will either fall addicted to his slangy, profane narratives that, as with Uris above, weave together real events and people with imagined, or you will throw the book down in disgust. “This Storm” takes up where his previous book, “Perfidia”, left off: we’re in immediate Pearl Harbor-attack 1941-42 Los Angeles, with a corrupt LAPD (he’s best known for “Black Dahlia” and “L.A. Confidential”), and a mystery involving a buried body in Griffith Park, a gold heist and the internment of Japanese Americans.
“The Case of the Rolling Bones” by Erle Stanley Gardner (1939) When he died in 1970, he was the best-selling author of the 20th century, and his books had created what was to that point the most popular, longest-running legal drama, “Perry Mason” on CBS. Readers of this blog know I love and painstakingly collect the Mason books, of which there were 75 or so. Having said all that, anyone writing that much would occasionally misfir, and “Bones” is a mess of a plot. Having said that, if you ever catch the TV adaptation of it, it made a good episode. But skip the novel.
“Brown on Resolution” by C.S. Forester (1924) Renowned for his “Horatio Hornblower” series, this is an earlier and less-celebrated Forester book. A young Victorian-era woman meets and has a son by a British Navy officer she will never see again, nor forget. Years later, her son carries out a feat so utterly British in its devotion and daring, which has implications for the father he never met, and who doesn’t know he exists. Winston Churchill never forgot this story, and neither will you.
“The Next Pope” by George Weigel (2020) Despite the title, Weigel is really writing about how the Catholic Church can be and should be relevant in the century ahead of us, and the title refers to his belief that the pope who follows the soon-to-be 86-year old Francis I, will grasp this challenge. As a Catholic, I read this slowly and with savor, as each page is thought-provoking and well-considered. In short, the next pope will have been too young to have participated in the last reform, Vatican II, but will need to lead the refocusing of the Roman church on Christ-centered mission, and away from what Weigel derisively calls “NGO work”.
As always, if you read any of these, share your thoughts with me at [email protected] and let me know what you’re picking up.