My friend Joanne is to blame, always cooing over a novel to literally lose yourself in, turning out she’s so right, the little well-read imp that she is.
I’ll start with Lucy…Ellen Feldman (2003). The love affair between Franklin Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer that could have changed history, if FDR had left Eleanor the way he intended, once their tryst was discovered. Taken from the actual letters Eleanor found in his suitcase along with the history woven around them, Lucy will leave you heartened despite the circumstances.
Belgravia…Julian Fellowes…2016. The Big Daddy of Downton Abbey, beginning on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo at a grand ta-do rivaling any at Downton, Fellowes clearly in command of this chivalrous, opulent era.
The Camomile Lawn…Mary Welsley (1984). Written around The Blitz, where, thinking you might not see the light of day, all beds, I mean bets were off, World War Two England the place to be. Mary, who didn’t get published till she was 71 years-old, was a riveting writer with lusty mischief oozing from her quill.
Not That Sort of Girl…Mary Welsley (1987). Another saucy tale about a young British girl falling in love with two boys toasting menage a’ trois so joyfully, you’ll feel it should be legalized.
Death Comes To Pemberley…P.D. James (2011). After reading Mary, I just needed more British noir picking up the sequel to Pride & Prejudice (1813) by the mistress of murder mysteries. I suggest reading both, back to back, to get the full thrill of what happens to Mr. Mrs. Darcy at their beloved, grand estate.
Katharine of Aragon: The True Queen…Alison Weir (2016). The first of Henry VIII’s 6 wives, as well as the launch of Weir’s Tudor Queen series. Kate, the sweetest woman mean King Hal did everything but push off a cliff when he wanted to marry that medieval minx, Anne Bolyen, is someone you’ll root for. It’s written wrapped around grisly events…beheadings, burnings, so I warn you, but it’s kinda’ like an accident you don’t want to see, but can’t look away from.
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession…Alison Weir (2017). Oh, the Kim Kardashian of her time, just with a smaller butt, who some say was misled and innocent, but I say, was the demon Queen deserving her downfall.
The Waterworks…E.L. Doctorow (1994). A thriller set in New York City, 1870 about a newspaper writer that makes Poe seem like Dr. Suess. You see it all, the over crowded tenements, pigs trolling the streets. Cops on the take and harlots on the make. For any writer, Doctorow is a course in paying attention to what you see, and lavishly imagining what you can’t.
Casino…Nicholas Pileggi (1995). We love him, married to the late Nora Ephron he dedicates it to. So much better than the movie with luscious detail making Scorcese’s cinematic efforts pale. Pileggi made his bones as a journalist, and that sharp eye a reporter has to have, is still in twitchy residence.
Imagine, 10 novels, and there are many more, but it’s time to segue into American History, my favorite subject.
First in Line…Kate Anderson Brower (2018). Now you’ll know why it’s so important who one chooses as their running mate. You’ll learn who was considered and not chosen, and why some who were, became legendary losers. Ms. Brower who wrote, The Residence (2015) about what the help at the White House had to say of its occupants, is a hellova writer.
Ripple of Hope:RFK…Kerri Kennedy (2018). Bobby’s daughter commemorated the 50th Anniversary of her father’s death with interviews with those who knew him, and many who wish they had. I’m a Bobby fan, so I lapped them up like New England clam chowder, he and his brother Jack’s favorite fare.
Leadership in Turbulent Times…Doris Kearns Goodwin (2018). Well, she’s done it again, penned a book every American should read, this time focusing on four great men shining down like beacons: Lincoln, Teddy, FDR and Lyndon Johnson bow from the page. Yeah I know, LBJ, in that illustrious company? Kearns feels his work for Civil Rights taking over where JFK left off, earns him his place. Right or wrong, one can hear God Bless America mewling from the ethers.
The Georgetown Ladies Social Club…C. David Heymann (2003). How I loved this. The women during the Kennedy years and those thereafter, who really ruled Washington, proving, behind every great politician is a smart woman with mouth watering catering skills. Katharine Graham, Pamela Harriman and Sally Quinn, among others, jump off the page to answer the door.
My Twenty-Five years in Provence…Peter Mayle (2018). Charming and spare (179 pages) inhaling it in one gulp on a drowsy summer Sunday. The village of Provence in the south of France where life is still simple and cell phone free, will have you calling your travel agent.
Paris in Love…Eloisa James (2012). The perfect chaser to the above, another engaging memoir but written in diary form. The beautiful Ms. James, after losing her mom to breast cancer then surviving a bout of her own, convinces her Italian husband and their two young kids, to move to Paris for an unforgettable year. Vivid, funny and a tad sad in spots, but a keeper for your bookshelf.
Now for a little humor, vice and murder.
Calypso…David Sedaris (2018). His latest collection of essays, not as silly as his earlier ones, but still wry and clever making you as always wish, there was just one more left to read.
How to Write An Autobiographical Novel…Alexander Chee (2018). His first collection of essays, not as funny as Sedaris, but their talent could easily spar in the ring. A great storyteller getting an A in candor, I especially liked when he was a cater/waiter for Pat and William Buckley.
Robin…Dave Itzkoff (2018). A tender tale because you know what’s coming, yet reading about the genius of Robin Williams can’t help but make you smile–his energy seeming to levitate on each page.
Crooked Brooklyn: Taking Down Corrupt Judges, Dirty Politicians, Killers and Body Snatchers…Michael Vecchine and Jerry Schmetterer (2015). This will hold your attention. Vecchine’s 20 years working as a Brooklyn prosecutor, shares all that made even him shudder. You’ll be amazed what people try to get away with, speaking of…
Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff…Andrew Kirtman (2009). A fascinating story, what this man did to so many trusting souls. How he got away with it for so long, and the sad carnage in the wake of finally being caught with no other place to go, but the slammer.
This Crazy Thing Called Love: The Golden World and Fatal Marriage of Ann and Billy Woodward…Susan Braudy (1992). Evangeline Ann Crowell, a sexy showgirl from Kansas, lassos New York’s favorite cafe society’s playboy son, William Woodward Jr., shooting him dead at their Long Island estate, thinking he was a burglar (so she said), launching the biggest murder trial of the century. Inspired Dominick Dunne’s best selling novel, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (2012), a page-turner, and then some.
Fashion Climbing…Bill Cunningham…2018. For all you fashionistas, Mr. C. who died in 2016 at 87, a fashion photographer for The New York Times, as much a Manhattan landmark as The Empire State or Chrysler Building, traveling strictly by bike, snapping all that was chic catching his elegant eye. They’ll never be another Bill.
Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret…Craig Brown (2018). Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth, was never someone I was too interested in, yet read this book in three sated sittings. Regal up to her piled hair attempting to make the 5 foot princess appear taller, mean and spoiled one minute, generous and humane the next. Your heart opens, despite Marg being one royal bitch.
Medium Raw…Anthony Bourdain (2010). The man is no more, but his voice in his books, lives on. A memoir of sorts that, as I read it again, saw more of his torment eluding me the first time. A talented, elegant man clad in truth, passion and unheralded pain, who alas, will never be forgotten.
I’ll end with one of my favorites, Shoeless Joe…W.P. Kinsella (1982), the novel the film, Field of Dreams, was taken from. Prose like none other, brimming with mystical imagery that will make you smile as Kinsella brings Shoeless Joe Jackson of the 1919 Chicago White Soxs back to life as if there never was a Black Sox scandal, ruining the lives of 8 American men ending, forever, their love of the game. You don’t necessarily need to be a baseball fan, but guaranteed, you’ll feel blessed in the bleachers as Joe and his teammates happily head for home.
Remember folks, reading is like a muscle, the more you read, the stronger it gets.