Reading is very personal, something I’ve recently learned no longer sending as gifts, what I think people should read. With few exceptions, no one ever seems to care for my choices.
So instead, I’ll be more democratic listing my recommendations collectively.
As they say in 12 Step:
Take what you like and leave the rest.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
You want a good, hot summer read? You’ll need to be hosed down like livestock as the heat rises off each page. The Burtons may have been the greatest lovers of our time. From the birth of their scandalous affair beginning on the set of Cleopatra in 1963, to Burton’s death at the age of 58, in 1984, though twice divorced, never stopped loving one another. Elizabeth kept his picture at her bedside till the day she died…sigh.
Must You G0 – Antonia Fraser
Another love story between she, and playwright, Harold Pinter. After meeting at a party in 1968, they promptly left their respective spouses, hers a member of Parliament she the mother of six, while Pinter was married to a notable actress, to be together till his death in 2008. Taken from her diaries proving just how powerful love can be.
Must you go? Is what he asked her, as she was leaving the party.
Justice – Dominick Dunne
A collection of essays on famous trials starting with the man’s accused of killing his only daughter, to The Menendez Brothers, Claus von Bulow along with several on what was considered, the trial of the century, OJ Simpson’s.
Perfect for lying in a hammock sipping a cold drink preferably alcoholic, since much of the detail is chilling.
The Times of Our Lives – Peggy Noonan
Known for her two cents on the The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Page, Ms Noonan’s anthology, all from her column, incites and inspires. A speech writer for Ronald Reagan she makes no bones about adoring, and a consultant on my favorite show, The West Wing, she’s the kind of writer I long to be: honest, brave and prolific.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children
Poignant, funny and show what a loving father he was to Alice, Ted Jr., Kermit, Archie, Ethel and Quentin. A great writer all the way around, he was our last president to write his own speeches.
The Most of Nora Ephron – published by Alfred A. Knopf
It’s all blissfully there, everything the late, very much missed lady, ever wrote. I keep it near my bed to reach for when I can’t sleep, a little Nora going a long way. If you’ve never read her, it’s a great opportunity to, and if already have, you’ll get to do it all over again…sigh
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Another great essayist, 26 of her best, seeing why she was the youngest recipient of The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010.
Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris
It doesn’t have to be Christmas to read his take on decking the halls. Santaland Diaries, when he worked as an elf at Macy’s, is strictly nonseasonal.
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
A clever satire, imagining what she’d be like if Queen Elizabeth was a closet reader. Only 120 pages, perfect for a lazy Sunday, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Bennett, an Englishman, mostly known for his plays, hit this little jewel out of the park, Queen’s Park, that is.
The Children of Henry VIII – John Guy
You want to read about a bunch of elitist brats? Here’s a book for you. If you know anything about Henry, the apples didn’t fall far from the tree. The only one who showed any promise, was Elizabeth, who was the red-headed black sheep of the family. They were like the Kennedys, in kilts.
Charles: Victim or Villain – Penny Junor
So many of us don’t care for Prince Charles because of what happened to Princess Diana, but Ms Junor, definitely a Charles fan, gives you another prospective blaming much on his cold, distant parents. Personally, I think there comes a time, especially when a man is almost 70, when he finally needs to take responsibility for who he is. Hey, I’m just sayin.
Citizens of London – Lyn Olson
The Americans who stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour, to quote the book jacket.
The man you come to know intimately is John Gilbert Winnant, the American ambassador to Britain in World War II. A hero to all especially during the Blitz, Germany’s nine-month terror bombing of British cities. You need to read it, to believe what it was like to live, especially in London, in 1941. Beautiful writing…vivid, stirring…a first-class read.
The Golden Lad – Eric Burns
When Woodrow Wilson denied Teddy Roosevelt’s request to raise a regiment of soldiers to fight during World World I, he made his four sons go in his stead, the youngest, Quentin, not coming back. Shot down over France buried where he fell, apparently a Roosevelt tradition, his death broke his father’s heart. TR died shortly after blaming himself for the loss. A short, poignant recap of a time when valor was often considered more important than life.
The Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
I’ve read it so many times I feel like I was there in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania July, 1863. Written in novel form through the eyes of southern Generals, Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet during those three bloody days, you won’t be able to put it down.
It’s the book that inspired Ken Burns to make his epic film, Civil War.
Stars In Their Courses – Shelby Foote
Burn’s main consultant in Civil War, it’s Foote’s version of the battle from a Mississippian’s point of view. Short but moving, a great chaser to Killer Angels.
Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
Once you start reading about the Civil War, it gets in your blood, so seguing into Abraham Lincoln and his esteemed wingman, William Seward, has a natural flow.
Kearns is one of my favorite writers because she educates as well as entertains. It’s the book Spielberg bought the rights to for his film Lincoln.
Henry Clay – Harlow Giles Unger
I like to refer to him as the Elvis of the Senate, Lincoln’s beau ideal and a name that should be a household word.
When Clay was expected to speak on the Senate floor, the balconies were filled with women who came to hear and swoon over the sexy senator from Kentucky. He, along with Massachusetts senator, Daniel Webster, staved off civil war until Clay’s biggest fan became president in 1861.
Assassination Vacation – Sarah Vowell
Another favorite of mine, she takes you on a tour of all the presidential sites where Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley fell along with the routes their assassins took to get outta town. The thing about Vowell, she’s smart, fiercely funny and eats history for breakfast. Trust me, you’ll want to ride shotgun.
Lafayette in Somewhat America – Sarah Vowell
Her latest, on the relationship the Marquis de Lafayette had with America, his adopted country, during and after the Revolutionary War. Another irreverent read packed with interesting info making you giggle and gasp wondering how the hell Sarah does it.
Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir – Jack Newfield.
The best book on RFK I’ve ever read. Newfield, who was in the midst of writing an authorized biography, traveling with Bobby, was there on June 8, 1968, when he was gunned down at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel, his book turning into an elegy to a man he grew to love. A very sober, noble read.
On The Run – Gregg and Gina Hill
The Children of mobster Henry Hill the film Goodfellas was based on, wrote what it was like to be in the Prisoner’s Protection Program after their father blew the whistle on his Mafia peers.
Imagine being a kid when the FBI shows up ransacking your house, then takes you away from everything you know including yourself…new names, forbidden to have any contact with your former life. Fascinating, harrowing and more than a little heartbreaking.
All The Pain Money Can Buy: The Life of Christina Onassis – William Wright
I know what you’re thinking. Who gives a shit about Christina Onassis? You will the minute you start reading. The daughter of one of the richest men in the world married to our most famous first lady, who she loathed calling her the black widow, convinced Jackie brought bad luck onto her family, is a riveting read. Dying at 37 one can say of complications from a very, rich, opulent life leaving behind billions bequeathed to Athina, her only child.
The M Train – Patti Smith
My favorite book so far this year (see review https://athingirl.com/2016/) is a heartfelt tribute to the late father of her two children that brought me to my knees. Takes candor and reflection to new heights.
The Elements of Style – Strunk and White
First off, there’s a basset hound on the cover, so need I say more? It’s a book Stephen King quotes from in his book, On Writing, claiming every writer should own. Omit needless words, is one of its prime themes that after reading it repeatedly has finally begun to take hold. Beautifully illustrated by Maira Kalman, I have to agree with Mr. King.
The King Who Rained – Fred Gwynne
You probably remember him as Herman Munster, but he was also a great writer of children’s books and ending my list with him certainly puts light reading up a notch. Toss in, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, and What’s Nude, and you’ll have a trifecta of titillating charm.
Bill Hicks, in New York, once got a call from a friend in L.A. who said, “Hey Bill, whatch ya doin? I’m here bakin by the pool.” And Bill said, “What am I doin? I’m ree-din. That’s what we do here, we reeed.”
Yes we do…yes we do.
Photo: Bill Broderick