When people tell me they don’t read, I literally, don’t know what to say being the serial reader that I am. I agree with JFK who said..I just feel a whole lot better when there are books around.
A Rift in the Earth…Art, Memory and the Fight For a Vietnam Memorial, James Reston Jr. 2017. Who knew there was so much ugly opposition to the 20 year-old architect, Maya Lin’s, exquisite design of what we now reverently know as The Vietnam Wall. A rift in the earth was how she initially described her vision, poignantly unveiled in 1982.
In Honored Glory, Philip Bigler (1999). A complete history of Arlington National Cemetery and the only one of its kind. Beginning when it first became a burial ground during the American Civil War, the Union dead buried in Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s rose garden, to what it is today with all its solemnity and pomp. Don’t be surprised if you think you hear Taps in the distance.
Mary McGrory; The First Queen of Journalism, John Norris (2015). Before there was a Peggy Noonan or a Maureen Dowd, there was Mary (1918-2004), who single-handedly broke through the Washington press corps boys club, earning respect like no other woman writer of her time. From her heartbreaking columns after JFK’s death, to her just criticism of George Bush in the wake of 9/11, your spine will straighten from such ardent, elegant prose.
Brinkley’s Beat; People, Places, and Events That Shaped My Time, David Brinkley (2003). A grand collection of essays from a pro who covered eleven presidents starting with FDR, ending with Bill Clinton. Toss in Jimmy Hoffa, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and Bobby, along with a heartfelt trip to Normandy in northern France where in 1944, 9,386 American servicemen were buried where they fell, and you’ll feel as if you found buried treasure on your library shelf.
A Heart, a Cross and a Flag, Peggy Noonan 2003. A collection of her columns following September 11th, 2001 that are so moving I cry every time I read them. A sister New Yorker, her essays remind me how important it is to remember all those who didn’t come home that day.
Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, Chris Matthews 2017. A huge RFK fan who can never pass on a new bio. What I especially liked about Mathews’s was how he ended at the podium leaving Bobby smiling, not making us go into that kitchen, keeping him alive forever. A passionate writer, and when finding one I like, read in 3s.
Jack Kennedy; Elusive Hero, Chris Matthews 2012. It’s no secret I find the Kennedys fascinating, and why this made my list is because it’s Jack before he became JFK, our 35th President. I liked learning about his early years stumping for himself, laying track knowing the day would come, sooner then even he knew, when he’d run for president and win.
Hardball: How Politics is Played, Chris Matthews, 1988. Talk about laying track as the precursor to his successful news show with the same name. I just loved it, especially for the humor laced throughout. The anecdote he ends with about former Senator Bill Bradley at a fancy dinner in his honor, is worth the price of the book.
Blood Brothers, Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith 2016. Cassius Clay before becoming Mohammed Ali, before at 22, taking the heavyweight title away from Sonny Liston, was courtly seduced by the Nation of Islam in a way that will make you shudder. Malcolm X, in 1965, a former member who was Cassius’s friend, is hunted then murdered like a stalked deer at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. It’s their story as friends amid heart-wrenching lore on Civil Rights, and how destructive organized religion can be. Very compelling writing.
The River of Doubt, Candice Millard, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey 2005. Read this when it first came out forgetting how riveting it is, not to mention miraculous TR, his son Kermit and the men who accompanied them ever came back alive. Who said women can’t pen hard history? Millard’s is breathtaking.
John Quincy Adams, Harlow Giles Unger 2012. Our brave, brilliant 6th commander-in-chief whose name is synonymous with patriotism, and the only one to ever go back into the House of Representatives where he justly served for 17 years. Next to Teddy, my favorite president.
Diana’s Boys, Christopher Anderson 1991. We read a lot about Princes William and Harry, but perhaps forget they’re very much who they are because of their dear Mummy, as they called their mother, Diana, the late Princess of Wales. It covers her sad death to the noble way they handled it, and how everyone’s better angels, to quote Lincoln, showed up on the two boys’s behalf.
Jackie, Janet and Lee, J. Randy Taraborelli 2017. This blows the whistle on Jackie Kennedy’s relationship with her mercenary mother and envious younger sister. No wonder all Jackie thought about was money. Janet, her mother, did everything but force-feed her freshly minted bills for breakfast. And she’s lucky Lee, always in her shadow, didn’t stab her in her sleep. Well-hung gossip, as my pal Camille would say.
An Affair To Remember, Christopher Anderson 1997. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, though he was a drunk and some say she, a fool, lived one of the greatest Hollywood love stories of all time. When you love a man down to your socks the way she loved Spenca, all bets are off even for a rich, famous Connecticut girl who had everything.
All About All About Eve, Sam Staggs 2001. There are few classic films that never disappoint, and All About Eve made in 1950, is in the top 5. You’ll feel like a fly on the wall as Bette Davis, Ann Baxter, Celeste Holm, Marilyn Monroe and my favorite in the cast, George Sanders jump off the page.
High Noon; The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, Glenn Frankel 2017. Gary Cooper, as Will Kane, counts down the clock determined to face the notorious Frank Miller en route to kill him. Powerfully penned, especially the references to all those who lost their livelihood over a witch hunt, reminding you how graced we are to live so freely as artists.
After Andy, Natasha Fraser Cavarroni 2017. For starters, her mom is writer, Antonia Fraser, so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. There’s nothing like good, juicy, take-no-prisoners memoir that keeps you from turning out the light. The last to be hired at Andy Warhol’s legendary Factory while he was still alive, our English Muffin’s first assignment was, alas, taking calls about his sudden death. Her name-dropping is like loose change spilling from a torn pocket, but her wit forgives all. A great read.
Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser. She was 42, he 44. She was married with six children, he with one. When they met at a party lightening struck. Must you go? he said to her as she was about to leave. They were together from 1975 until his death in 2008. True romance that would even give Romeo and Juliet a run for their money.
Abdication, Juliet Nicolson 2012. In 1936, England’s King gave up his throne for the woman he loved. Inspired by a love affair that shook the world at a time when it was on the verge of war, the granddaughter of writer, Vita Sackville-West, weaves a tale lit by history, making you pinch yourself because it really is, just a story.
The Watsons, Jane Austen circa 1804. A found fragment of a novel she worked on, published in 1927 some say, eventually becoming Emma, one of her greatest works. A short, but charming 121 pages that will whet your appetite for more of lady Jane.
Emma, Jane Austen 1816. Reading Austen is like lying in a meadow while someone you fancy tickles your nose. I saw myself at an assembly dancing a reel, playing whist, flirting with just my eyes. A peek at a past life perhaps? If you need a break from this one, Emma Woodhouse is your girl.
Notes on a Life, Eleanor Coppola 2008. The wife of Francis, mother of Sofia, an artist in her own right candidly written in diary form, teaching her readers, having everything also includes disappointment, pain and loss. A poignant display of one’s heart left humbly on every page.
Lou Reed: A Life, Anthony De Curtis 2017. When he passed away in 2013 at 71 I cried, remembering the song, I Love You Suzanne. The leader of The Velvet Underground and downtown 60s music scene, his passing, along with David Bowie and Tom Petty, left us with a tender, sad silence.
The Wright Brothers, David McCullough 2015. I had no idea how much I’d fall in love with Wilbur and Orville Wright. The noblest of men who kept patiently putting one foot after the other never losing sight of what they always knew was possible. Toss in the magic of McCullough and you’ll be flying alongside them.
1776, David McCullough, 2001. That’s the thing about him. He’s like cake you forget you love and just need a second slice of. Our founders, though victorious, didn’t have an easy time especially the first year of our 7 year War for Independence. George Washington is stripped raw then exalted a good dozen times making you see, how brave he and his patriotic peers truly were.
Killing England, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard 2017. The latest in their Killing Series, despite any alleged scandal staining Mr. O., I’d never dream of missing one. You do have to wonder what’s next though. Could it be, Killing O’Reilly?
Mrs. Astor Regrets, Meryl Gordon 2008. Brooke Astor had an interesting, privileged life that could have ended quite badly if not for her grandson and two best friends stepping in to save her from elder’s abuse, at the hands of her only son. Not only did Tony Marshall steal millions from his mother, but reduced her care to the point it would have hastened her final days.
Al Capone: His Life, Legend and Legacy, Deidre Bais 2016. The most famous Mafia man in the history of organized crime was not your average gangster. If you found the Corleones fascinating, then buckle up, because Al, the real Vito of Chicago, blows the doors off the place.
The Accidental Life; An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers, Terry McDonell 2016. He certainly breaks the myth, editors are just wannabe writers. Must have been a painful recall since most of his, who became friends, are gone. Kurt Vonnegut, James Salter and Hunter Thompson among others, but it’s personal, as though he’s sitting across from you with his feet up. A book for all writers, and then some.
The Right to Write, Julia Cameron 1998. A writer’s bible stationed near the bed when my censor, that little voice mewling, you can’t write, to reach for, bailing me out of self-doubt. I like when she tells a young writer concerned he’ll never find a publisher, suggesting he can always self-publish, like Henry Miller and Walt Whitman. He says, “Yeah, but they were Henry Miller and Walt Whitman.” “But they weren’t yet,” Julia says. I so love that.
Peter Pan, J. M Barre 1902. My ancient copy of this classic sits on my shelf like a lucky charm, one I’ve come to cherish. When I feel sad and spent, weary and worn, I’ll pick it up perusing a page that always puts my heart back together.
Tinkerbell says to Peter, “You know that place between sleep and awake?”
“That’s where I’ll always love you.”
Second star to the right, and straight on till morning everyone, and don’t forget to bring a book.