How I love to read. Aside from writing, it’s my favorite pastime. When someone says they don’t read, I’m utterly speechless. How can you possibly live without books?
Not only do I love to read, but can’t wait to share what I’ve read, whether it’s just a title, or an anecdote I can’t help but repeating, like in Dashiell Hammett’s…The Thin Man (1933)…
Nora says to Nick: Pretty Girl…
Nick answers, Yes. She’s a nice type.
Nora: You’ve got types?
Nick: Only you darling, lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.
How bout Wishful Drinking…Carrie Fisher (2008). Reminiscing on being married to her daughter’s father...‘Bryan took really, really good care of me, and this was the first time a man had ever done that. I mean, he used to give me baths, like I was a Labrador.‘
If these quips don’t move you, I’ll understand. After all, reading is very personal.
Dry…Augusten Burroughs (2003). Made his mark with Running With Scissors (2006), my new hero, getting an A in honesty, having no problem sharing what a colossal addict he was, finding his way into AA, repeatedly falling off the wagon like a gay rodeo clown till finally landing on his feet.
Lust and Wonder…Augusten Burroughs (2016). Memoir is like peeking through the writer’s window while he’s naked in his living room. Our scribe, such an inspiration, since his motto seems to be…what you think of me, is none of my business.
I’ll drink to that.
Last Call at Elaine’s: A Journey from One Side of the Bar, to the Other…Brian MacDonald (2008). Not far from where I live, though long gone after the death of its esteemed proprietress, I went and paid homage to the burial ground of the famous writers who drank at Madam’s feet. MacDonald, who worked at Elaine’s as a bartender, regales with tales only an eyewitness could share. When they say a writer needs a platform, MacDonald hit the jackpot.
Life Is Not a Rehearsal…David Brudnoy (1997) This broke my heart with another dose of impressive candor. A radio host before they went viral, he comes out during a time when being gay and HIV-positive was unheard of, his valor bringing you to your knees.
The Year of Magical Thinking…Joan Didion (2005). Another champion when life throws a major curve. The story of her husband of many years, the writer, John Gregory Dunne, dropping dead at the dinner table.
Blue Nights…Joan Didion (2011). Her sequel to tragedy, when her only daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, dies of a rare illness at 39, making you wonder how this remarkable woman is still standing. A double elegy to loss and survival.
Dead End Gene Pool…Wendy Burden (2010). The great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ms Burden, another honest, borderline screwball, and I mean that well, lets loose her legacy, giving you a peek of a privileged life perfect on paper with a hilarious, Hitchcockian slant. Great writing,
The Von Bulow Affair…William Wright (1983). Talk about getting away with murder. After reading Wright’s account of the circumstances surrounding Sunny Von Bulow’s coma, lasting 28 years till she finally died in 2008, there’s little doubt her husband killed her. Thanks to money and twisting the law, he’s convicted, then set free, a renowned predator still roaming the world at 92.
Reporter: About the death of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen…Mark Shaw, 2016. Here was a fearless writer who held her own during the Kennedy Assassination, never believing the Warren Report, digging for the truth of what really happened in Dallas. When she was found dead in 1965, in her Upper East Side townhouse at age 51, making it seem like an overdose, I agree with Mr. Shaw, Dorothy Kilgallen was mysteriously murdered. A riveting read, and then some.
Saving Sin City…Mary Cummings (2018). An apt nickname for New York during the Gilded Age, the story of the Crime of the Century, when esteemed though lecherous architect, Stanford White, was shot and killed at the old Madison Square Garden by the rich, unstable Henry Thaw, for bedding his showgirl of a wife, the infamous Evelyn Nesbit. Reads like a brush fire.
Somebody’s Gotta Tell it…Jack Newfield (2002). A longtime Newfield fan ever since he penned Robert Kennedy’s best bio, RFK: A Memoir (1969), a man that witnessed so much history who’s owed a debt in sharing all that he saw. Joining the ranks of Breslin, Hamill, Kempton and Kilgallen, newspaper reporters by far, make the best historians.
Fates Worse Than Death…Kurt Vonnegut (1991). How I love this man. From the fella who gave us Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), a collection of essays that will make you remember just how great he truly was. And so it goes, said he.
Man Without a Country…Kurt Vonnegut (2004). This second collection is lighter than the above, but just as compelling. “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” KV.
If he were still here, I’d pay to walk him home.
Churchill: Walking with Destiny…Andrew Roberts (2018) I recommend the Kindle edition since it’s 1,105 pages, worth every word. A force unto himself, there will never be another, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. A must-read since he was such a part of history till he died in 1965, at age 91.
A Royal Duty…Paul Burrell (2003). Meet Diana, Princess of Wales’s trusted butler and confident who almost went to jail for allegedly pilfering from his late, generous employer only to be exonerated by the Queen herself. Burrell holds no prisoners when dishing the palace and I say, yay, after the shabby way he was royally treated.
An Uncommon Reader…Alan Bennett (2007). This makes my list often since it’s a short, sweet read, Bennett imagining what Queen Elizabeth would be like if she became a serial reader. Highly recommended on a lazy, hazy summer Sunday.
The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding…Jennifer Robson (2019). When Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip in 1947, her wedding gown was a show stopper. This is a woven tale about the assorted women who made it. Though fiction, it holds such a ring of truth, Robson is no doubt, a Dinesen of her time. A short gem of a read.
Anyone But You…Jennifer Crusie (1996). Two great novels, back to back. After hitting a milestone birthday, our heroine decides to adopt a dog. Instead of coming from the shelter with a perfect pooch that would enhance her image, she lugs home a fat, depressed Basset Hound on death row. I promise you’ll giggle till you ache.
Bet Me…Jennifer Crusie, 2004). Another charming read, her dialogue making you laugh along with just a bit of, gee, that kinda happened to me too. A chick’s book, that any guy with a sense of humor about himself, would also enjoy. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a dose of good fiction lolling on a chaise, dreaming of a sexy canoodle while sipping an ice cold cocktail…sigh
Captive Queen…Alison Weir (2010). When Eleanor of Aquitaine met Henry of Anjou soon to be, King Henry II, in 1152, she left her husband, King Louie VII of France, so fast, it made his crown spin. Henry, 11 years her junior, once lust took flight, put his Missus in jail for 13 years because she disagreed with him. Why I’ll be. Weir, whether penning biography or historical fiction such as this, tantalizes to one’s toes.
Queen of the Ritz…Samuel Marx (1978). The true story of the Hotel Ritz before and during the German Occupation, when Blanche Auzello, with her husband Claude ran it, playing reluctant hosts to those fun loving Natzis. Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, among others, drift in and out during what had to be the scariest time in Parisian history.
The Big Fella…Jane Leavy (2018). For all you baseball fans, The Babe’s racy legacy, amid 22 seasons in the Major Leagues, never disappoints. Leavy, a fine sport’s writer, brings George Herman Ruth Jr. to life, rattling his bones at the Cemetery Of The Gates Of Heaven, in Hawthorne, New York where fans still leave pints of whiskey, cigars and baseballs for a long gone hero.
The Last Boy…Jane Leavy (2011). Her bio on Mickey Mantle takes you right to Yankee Stadium as she resurrects one of the greatest ballplayers since The Babe. And guys, don’t even think, since she’s a woman she can’t pen on our National Pastime, because this lady blows the doors off the locker room.
Well, back to those anecdotes I started with. A book I read whenever my good judgement seems a tad off…The Godfather…Mario Puzo (1969).
To quote the late great Nora Ephron:
“The Godfather’ is the I Ching. ‘The Godfather’ is the sum of all wisdom. ‘The Godfather’ is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’ What day of the week is it? ‘Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.’ “
And I’ll add, when you decide to go to the mattresses, whatever you do, don’t forget to bring a book.