If writing is rewriting, than it makes sense that reading is rereading, finding myself guilty as charged.
Whether it’s Hemingway’s, Movable Feast, or Daphne du Maurier’s, Rebecca, you’ll often find me swooning on a familiar page.
To name a few:
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863…Shelby Foote (1994). Lifted from his Volume II of the American Civil War, its 290 pages make you feel as if you’ve donned a uniform, blue or gray. Screenwriter Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies) was his brother, so poetic prose ran in this lofty, southern family.
Grant and Twain…Mark Perry (2004). A great chaser to the above, a surprise friendship between a famous Civil War General who became President, and a great author who published his war memoirs still praised today, the first American publication to ever reap royalties.
Mornings on Horseback…David McCullough (1981). Boy, is this a treat again and again. Theodore Roosevelt’s early life captivates his audience, especially with the John Lennon of Historians at the helm. Thee, as he was called by his beloved dad, had managed to overcome so much, making perfect sense why he became the force that he was. By the way, Teddy was known to read one book a day.
Portraits and Observations…Truman Capote (2013). A collection of essays and short stories that never lose their luster. At 5’3, only 60 when he died in 1984 more or less from the effects of drugs and alcohol, Capote, like Twain before him, was one of the greatest writers of our time.
Meet You In Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America….Les Standiford (2005). I love these two guys for their strengths, weaknesses and most of all, inability to play nice. While Carnegie lay dying at his upper Fifth Avenue mansion, after twenty years of not speaking, sent a servant to request Frick’s presence at his deathbed to make peace. Frick’s response? Tell him, that I’ll meet him in hell. Now now Henry, was that necessary?
Of course, new books caught my eye, like Mr. Know it All…John Waters (2019). I’ll admit, John is an acquired taste like pastrami or clams on the half shell, but he rarely disappoints, always candid and funny, right down to his penciled on Maybelline mustache.
Role Models…John Waters (2010). One new book often leads to an old one, like a friend you haven’t seen in a while. My all time favorite Water’s essay is about Leslie Van Houten and his 30 year friendship with the youngest Manson girl nobly serving her life sentence, repeatedly being denied parole, despite John’s recommendation otherwise. He’s very convincing, until you remember why she’s in jail to begin with.
Hollywood’s Eve…Lili Anolik (2019). Wow, did this blow the doors off of my reading life introducing me to none other than cult writer, Eve Babitz who knows what candor can do to a girl. Eve’s books were mostly out of print, but this kick ass, overdue salute to her, at 77, brought them all back. Every writer needs a Lili.
Slow Days Fast Company, Tales from Eve Babitz (1974). John Waters, move over. You want to know about Hollywood in the glory days of sex, drugs & rock & roll, take Eve as your personal tour guide. Not only is she outrageous, but writes the way we all long to, seamlessly without effort, like she popped from the womb with pen and paper in hand.
Sex and Rage…Eve Babitz (1979). More of the above dropping names, admitting bad behavior, coming clean chanting, what you think of me assholes, is not of my business. We love her.
The Little Sister…Raymond Chandler (1949). Talk about holding its own, this 70 year-old natty, plucky noir by the King of sultry murder mysteries, is a great companion for Eve since his Hollywood days, sexy and sinister, sets up hers rather snugly. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, is a great guy to spend the weekend with. Just imagine Bogart at your breakfast table.
Less…Andrew Sean Greer (2017). Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, about a gay author who’s turning 50 on a wacky literary tour. Funny, sweet, poignant and just a tad naughty…a short, fun read by a great writer.
Save Me The Plums…Ruth Reichl (2019). A delightful memoir from the Queen of Cuisine and her ten year reign as editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine before it went belly up in 2009. She’s a favorite of mine, quirky, funny with an honest point of view and well, there is that amazing hair of hers you’d never catch in a hairnet.
Julie and Julia…Julie Powell (2005). A restless girl in a panic turning 30, starts a blog on cooking all 524 of Julia Child’s recipes from her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days. The late Nora Ephron knew good copy when she saw it, making a brilliant film, alas, her last, with Meryl Streep playing Julia, and Amy Adams, Julie. Here’s a tip, read it then watch it while you have a stuffed, trussed duck roasting in the oven.
Kitchen Confidential…Anthony Bourdain (2000). A favorite of mine, that since his sad death at 62 in June, 2018, couldn’t bring myself to reopen, is a classic tell-all behind the scenes of the restaurant world. Irreverent, insightful, forgiving in its meanness, there will never be another Anthony Bourdain. Your body is not a temple…it’s an amusement park. A.B.
Hotbox…Matt Lee & Ted Lee (2019). These two brothers do to high end catering what Anthony did to restaurant kitchens. It’s like being a fly on the wall at some of Manhattan’s glitziest affairs, not really sure you wanted to know what goes on beneath that Chicken Paillard before the starting bell goes off.
The Kennedy Heirs: John, Caroline, and the New Generation – A Legacy of Triumph and Tragedy…J. Randy Taraborelli (2019). How could I possibly compile a list without a Kennedy book, and this one is a page-turner since their alleged curse still seems in full swing. When you think Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. went down in a plane in 1915, and his nephew, John, 84 years later, it does make you wonder. Our author, referring to himself as a Kennedy historian, leaves nothing out, leaving you up at all hours not able to put it down.
Unbroken…Laura Hillenbrand (2010). The story of Olympic runner and World War II veteran, Louis Zamperini (1917-2014), and his two long years as a Japanese prisoner of war, will leave you awed, astonished and tremendously humbled. I had no idea the cruelties POWs endured so bravely, by men who felt it honorable torturing them. Prepare to inhale every word and salute when it’s over.
The Queen & Di: The Untold Story…Ingrid Seward…(2000). I’ll always be a big Diana, Princess of Wales fan, and reading about her and her mother-in-law, who at least in the beginning may have been her biggest fan, left me wistful. It’s sad when you witness in words the downfall of the Windsor’s marriage, and how the Queen of England may have taken its failing the hardest.
Working, Researching, Interviewing, Writing…Robert Caro (2019). A little gem of a read from a great historian reminding you of the work that goes into tracking down your subject to its bare bones. His four volumes on Lyndon Johnson, the 5th he admits, at 83, he may not get to finish, is a life’s work, Caro deserving his own place in American History.
My model kicked up devouring Avedon: Something Personal…Norma Stevens and M.L. Aronson (2017). If you’ve ever seen the film Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire who plays him, Richard Avedon was the most gifted fashion and portrait photographer of his time, before dying at 81, in 2014. At its conclusion, I went to his old carriage house to pay a heartfelt homage. I may have even kneeled.
Parkland: Birth of a Movement…Dave Cullen (2019). On February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a man opened fire with an AR 15 style semi-automatic weapon killing 17 people. Cullen, who also wrote the book, Columbine (2009), recaps poignantly, along with the tragic day, what the students did to honor their fallen comrades. If nothing else, it will surely make you rethink gun control.
American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center…William Langewieschie (2002). The only journalist allowed amid the ruins as first responders dug out the remains of the fallen from what was left of the Twin Towers. It educated me why they and those who worked tirelessly on the cleanup, got sick, deserving lifetime compensation they shouldn’t have to beg for. A tough, but very compelling read.
The Day That Went Missing: A Family Tragedy…Richard Beard (2017). In Cornwall, England in 1978, on a family holiday, Nicholas and his brother Richard are happily swimming, until alas, Nicholas, disappearing beneath the waves, is no more. Erased by their parents the pain so great, as an adult, Richard goes back to learn all he can about his baby brother. One incredible story.
I’ll end the way I started, with a three timer that stays warm upon my shelf. Seabiscuit…Laura Hillenbrand (2001). You don’t have to be into race horsing, or even a horse lover for that matter, to relish this read. It’s the story of three disheartened men, and a horse, that changed their lives, along with filling hearts with hope across our broken country during the Great Depression.
“In 1938… the year’s #1 newsmaker was not FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. Nor was it Lou Gehrig or Clark Gable. The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938 wasn’t even a person. It was an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit.” Laura Hillenbrand
We could sure use a hero like him now, wouldn’t ya say? So if I were you, I’d run to my nearest library or bookstore, and get myself a Biscuit.
All in favor? ↓