I’ve been reading a lot of T. Jefferson Parker. He’s a crime novelist who’s been around awhile and won awards. I picked up a paperback copy of The Fallen, which is about a cop who was pushed out a hotel window and survived and now has the ability to see people’s emotional states as colors. That’s the gimmick part. But Parker is a wonderful storyteller and uses language nicely as he describes an investigation of a murder and local corruption in San Diego.
Richard Foster is a policy analyst in San Francisco.
I’ve just finished the most astonishing novel I’ve ever read. It’s written by Arthur Puffenstuff, who spent much of his early childhood in the woods of North Carolina with his pet monkey Barkley. A self-educated man, he wrote She’s Got Legs at the age of twenty-five. It tells the story of Ginger-Lynn, a four-legged extraterrestrial hooker on a mission from a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Ginger-Lynn travels through Europe, desperately trying to sleep with enough men to create a human super baby that will eventually save her planet. I highly recommend smoking a fatty boom batty and renting the book from your local library.
Don Smith of Garner, North Carolina is an administrator for the DHS.
The best novels I’ve read in recent years are those by Richard Russo,
earlier ones especially (Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool, The Risk
Pool). I finally got around to reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth
and am glad I did. Roth’s novel is a model of riveting writing about
the deepest of subjects: race, family, love, betrayal. Another novel I
read recently and liked quite a bit is Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo
Campbell which brought to mind Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, a
novel I also liked a lot, at least the parts that were written for
readers rather than Iowa Writers’ Workshop classmates. (Thankfully the superb movie based on Winter’s Bone emphasized the former rather than the latter.) Both books featured intriguing young protagonists contending with life as abandoned teenage women in backwoods settings.
Ralph Keyes is the author of Euphemania: Our Love Affair with
Euphemisms and fifteen other books. His bestseller Is There
Life After High School? was made into a Broadway musical.
I’ve enjoyed License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver by Rick Harrison, the star of the History show “Pawn Stars.” In some ways it’s a typical tale of perseverance and hard work, but it’s also a charming story of redemption with real flashes of humanity. Rick’s chapters are interspersed with ones written by others in the family-owned Las Vegas pawn shop: the Old Man, his father; Hoss, his son; and Chumlee, Hoss’ childhood friend. Their struggles include the younger two recovering from drug addiction and the Old Man and Rick fighting the local political machine. Yes, it’s a business with some hard rules, as Rick makes clear, but there’s heart there too: tolerating weird repeat customers and taking up a collection from employees to help a broke soldier get back to his base. The book makes you wish you could sit down to dinner with Rick and listen to him tell more fascinating stories.
Ann August is an educator who lives outside Washington, D.C.
So, two years after the rest of the world shouted joyfully at the publication of Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (“Beautiful,” according to The New Yorker, “A masterpiece” said San Francisco Chronicle), I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and read it. Little did I know this would be one of the favorite phrases of one of my favorite characters in the book: An Indian doctor, Ghosh, practicing surgery and quoting Shakespeare and saving two orphan boys (together with his powerful and irresistible doctor wife Hema) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Ever since I read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, I’ve avoided celebrated books by Indian writers because I cannot take the poverty, sickness, cruelty to children, rape, the permanent injustice. I loved A Fine Balance but I still cannot get that damn book out of my head. It was absolutely fantastic and I wish I’d never read it.
Anyway, so here comes Cutting for Stone — I didn’t know if Verghese was Indian but he looked suspiciously so in his back cover photo–and it’s about doctors working in Ethiopia and they are certainly Indian … and I was like, yeah, well, I’ve done my duty on human suffering. Read enough about it. God only knows what abyss lies here. But my mother in law kept insisting I try it and then my sister promised me I would not be scarred for life … so I read it.
Loved it. This is a book about doctors and surgery and Ethiopia and brothers and disease and politics and love and death. Big Topics You Should Read About. But I was most enthralled by how the author spins scene after scene showing how much good two people can do. That’s sort of unAmerican–in the U.S., we are all about the power of one, what one good person can do–but I thought this book was really about the power of two. Two twin brothers, a husband and wife, a hospital matron and a Texas missionary: throughout this elaborate tale, disaster looms but people hook up, manage to relate, and the chaos is abated. It made me feel really, really good about people.
Danielle Furlich is a magazine editor and mother of two in Fairfax, Virginia.
I’ve been enjoying Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants. Memories, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, sustain Jake Jankowski, who has cared for the menagerie at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jake’s story hurtles from scene to scene, interspersed with his recognition of–and fear of–becoming an old man. He narrates the book looking back, as a ninety-something-old. The ending, while unexpected and farfetched, has you rooting for Jake and cheering on his drive for independence and dignity.
Ann August is an educator who lives outside Washington, D.C.
(The Los Angeles Times reports on author Sara Gruen’s attendance at the recent New York premiere of the film “Water for Elephants” here.)
As challenging as running a charity road race can be, organizing one for a cause to which most Americans are blind is even more so. In A Thousand Sisters: My Journey Into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, Lisa Shannon describes the unlikely journey—starting with an episode of “Oprah”—that led her to launch her project Run for Congo Women and brought her deep into the Congo brush to meet her sponsored “sisters.” Her fierce dedication to these women triumphs over her own insecurities and fears and challenges readers to look beyond themselves.
-Louise Wyatt reads and writes in Crozet, VA.
As my tired eyes close for sleep, the book on my night table mocks me. It’s the biography of Arthur Koestler, who dabbled in Zionism, joined and fled Communism, fought Nazism, researched ways to curb violence, and–I mean, when did he sleep? Incredible man. It’s by Michael Scammel: Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic.
Allan Luks directs the Center for Nonprofit Leaders at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Work. His most recent book is The Healing Power of Doing Good.
I’m just a grunt true-crime writer, so my reading habits are pretty simple. With baseball season upon us, I wanted to read a good book about our national pastime. To be sure, I went to a master, Paul Dickson, aka “The Godfather of Washington Writers,” who has just published Baseball Is . . . Defining the National Pastime. (I’m also looking forward to Paul’s upcoming book about baseball legend Bill Veeck.)
Also, Mimi, the long-time love of my life, has asked me to read How to Be a Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners by John Bridges. . . . I took no offense.
Dan Moldea is a best-selling author and investigative journalist who lives in Washington, D.C. His books include The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means, and Opportunity