Join the club by suggesting a good read

Saturday, June 9, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

What do you like to read?

I always want to know. I ask my friends. I ask my students. Their choices help me get to know them better. But I’m also looking for that next great read. Personal recommendations are more honest than dust jacket quotes.

So I peppered friends and family with e-mails for suggestions for a summer book list. They came up with wonderful choices.

René Collins Rau, assistant to the executive director of MU’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, likes the Richard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes. “Beginning with ‘The Man With a Load of Mischief’ in 1984, each title in the series of 20 books is the name of a London pub. The book’s heroes, Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, the former eighth Earl of Caverness, encounter beautifully created characters as they solve murders. I laughed. I cried. I can’t wait for the next one.”

Reuben Stern, managing editor of the Missourian: “I’ve been singing the song for some time now that I think everyone needs to re-read George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ Because in the post-9/11 world, many of the scary things he predicted in that novel are happening around us.”

Jacqui Banaszynski, who teaches journalism at MU and has won a Pulitzer Prize, recommends “POPULATION 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time” by Michael Perry. “You don’t have to be from rural Wisconsin to have this book take you home. Michael Perry is a tee-totaling, deer-hunting, woman-weary pragmatist who honors the cult of small-town potlucks and writes like a philosopher-angel. ‘Population 485’ is about going home after leaving to pursue whatever it is we pursue when we leave. He defies the Wolfe-ian notion that you can’t return. But he earns his way back, by joining the volunteer fire department and racing to meet his old/new neighbors, literally, one siren at a time. Along the way he learns (and teaches) an awful lot about family, faith (in more than the religious sense) and Being Fully Present In Life.”

Rob Powell, a senior MU journalism student from Overland Park, Kan.: “Summer reading to me seems like it should be light, easy reading. I would recommend ‘Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim’ by David Sedaris. Soooo funny. Actually, anything this man writes is hilarious.”

Martha Alexander, retired director of MU libraries: “In his compelling book, ‘Hamlet’s Dresser: A Memoir,’ Bob Smith weaves together the story of his youth and his passion in later life for teaching Shakespeare to senior citizens. Smith shares how, as a boy whose home life revolved around caring for his profoundly retarded sister, he discovered the world through the language of Shakespeare and people in theater, including Katharine Hepburn, John Houseman and Bert Lahr. This page-turner reads like a novel.”

Jody Demo-Hodgins, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board in Marion, Ohio: “I really liked ‘Midwives’ by Chris Bohjalian because he did a great job of using the child as a narrator. It was a thoughtful look about how a home birth gone wrong leads to a trial and how that impacts the girl, her mom, the midwife and the family, as well as the community. I was impressed with the view of the midwife and her place in today’s society.”

My mother, Donna Lawrence, a retired teacher: “I loved ‘First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents’ by Bonnie Angelo. The first chapter begins with Sara Delano Roosevelt and ends with Virginia Clinton Kelly. Angelo was a reporter for Time who covered eight presidents and their families. She was inspired to write the book after hearing the presidents frequently praising their mothers for their influences on their lives. Her well-written book suggests that it was often these strong mothers, with unconditional belief in their sons, who helped shape the personalities and ambitions that helped these men to become the leaders of our nation.”

My father, Richard Lawrence, a retired farmer: “When I finished reading ‘John Adams’ by David McCollough, I just wanted to pick it up and read it again. It was so good!”

What do you recommend? Log in and add your favorites in the comments section below, be a contributor to or put your picks on paper and mail them to us P.O. Box 917; Columbia, MO 65205.

Mary Lawrence teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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