I invited all my readers on June 9 (previous article) to recommend books for summer and ... one letter poured in.
Besides providing a reality check on my ego — never a bad thing — the single letter delivered several fine suggestions from Carolyn M. Jones, retired director of the Stafford Library of Columbia College.
She starts off with
1. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
2. “The Forsyte Saga” by John Galsworthy
For biographies, she likes
1. “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: a Memoir” by Bill Bryson
2. “Notes From a Small Island,” Bryson’s memoir from his life in England
3. “Mornings on Horseback” by David McCollough, which she calls the best one-volume book on Theodore Roosevelt
1. Agatha Christie, especially the ones with Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot
2. Ellis Peters, who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries set in the 12th century
3. Her personal favorite: Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Nights,” a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery
Before I sat down to write my column, Maggie Walter, a night news editor for the Missourian and a member of two book clubs, offered suggestions:
“So far this summer, I’ve read ‘Thirteen Moons’ by Charles Frazier, author of ‘Cold Mountain.’ I expected to like it a lot because ‘Cold Mountain’ ranks in my all-time-favorites lists, but second novels can be tricky.
“Critics weren’t as fond of ‘Thirteen Moons’ as they were of ‘Cold Mountain,’ either. But, it’s a rich and textured and a wonderfully told story. Not quite as good as ‘Cold Mountain,’ but still a grand book, well worth reading.
“Amanda Scott’s Boudica series, four books that tell the story of early Roman invasion into the British Isles, is a wonderful page turner for folks who enjoy historical fiction. Others who know more about British history than I do say it’s accurate for the history. Epic tale of heroism and adventure, intrigue and romance, too. The characters are bigger than life and the historic aspects are compelling. The book club only read one of the four, but I found it so readable that I soon spent many happy hours reading the other three.”
Allison Hull, a senior from Washington, D.C., who edits my column each week, urged me to type “must read books” into Google for reading ideas. I’ll say. The top item is listology.com’s “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”
I’ve found some lovely suggestions from Nancy Pearl’s “Book Lust” and “More Book Lust.” That’s how I came by “The Skull Mantra” by Eliot Pattison, a murder mystery set in Tibet. The man who solves the crime is a disgraced inspector general from Beijing in a work camp with monks and other state enemies. Columbia Public Library has this book and its sequels.
For lighter, more irreverent fare, I suggest the novels of Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Buckley — either on paper or recorded on tape or CDs. You don’t play these when the kiddies are in the car. But they’re laugh-out-loud fun if your spirits are drooping, say, over someone’s sentence being commuted.
From Buckley, I recommend “Little Green Men,” the tale of a super secret government program that kidnaps just enough citizens to make them think they’ve been abducted by aliens and, as a result, make them rabid supporters of America’s space program. When one of the abductees is a powerful pundit who is an awful lot like the author’s father, William F. Buckley, mayhem and great fun ensue. The performance on tape is a scream and a popular item at the library.
Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald who writes about the scoundrels pillaging Florida. In his raucous novels, the main difference is that his scammers meet with delicious cosmic justice.
My favorites are “Stormy Weather,” which is based on the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew; “Sick Puppy,” which takes on lobbyists and developers; and “Lucky You,” which skewers creators of phony religious shrines and newspaper editors. The recorded performances by Ed Asner are especially good. Play them in the heat of a Missouri summer, and you’ll be entertained.
Mary Lawrence teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.