Thursday, August 15, 2002

Books I like

Never one to miss an opportunity for vanity, I herewith present a selection of books that I think highly of. The only criteria for being on this list is that I read it, and thought it worth recommending. Some are annotated, and some you’ll just have to trust me on.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I don’t think much of Greene personally (read his preface to Kim Philby’s “My Secret War” to learn why) but as a novelist and storyteller I can find no fault. I could list at least half a dozen of his books here as favorites, but this one stands above the rest, for its perfect capturing of what it means to be Catholic, a sinner, and still to persevere.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. Burke is one of the better crime novelists around, writing compelling prose with a languid Southern feel. His books also deal in broken people and bring a Catholic mysticism to the genre while retaining a quiet, wry sense of humor. The first book in the series is “The Lost Get Back Boogie” (if you are someone who needs to read the books in order) but this one is my favorite.

The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian. Also, “The Unknown Shore” which contains O’Brian’s prototypes for the characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. I blogged about these books back in May sometime so I won’t repeat myself.

“A Hostage to Fortune” and “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernest Gann. These are Gann’s autobiographical works, the former being a full autobiography and the latter being a memoir of his flying career. Gann has to be one of the most interesting people to have lived in the 20th century. He worked in movies as a cameraman and later talent evaluator for Jack Warner, produced Broadway plays (and even gave Mary Martin her start), was a successful novelist, airline pilot, and painter. He also snuck into Holland during World War II and spied on the German occupation. His novels include “The High and the Mighty” and “The Antagonists” (which became the ABC miniseries “Masada”).

CS Lewis. There’s really nothing bad in his works, but if you haven’t read Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters, you have really done yourself a disservice.

The “Hinges of History” series by Thomas Cahill. Yes, he’s a screaming liberal on the Church, but as a historian and scholar he’s first rate, and his works have a lively, enjoyable quality to them. “How the Irish Saved Civilization” is great fun, however contentious my father thinks the title.

“Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household. Terrific thriller.

“Past Caring” by Robert Goddard. My favorite of Goddard’s books, and also his first. A thriller about a historian who takes on an interesting investigation into the history of a family that turns ugly fast. Don’t start it at 10pm unless you can stay up until 3 to finish it.

Nautical fiction, unannotated: “Run Silent, Run Deep,” Edward Beach. “The Cruel Sea” by Nicholas Monsarrat. “The Caine Mutiny” by Herman Wouk. “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The “Horatio Hornblower” series by CS Forester. Sorry, I know it’s blasphemy, but I don’t like Melville.

Things I’ve read recently: “A Voyage for Madmen” by Peter Nichols. Gripping “true adventure” about a singlehanded sailboat race. “Descent into Hell” by Charles Williams. Mixed bag. I think I need to read it again before reviewing it, but I can’t give it the whole-hearted endorsement that others have. “Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea.” Hard to believe this one is not a novel. “A Fellowship of Valor: the Battle History of the U.S. Marines.” Say what you will about the Marines, they do propaganda better than any of the other services. I recommend the audio version. “Isaac’s Storm” about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Tremendous. “Faster” by James Gleick. A book-length essay about the acceleration of life. Good, not great. Plus a bunch of chewing gum fiction not worth mentioning.

Cookbooks: How to Cook Everything. The Best Recipe series. The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. The I Hate to Cook Book. All of these are more than collections of recipes, and the last one is audibly funny.


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