Yes, I know. The always sneaky Tim Grobaty has beaten me again this year in our annual race to provide you with a list of books for recommended summer reading.
The Hennessy list is better of course, because the Hennessy team is bigger. The books listed below have been recommended by my wife, Debbie, by myself, and – in her book-list debut this year – our daughter, Diana.
Happy summer. happy reading.
“A Free Life,” by Ha Jin: Debbie’s list of recommended books would not be complete without at least one touching on her ancestral background and its people. In this novel of Chinese immigrating to America, Nan Wu drops out of a U.S. graduate school after the highly publicized 1989 repression of protesters in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square.
A poet, Nan struggles to support his wife, Pingping, and their son, Taotao. with almost unimaginable sacrifices, the family is able to scrape together enough money to buy a restaurant in Atlanta. over time, Pingping becomes increasingly independent and that presents new problems for her husband. a hefty novel, it contains 672 pages. but don’t let that deter you. It is a fast read.
“Innocent,” by Scott Turow: You may remember Turow’s debut novel, “Presumed Innocent” as the hot read of 1987. His protagonist, former attorney Rusty Sabich, is back, but is now chief appellate judge in Kindle County, Ill. The plot centers on his bipolar wife, Barbara, who has died of what seem to be natural causes.
Enter the judge’s old adversary, Tommy Molto, now acting prosecuting attorney. Two decades earlier Molto had unsuccessfully prosecuted Sabich for killing his mistress. with legal clouds again closing in on him, the judge dials Sandy Stern, the lawyer who defended him earlier, and requests a repeat performance. even if you don’t know a great deal about the law and its procedures – maybe especially if you don’t – this is the book for you.
The plot sounds a tad improbable, but it is a slick read, especially with the complications created by the judge’s 28-year-old son.
“The last Child,” by John Hart: This has been the year in which Debbie blossomed as a mystery fan. It may be a good thing since she is facing surgery and a somewhat lengthy, read-inducing recovery period. The likes of P.D. James, Lee Child and the late Stieg Larsson (yes, that one) may help get her through the rough spots.
In 1987, Hart’s novel is as good a mystery spellbinder as any you will find. a year after Alyssa Merrimon disappears on her way home from the library, her twin brother, Johnny, explores the dark side of their North Carolina town in a belated effort to solve the case. Watching him closely is Clyde Hunt, the police detective who came up short during a year of investigating the case himself. just as the story gathers speed, another girl disappears.
Late and lamented
“Millennium Trilogy,” by Steig Larsson: Confession: I’ve read only one of Larsson’s three highly publicized thrillers, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2008). In it, one victim is dispatched by being tied with her face affixed to a bed of dying embers. I mention that murder because, from what I have heard, it may be the least gruesome of those the Swedish writer has produced.
It defies my understanding why anyone, especially my gentle partner of four-plus decades, would want to read the other two, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” (2009) and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (2010). This is a woman who gets squeamish over the most unsavory aspects of Tom and Jerry cartoon wars. but she was absorbed by Larsson. It is interesting to note that when he died of a heart attack in 2004, no books of the trilogy had been read yet in the U.S. except for bootlegged editions.
“Moby Duck,” by Donovan Hohn: In January 1992, a container ship sailing from China to the U.S., foundered off the Aleutian Islands and lost part of its cargo. Gone forever, or so it seemed, were nearly 29,000 ducks, frogs, turtles and beavers, all of them plastic. Figuring the imitation animals were still bobbing somewhere on ocean currents, a one-time teacher and journalist named Donovan Hohn set out to track them down.
“Moby Duck” is Hohn’s account of the five-year adventure which took him half way around the world. It ranges from downright silliness to serious observations about sea currents and ocean pollution than can be expected in a consumer culture run amok. over the course of his travels, the seemingly harmless toys emerge as a serious threat to the environment. now features editor of GQ magazine, Hohn sparks his narrative with a blend of scientific discovery and old-fashioned sea stories. a charming read.
“No Biking in the House without a Helmet,” by Melissa Fay Greene: This, as noted above, is daughter Diana’s debut recommendation. She has a mom’s touch. There probably isn’t a mother in America who cannot identify with the opening of Greene’s story about a couple with nine children, four by birth and five others adopted from foreign orphanages as older children.
In introducing her story, Greene writes, “For 21 years, I’ve carried in cupcakes, enclosed checks and provided emergency phone numbers. I have staple-gunned and hot-glued. I have given standing ovations, volunteered at the school library, and stood in the cafeteria line as the servers dropped balls of Thanksgiving-flavored foods from ice-cream scoops onto my wet tray.” The family has done it all. School musicals? Yes, including four Cinderellas.
one and only
“Sandy Koufax: a Lefty’s Legacy,” by Jane Leavy: Having grown up in a family of Giants fans, I surprised myself in buying the Koufax book. but Leavy’s style is as crisp as baseball writing gets and I will probably soon acquire “The last Boy,” her biography of Yankee star Mickey Mantle.
Koufax declined to be interviewed for Leavy’s book, but authorized the book’s publication. Leavy compensated for his absence by interviewing more than 400 players, coaches and friends. Their recollections served her well, especially in writing about the most dramatic moments of his career, notably his four no-hitters. The story includes Oct. 6, 1965, when he refused to pitch the opening game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. The reason: Koufax was Jewish and the game fell on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Less than a year later, however, he was struggling with arthritis so severe that his arm turned black and blue. When it was apparent things would only get worse, he retired while he was still on top. a great book about a phenomenal athlete.
“A tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens: why would a reading list of 2011 include a novel written in 1859? first, to see if you are paying attention. second, to encourage you to look now and then to the classics, especially those by Dickens.
I re-read tale during Christmas vacation in Northern California and was struck again by how well some of its characters and passages can be applied to today’s world. There is much of modern politics – people weighing political advantages and turning against one another – to be found in the wrath of the French Revolution. with presidential politics again on the rise, I was surprised to find myself finding likenesses of prominent Democrats and Republicans. The more things change, as someone said, the more they stay the same.
“Uncivil Seasons,” by Michael Malone: “Two things don’t happen very often in Hillston, North Carolina,” says detective Justin Savile. “We don’t get much snow, and we hardly ever murder one another. Suicide is more our style.”
Fortunately for the reader, a murder does emerge in “Uncivil Seasons” and becomes the vehicle by which Savile, with help from a local psychic, explores the lives and often humorous styles of Piedmont characters. almost any of Malone’s several books is a worthy read; intriguing stories and crisp dialogue.
This story came out 10 years ago. of late, however, Malone seems to have gone somewhat undercover. well, almost. He became head writer for a soap opera, “One Life to Live.”
“Water for Elephants,” by Sara Gruen: If you ever dreamed of running away and joining the circus, or even if you haven’t, this is a wonderful read. It is also much more enjoyable, it seemed to us, than the movie.
About to join veterinary school at Cornell, Jacob Jankowski joins a circus instead after his parents are killed in an auto accident. He meets Marlena, horse trainer and star performer, and their romance limps along under the watchful eye of her mentally deranged husband, August. Jacob also meets Rosie, a seemingly untrainable elephant until Jacob discovers the secret that makes her a great animal act. no short cuts here: you’ll have to read the book to learn the secret yourself.
Tom Hennessy’s columns appear two Sundays every month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
<a href="http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_18307383tag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_18307383Sun, 19 Jun 2011 01:55:48 GMT 00:00″>Summer reading list