In one of his last posts, a man with whom I corresponded fairly regularly compiled a book list with a difference. The difference being that he had read and recommended every single book on that list. Like so many of us, I suspect, he had gotten tired of being brow-beaten by endless lists of “books you should read” and thus put together his own list. So I thought I’d follow his example. Except I would also tell you why I am recommending the books on my list. And so, in no particular order, are some books that are not classics but that I would recommend:
This is London This is a series of stories Edward Murrow wrote during the Second World War and reading them gives you not just a sense of why the name Murrow is famous in journalism but of how the war was seen by at least one (quite influential) reporter at that time. I would recommend this book—especially if you are interested in the Second World War.
A Backback, a Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka This is a funny and heart-breaking book all at the same time. The themes it treats are heavy stuff indeed: the corrosive power of anti-Semitism on a person and on a community, the organizational, legal and financial effort involved in bringing masses of people from one culture and one continent to another, what it takes to build a brand new life in a brand new world, relations between parents and children. But all this is told with a light touch—in a way that made me laugh far more than cry. A really great book about human beings.
Appetite for America Any time you go to a restaurant (especially a chain restaurant) or shop in a chain bookstore or heck, even make a purchase on amazon, you are using one of Fred Harvey’s inventions. This poor immigrant from England invented chain restaurants, chain hotels and chain bookstores. Harvey was once America’s biggest brand name. The story of how Fred Harvey did so—and what happened to his company and to America after his death makes for fascinating reading.
Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit We all do it. And to a greater or lesser degree, we all enjoy doing it. One of the reasons we do, is that we are curious about our fellow human beings. People who don’t gossip at all are quite admirable and also quite lacking in curiosity. Which of course is not to say that gossip harmless. It isn’t. It is also a great way to turn censure away from oneself and onto someone else. But for the most part, we gossip because we are interested in things. Which is why gossip about (say) titillating stories tends to be more popular than gossip about (say) the latest federal regulations about healthcare. All in all, this is a fun (and gossip-through-the-ages filled) book. It makes for fun reading and I have no hesitation recommending it. Especially if you need a light read.
The Life of K Street There really aren’t enough good, local histories out there but this is definitely one such. This fairly short book tells the story of Sacramento through the “eyes” of the ever-changing neighborhoods along K Street. It is a wonderful, well-written, and above all very human story. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Sacramento’s history.
Sword of Destiny Sadly, Eastern European fantasy is not well known in the United States. I think it should be. It has its own ethos: it is more fatalistic in tone than its Western European counterpart but also, I think, more focused on genuinely authentic human relationships. The Witcher stories which, I think, are becoming more popular thanks to the video games by the same name may be changing that. Whatever your reason, I highly recommend you pick up this collection of short stories about Geralt of Rivia in which Andrzej Sapkowski takes familiar tropes and twist them into a sometimes grim and sometimes hopeful but always Eastern European flavored reality.