The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summertime reading – Carlisle men weigh in

Steve Spang relaxes outdoors with one of his recommendations. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

It’s that time of year when the weather begins to warm and the pace of life slows down a bit – time to take a break, relax and read. This year the Mosquito sought summer reading suggestions from several men’s groups in town. The resulting list includes several novels, but it also includes a broad offering of non-fiction titles. So whether you prefer fact or fiction in your reading, stop by the library or your local book store and grab an armful of great reading.

Ed LeClair recommends:

Sabbath, Restoring the Scared Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller

During these stressful economic and political times, I found it valuable to read Wayne Muller’s book. It reminded me of the original meaning and value of “Sabbath.” This book reveals why all indigenous peoples, religious and spiritual practitioners, as well as naturalists take a Sabbath to rest and recuperate from daily activities as a means of renewing their inner spirits. Muller is not only a fascinating and lucid author but he also gives practical suggestions for integrating a Sabbath hour, afternoon or walk into our daily activities.

Blue Blood by Eddie Conlon

If you want to know what a real live police officer does in a big city, read this book. Eddie Conlon reveals the motivation, exhilaration, satisfaction, frustrations and corruption of the New York Police Department during the 1990s. Conlon, a graduate of Harvard College and aspiring writer, not only shares his own experiences as a cop, from a rookie to a detective, but also those of his father, a former FBI agent, and his uncle, a corrupt cop. Eddie lays it all out in a detailed story that you will never see on TV or read in detective novels. He, a cop of Irish decent, includes humorous and touching accounts of his daily work with African Americans, Puerto Ricans and other ethnic male and female police officers who are dependent upon each other for staying alive until the end of their beat.

Jay Luby recommends:

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

Double agent Eddie Chapman could be the poster boy for the expression “fact is stranger than fiction.” Accessing declassified MI-5 files, Ben Macintyre recounts the unbelievable World War II exploits of Chapman. He is a charismatic thief who, between robberies, hobnobs with some of London’s highest society. Later, through incredible luck, the Nazis release him from a British prison and he convinces them to convert him into a spy. Even though Chapman was awarded one of Germany’s highest honors, it turns out that he also spied for the British and was highly valued by them too. In the course of the war, this totally fearless man traveled to Germany twice and parachuted into England twice. To find out which side Chapman really helped, I strongly encourage you to read this incredible book and discover one of the most fascinating figures from World War II.

Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train by Henry W. Thomas

As a baseball aficionado, my favorite era is the early 1900s, when baseball came of age. This book does a wonderful job of capturing this period of outsized personalities (e.g., Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth), while offering us the inspiring biography of Walter Johnson, arguably the game’s greatest pitcher. Forget set-up men and closers! Of the 666 games that Johnson started, he finished 531 games. Indeed, in September 1908, Johnson pitched and won three complete games (27 innings) in a four-day period! Despite pitching for one of the all-time worst teams in baseball, The Washington Nationals (later known as the Washington Senators), Johnson was able to set an amazing number of records, some of which still stand. This is THE definitive biography of Walter Johnson; in my opinion, you would be hard-pressed to find a better sport’s biography.

The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever by Mark Frost

If you like golf, I highly recommend this book. It features a 1956 match played at fabled Cypress Point on Monterey Peninsula in California between the two best professional players of the time, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, against two of the best amateurs, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. But, this book is so much more than just a retelling of that incredible match. Mark Frost does a masterful job of weaving together a number of interesting storylines, including the important role that Bing Crosby and other Hollywood stars played in helping to create the framework for modern tournament golf. In addition to providing many interesting stories about some of golf’s greatest players, Frost is very effective in capturing many of the fascinating aspects of the golf world and society at large that characterized that bygone era.

John Ballantine recommends:

Let Me Finish by Roger Angell

Angell is an editor of the New Yorker and frequent sports essayist on the inner dance of baseball. These portraits and essays cover his life with his step-father, E.B. White, and reflections on life in New York, Maine and across time. Written with a sensitive humor that captures a refined view of the world, yet an immediate sense of the vitality of life as we live it.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

The author is a contributor to the New Yorker who has explored the origins and personality of Al Qaeda. Beginning in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Wright lets us meet Zawahiri and bin Laden, and other compatriots, during their formative years. To say we begin to understand the horrors of the struggle of conservative/radical Islam is the unique vision of this book. We need to understand our foes before we can contain them in the Middle East and Pakistan. Our road is a long one.

Sketches from a Life by George Kennan

The pre-eminent diplomatic historian who was Ambassador to USSR and author of the containment policy of Truman, Kennan later came to oppose its rigidity. The essays and notes in this book capture the more romantic and humanistic side of Kennan as he travels through a fascinating life across the Soviet Union, Occupied Europe and our post cold war world. I particularly like the human voice of this reflective journey through the 20th century.

Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life by Hugh Brogan

This is a comprehensive biography of the most significant observer of the United States. De Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831-1832 for eight months, yet his observations on Democracy in America hold sway today as one of the most social observers and civic commentators. This biography helps us understand how an aristocratic post-revolutionary Frenchman could become such an extraordinary social scientist on an emerging country in the New World.

Tim Hult recommends:

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

This is a first person account by a journalist who drove into Iraq with his interpreter eight days after the invasion began. Filkins provides incredible insight into what really happened from both the American soldier and Iraqi civilian points of view.

House of Cards by William Cohan

This story of the Bear Stearns collapse and the forced “merger” with J. P. Morgan is an insider’s account of what was really going down at one of the major Wall Street firms responsible for the “securiturization” of mortgages, telling how it happened and what was the culture that allowed it to happen.

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III

This novel, by the author of The House of Sand and Fog, is the story of an eclectic group of characters in the Miami area shortly before 9/11. The ordinary struggles of folks interact with the last days of one of the highjackers.

A Free Life by Ha Jin

I highly recommend this novel about the assimilation of a family of Chinese immigrants into a new life in America. The simple but poignant story tells us much about this family and ourselves.

The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

This is a well-researched study of the enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed during the Bush administration. This book provides an excellent background regarding the issues that are now so prominently in the news.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

This novel, the first effort of Wroblewski, is the story of a family and their struggle to maintain a family kennel in rural Minnesota. If you love dogs this is a fantastic read.

American Lion by Jon Meacham

This is a biography of Andrew Jackson, our seventh president. Jackson is one of the most interesting and colorful figures in American history and this book brings him vividly to life.

Anthony Cotroneo recommends:

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

Coupland’s book is a contemporary novel about “losers” in today’s society that is entertaining and thought provoking. Written with sometimes dry and sometimes outrageous wit, parts of which made me laugh out loud, it also makes you aware of how people can mess up their lives, yet still have hope they can change.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

This mind bending psychological novel about a young woman plagued by a past event that leaves her scarred mentally and physically keeps the reader interested to the very end.

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley

A funny, yet somewhat realistic novel about a Supreme Court Justice nominee picked from the ranks of TV judges. It is appropriate reading in light of current events.

Also recommended: any of the “Harmony” series by Philip Gulley, a Quaker minister who relates life in a small Midwest community populated by characters who are laughable, lovable, and believable – light fun reading.

Harvey Nosowitz recommends:

Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link

This is a collection of humorous fabulist tales, ranging from zombies who live in a canyon behind the convenience store to an entire village in a handbag! The author lives in western Massachusetts and edits the fiction magazine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Saffron and Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand

More fabulist short fiction, darker and edgier. The first story, in which a young American woman living in London discovers an unusual method for collecting butterflies, is a deeply disturbing and thought-provoking mix of fantasy and realism. Not for children. (If you are looking for a Harry Potter upgrade, try Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Where does food come from, and where should it come from? Apparently, everything in the supermarket once was corn. Who knew?

Paul Morrison recommends:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

This is not a vacuous and cheesy self-help guide, but rather a popularization of serious research by a Stanford University psychologist who investigated the different attitudes which help explain relative levels of success in life. She found that many people have a “fixed mindset” which assumes that people’s abilities and talents are relatively fixed and can’t be much improved. This assumption generally leads people to believe that success comes from finding your few talents and concentrating there; they also take set-backs and criticism as evidence of personal deficiency. In contrast, the more successful “growth mindset” assumes that abilities and strengths can be developed like a strengthening muscle. These people welcome challenges and are resilient and learn from criticism and setbacks. The book is extremely useful for parents who may be inadvertently sending “fixed mindset” signals to their children; adults will ruefully recognize their own assumptions.

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

In this well-written, accessible book these behavioral economists give evidence that nearly everyone uses systematic biases and blind spots while making many ordinary and important decisions, and that with a slightly different positioning and presentation of choices people are far more likely to make better ones (without removing freedom of choice from people). Any reader can find numerous examples in the book resonating in their own lives about common, poorly-made decisions. Entertaining and potentially life-changing.

The Chanur Saga by C.J. Cherryh

For bright readers 14 and up who like sci-fi with strong, complex female characters, Cherryh offers three sequential novels in a single thick volume about a richly-developed, imaginative future. Fast-paced, psychologically and emotionally complicated, the stories are told from the point of view of a space crew of female Hani (something like small lions) who rescue and must live with and protect a lost human space farer.

Steve Spang recommends:

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

A boy growing up during the Second World War in rural Norway seeks to understand his family, and in particular, his father. This book presents vivid and penetrating writing, and is refreshingly different.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

This fictional piece set in Kenya explores a tender late-in-life love triangle that inspires a bird-watching competition which quickly invites the reader not only into the lives of the main characters, but also into the adventure and allure of the sport of list chasing.

Birds of New England by Wayne Petersen and Roger Burrows

One usually doesn’t sit down to read a field guide to the birds, but the thumbnail natural histories of each of the 314 species of birds native to New England are so well written and informative that I couldn’t put it down.

Mark Barrow recommends:

Beautiful Boy, A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff

David Sheff was named one of Time magazine’s Top 100 people in its recent edition because of this book and the issues and questions it brings forth. Perhaps for those whose children are grown, the read might be different, but as I am with high-school and middle-school aged children, there is definitely a strong emotional connection which evokes an “If not for the grace of God, there go I” quality.

Ernie Huber recommends:

Climate change trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’m a fan of page turners and Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest trilogy – Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting – fits the bill. They are set in the near future with a plausible global warming scenario background. Having lived in Washington DC, and even stolen a Christmas Tree out of Rock Creek Park at the age of 10, I particularly enjoyed the protagonist’s innovative solution to a Washington DC housing crisis following a huge Katrina-like flood.

Tim Gordon, recommends:

The Messenger by Daniel Silva

Silva writes masterful spy novels with authentic characters from diverse backgrounds. In this entry, his Israeli super-spy takes on a murderous al-Qaeda operative, who is perpetrating horrendous acts of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. The way the thick plot of double-crosses plays out, with his lovely assistant’s life hanging in the balance, will have you holding your breath right through the last pages. Brilliant writing, ripped from behind the scenes of today’s Middle East headlines. Silva’s novels are as engrossing as 24 on steroids, except with much better resolutions than most authors, let alone TV scriptwriters, care to bother with nowadays.

Pastor Steven Weibley recommends:

Number 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

I read aloud with my wife, so we are always glad when the latest Number 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency book comes out. Alexander McCall Smith manages to capture the flavor of another culture and write in a style that forces a westerner to slow down and think a different way. I understand from friends who have lived long-term in Africa that much of what he says is a true picture.

Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter This is a management book along the line of the short books by Patrick Lencioni. Kotter describes a (talking) penguin colony that faces a challenge to their way of living in order to chronicle some of the ways that people face change and how a group can work through change. The characters, which will end up looking remarkably like yourself or people you know, are an easy and memorable way to think about change in any organization (even a country . . )

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge

This is one of the most accessible and approachable of the many books on recent brain research that I’ve read. From recovery from strokes, to teaching the autistic, to the benefits to your brain from being a musician, Doidge shows us a new way of thinking about the brain. He does it through snapshots of the lives of individuals who have overcome cranial dysfunction, showing that we are not simply what we were born with, but that the brain can actually restructure and change itself from the beginning to the end of life.

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust.

Faust pulls together the manner in which everyday people faced the loss of 600,000 lives during our Civil War. She shows us the ways they practically faced this loss day to day, and how they came to grips with the immensity of the nation’s grief, civilian and soldier alike. The book gives us a window into how people faced what was the most significant reality of their lives.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller

This book, written by the pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, addresses the most typical doubts raised by skeptics and seekers at his church. His follow-up book The Prodigal God, also written for those unfamiliar with but interested in Christianity, exposes some of the myths about what people think it means to be a Christian. Never ranting or condemning, Keller shows this way to be different from “churchianity” and evangelical power politics; a way of new openness, flexibility, humility and hope.

Ken Harte recommends:

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Set mostly in New York over several years following 9/11, this fluidly written novel is the story of Hans, a Dutch immigrant financial analyst, whose marriage has collapsed but who finds comfort and stability in cricket, which he played as a youth. His involvement with a Trinidadian cricket promoter and schemer takes him on adventures into the seedy underworld of New York, interspersed with trips to London in attempts to retrieve his wife and son. The author grew up in Holland and lives in New York. He writes with grace and perception of a little-known subculture and one man’s quest for a satisfying life. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito