Book nods for Christmas

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 10:45am

One of life’s simple pleasures is reading The New York Times Book Review.

I always feel a little more informed about things after I read a review — even though I may pass on the book — these reviews are thorough and expansive. There are so many good books out there, it’s sometimes hard to decide which one to read. As I get older, one of the best ways to get a suggestion on what to read is to receive one from someone I know. Over the years at the docks, people have given me books to read, so I decided to write a short précis for the following titles. These aren’t reviews, just nods. Read on!

Ben Johnson, from the Freight Department in Point Judith, gave me this one.

“Thirteen Hours” by Mitchell Zuckoff, with The Annex Security Team

In this very fluid and fast-paced read, we sense the complexity and the urgent scenario of the attack in Benghazi. The author, along with the boots on the ground warriors, tells the story in a precise and surgical manner. At the same time, the book reveals the humanity and sacrifice of a military operation. Most importantly, this book deals with the importance and necessity of communication with all of the intelligence sources that were involved with the operation. The moment-to-moment danger in the pages of this book make it very clear for the reader to understand the complexity of a volatile military world.

Herm Mast gave me this one:

“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes

Block Island’s Herman Mast has never, ever, flipped me a sub-par thriller. When he gave me this book he offered to buy me dinner if the story fell short — it didn’t. Subsequently, I passed this book on to two other big fiction guys, who raved about it. I’m not a big fiction guy these days, but this one jolted me. An Aussie-born Britisher, Terry Hayes is a screenwriter: “Road Warrior,” “Dead Calm,” and “Payback” are a few of his credits — all excellent, by the way — and this is his first shot at fiction. This complex Black Ops narrative is flawlessly written. The American protagonist is perfectly flawed; however, we love this guy and his mission. The writing of this book is so perfect, I only picked out one Britishism in the entire book. My neighbor writes for Rolling Stone, and he’s also a close reader. He found two. Writing with an American voice when you’re not from this country is very difficult, but Hayes pulled this off. This story is also germane to our current international military complexity. Grab this one, and hold on to your hat! 

Chris Walken gave me:

“Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” by John Lahr

Award-winning author and New Yorker staff writer John Lahr brings it all to this complex narrative about a very complex guy. The book is filled with factually documented information which explains the nature of the modern American Theater, and Williams’ contributions. We learn about the relationships between guys like Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando. For example, in order for Brando to meet Williams, Kazan flipped Brando 20 dollars — Brando was always broke — to head out to P-Town to meet Williams. Brando and his girlfriend hitchhiked from New York City to the Cape. Williams had a broken toilet, and Brando fixed it. Bingo. Williams wanted Brando to play Stanley Kowalski in the play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The best part of the book is that we get an overall view of how much work went in to getting the elements together for staging Williams’s work, and the toll it took on him. If you like theater history, this book is for you.

Doug Gasner gave me this:

 “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love” by David Talbot

Doug Gasner lived in San Francisco back in the wild days of the 60s, when the cultural revolution — sex, drugs and Rock and Roll — was in full swing. We can romanticize anything from a distance, but it’s a different story if we are immersed in something. David Talbot pulls back the curtain on “The Summer of Love,” and informs the reader about the social, political, and artistic forces that drove the City of San Francisco. The iconic names of the period between ’67 and ’82 fly off every page with a visceral description of this gritty, and rough and tumble town. For example, Charles Manson is objectively portrayed as a two-bit con artist street hustler who passed himself off as an enlightened hippie — we see where that led. This book reads on the quick step.

Ned Phillips Jr. gave me this one:

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz

Dominican American author Junot Diaz’s book is a chronicle of the life of a character named Oscar De Leon. The story is set in Paterson, New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. The narrative deals not only with a flawed and passionate main character, but it gives a generational context to the corruption of the Trujillo regime. Junot Diaz works the English and Spanish languages — Spanglish — to the bone. Here is a book to be read for the pure brilliance of the writing. Diaz’s command of both languages is a force of nature, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This is the most complex work of fiction I’ve ever read — ever. Junot Diaz teaches Creative Writing at MIT. 

A sharp computer guy I met in the standby lot named Kevin Klein gave me this:

“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

This book is still twisting me up in a mathematical grannie knot, but I occasionally press on reading about the guy — and a passel of other smart math guys — who is responsible for getting an iPhone into the hands of this Scribbler.