Posts Tagged ‘Books’

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This presents me with the opposite problem that I’ve had with books that aren’t good enough to inspire me to write about them.  Quite simply, To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book I’ve ever read.  It also happens to be the first “real” book I ever read.  And, I don’t have a clue what to write about it to do it anything resembling justice.

When I was in the fifth grade or thereabouts, I was bored and giving my folks a hard time.  My mom handed me the old copy that was on our bookshelves, we took turns reading a chapter each out-loud, and a love affair was begun.  Incidentally, I’ve still got that copy I read for the first time even though I’ve had to use a lot of masking tape to keep the cover together and pages are beginning to fall out.  I re-read it again in high school, then again in college, and yet again in law school (not because I was required to, but because I love it that much).  Since law school, I have made an effort to read it at least once every couple of years.  It simply never gets old.

It had probably been more than two years since I last read it and I had been thinking about when I might make time to read it again when, on one of my many pilgrimages to Half Price Books, I found a copy of it on cassette for $2.48.  It didn’t take me long to snatch that up and begin thinking about when I might be in the car for a long enough stretch that I could listen to most of it at one time.

Turns out I was not far away from such an opportunity as I was getting ready to move from Texas to New Mexico.  As I was making that long drive, I eventually ran out of range of The Ticket so I put this in the tape deck.  The rest of the journey was as pleasant a road trip as I’ve had in a long time.  Even having read the book as many times as I have and having watched the movie version more than once, in some ways it felt like I was experiencing the story for the first time.  Roses Prichard does a marvelous job of letting you believe that you’re listening to Scout tell you about her childhood experiences.

I’m not sure if the next time I “read” To Kill a Mockingbird I’ll put the tapes back in or pick up the ratty version I read the first time more than 25 years ago, but I’m pretty sure it won’t take me more than a couple of years to get back to it.

Chain of Command – Caspar Weinberger

This is one of those books that I didn’t know existed until I stumbled across it on the clearance racks at Half Price Books as I was looking for something else.  But, because it was written by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and it was $1, I decided to put it in the basket and give it a shot.  Turns out to be a dollar well spent.

It probably didn’t – and won’t – win any awards for literary merit but it’s pretty suspenseful with plenty of action.  While the scenario he presents is pretty far-fetched, it’s not so outlandish that you find yourself believing that it could never happen.  And, you know as you’re reading it that the author has an insider’s perspective on how the Washington game is played.  If he were still alive, I would look forward to reading more from Weinberger as a novelist as I suspect he could have built on the foundation he laid here.

Skeleton Man – Tony Hillerman

When I moved to New Mexico for the first time in 1989, I was given everything that Tony Hillerman had written up to that point as a way to introduce me to some aspects of the cultural differences between New Mexico and Texas.  It didn’t take long before I was hooked.  His books magnificently achieved his goal of “show[ing] that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways.”  As a general rule, they are also darn good mysteries set in some of the most beautiful, and desolate, country in America which Hillerman describes better than anyone else.

Hillerman’s style is also highly readable and it rarely takes me more than a couple of days to make my way through one of his novels.   Skeleton Man is the second-to-last novel he wrote before his death in 2008.  Proving that even an author as talented as Hillerman was had times where he was off his game, I wasn’t all that impressed with this one.  As many of his novels do, this one featured both of his signature characters, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  The mystery wasn’t that compelling and I got the sense that he was wrestling with what to do with Leaphorn who has retired from the Navajo Tribal Police.  While he probably presents a pretty accurate portrayal of retirement struggles, it wasn’t very satisfying to read.  Nonetheless, I will certainly pick up his final novel, The Shape Shifter, in short order and I will probably revisit many of his earlier works now that more than 20 years have passed since I was first introduced to them.

Night Prey – John Sandford

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do here on books I’ve read since I last posted about Devil’s Brood back in July.  There are three reasons for the delay: 1) I caught my second case of strep within a month and I quarantined myself from everything, including the computer; 2)  once I got back to feeling well enough to get on the computer, I spent most of my time there watching the rest of Sports Night (did I mention how great that show was?  Seriously, I was pissed when I got through the last episode…there’s so much crap on TV that’s completely unwatchable – in spite of what millions of Americans apparently think – while this bit of brilliance couldn’t get more than two seasons); and, 3) I didn’t really like the next book I read and so I haven’t been very motivated to write about it.

Night Prey is the sixth installment in the series which now numbers twenty-one.  John Sandford has also written books that are not part of the Prey series, some of which I’ve read and enjoyed.  Most of those were written after these early Prey books which leads me to believe that Sandford has gotten better over time.  And, I’ve got a good friend from my days on Capitol Hill who shares a lot of my tastes in fiction and who is a fan of his work.  So, I continue to believe that I’m going to find myself really enjoying this series at some point, hopefully soon.  Maybe more importantly that all of that, having already purchased most of these books, I’m sorta committed to reading them.

Devil’s Brood – Sharon Kay Penman

Every once in a while, I read a book that is so gripping I don’t want it to end – even when it’s more than 750 pages long.  I had that experience recently when I picked up – and couldn’t put down – Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman.  This is the third installment in her Henry II Trilogy.  I read the first two, When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance, several years ago and, frankly, I’d forgotten how much I liked them.

The reign of King Henry II, his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the conflict between the members of this extraordinary family may be the most compelling of all the story lines since William the Conqueror arrived at Hastings in 1066.  Devil’s Brood picks up where Time and Chance left off: with King Henry II’s self-imposed exile in Ireland after the murder of Thomas Becket.  It takes us through a fascinating journey leading up to the betrayal of Henry II by his sons followed shortly thereafter by his humiliating death.

If you have any interest at all in this period of English history, I can’t recommend highly enough Devil’s Brood.  As has been well-documented on this blog, I’m a huge fan of reading books in order.  This is one of the rare times, however, where I’d be OK with it if you weren’t up to the challenge of reading all three and skipped right to this one (I’m pretty sure you’d end up going back and reading the others anyway).

Oh, yeah.  With the turning of the last page of Devil’s Brood, I’ve officially begun the countdown until the October 4 release of her next book, Lionheart.  Depending on where I am in my professional life, I may not even wait for it to make its way onto the shelves at Half Price Books.

Plan of Attack – Bob Woodward

You may remember my effort to read at least one non-fiction book per month.  With Churchill taking up the better part of two months, I’ve fallen slightly behind the one-a-month pace.  Nonetheless, I jumped back into the effort in June with Bob Woodward’s second tome in the “Bush at War” series.

Whereas Woodward’s first book in what became the “Bush at War” trilogy focused on the Bush Administration’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the decisions that led to war in Afghanistan, Plan of Attack takes us through the process that ended up with the United States at war in Iraq.  While I was in DC on September 11, I was not yet working for US Senator Pete V. Domenici on that fateful day.  So, I really didn’t have any more connection to Bush at War than any other average American.

With Plan of Attack, however, I had a slightly different perspective.  By the time the events of this book took place, I was firmly a part of the Senator’s advisory team.  Now, don’t let anybody, least of all me, fool you.  I wasn’t an insider here by any definition of the term.  Nothing for which I was responsible did – or could have – changed the course of a single Iraq War-related event.  One of the many memorable occasions during my time with the Senator was the night that the Senate voted on the Iraq War Resolution.   Four members of the Senator’s staff were sitting in his Legislative Director’s office talking about the upcoming vote.  What struck me – and stuck with me – is how seriously everybody took what was happening and how deliberative the group was.  It stands in sharp contrast to the “rush to war” talk that was so prevalent among the opponents.  And, having talked with staffers from other offices, I know our experience wasn’t the exception.

There’s no question that how you feel about President Bush and his Administration will color the way you interpret this book.  But, I think anyone who can take an even somewhat-dispassionate view will find one man’s take on the inner workings of a War Cabinet to be fascinating.

Map of Bones – James Rollins

I told you it wouldn’t take me long to get back to the Sigma Team; I didn’t lie.  Now, there’s always a risk that a sequel won’t live up to the original (movies provide us with numerous examples:  The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Speed 2: Cruise Control, and Caddyshack II to name but a few).  Movies also provide us with examples where the sequel is up to the challenge, though (The Godfather: Part II, Die Hard 2, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo… just seeing if you were paying attention there). 

With novels, I find the greater threat is that they become formulaic.  When I started reading the novels of James Patterson, I couldn’t get enough of the Alex Cross series. After the first five or six, they were beginning to become pretty predictable.  While I stuck with them until the twelfth in the series, Cross, I quit that one mid-book.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  

Fortunately, in my experience, that has been the exception much more than the rule.  And, even if it ends up being to case somewhere down the road with Mr. Rollins, there wasn’t much threat that it would happen in the second book.   Map of Bones is another barn burner that allows you to suspend your disbelief for a while and enjoy the global escapades of the secret group of warrior scientists as they investigate a bizarre robbery of a Catholic Church in Cologne, Germany in which the bones of the Three Magi are stolen during a midnight mass.  More bizarre is that all of the worshipers who partook of communion mysteriously die, apparently by being electrocuted, while those who did not participate in the Eucharist survived the electrocution only to be gunned down by the thieves.  The Sigma Team joins forces with the Vatican in a race to discover who is behind the theft/murders and beat them to the ultimate prize.