CULTURE BEAT
In a column some time back, I shared my summer reading list and asked readers for their recommendations. Here’s what came in. Consider these for your holiday book-buying, preferably at a local bookstore like The Book Table on Lake Street:

Alva Decourcey, a longtime employee at the Oak Park Visitors Center, refers readers to the book, Physics of the Impossible, by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

Greg Morgan writes: “I, too, read The Big Sleep earlier this summer, following my second viewing of the 1946 film with Bogart & Bacall. I also read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon for the first time after viewing for the Nth time the 1941 film with Bogart & Mary Astor and (thanks to NetFlix) the 1931 version with Ricardo Cortez and a 1936 knock-off called Satan Met a Lady, with Bette Davis. If you’re into old films, I recommend the experience of watching the three Falcon films, in date order and closely spaced. The growth in cinematic technique over the 1931-1941 period is remarkable.”

Mary Gerut suggests The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. “It was definitely one of my favorites. I am reading Love In Black & White by Wm. S. Cohen and Janet Langhart Cohen. It is an autobiography. My next read is going to be Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts. I am interested in the response you receive. Maybe you could start a section for book reads.”

John Hubbuch notes, “I’ve been reading The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam. A bit long, but it sketches out the antecedents of how the Republicans have made national security their issue for more than 50 years. I’m going to read Raymond Chandler. Your piece reminded me of yet another author that I have never read. Another L.A. author I read recently who is pretty good: Nathaniel West (Day of the Locusts, Miss Lonely Hearts).”

Bob Sullivan adds, “In the Heart of the Sea by Philbrick, non-fiction that reads like fiction. Startling true adventure of the whaling ship Essex’s two-year journey (1819-1821). Once read, hardly forgotten. Even Herman Melville did research on this raw-edged incident. More truth in Moby Dick than we know?”

Roger Conner recommends the following:

1) Winkie by Clifford Chase. An 80-year-old child’s teddy bear, after sitting on the shelf for years-always conscious-finally gets the gift of motion and then gets tried as a terrorist! The trial is a wonderfully funny reduction of our national paranoia to ridiculous absurdity. But that’s only part of the story. At the same time it’s a tender look at how we relate to the pleasures and sadness of our childhoods.

2) Sutree by Cormac McCarthy. More famous for non-stop violence, in this book McCarthy evokes a sad but tender look at an astonishing array of memorable homeless and down-and-outer characters in 1970s Knoxville from the point of view of one who elects to get by on occasional catfishing from a houseboat.

3) Dog of the South by Charles Portis, author of True Grit. A man, whose wife up and leaves him for a romantic radical during the hippie years, follows her to Honduras in the old Buick the guy has left him. The comic struggles to navigate the route are matched by the comic flotsam and jetsam of refugees from the States who coalesce into a rag-tag community.

Finally, one reader who prefers to remain anonymous noted: “Thanks for the reading tips. Personally, I have lately enjoyed these (some newer, some older):

“American Pastoral by Phillip Roth. Great novel about tumultuous American times and the effect such times can have on families, on whole villages, and, of course, on the country as a whole. As usual, Roth’s descriptions of places and persons are sharp, detailed and scary, but also funny. He understands psychological factors (of people, of systems, of nations) better than any other writers, even better perhaps than Thomas Pynchon.

“Under the Banner of Heaven by Jonathan Krakauer, the Into the Wild and Into Thin Air author. A startling and controversial history of the Mormons. Maybe this book scared enough folks away from Romney so he couldn’t even become the VP candidate!

“Intro to Buddhism and Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Gyatso. A Tibetan Buddhist master, this man writes very beautifully about this religion. Even if you don’t end up practicing, his books are worth reading because he gives great humanistic advice about becoming a better person.

“Other authors to always stay up on: Bill Bryson, Pynchon, Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, Cormac McCarthy, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, and Kathryn Davis. So many others!”

So many indeed. Since I wrote my summer list, I added Raymond Chandler’s Playback, his last book, which means I went from his first (Big Sleep) directly to his last. Interesting leap. At one point he has a character go off on a lengthy monologue about God. Very interesting. Currently, I’m reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, the computer professor who died this year of pancreatic cancer. If you liked Tuesdays with Morrie, this is even better in some ways. Pausch’s mantra was, “Brick walls are there for a reason.”

Thanks for all the suggestions.

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