Nothing says summer like a fish camp on the river, or an American flag on the 4th of July, or curling up with a good book.
Welcome to On the Nightstand, where I mention a few of the books on my nightstand. I review those I’ve finished and rate them by the watts they generate in my reading lamp – a 100 watt book keeps me awake all night but a 20 watt book puts me to sleep faster than, well, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a house on the Pearl River. I also mention what I’m reading right now and, of course, the books that are, on my nightstand. I hope you enjoy my reviews and find something to keep you up reading all night. Here we go.
Tribe, by Sebastian Junger, author of A Perfect Storm and director of the Afghan war film Restrepo. Tribe lays out the sense of belonging that a tribal society builds for its members, from the best hunter-gather-warrior to the least captive white woman who prefers to not be rescued back to a society that values possessions and passes judgments. Junger contends that modern soldiers suffer more and longer PTSD from returning to a country that does not embrace them with jobs and care than they would by staying with their platoon, his tribe. A willingness to die for one another isn’t compensated by the hollow words of strangers who say ‘Thank you for your service.’ 90 watts.
1066, by Andrew Bridgeford, a study of the Bayeux Tapestry with the view that its enigmatic cartoons of swords and shields and boats bearing William the Conqueror to invade England was really created as a series of hidden iconic messages that tell those who knew how to read them that William was not the fair winner. Good history, uncertain evidence. 80 watts.
A Change of Climate, by Hillary Mantel before she was Hillary Mantel of Wolfe Hall, is the story of Anna and Ralph, British missionaries to South Africa whose child was abducted and sold for body parts. A painful, tragic story, it is the biography of a family that unravels in the soul-less aftermath of such a loss. It also is a foretaste of what a great story-teller Hillary Mantel will become. 90 watts
Birth of a Nation, by Julian Rathbone, is one of the funniest books I have ever read, the memoirs of a somewhat deformed man who stows away on Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos, petty thieves his way into Santa Ana’s army at the Alamo, then into Sam Houston’s army at San Jacinto, flees justice on a Mississippi riverboat, becomes part of an Indian tribe, and goes on to witness both the treasonous takeover of California by American settlers and the somewhat more human scale of takeover of fellow travelers by the Donner party cannibals, and…. 100 watts. Seriously.
Blitzed, Norman Ohler, is a fascinating history of Pervitin, a wonder drug discovered by the Third Reich pharmaceutical industry and tested first on housewives, then on soldiers, then on doctors, and became the wonder drug of Hitler’s war effort. We know it as methamphetamine, or speed. It ambitiously explains why soldiers could stay awake for days on end to blitz Holland and Russia, how Hitler depended on it personally to keep him working around the clock and, perhaps, why they lost the war. 80 watts.
The Keys of Redemption, Mark Bowlin, is the fifth in what started out as a trilogy of the 36th Infantry Division in World War II, a series of novels that follows two Texas cousins through the horrific grinds of Salerno, Naples, the Rapido River, and in this book, Anzio. If I find myself stranded on a desert island, I want all of five of books in the box that floats up to me. Bowlin has created a cast of soldiers, Italians, a few Germans, and occasional Irish priests, spies, and café dwellers that draw you in and keep you awake. 100 watts.
The Undefeated, George Horvath, memoir of a Hungarian who fled when the Nazis invaded but who nevertheless was imprisoned by the Stalinist government after the war.
The Birthday Boys, Beryl Bainbridge, a novel written as the tales of the men who went on Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole in 1910.
Where my Heart Used to Beat, Sebastian Faulks, the novel of a lonely British psychiatrist who receives an invitation from a stranger, a French doctor, to join him because the Frenchman supposedly served with his father, who died in World War I.
And, what’s On the Nightstand:
A Fable, William Faulkner
Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer
A Hero in France, Alan Furst
The Corfu Trilogy, Gerald Durrell
Summer is just too short. So much to read, so little time….