Well, I guess it’s still technically summer here in Thailand, but it’s not like we experience anything remotely like the changing of seasons over here. It’s either hot and muggy, or damp and rainy. Sure, there is the annual “cold season,” a period that might last a total of two or three weeks, during which time you might — just maybe — consider throwing on a jacket. But other than that brief and subtle dip, temperatures don’t vary a great deal. Inspired by the seasonal theme, here are some of the books that have comprised my summer reading for the past month or so.
Theodore Rosengarten – All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw
This is categorized as a biography, but it’s not the usual kind. Nate Shaw was a poor black sharecropper who lived in Alabama from the late 1800s until the early 1970s. He couldn’t read or write, but he was an exceptionally bright and thoughtful man. Shaw dictated his life story to Rosengarten when he was in his 80s, showing a remarkable recollection for events and insight into other people’s behavior. This won a National Book Award, and deservedly so. This is powerful, moving, and often humorous account of life in Black America in the early 1900s. Nate Shaw is an inspiration.
Tim Parks – An Italian Education
Parks’ memoir of his time living in Italy — as an Englishman married to an Italian woman and raising children in a different culture — is both funny and fascinating. It’s also extremely well written, giving the reader an insightful, amusing perspective of a foreigner living in Italian society.
Eudora Welty – The Optimist’s Daughter
Welty is a famous short story writer, but she also wrote excellent novels. This is one that shines and shows her talent for prose and vivid characterization.
Donald E. Westlake – Brothers Keeper
Not one of his famous Dortmunder novels, but nearly as funny. Westlake was one of a kind in the crime fiction world and his light-hearted comic capers were always a delight. It takes quite an imagination to think up wacky plots like this, but thankfully Westlake was always up to the task.
The Rolling Stone Interviews
This is a collection of interviews from several decades of the famous magazine. I tend to lose interest when they interview movie stars and other celebrities, but the music and political pieces are mostly great.
Robert Ludlum – The Road to Gandolfo
This is perhaps Ludlum’s funniest and most absurd book. It focuses on his usual tales of espionage, but this time to the Vatican and beyond. A fun read.
Rex Stout – Not Quite Dead Enough
Although written in the 1940s, this Nero Wolfe mystery still holds up well, not nearly as dated as you would assume. As always, Wolfe’s sidekick, Archie Goodwin, supplies plenty of irreverence and laughs. And he always gets the girl.
Tim Weiner – Legacy of Ashes
Most people are now aware of the devious plots, assassinations, torture, and other mayhem concocted by the CIA over the decades, but after reading this book, you are left shocked at how inept and incompetent the organization was. Weiner concentrates on the bad stuff and there is a lot of it here. Very creepy and disturbing.
Bruce Chatwin – The Songlines
It took me long enough to read this acclaimed book, but it was worth the wait. Although often categorized as a travel book, it’s much, much more than that, explaining the crucial “Songlines” of the Aborigines in Australia, the aspects of culture, and man’s yearning for travel. Great writing that is highlighted by accounts of the very colorful characters that Chatwin meets during his time in Australia.
Keith Richards – Life
The hype is all true; this is a most entertaining read. The drug stuff still disturbs me, but Keith’s colorful account of his long rock ‘n roll life makes for a thrilling and informative read. But the dearth of details —except for a few disparaging remarks — about Rolling Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman makes you wonder: what’s that all about? Wyman was a quiet band member, but in this book is virtually invisible.
Don Winslow – Satori
I never read the Trevanian espionage classic, Shibumi, that this book is a prequel to, but I certainly want to do so now. Winslow does a commendable job with fleshing out the characters and keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish. Lots of blood, lust, double-crossing deals, mystery, and adventure.
S.J. Rozan – Reflecting the Sky
This is one of Rozan’s excellent Lydia Chin and Bill Smith mysteries. It starts off in New York City and then quickly and chaotically unfolds in Hong Kong. Another solid addition to Rozan’s delightful and underrated series.