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Some Books that Knocked Me Out in 2017
My paternal grandfather, Augustus – called Auggie by all – was an executive in the publishing industry for Field Enterprises. Among other tomes, he helped produce the World Book Encyclopedia.
I have no memories of Grandpa Auggie for he died when I was very young. I do, however, have a few letters he wrote my mother. He was a very fine writer and eloquent poet.
I like to think I inherited some of Auggie’s love for the written word and talent with it.
Without question, some tangible things were passed down. Naturally, a complete set of World Book Encyclopedia was always on the bookshelves of my youth. Oh my, how many school reports I used those A-through-Z volumes for in the pre-Internet age!
Countless other books that Auggie brought home from work – the way, I suppose, a butcher brings home cuts of meat – lined our family bookcases. Twain and Shakespeare, not surprisingly, but also glossy children’s picture books and travel volumes from around the globe. Many of them were special-edition, leather-bound volumes.
Up in flames these heirloom books went when the Thomas Fire burned down my boyhood home, the home my father had lived in for 44 years and still did. Auggie’s books filled the study, a lovely room with ten-foot-high, ceiling-to-floor bookcases on two walls; shelves that took Pop and me two weekends to repaint one long-ago summer.
The Thomas Fire also seemed to consume something else, something less important – my eighth annual column recommending some favorites from my book-a-week reading list during the year. However, because so many requests came in, belatedly here goes.
“Hemingway in Love: His Own Story” by A.E. Hotchner. In addition to Hemingway’s two great romantic loves, this is memoir is about Papa’s friendship with the author.
Plays aren’t usually as “readable” as novels, but “The Moon is Down” by John Steinbeck proves an exception.
“Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America” by Michael Eric Dyson is compelling and insightful from start to finish.
“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan. One need not be a surfer to be captivated by this Pulitzer Prize-winning storytelling.
Another Pulitzer Prize honoree, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, is one of the most emotionally powerful novels I have read, ever.
“Lincoln at the Bardo: A Novel” by George Saunders. Readers will either love or loathe this unique offering – I, the former, and greatly.
“Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” by Michael Finkel. A nearly unbelievable true story, well told.
I found the new tome “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson underwhelming because it overwhelmed me with too much redundancy and made me wish the author had taken the time to pare its 624 pages in half. David McCullough, meanwhile, tells “The Wright Brothers” story marvelously and fully in 336 pages. I finished rereading this text while watching – and marveling at what Orville and Wilburn might think – jet airlines takeoff and land at LAX.
“We Stood Upon Stars: Finding God in Lost Places” by Venturan Roger Thompson, who weaves together a tapestry of fatherhood and travel, religion and also humor.
“The Journal Entries of an Addict” by Camarillo’s Stephen Michael Jester, II, is a collection of 365 haiku poems. I must add the disclosure that I am honored to be mentioned on the dedication page as “friend, mentor and fellow author.”
“Max Perkins Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg. Perkins was the literary agent of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, among others, and thus this book segues nicely to the final pages I read in 2017, “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff.
This memoir about Rankoff’s experiences as an editorial assistant to the woman who represented the reclusive J.D. Salinger was all the more enjoyable for me because it takes place in the old-school publishing world Grandpa Auggie inhabited, with typewriters and Dictaphones, message couriers and martini lunch meetings.
To paraphrase Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” these are some of the books that knocked me out last year.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …