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My Very Last Summer Book Bag

For approximately thirty-five years in this blog, as well as on WBEZ, WTTW, and WGN, I have, every summer and at Christmas, been in the habit of putting together a list of my most recently read, favorite books. Why? Because book are my window to the world. And the various views of the world that I have acquired in my reading are views I’ve wanted to share with others. But, I think it’s time for someone else to pick up the mantle, and offer perhaps a different perspective and a different literary point of view. Besides, I’m too damn busy reading!! So, here’s my last list.

1. Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front

While browsing through a second-hand book shop, I came across a first-edition (1929) of this masterpiece. I first read it in college and I was moved to tears by its pain, its honesty, its insight into the misery of war. It’s a story of a class of high-school German boys who, out of sense of patriotism, quit school and volunteered to fight in the madness known as World War I. They learn quickly that there is no real honor in war, only horror and death. The learned quickly that there aren’t real victors in war, only survivors. By the age of 19, all died “in the arena of Mars!” All had died fighting for a cause they really did not understand.

2. A.J. Finn’s The Women in the Window

Yes, it’s a best-seller! Yes, it will soon be made into a movie! Yes, it’s a thriller! But, damn, it’s a great thriller! It’s on par with the novels of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. It’s got good solid prose! Believable characters! Real suspense! It’s logical, clever, engaging. It’s about a woman who views a murder right next door, but no one believes her…And then the murderer (because there was a murderer) tries to kill her! Hurry, buy it! Enjoy!

3. Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, The Serial Killer

What a title! What a story! Ms. Braithwaite is a Nigerian woman and this is her first novel. I predict it won’t be her last. It’s a story about two sisters. One of them is a bit too loose in regard to love and violence. The other sister is committed to her murderous sibling and is willing to do anything to protect her. This is also a larger story about the limited role and rights of women in a traditional Nigerian society. It’s a conceptual treat!

4. Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night

I don’t read a lot of contemporary police procedurals, but my one exception is Michael Connelly. He has published 31 novels (Blood Work is a classic and my favorite). Most of his novels are centered around Harry Bosch, a long-time L.A. homicide cop. Harry’s now about 67 years old and he’s beginning to show his age, but he’s still committed to his craft of catching bad guys – specifically, murderers.  Harry’s code is a simple one. Civilization and the legal system will fall apart if murderers are not brought to justice. Harry is a literary character you will not soon forget.

5. Ken Jennings, Planet Funny

Jennings is a best-selling author, a public intellectual, and seventy-four-time winning champion on the quiz show Jeopardy! In this book, he praises the value and purpose of humor. Humor is a sword and a shield against life. It helps us cope! It makes life more fun! More bearable! More meaningful! But, warns Jennings, too much humor can be a bad thing. Too much humor can be an opiate, a drug that dulls our sensitivity to life. Too much humor can rob us of a need for reflection and the careful use of outlets. In a society saturated with humor, we are all in danger of “amusing ourselves to death!” This is a funny book, a serious book, and an important book.

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