Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ten Books I Love That Nobody Else Seems to Much Care About

As a counterpoint to my list of "Ten Books Others Love but I Hate," a list that drew the wrath of one commenter who couldn't believe my stupidity, I offer this one, a list of books that I have loved for a long time even though I seldom hear them mentioned anywhere these days:

1. The Wolf and the Buffalo - Elmer Kelton - Kelton's 1980 novel that pits black cavalry soldiers against the Indian tribes who called them Buffalo Soldiers. The book explores the relationships between the various races during this volatile period of American history and reminds the reader that, even though the former slaves and the American Indians would seem to have much in common, they were actually mortal enemies. Kelton also explores the relationship of the black soldiers and the white and brown citizens of the Texas towns they were sent to protect from the raiding tribes. This one is filled with memorable characters and episodes and is one of my favorite Elmer Kelton books.

2. Final Payments - Mary Gordon- Gordon's debut novel and the one that led me to read just about everything else she's ever written. It's the story of a thirty-year-old daughter who is finally freed from more than a decade of taking care of her bedridden father when he finally dies. This is one of the best psychological studies I've ever read - plenty of guilt to go around as this young woman struggles to get the rest of her life started.

3. Time on My Hands - Peter Delacorte - a time travel novel that includes one of my favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan, as a main character. When a travel writer is offered the chance to do a little time traveling in a 22nd century time machine he jumps at the chance even though he has to first agree to do whatever it takes to keep Ronald Reagan from becoming president of the United States. This is a good natured tale that made me smile a lot.

4. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - Doris Kearns Goodwin - Lincoln comes from nowhere to win the presidency. Goodwin explores Lincoln's brilliant decision to fill his cabinet with many of his biggest rivals and political enemies regardless of their political party. If only we had someone capable of doing something like that today...

5. Three Chords and the Truth - Laurence Leamer - a warts and all look at some of the biggest names in country music, past and present. This one is a publicity director's nightmare because it exposes much of the myth built around some of the more recent country stars. Guess what? Some of them can't sing a lick and are about as country as Frank Sinatra. This one is fun.

6. Whistle - James Jones - published in 1978, this is the novel that Jones was working on when he died of congestive heart failure. It is the third book in his WWII trilogy that includes the much better known titles, From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. It explores the aftermath of warfare and what the survivors bring home with them when all the fighting is over.

7. Play for a Kingdom - Thomas Dyja - an intriguing Civil War novel that explores what happens when Union and Confederate troops, finding themselves in place for an extended period of time, decide to form rival baseball teams to kill the time. But not everything is as it seems, of course.

8. Andersonville - MacKinlay Kantor - the brilliant 1955 novel that so vividly portrays life in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. Kantor expertly portrays the viciousness of the prison guards but shows that the real villains were the gangs inside the prison population that preyed upon their weaker fellow prisoners. This is one reading experience I will never forget.

9. Waltz in Marathon - Charles Dickinson - if there is any such thing as a coming-of-age novel about a 61-year-old man, this is it. Harry Waltz, a good-hearted loan shark suddenly finds his whole world turned around when his "clients" start refusing to repay their loans, he falls in love with a woman 20 years younger than him, and his adult children come back into his life. This is Dickinson's great debut novel from 1983 that turned me into a Charles Dickinson fan for life.

10. The Greatest Game Ever Played - Jerry Izenberg - recounts all the drama and hoopla surrounding Game Six of the 1986 baseball playoffs between the Astros and the Mets, a game I suffered through in the Astrodome. This book perfectly captures the tension and the exhaustion felt by anyone who endured this 16-inning marathon - and it doesn't hurt that I am mentioned by name on page 72.

I hope you like this list better than the other one, Chloe, and that you will give me back a little bit of the credibility you took from me on that one.


  1. Sadly I think Chloe totally missed the point, no one can love every book, and part of the fun is provoking discussion. I have done my own list after reading your first one and have linked to your blog.

  2. Leah, you are exactly right - the biggest part of the fun here for me is in provoking discussion.

    That's why I'm trying to "provoke" her again. :-)

    (But I think she only stopped by here the one time and won't be back because I have no credibility.)

  3. My great, great grandfather was at Andersonville prison for nearly a year. He barely survived and was so ill when released that he died a year later.

  4. I still get requests for "Team of Rivals" (a great book), but never even heard of most of the others. Several sound interesting, though - especially the one with Reagan.

    By the way, the only person who lost any credibility was Chloe herself.

  5. You've given me a lot of great ideas for stuff to look for...thanks, Sam! Bookmooch, here I come. Everyone should read Andersonville. It's powerful stuff.

  6. Never heard of any of these beloved (by you) titles! It would be fun to put such a post up myself; there's lots of books among my favorites that no one else ever seems to have heard of, much less read and enjoyed.

  7. Yes, poor Leah. The amazing diversity of the books discussed on the various book blogs I read (which of course represent merely a micro-fraction of what's out there) is that it's so unpredictable. It's good to know that there is a world of books beyond the predictable (and always new) choices discussed in "official" book review media such as the NYT review, etc.

  8. GFS3, I still can't imagine the reality of that prison despite having read the wonderful Kantor book twice and having walked the grounds of the actual prison site on one occasion. Did your grandfather leave anything written notes behind by any chance? Those would be priceless to a guy like me.

  9. J. Anne, check out that Reagan time travel novel if you can find a copy because I really think you'll like it. It has a great tone and is really a lot of fun.

    Chloe's comments really didn't bother me; I was just playing around with her anger a bit. :-)

  10. Let me know what you think of any of them if you find them, Bybee. It always tickles me the way I can start talking about a "classic favorite" of mine and suddenly realize that the people I'm talking with don't have a clue about the book and its existence or non-existence.

  11. Jeanne, that's what makes talking with you guys so much fun. I knew there were literally thousands of books published every month, but realizing that my favorites didn't even make a blip on someone else's radar screen kind of puts it all into perspective.

  12. I don't have many kind things to say about the mainstream media outlets, dreamqueen, and I actually rely on the web for most of my news content because I can read so many diverse sources and make up my own mind.

    I really think that the mainstream media are not mainstream any longer.