A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods book cover

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by Bill Bryson
Broadway Books (1998)

Okay, before you run for your walking sticks and take a vicarious, hilarious, and educational stroll up the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson, you should know that this rave has nothing to do with the fact that the author mentions me early in the second chapter.

Well, not by name but certainly by category.

That category being idiot!

You see, before Bryson makes this magnificent trek—with his hefty friend Katz puffing along at his heels—to prepare for the 2,100 mile hike (give a step or three) he grabs a few books just for reference, one being Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, wherein he learns that the black bear, that furry “friend” might feed on any passerby stupid enough to fail to realize that these Yogis and Smokeys aren’t cartoons but dangerous man-eating (under the right/wrong circumstances) animals. Read More »

Growing Up

Growing Up by Russell Baker book cover

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by Russell Baker
Signet (1984)

What we have here is a page turner from the past that happens to be one of my all-time favorite memoirs. I say this with apologies to my grandfather Preston Baile Roop who set out to tell his life story by dictating it to my grandmother, who lovingly wrote his memories long-hand with a #2 pencil in a yellow legal pad.

Grandy’s life story took him from his trapping days as a young man in Maryland through a hardscrabble life, one that would (along with his loving wife Muddie) raise nine children, off-spring he supported (sending all six girls through college) by laboring as a farmer, a huckster, a butcher, a moving man, and finally in the end as a real estate agent.

Grandy’s life was memoir worthy. It was filled with tragedy (the oldest son, a Marine leading his men across a river into machine gun fire, killed heroically in the Pacific, another living day-to-day hospitalized for his teen years with life threatening osteomyelitis, the third a teen-aged alcoholic). There was, through the years’ drama, sickness, depression, laughter and more love and generosity than one can imagine—enough of a life to fill up 50 legal pads. Read More »

Instant Replay

Instant Replay book cover

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with Dick Schaap
The New American Library (1968)

I’m not going to pretend that the happy ending of this first-of-its -kind sports diary will assuage Cheese Heads around the world, not as they ice their wounds over that 2015 overtime playoff  loss to Seattle.

But Packers fans, and NFL fans alike, will enjoy this 1967 Jerry Kramer replay. The all-pro right guard takes his Green Bay Packers from the blood, sweat and tears of  the pre-season training camp to a historic sub-zero  NFL championship  (the Ice Bowl) then right to the Pack’s win in Super Bowl II.

Kramer drops us inside the game—from the film sessions and locker room life to hard-ball negotiations of contracts and outside business deals. And then, (after dodging bed check), we’re out with the boys for a beer or six.

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Max Perkins Editor of Genius

Max Perkins Editor of Genius

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by A. Scott Berg

How could I, someone who can limbo under the IQ score of 160 with the greatest of ease, possibly relate to a page turner with genius in the title?

Well, A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins Editor of Genius, a 1978 National Book Award Winner, may be the finest, most readable book ever written about publishing—publishing when the book business was a very different industry indeed.

This is the biography of one of those once-in-a-lifetime (eye shade wearing) editors from the past, the man who steadied the quill holding hands of some of America’s iconic writers—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Jones—until they’d all produced literary classics.

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Cavett book cover

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by Dick Cavett and Christopher Porterfield
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. (1974)

News flash, we’re about to lose Letterman!

Late Night TV talk show addicts know that sinking feeling. Hell, we’ve been through it all before—Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and now Dave.

We watched them come, watched them nightly and then, sadly. . .watched them go.

But hey, on that May 2015 morning when Dave blows us his good-by kiss, odds are our bedmate isn’t going to roll over and say “Dear, sorry for your loss!”

But sleep tight my friends, Page Turners from the Past is here with a recent find, a little walk down memory lane with our old Late Night friend Dick Cavett.

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Eyewitness to Power


Eyewitness to Power

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by David Gergen, Simon & Schuster

The secret to good and accurate reporting?


To the reporter, for a story to be well told and with accuracy, it’s the difference between a lock and a key.

And for his insightful book Eyewitness to Power (2000), David Gergen, who served as a White House insider during four presidencies—Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton—well, he had that key.

His access afforded him—almost like no other— an up close view of the trials, tribulations, flaws, and strengths of these leaders and the power brokers who advised them.

Were there some closer to these presidents than Gergen?  Absolutely.  Have cronies, confidants, adversaries, reporters, hacks and serious historians recorded/written accounts— from inside and out—about these American commanders-in-chief? Read More »

Shelley: Also Known As Shirley

By Shelley Winters

Shelley Also Known As Shirley

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Hooray for Hollywood!

In this (1980) tell-it-all autobiography Shelley Winters, a genuine Tinsel Towner, takes us back to the days when the starlets had stars in their eyes . . . and in their beds.

We follow Winters (Shirley Shrift) from her dysfunctional Brooklyn childhood—money’s tight, her dad goes to jail on false charges of arson, there’s an early teen pregnancy, and she’s struggling, wrestling with age-old teenage questions.

The answers come through loud and clear in this entertaining and compelling life story and oh, a big no to her doubts regarding her own intelligence (she was very smart) . . . and a bigger “no way” on the ugly duckling worry!

Can we say, Blond Bombshell?

Most of us aren’t old enough to recall the Bombshell years and therein lies the secret and secrets of this page turner. Read More »

The Life and Times of the THUNDERBOLT KID


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By Bill Bryson

Writing nostalgia can be tricky. Experiencing sentimental longings or wistful affections for the past is one thing. Presenting these emotions in a way that enables a reader to readily identify with the writer’s past, well that’s another.

So, should any creative writing teachers out there find themselves looking for a textbook, one that might help students better understand this delicate, challenging genre, here’s a thought.

Try The Life and Times of the THUNDERBOLT KID, by Bill Bryson.

In this hilarious, keenly insightful memoir one will find all the ingredients that make for a great reminiscence–identifiable characters (parents, teachers, adults in general), annoying traits (the human condition so fill in the blank here), historic markers (products, entertainment, America’s Civil Defense), the setting of time and place (home town when the good old USA was the good old USA). Read More »

The Lost Continent


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 Travels In Small-Town America

                By Bill Bryson

If one should visit this old Harper & Row publication the recommendation here is simply this:

Have a hanky handy!

As Bryson trips across the USA feeling the country’s pulse, there are times when our author gets a bit snotty!

But hey Little Lulu, hold on to the Kleenex! The majority of your tissues will be wiping Bryson induced tears—tears of snuffling, sobbing, raucous laughter.

At first blow what we have here is a latter- day version of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie (1960). Like Steinbeck, Bryson (1989) puts in the old dip stick on his trip and checks our levels—people, food, politics, economics, geography, local radio and TV, technology, environment, change!

But sorry no Steinbeckian poodle pup or pickup with cozy camper here. Read More »