Favorite Books of Notable People
“One of my favorite older books is The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. It was published in 1943, but I read it for the first time in 1986 while I was in law school. The plot and characters were sufficiently compelling to make me sneak downward glances and keep reading while my professors lectured on torts and contracts. The particular genius of the book, in addition to its much-ballyhooed status as a bully pulpit for Rand’s “objectivism” philosophy, is found in how deeply Rand makes you care about the characters and in particular the protagonist Howard Roark. Because I read it first as a young man, full of steam and vigor, I identified with Roark and his passion to follow his vision despite the architectural world’s rigid and monolithic (pun intended) insistence on particular motifs and styles and themes. Even now, on a rereading, I found myself rooting for Roark against the establishment. If you’ve never read it, don’t start it until you have a good chunk of time to commit—either that, or be prepared to sneak downward glances when you should be otherwise occupied. It will grab you.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes, a 1962 dark fantasy from Ray Bradbury, is the principal reason I am a Bradbury fan today. Bradbury is the undisputed master of lyrical prose, that is, prose that is written in the manner of narrative fiction, but which shines with its own rhythm and voice, as might a poem or lyrics. The plot is interesting, yes, but the words Bradbury uses and the way he crafts them together as if he is singing to the reader is mesmerizing. The prose is so evocative of October and Halloween and cornfields and circuses and pumpkins that no matter the time of year, you feel like putting on a sweater and drinking some cider when you read it. Think back to when you were a kid, out trick-or-treating, the wind cold on your back, and you smell the air and the leaves and the pumpkins—that’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
— Bradlee Frazer, author, speaker, blogger and Boise, Idaho, native. He is the lawyer who successfully registered the color blue as a trademark for the iconic artificial turf in Boise State University’s football stadium. His nonfiction has been published in national legal treatises on matters of Internet and intellectual property law, and he is a frequent speaker on those topics. His works of fiction include the short story “Occam’s Razor,” which was published in an online literary journal. The Cure is his first novel. For a look at Frazer’s works go to http://bradleefrazer.com.
“Two of my favorite books deal with humor, to no surprise, being a humorous illustrator. The first was my “textbook” from editor emeritus of MAD Magazine, Nick Meglin—The Art of Humorous Illustration. Nick was my idol as a kid and is now my best friend since he retired from 50+ years at MAD and moved to North Carolina. His book was THE textbook for cartoonists when it was in print and we did a tribute to one of its chapter subjects, Norman Rockwell, on WUNC’s radio program “The State of Things” hosted by NPR’s Frank Stasio. Nick knew Rockwell personally and I often parodied Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers as have many cartoonists.
“The other book is Pure Drivel by one of my favorite humorous writers, Steve Martin. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and demonstrates Martin’s wonderful gift with words. The chapter on “How I Joined MENSA” is one of my favorites (with my often-challenged 187 IQ.)
“I’ll mention a third book, Jim Valvano’s Guide to Great Eating. Yes, I illustrated the book, but I mention it because it was not only fun to do, but Jimmy V was also such a great sport at letting me caricature him. His only constraint was, “Just don’t make my nose too big!” It was such a fun collection of his favorite food and he was funnier in person than my drawings do justice.”
— Jack Pittman, award winning humorous illustrator. His clients range from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop enterprises. Pittman’s illustrations have won numerous awards, including a Silver Star in New York’s One Show, and three times awarded in the National Cartoonist Society’ Reuben Awards for Best in Advertising and Best in Magazine Feature Illustration. His work can be found at www.jptoonist.com
“For some reason I could never get into the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, except for The Great Gatsby, which I consider a work of genius. This April was the 90th anniversary of the publication of Gatsby, and the publisher, Scribner, marked the anniversary with a special edition and a series of essays, including one by me, that can be read here.
“If you’ve actually never read The Great Gatsby do yourself a favor and forget the movie versions you may have seen, and read the book. If you’ve already read it, read it again. It’s incredibly modern for a 90-year-old book, and the story of sex, obsession, betrayal and corruption is timeless.”
— Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of: By the Rivers of Babylon, Cathedral, The Talbot Odyssey, Word of Honor, The Charm School, The Gold Coast, The General’s Daughter, Spencerville, Plum Island, The Lion’s Game, Up Country, Night Fall, Wild Fire, The Gate House, The Lion, The Panther, The Quest, and Radiant Angel. He also co-authored Mayday with Thomas Block and has contributed short stories, book reviews and articles to magazines and newspapers. For more on Nelson DeMille and his novels just click on: www.nelsondemille.net
“The two older books that jump to mind for me are Lost Horizon by James Hilton, which is a classic adventure book (the one about Shangri-la), which I read at a single sitting when I was about 15 and haven’t had the nerve to go back to since for fear that the repeat experience wouldn’t be so magical, and The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.R. Bowman, a parody of an Everest expedition. It was written by an unknown Englishman and is completely forgotten now, but it is the funniest book I have ever read — and it is one that I have returned to again and again.”
— Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods (soon to become a Robert Redford produced movie starring Emma Thompson), One Summer: America 1927 and numerous others. Bryson has more books than any other author in the 40 years of THE SUNDAY TIMES bestsellers list.
“One of the funniest and most twisted novels ever written was CAR, by the late Harry Crews. It’s very short, and one of his early works, but I was blown away when I read it. The plot features a young guy who actually tries to eat a Ford from bumper to bumper as part of an elaborate promotion for a North Florida auto dealership. The car (it’s either a Maverick or a Pinto, I can’t remember) is cut into cubes and lubricated so it can be swallowed, digested and then re-delivered on stage with a rowdy audience in attendance. It’s a beautiful all-American story.”
— Carl Hiaasen, award winning humorist and columnist. His works include his first novel Double Whammy. Since then, Hiaasen has published Skin Tight, Native Tongue, and eight national bestsellers: Strip Tease, Stormy Weather, Lucky You, Sick Puppy, Basket Case, Skinny Dip, Nature Girl and, most recently, Star Island. For more on Carl Hiaasen and his novels just click on: http://www.carlhiaasen.com
“For three years, I drove from a Boston suburb, where I lived at that time, to a seaside pediatric hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. The drive took one hour on a clear sunny day, but became a 3-4 hour journey if a winter blizzard was upon us. As I pondered how to make best use of my travel time, I discovered audiotapes. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd became one of my very favorites.
“The story’s main character is Lily Owen, an endearing 14 year-old girl who, haunted by memories of her late mother and the abuse of her father, runs away from home. She and her African American caregiver, Rosaleen, take off for a small town in South Carolina. The setting and characters immediately struck a chord with me as I grew up in the South, am a pediatrician whose practice focuses on the care of teenagers, was born the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and grew up thereafter an observer of the often turbulent transition to an integrated South. Recent happenings in Ferguson, Charleston, and even my new home city of Cincinnati remind me that racial tensions remain high and that we have not yet fully transitioned, now 51 years later. If you want to read a well-told story that tugs at heartstrings and taps into the moral conscience, this book will be a match. Watching the relationship unfold between teen aged Lily and her nanny and housekeeper, Rosaleen, is heartwarming as this unlikely pair become “family” even though not biologically related. I will not tell you how the story ends, but must disclose that I was late for work a few mornings, hesitant to get out of the car once at my destination (i.e., the hospital), waiting for a moving chapter to end.
“Eleanor Roosevelt, a historical figure whom I greatly admire, once said about children, “Unless indoctrinated, a child is too logical to understand discrimination.” Lily Owens embodies this quote as she was receptive to kindness irrespective of race (or age or any other discriminating factor). The Secret Life of Bees came along many years after her time, but I am certain that Roosevelt would have shared my fondness for this thought-provoking novel. I am certain it would have been, like mine, one of her “Top 10” favorite books.”
— Catherine M. Gordon, MD, MS, is Director, Division of Adolescent and Transition Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Professor of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Every once in a while an author publishes a book that stands above all the rest. Some notable books:
Peace Like a River written by Leif Enger in 2002 about a sickly 11-year-old boy.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese in 2010 about a doctor in Ethiopia.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a story of World War II in France.
What makes these books outstanding is the experience and the journey these magical writers take us on.
These novels are not popular fiction, these are handcrafted miracles, given to the readers of the world and are among my favorites ever written.
—Pat Wilson, Manager, Pelican Bookstore, Sunset Beach, N.C.
“Years before the Coen brothers ever thought of sending victims through a wood chipper in Fargo, Carl Hiaasen had already employed a chipper to slice and dice an unfortunate woman—Victoria Barletta—killed during a botched nose job in his 1989 novel, Skin Tight.
Pound for pound, in his or any other weight class, Carl Hiaasen is, in my humble opinion, the most inventive and, by a far margin, the funniest and quirkiest novelist working the crime genre. There’s no arguing about his best-sellerdom, yet, Hiaasen has constantly been consigned to second or third fiddle to the likes of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake. I cry “Foul.” Is it because his books have not been made into hit movies?
Perhaps. Hiaasen is the bravest, most inventive and the most fall-down-funny writer toiling in this genre. Call him a satirist, a black humorist, an ironist, but just start working your way through his addictive fourteen books.
I give you the example of my favorite “Hiaasen,” his third published novel, Skin Tight. Like all of his books, Skin Tight is set in South Florida. This one features Mick Stranahan, retired investigator for the Florida State Attorney’s office where he had worked on the unsolved Victoria Barletta case.
That’s where it all starts. The aforementioned nose job was performed by Dr. Rudy Graveline, plastic surgeon. The problem is “Dr.” Graveline is not really a doctor and never even played one on TV. He is sort of a plastic surgeon hobbyist, but that doesn’t stop him from performing delicate cosmetic procedures that sometimes kill people. And now, Graveline is trying to kill Stranahan. Along the way, he will hire two hit men, one of whom is a seven-footer named “Chemo” with a grotesquely pock-marked face (courtesy of Dr Graveline) and a weed-whacker for a prosthetic hand. Don’t ask. The body count is prodigious and inventive.
When’s the last time you read about someone being dispatched by a stuffed Marlin? Or, during a liposuction procedure? Hiaasen’s characters are always masterfully drawn. There’s a whole host of whacked out oddballs throughout. My favorite is the sleazeball reality show host named Reynaldo Flemm, after which no parody of Geraldo Rivera will ever be necessary. Even though he’s not in Skin Tight, there’s a recurring Hiaasen character, a former Governor of Florida, now living in the Everglades and existing on road kill. That will give you an idea of what’s in store for you with Carl Hiaasen. A full tasting menu.”
— Norman Steinberg heads the TV Writers Studio at Long Island University (Brooklyn campus), a one-of-a-kind program that gives students a real-world TV writing experience. Steinberg is an Emmy Award winner, a veteran screenwriter whose credits include Blazing Saddles, My Favorite Year, Johnny Dangerously, Mr. Mom and many others. For more about the LIU TV Writers Studio go to: http://www.liu.edu/brooklyn/mfatv
“A number of years ago when I first read Mark Kriegel’s Pistol: The Life Story of Pete Maravich I did so knowing that I was one of the lucky ones. Having been in the basketball business for a number of years I’ve had the opportunity to ask some of the greats who they considered the best they ever saw. I’ve heard Michael, LeBron, Byrd, Magic, West, Oscar, all the usual suspects, but most often the name that came up was, usually after a thoughtful pause, “Well, the most exciting and talented I ever saw was Pistol Pete Maravich!”
And then they’d ask if I ever saw him play. “Yes, I not only saw him play I played with him and against him!” This never fails to kick-start the conversation. “No, I didn’t play with him in Raleigh at Broughton High School or with or against him at LSU. But I grew up in Raleigh and we played pickup games at the park at Hayes Barton Swimming Pool. I was three years older, so the games that I played in with Pete—which are, even now, hard to forget—were on those Raleigh playgrounds.
Here was this skinny white kid who grew to be 6’5, wearing these floppy socks, doing things with a basketball that we’d never seen before. So when I read Pistol, the biography, I was really prepared to be, in a sense, disappointed. I thought, hell I know the story, knew his dad, Press, was there in Raleigh when he took Pete to LSU, delivering a prize that would get Press the head coach’s job there.
I knew how Pete lived, how he played (I watched him all through high school at Broughton) and I knew how, sadly, he died. What I wasn’t prepared for was the powerful story that Mark Kriegel tells in this biography—it’s a story of a kid who lives his father’s dream, and I would learn later in reviews that confirmed my rather biased opinion that this is a story, to quote one review, that “captures the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and finally, its redemption.”
Pete wasn’t just the Elvis Presley of basketball, a tremendous shooter and ball handler; this was a very complex individual, one that novels, rather than non-fictions, are made of. So I knew Pete, or at least I thought I did . . . until I read Pistol. You don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this powerful biography.” — John Rhodes is the Mayor of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Executive Director of the Beach Ball Classic, the nation’s premier high school basketball tournament. For more on Mayor Rhodes’ Beach Ball Classic click here: http://www.beachballclassic.com.
“My go-to novel for pure pleasure, a book read so often the pages are dog-eared, is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. A number-one bestseller when it was released in 1987, the novel focuses on Penelope Stern Keeling, an elderly British woman who returns home from the hospital after a heart attack. She relives her life through flashbacks from her point of view and those of her three children. What I love most is that Penelope Keeling’s life is not extraordinary, but it spans “a time of huge importance and change in the world”–World War II and the post-war years. Yet the novel is not about great battles or heroics, but how everyday people deal with everyday hardships and joys.
Pilcher excels in the universal, describing the details of life that we all relate to–and she does it in such a charming manner. She spins a web with dialogue so fresh and natural that we are unaware we are learning important facts that move the story forward. Dialogue is supposed to do this in novels, but few writers succeed as well as Pilcher.
Finally, Rosamunde Pilcher has that elusive quality we call “voice” in writing. Someone could read a paragraph of her book aloud and we could recognize it as Pilcher. This quality can neither be taught nor imitated.
Writers come and go with new generations. Young readers today might not know Rosamunde Pilcher. But her books remain as timeless as the classics. I treasure all her books, but The Shell Seekers is her masterpiece. Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy and savor every word.”
— Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy: The Summer Girls (Book 1), The Summer Wind (Book 2) and The Summer’s End (Book 3, May 2015). Check out all of Monroe’s books here.
“The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon made a very positive impression on me. No matter what your goals are in life, it is important to attack them with positive energy. This is a book that gets you in the right frame of mind by presenting 10 rules to follow that will help you reach all of your goals.”
— Danny Manning, Men’s Head Basketball Coach, Wake Forrest University. Manning was a two-time All-America while at the University of Kansas, named Big Eight Player of the Decade at UK, then drafted as the NBA’s first overall pick in 1988. He enjoyed 15 distinguished seasons in the NBA.
“An older book I’d like to recommend is Candide by Voltaire. There is plenty of action in this book and a good bit of beneath the surface philosophy — applicable today. Additionally, the author’s wit and insight reminds us of the fact that we moderns are not getting any smarter; we just don’t have to work so hard to get places and do things, and that is not always good for us perhaps. The more things change the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.”
— Clyde Edgerton, an award-winning author, teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Among his works that have received national acclaim are RANEY, Walking Across Egypt and Killer Diller. For more about Clyde Edgerton and his books go to: www.clydeedgerton.com.
“The best novel I have read so far this century is The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. It’s his first novel, and while it’s still relatively unknown here,
it is a brilliant and totally charming fable that has sold over 8 million copies in Europe since first appearing in 2009.
Robert Sheckley’s Dimenson of Miracles is not only the funniest novel to appear in the science fiction field, but created a form of humor that only worked as science fiction. Can’t be much more creative than that.
The best single novel I’ve ever read? Easy. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis — and I’m a lifelong atheist.”
— Mike Resnick, winner of five Hugo awards for his science fiction, has been nominated for the Hugo more than any other writer. For a look at Mike’s bestselling books go to www.mikeresnick.com
“Everybody remembers a super athlete from high school, one who received mass adulation and from whom great things were expected once he made the transition to the big world beyond twelfth grade. There are two books that absolutely hit the nail on the head for this topic, and either might qualify as a candidate for the “Great American Novel” we’ve patiently been waiting for since Huckleberry Finn.
The first is John Updike’s Rabbit, Run in which we meet a star basketball player whose currency gets devalued after graduation. His name is Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, and he left his slice of the American Dream and his fifteen minutes of fame back on the hardwood. Harry gets married, has a kid, and ends up selling MagiPeeler, a kitchen gadget, but can’t get rid of the emptiness inside. Booze and a fling with a prostitute offer no remedy. It all ends badly, but Updike’s powerful prose and gift for description make the journey memorable. If you like the book, you should continue with the rest of Updike’s pentalogy: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest, and Rabbit Remembered. Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Updike’s professional rival was Philip Roth and his contribution to this special genre was American Pastoral. The book focuses on the once golden life of Seymour “Swede” Levov who lettered in three sports, fought in World War II, and came home to take over his father’s glove business. But the real action is centered on the sordid escapades of his teenage daughter who is radicalized by the nation’s Vietnam misadventure and gets involved with domestic terrorists. Roth’s attention to detail recreates the discordant atmosphere of 1968 that ripped apart families and country alike. American Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is considered by many, including the New York Times Book Review, as one of the greatest works of American fiction in the last 25 years.”
— Frank Batavick is a retired television writer/producer/director who, over his 40-year career, produced a wide range of live and recorded programs, from documentaries to talk shows. His work has garnered more than 60 national and international awards, including a Peabody and a regional Emmy. Living in Maryland, he is a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.
“My number one suggestion is Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year. First, I am a fan of Abe Lincoln and a fan of American history. This book describes the year 1862 and speaks to the perilous nature of our nation at this critical time in our history. What is amazing to me is that during this most difficult year, Mr. Lincoln was able to get some key legislative items approved. Two of which, I believe set this nation on the path to be the greatest of all time.
The first was the Land Grant act that established the opportunity for states to create a university focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts, two key technical needs for America that enabled the industrial and agricultural revolution we benefit from today. The second major item was the Transcontinental Railroad, which allowed this country to connect–from coast to coast–and thus enabled commerce. The third was the act that created the National Academy of Sciences, bringing together the most talented scientists in the country to insure that our federal government always had science advisors independent of political influence. Amazing stuff given the intensity of the Civil War.”
— Dr. Randy Woodson, Chancellor, North Carolina State University
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It is beloved by millions of readers worldwide and critics credit its appeal to the depiction of childhood innocence, its scathing moral condemnation of racial prejudice and its affirmation that human goodness can withstand the assault of evil.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. One of the most celebrated books of all time. A very funny book about Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to
kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: A man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.”
— Nick Valvano, President Emeritus, The V Foundation for Cancer Research
Once an Eagle, a novel by Anton Myrer, traces the career of two Army officers. One, Sam Damon, is an officer of great character, who is steeped in ethics and integrity, and is committed to selfless service to our nation. The other is Courtney Massengale, an officer intent on reaching the highest ranks and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his personal goals. It is the story of the different ways in which they rise to power and how they elect to wield that power. After reading Once an Eagle, Army officers frequently characterized their contemporaries as a “Damon,” which was considered a great compliment, or as a “Courtney Massengale,” the ultimate insult.
Dereliction of Duty, by H.R. McMaster, chronicles decision-making at the highest levels of the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. It shows the deceit, deception and lying involving the President, Secretaries of State and Defense and The Joint Chiefs of Staff. This book sensitized me and the other members of The Joint Chiefs to be on the lookout for individuals who might be motivated by their own agenda. Ironically, almost 40 years later, I learned that similar behavior and agendas were still alive in D.C.”
— General Henry Hugh Shelton, USA (R) 14th Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Founder and Executive Director of the Shelton Leadership Center, NC State University
“This is embarrassing for a writer to admit, but I’m not a book saver. There is only so much space for books in my house, so I give many away. However, there are several books I devoured, loved and studied when I first began writing fiction, and I hold onto them like old friends. Here are two of my favorites.
White Horses, the fourth novel by Alice Hoffman, was published in 1982. I stumbled across it in a bin at my grocery store. I’d never heard of Hoffman (few people had back then) but I fell in love with her style of writing and her unusual story of a young woman influenced by a folk tale of brave men on white horses. After reading this book, I sought out Hoffman’s earlier novels and wished there had been more of them. When I reread my first novel, written while in my “Hoffman phase,” I can see her influence in certain paragraphs and turns of phrase. I will keep White Horses until they cart me away!
Another book that influenced my writing is The Female of the Species by Lionel Shriver, published in 1987. I learned a great deal about point of view as I read–and reread and reread–this novel. It’s the story of a 59-year-old female anthropologist who falls in love for the first time. What made her story so fascinating to me is that most of it is told in third person through the eyes of her younger assistant, Errol. I studied how Shriver accomplished the telling of one person’s intimate story through the eyes of another. She does a brilliant job of it, and as with White Horses, The Female of the Species is a book that I will keep always.”
“The odd and misleading title (sorry, potheads) of Stoner by John Williams (1965) refers to the last name of the hero, William Stoner, a turn-of-the-twentieth century English professor in Missouri. Though Stoner’s life is one of nearly unrelieved misery, Williams’ writing is so lyrical and Stoner’s stoicism is so inspiring that you want to adopt this remarkable hero as your mentor and best friend. Not for the happy-go-lucky, this book will make your own life trials seem trivial in comparison. And who of us doesn’t want to escape from our own problems by wallowing in those of a searingly real fictional character who, unfortunately, has been placed in the absolutely best novel you’ve never heard of. And, no, all you persnickety people, I don’t mind ending a sentence with a preposition–Professor Stoner, bless him, would allow it.”
– Dr. Elliot Engel, American scholar and a member of England’s prestigious Royal Society of Arts, speaks nationally and internationally on Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain and other literary notables. Engel’s highly entertaining and literary web site can be found at: http://www.authorsink.com/about-dr-elliot-engel/
“There is one page turner from the past that always pops up in my mind. The title is Forecast for Overlord, by J.M. Stagg. It is the story of a young meteorologist named Stagg in charge of giving General Eisenhower the “go” or “no go” for the D-Day invasion. I believe the account of events in the book mentions that General Rommel returned to Germany to celebrate his wife’s birthday because he didn’t think there was a chance in you know what that the weather would permit an invasion. But Stagg thought he saw a hole, and Eisenhower trusted him. The rest is history.”
– Greg Fishel, Chief Meteorologist, WRAL-TV
“One of the books that I read about five years ago, by Robert Poole, was On Hallowed Ground. It is the story of the Arlington National Cemetery. I am such a military history buff that I wanted to read it. It chronicles the early days of the Washington family estate, where Robert E. Lee lived on the bluff overlooking Washington. It describes how Lee was summoned on several occasions to ride his horse into Washington, on the months before the Civil War erupted, and asked to assume the role of commander and chief of the Union forces. It chronicles his repeated response that, ‘I could never take up arms against my native Virginia.’
After he assumed a role as a General of the Confederate army of Virgina, the powers to be turned his home and surrounding grounds into a Union encampment and later a cemetery; thus assuring that it could never be returned to his family as an active farm or plantation site. However, in the early months of the war, Lee on occasion would ride through Federal lines at night to stay in his home with his wife and family. He rode directly past Union guards who never had any idea who he was. This book was revealing and enlightening to someone who revels and respects the storied history of this cemetery. There is no more hallowed ground that that which serves as the final resting place of our heroes; the men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom.”
– Dr. Jerry Punch, ESPN, NASCAR commentator and motor sports reporter
Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French (1979) recreates the conspiracy by Ireland and France to bring the wars of the French Revolution to the British Isles. From the Irish perspective, the plan was to enlist French help in their rebellion against English oppression. From the French perspective, the intervention was designed to open a new front in Britain’s backyard to distract France’s arch enemy from the brewing war of the second coalition. From the British point of view, it was a traitorous stab in the back that posed sufficient danger to warrant swift and ruthless suppression. General Cornwallis was brought out of near retirement to redeem the reputation he lost in the American Revolution. He unleashed a campaign in Ireland that had few rivals for brutality, atrocity, and effectiveness. For Flanagan, a professor of English, “The Year of the French” proved to be the first of three historical novels recounting the hard and bitter modern history of his beloved Ireland. The novel is thoroughly researched and vividly written. The cruel fate of the Irish conspirators who bet their futures on two small, belated French invasions haunts the memory.
Winston Groom’s Better Times than These (1978) is also a first historical novel by a powerful writer. Better known for his 1986 Forest Gump, Groom was a Vietnam veteran trying to capture his experience in the war when he wrote “Better Times than These,” one of the very best of the countless Vietnam novels. Groom uses familiar structures and devices—young lieutenant, ambitious and venal senior officers, heroic soldiers, and searing battle narratives—to impose a coherent narrative on the small-unit engagements that comprised the American experience in Vietnam. What sets this book apart is its ability to distill the special flavor and apparent senselessness of American military operations in Vietnam in the late 1960s. This is a mature and sophisticated rendering of a complicated topic by a young but masterful author.”
– Dr. Alex Roland, Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, has authored numerous books and publications on military history, military technology and space flight. Roland is currently writing a biography of Robert Fulton.
“I Am Third was written by former Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers along with Al Silverman. If you have ever seen the movie “Brian’s Song,” this book was the inspiration for the movie. It’s a story about an ebony and ivory friendship that grew from football. Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo played the same position, running back, for the Chicago Bears. Sayers was a lightning quick star from Kansas. Piccolo plowed his way into the ACC record books at Wake Forest.
The book details how they became friends, sharing time together away from football. Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer which ended his football career but strengthened his bond with Sayers. I don’t know of anyone who has watched this movie or read this book and not shed a tear as Gale Sayers lost his best friend to cancer. I was drawn to the book by the title, I Am Third. What’s the significance? It comes from the priorities of Gale Sayers. The Lord is first, my friends are second and I am third.
I have a large collection of books written by John Feinstein which includes A Season on the Brink. One, he writes a lot about sports but more because of his writing style. Feinstein is a great storyteller.
He was given total access to a season with Indiana coach Bob Knight, one of the most successful and hot-headed coaches in college basketball. This was one of the first behind the scenes sports books that I can remember. Feinstein was there for every practice and expletive filled tirade that Coach Knight would unleash. Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire summed it up best. When he learned about Feinstein doing the book with Knight he said, ‘With all the time they are going to spend together, they won’t be speaking to each other by March. My second prediction is that if John survives the season, he will have a terrific book on his hands.’
I don’t think that the author and former coach have spoken since the book was printed in 1985. But I totally agree with Coach Al, it is a terrific book watching a master coach work his craft.”
– Jeff Gravley, Sports Anchor, WRAL-TV, and 2015 North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year
“A great book, and one that I have revisited a number of times is Washington Goes To War by David Brinkley. This compelling page-turner by, in my opinion, one of the elite television news writers of all time, is the story of one of the most unique times in our history. Historians define WW ll as THE defining event of the 20th century. Brinkley provides a riveting inside look at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s preparations for wartime, and the transformation of Washington city. FDR held more power for a longer period time than any President in American history.He had no patience for the glacial crawl of the entrenched bureaucracy, over which he installed his New Dealers who often moved with warp speed at the behest of the President.
Brinkley covers the leaders, the critics, the buffoons, the social scene, even the problem of where the thousands of young people pouring into Washington for wartime jobs would find a place to sleep.
This rare time, when young men enlisted before their draft notices arrived, when Americans accepted shortages of cigarettes, gas and tires, then reached into their wallets to buy war bonds, is perhaps the last time we as a nation were truly united for a common cause.”
– Charlie Gaddy, award-winning WRAL television anchor (ret.), named to the Mid-South Emmy Award Silver Circle
“The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd … Ancient Ireland as it should be told: with drama, heartbreak and more than a wee bit of myth. And Stalingrad by Antony Beevor is a vivid account of a famous battle that will haunt you. Anything by Beevor is a can’t-miss.”
– Terry Gannon, Play-by-Play Host, NBC/Golf Channel
“Jake, by Alfred Slote, is the first book I can remember pulling off the shelf at the public library. I was 8 or 9-years-old. On the surface, it’s a book about little league baseball. But it’s really a story about life: family, authority, race relations, growing up and, ultimately, the endless and universal search for love. Jake taught me that sports stories can be more than game descriptions and hero worship. They can be great human stories. More than any other work, Jake has influenced my own work as a filmmaker, and in every project I’ve done – including SURVIVE AND ADVANCE – there’s a little bit of Jake.”
– Jonathan Hock, an eight-time Emmy Award winning producer, director, writer and editor, directed SURVIVE AND ADVANCE, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Jim Valvano’s incredible run to an NCAA basketball championship.
“One of my memorable page turners from the past is Endless Love. Scott Spencer’s novel is about a teenage boy’s obsessive love for his girlfriend. He does indeed burn down her house. I interviewed Scott when the novel came out years and years ago, and he said he never burned down anybody’s house but he did have a bad case of obsessive love in high school.”
– Dannye Romine Powell, Book Editor, Charlotte Observer
– Mike Shannon, Editor-in-Chief, Spitball “The Literary Magazine of Baseball.” Tales from the Dugout; Everything Happens in Chillicothe, and Diamond Classics are among the numerous books written by Shannon.
“I was a 10-year-old sixth grader when Ball Four was published, and after all of the benign baseball stories I had been reading since I was able to read, this one opened my eyes to the reality of sport. Sure, I enjoyed all of the naughty stuff and bathroom humor that 10-year-old sixth graders probably shouldn’t have been reading about, but I also liked the way Jim Bouton described the ups and downs of life as a major league baseball player. As I grew into a sports media career, Ball Four helped me understand that no matter how much fame and fortune athletes had, they were still human beings — some better than me, some worse than me, some just like me. The only difference? They have off-the-chart athletic skills.”
“I revisit Damon Runyon’s short stories all the time. First found them in my dad’s bookcase in high school. He had Guys and Dolls, Letters from Home, and Blue Plate Special. Nobody wrote characters like Runyon and his assorted misfits that hang out at Mindy’s on Broadway always made me laugh. Mostly it was the way he used dialect to capture the comings and goings of these dreamers and misfits. I still laugh at Butch Minds the Baby, Bloodhounds on Broadway and of course Nathan Detroit.”
For books of collected Damon Runyon stories, click here.
– David Wells, actor in many films including Basic Instinct (1982), Bevery Hills Cop (1984) and Starman (1984), and principal, David Wells Acting Studio, Hollywood, CA.
“The gardening book that got me started many years ago in my backyard was The Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour, Dolphin Books, 1980.
I took a plot of red clay and turned it into fertile Deep Beds growing a host of vegetables in a small space. Seymour suggests plants that do well in our climate along with things to do in the Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall gardens. Along with organic pest and disease control. After all these years I keep the book close by for reference. Best home gardening book I’ve ever read.”
– Mike Gray, host of The Almanac Gardener, North Carolina Public Television