84, Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road book cover

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by Helene Hanff
Avon Books (1970)

If there was ever a text book for our “why not try an older book” initiative here at Page Turners from the Past it’s clearly Helene Hanff’s bestseller 84, Charing Cross Road. Where else would you find a most entertaining older book, circa 1970, by an author who not only loves reads from the past but comes right out on the seventh page with the confirmation?

The book’s made up of a series of engaging letters from page turner (Hanff) to Marks & Co., Booksellers, a London house that specializes in older book sales. Here on page seven our bibliophile writes: “I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read of interest. The day Hazlitt (a book of Hazlitt’s essays she’d ordered) came he (Hazlitt) opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.”

Well comrade indeed. The only difference—which flies in the face of page turners from the past— is the fact that Helene Hanff (who lived in NY City and wrote for television and crafted children’s books) is, by her choice of books from the London seller, a bit, shall we say, highbrow.

And damned funny! And as her letter’s reveal, very generous! Read More »

A Good Life

Newspapering and Other Adventures

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by Ben Bradlee (1995)

Good Life, Great Read!

Miss the days when, coffee in hand and in slippers and robe, you’d wait for the sound of the morning paper to hit the front porch?

Ben Bradlee’s autobiography takes us back to the day when, of a morning, you’d open a Post, Times, Gazette or Herald and read earth shattering news, banner headlines not only announcing but making history—KENNEDY ASSASSINATED, BREAK IN AT DEMOCRATIC HEADQUARTERS, PENTAGON PAPERS RELEASED, WATERGATE HEARINGS BEGIN, VIETNAM RAGES, NIXON RESIGNS.

And Ben Bradlee may not have set the type but he sure as hell helped set the standard. No newspaperman in recent history made a greater impact on the future of U.S. journalism than the Washington Post’s managing editor.

Perfect, made all the right calls? No not even close. But it’s hard to imagine a more candid, accurate and generous account (he heaps praise on this fellow editors and writers) from the eye of the storm than Bradlee’s.

The early days—his growing up in Boston—have their moments. And Bradlee’s years as a slack-off—drinking, carousing, card player—at Harvard comes equipped with self-deprecating humor. His stint in the Pacific—zipping up and down in harm’s way on a Navy destroyer chasing Japanese subs, covering landing operations and firing deck guns at point blank range into enemy aircraft—makes riveting reading. . . while serving as a great reminder of what Bradlee and the Great Generation were thrown into during that “second war to end all wars.”

His post-war stepping stones, stories of the jobs that lead to the Post’s managing editor position must be told—early newspapering at the award winning New Hampshire Sunday News, earning his stripes on his first tour with the Washington Post, U.S. Press attaché stationed in Paris, and then as the European correspondent of Newsweek. But these early adventures, even considering the divorce from his first wife, Jean, and his affairs (not necessary in that order), are up against some rather strong autobiographical competition. I mean, who but Ben Bradlee (which he sees as the fortune that followed him his entire good life) would find themselves as the centerpiece (of sorts) of our history.

And that’s what makes A Good Life one of America’s great modern day autobiographies. Read More »

The Gold Coast: A Novel

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille

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by Nelson DeMille
Grand Central Publishing (1990)

What do you get when two dying breeds—old blueblood money and the mafia—clash in one of America’s great novels?

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille.

Hey, I’ve read the novel three times but since the publisher captured the story with such clarity I’ll humbly bow to this succinct and spot-on dust jacket summary.

Welcome to the fabled Gold Coast, that stretch on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America. Here two men are destined for an explosive collision: John Sutter, Wall Street lawyer, holding fast to a fading aristocratic legacy; and Frank Bellarosa, the Mafia don who seizes his piece of the staid and unprepared Gold Coast like a latter-day barbarian chief and draws Sutter and his regally beautiful wife, Susan, into his violent world. Told from Sutter’s sardonic and often hilarious point of view, and laced with sexual passion and suspense, The Gold Coast is Nelson DeMille’s captivating story of friendship and seduction, love and betrayal. Read More »

Ragtime: A Novel

by E.L. Doctorow

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Ragtime is a form of jazz, a musical genre written for the piano that enjoyed great popularity between the late 1800s to the early 1920s.

So, one might assume that E.L. Doctorow chose to tell Ragtime, his most compelling turn of the century story of America, in a jaunty, syncopated or jazzy rhythm. His third-person prose clearly have a poet’s touch, written in an experimental lyrical style the likes of which readers had never quite experienced, at least not until the publication of this 1974 winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award.

Now, having rounded up a few of Doctorow’s post-publication interviews regarding the work, I’m not sure that–style-wise–he saw the book quite that way. What I think the author might lay claim to is simply being a storyteller, something that’s been going on since the painting of ancient hieroglyphics and perhaps more significantly the birth of the Bible.

That said, what Doctorow does in Ragtime is take the liberty of any good storyteller (again, the Bible exemplifies this) by making up words and thoughts that actual people never said. This is commonplace in fiction today, but as Doctorow said in one of those aforementioned interviews, “(it) opened the gates!” Read More »

Raney: A Novel

by Clyde Edgerton
Ballantine Books (1985)

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Children, relatives or friends planning to take the big marital leap? Been checking out their gift registry on the Internet and then searching Bed, Bath and Beyond for that perfect buy?

Ah, but you’ve been there, lived the two-birds-in-a-single-nest life and would like to consider a more meaningful gift, something other than a blender or bathroom scales.

Because you’re a reader a book might be the answer, one that opens the couple’s eyes to the reality of marriage.

So you give Amazon a look-see.

HOW TO HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP, HOW TO SAVE A MARRIAGE, WE CAN WORK IT OUT (and dozens of other ominous marital titles) practically jump into your “Proceed to Checkout” basket.


Reboot, jump on Amazon again and purchase a page turner from the past, one that may just be the best marital advice book ever written.

RANEY, Clyde Edgerton’s 1985 novel, the story of a young Southern couple’s first two years of marriage, not only gives readers a counselor’s eye view of the push-and-pull of marriage, it makes us laugh at ourselves and the whole “institution” for what it is—demise or compromise. Read More »

OPEN: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi OPEN book cover

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by Andre Agassi
Vintage Books (2010)

During his incredible high-profile career as a tennis champion Andre Agassi won a total of eight Grand Slams. After reading OPEN, his 2010 autobiography, I think we can say. . .make that nine!

OPEN is clearly a winner!

The #1 bestseller takes page turners center court (and behind the Agassi dark curtain) for a read that aces the sports book genre.

Insightful and candid, this detailed account of Agassi’s life—the overbearing father, the hated Bollettieri tennis boot camp, Agassi’s teenage rebellion, the injuries, the wins and the losses, the blood, sweat and tears (muscles, tendons, etc.), the bad marriage to Brook Shields—is somehow (perception not being reality) fueled by the simple fact that all the while this Rock-Star/tennis icon, a child who eventually grew up to be the #1 player in the world . . . hated tennis!

Therein you’ll find Agassi’s unlikely story.

Agassi plays both sides of the net in his compelling autobiography. Read More »

Now & Then

Robert Parker Now & Then book cover

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by Robert B. Parker
The Berkley Publishing Group (2007)

Readers who enjoy the detective genre love Robert B. Parker.

A formula writer? You bet, and what a formula.

Called the Dean of American Crime Fiction his Spenser Series, Jesse Stone Series and Sunny Randall Series are a reader’s answer to a foodie’s idea of great appetizers. Parker clearly – plot, character, story and setting – serves us small portions. The dialogue is clipped and clever; chapters are short and so readable it’s rare when we don’t hear our stomach growl for more good writing. “That was really great; I think I’ll have another.”

Bad news, good news. Parker passed away in 2010 but before leaving he wrote some 70 of these gems. So grab a plate and prepare to try a bit of this and a bit of that – they’re all so very tasty.

I chose Now & Then, the Spencer novel here not because it’s my all-time favorite, but because it exemplifies, through story, plot and characters, the way Parker worked his magic. Read More »

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

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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.

Read More »