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Weekend Reading: Some Good Books
Writing that is worth your time.
Instead it follows an installment from last fall, about books (by friends) that I think deserve notice. One of them I talked about went on to win the Edgar award, for Best Novel! I take no credit but am glad.
Why books “by friends”? If you are in this business, a lot of the people you know are writers. Some of them are very good.
Here are some good books by good writers I would like to recommend.
1) Imagine a City, by Mark Vanhoenacker
I’ll start with the book I don’t have a photo of, above. It is Imagine a City, by Mark Vanhoenacker, whom I have corresponded with for years, although we have never met.
Vanhoenacker’s day job is as an airline pilot. He might have been in command when you were flying internationally.
His “real” job (though the airline would not like for me to say this) is as a writer. I’ve mentioned time and again that at the dawn of aviation, more than 100 years ago, the widespread assumption was that any poet, any writer, any historian, any artist — anyone who thought about perspectives on the world, anyone who would benefit from this new vantage point — would want to learn to fly. That is because of the unmatched view of the Earth from a few thousand feet up.
Mark Vanhoenacker has been the modern representation of that idea. His book Skyfaring several years ago was an elegant and eloquent paean to the art and science of flying. His new book, Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Across the Urban World, shares some of what he has learned while on the ground.
I can’t judge how he is as a pilot — presumably, far more accomplished than I would ever be. I can say that he is a really good writer.
2) Because Our Fathers Lied, by Craig McNamara
My wife, Deb, and I have known Margy McNamara Pastor and her late husband Bob Pastor for decades, since the time Bob and I worked together in the Carter administration. Over the past decade Deb and I have become friends with Margy’s brother Craig McNamara, mainly through visits to his walnut farm in rural Winters, California.
The world knows both of them as children of Margaret and Robert McNamara, the latter a central figure in the U.S. disaster of the Vietnam war.
Craig has written an extraordinary memoir of growing up in these circumstances, and the burdens and privileges of the childhood he had. His book is funny, touching, well-written, surprising, enlightening, and brutally honest. It is a powerful description of the political and personal stakes of coming to terms with a complicated father, in a tragic and traumatic era in world history.
—If you were entranced by the Errol Morris film The Fog of War, you’ll want to read Craig McNamara’s account of what it was like to see that film, with his father present.
—If you’ve never heard of the film The Fog of War or even of Robert McNamara, you will be enlightened by this book. Seriously, you will be glad to have read this. I am glad Craig wrote it.
3) California: An American History, by John Mack Faragher.
John Mack Faragher is known to the world as a history professor at Yale. He is known to me as the oldest brother of the large family that grew up in the house immediately next to ours, in the small inland town of Redlands, California.
His younger brothers, Danny and Jimmy, were my contemporaries all through grade school and high school. Their younger siblings were friends of my younger sisters and brother. John was the guy ahead of us all, who had “gone East,” to graduate school at Yale.
Now he has written a great, accessible, edgy history of our best state. I recommend it.
4) Vanishing Asia, by Kevin Kelly.
Kevin Kelly is known in the tech world as a co-founder of Wired and an all-round tech guru. He is also a very talented photographer.
From decades’ worth of travel and reporting, he has a huge, three-volume, 1000-page photo collection called Vanishing Asia. The volumes are: West Asia, about Turkey and its environs; Central Asia, about India and the region; and East Asia, covering China and Japan and their neighbors.
It is a stupendous life’s work, and worth seeing and learning from if you have the chance. It really is extraordinary. It is more a museum project than something most people will have in their homes, but is worth support and notice. Here is a sample photo, from Afghanistan:
5) Bonus: Rogues, by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Last week, at a Politics & Prose bookstore event in D.C., I had a chance to interview Patrick Radden Keefe about his collection of magazine journalism, Rogues.
You may know Keefe from his epic recent books Say Nothing, about Northern Ireland, and Empire of Pain, about the Sackler family and the world that they made
If you liked those books, you will enjoy this one as well. And even if you don’t know those books, you should know this one.
More books, more writers, more suggestions to come.