Leafing Through Your 2021, Book by Book

By Teddy Allen

Is this the 12th month of 2021 or the 24th month of 2020? When Waylon Jennings recorded “Stop the World and Let Me Off” in 1965, he was a man way, way ahead of his time.

Crazy, crazy …

But things are getting better, as evidenced by our annual Best Books of the Year list. You won’t find any pandemic-related works here like you did last year. Who can forget the 2020 bestsellers, like LOCKDOWN!: Your Place or Mine?, or 1,501 Ways To Make Banana Bread, or The Vaccine Two-Step: Let’s Give it a Shot.

And of course, everyone’s favorite recent trilogy, Why Masks Work and the sequel, Why Masks Don’t Work, followed by the recently published Why Masks Might or Might Not Work.

Crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy…

For years we’ve published our favorite books in late December, but in a rare moment of logical thinking, I figured it would be best to do this now in case you need a Christmas present idea. So …

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson was my favorite book of the year. Published in 2000 and on my shelf since, I just got around to reading it, about the Galveston hurricane, Sept. 8, 1900. I have a friend who’s read it three times, and I can understand why.

These others get four of five stars:

News of the World (2016) by Paulette Jiles, about a 72-year-old man in post-Civil War times on a journey from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. In small towns along the way, he reads the news to people who have no access to it. His companion is a girl, 10, kidnapped but now safe, who he’s returning to her family. She basically brings him to life again. I haven’t seen the movie yet, starring Tom Hanks.

Also The Music of the Statler Brothers, An Anthology (2020) by the retired group’s lead singer, Don Reid, and Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (2020) by Dolly Parton. And two books by the late Carl Reiner, My Anecdotal Life (2003) and I Just Remembered (2013). I listened to the authors read the Parton and Reiner books, which was part of the joy. Same with a couple of Dick Van Dyke books, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business (2011) and Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Living Well Longer (2016). Van Dyke will be 96 Dec. 13. Also Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I’ve Learned (2005), written and read by Alan Alda, if you happen to be a fan. Finally, This is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith and Life (2013), a nice surprise by the entirely likeable Gavin MacLeod from “The Love Boat” and Murray on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Same with the just-released The Boys, written and read by brothers Ron and Clint Howard, about growing up as child actors but mainly about their endearing relationship with their less-successful actor parents.

Loved it.

Other biggies:

Life Lessons (2021), a book of semi-Sunday school lessons, also by the Statlers’ Don Reid;

A Burning in My Bones (2021), the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, authored by Winn Collier;

Also The End of Me (2015) by Kyle Idelman, about the tricky business of dying to self, Improving Your Serve (2004) by Chuck Swindoll, and Anne Lamott’s 2012 Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Pastor Tim Keller and others would suggest she left out confession, that;

Help, Sorry, Thanks, Wow would be a more exact title, but most all agree, including Keller, that it’s a thoughtful and most helpful little book.

Also four of five stars to Inside Comedy (2021) a semi-modern history of comedy by David Steinberg, The Only Plane in the Sky (2019), an exhaustive oral history of 9/11 by Garett Graff, Squeeze Me (2020) by Carl Hiassen, who writes brilliant novel after brilliant novel defending his native Florida, pointing out political absurdities in ways that are scorching and funny, and The Queen’s Gambit (2003) by the late Walter Tevis about a female chess prodigy. (The recent drama series on Netflix, set during the Cold War 1950s, is as many thumbs-up as you can give it.)

Three of five stars to The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (2020) by Erik Larson, The Dutch House (2019), a novel by Ann Patchett, and March Violets (1989), a Berlin noir-like novel by a new guy for me, the late Phillip Kerr, about his German private eye Bernie Gunther.

Finally got around to Moneyball (2011) by Michael Lewis; loved it. And Tobacco Road (1932) by Erskine Caldwell. Re-read The Adventures of Huck Finn (1884) by Mark Twain and The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (2002) by Steven Pressfield, always a good call.

See you at the library. Read on!

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


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