The Books of Summer
Our intrepid reviewers recommend their choices for great leisure reading
Take a literary trip with us to kitschy Americana, the backyard barbecue grill, the baseball Hall of Fame, one of the great wars and even the circus. Six Tribune writers and three Portland booksellers offer a cornucopia of books for summer.
'The Bedford Boys'
by Alex Kershaw
In the lull before the first wave of helmet-cam tales and embedded war stories from Iraq hits the shelves, lawn-chair warriors might like a reminder of what battle was like just half a century ago.
The tiny town of Bedford, Va., population 3,000, supplied dozens of men to the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Within minutes, 19 of them were dead, in a 'Saving Private Ryan'-type massacre, and two more died later that day. It was a stunning proportion of the town's manhood.
Hot nonfiction writer Alex Kershaw traces the men who survived and reconstructs the bonds between the young soldiers as they went to their fate. Kershaw, who has written biographies of Jack London and Life magazine photographer Robert Capa, writes powerfully of the hell of war in real time, sucking the reader along in his narrative tailwind.
Working from interviews as well as diaries and letters, he lays out details that acquire dramatic power as the book progresses. For instance, we read that the news hit Bedford in a blizzard of ticker tape at the local drugstore that someone had to paste onto Western Union stationery before delivering it to the bereaved families.
'The Bedford Boys' is a gripping war story with a human face.
$25; 238 pages; Da Capo Press
by Rick Browne
According to Rick Browne's statistics, 91 percent of Americans own barbecue grills, which makes a pretty good captive audience for his new book.
Browne, of Ridgefield, Wash., has a barbecue cooking show on Seattle public television station KCTS, and his search for burning meat has taken him clear across the United States.
Browne's latest how-to book includes detailed recipes as well as engagingly written accounts of festivals he's visited. He reports from the 30th World Barbecue Championship in Houston, the 55th annual Maine Lobster Festival, the 26th annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Pacific Northwest Regional Championship in Woodinville, Wash.
Judging from the recipes, he must run from one cook-in to another to keep both his weight and his cholesterol under 300.
This is a seriously useful volume, addressing how to handle everything from appetizers, such as 'frickles' (barbecued pickles), to desserts (barbecued ice cream). In between Browne offers terrific ideas for beef, fish and shellfish, lamb, pork, poultry, wild game and even vegetarian items.
Additional chapters analyze and explain sauces (there are 2,000 available!), rubs and wood suitable for smoking. There's a list of Browne's favorite barbecue team names (yup, it's a team sport, too). And he tells how to determine if you're in a good barbecue joint.
The recipes are best read when you're not hungry. Among the most intriguing are Armadillo Eggs, Gilroy Stinking Rose Mushrooms, Grilled Shallot-Cognac Steaks, Venetian Stuffed Calamari, Mozambique Fire Shrimp with Pili Pili Sauce and Assyrian Grilled Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Sauce.
If you're feeling especially bold, Browne explains how to calculate the temperature of your grill, using only your hand.
$25.95, 312 pages, Regan Books
'The Road to Cooperstown'
by Tom Stanton
Like most baseball books, Tom Stanton's 'The Road to Cooperstown' is obviously of a certain time (the early 1970s) and place (Michigan).
It's a familiar time and place to this reviewer: While Stanton and I grew up at opposite ends of the state, his love for the likes of slugger Willie Horton and pudgy pitcher Mickey Lolich transcended county lines (in southwestern Michigan, we worshipped Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins of the Chicago Cubs). Stanton was just one of thousands of Rust Belt kids capable of forever cherishing a simple wave from Horton from the on-deck circle.
But Stanton's story is twofold: 'Cooperstown' chronicles a trip he, his father and his brother made to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 29 years after his mother's brutal illness postponed a hoped-for venture to the Cooperstown, N.Y., baseball Mecca.
Stanton's writing is adequate, but he does have a nice gift for description: Cooperstown is a burg in which time has stood still; his older brother is a pacifist-turned-churchgoing conformist; and his own childhood provided an odd mixture of typical romps and adult-like introspection.
The appeal of 'Cooperstown' may be limited. It's clearly a baseball book, and thus will charm only those who glommed onto a favorite childhood team and deemed its members heroes. Stanton's team was the 1972 Tigers, whose playoff run gave him hope between the frequent hospital visits to see his mother and wondering about the real reason behind his father's studied stoicism.
True, 'Cooperstown' is of a time and a place, but Stanton's emotional reportage makes it a journey worth taking even if you didn't grow up there.
$24.95, 257 pages, St. Martin's Press
by AndrŽ Leon Talley
AndrŽ Leon Talley is known for his professional and personal stature: The elegant, 6-foot-7 editor-at-large of Vogue magazine has been an integral part of the fashion world since the mid-1970s.
Now 54, Talley has penned 'A.L.T.,' a memoir that reveals the deep Southern roots that run beneath his flamboyant exterior. He credits his childhood for incubating the keen, rarefied aesthetic that would later catch the eye of fashion's grande dame, Diana Vreeland, who became his mentor and closest friend.
Raised by his grandmother, a housekeeper for a men's dormitory at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Talley tells of a childhood that was rich in the love of family, faith and good food.
A lack of money didn't prevent Talley from learning about luxury an appreciation that serves him today as a figurehead at Vogue.
'It was likely the plainness of my grandmother's home that trained me to be an aesthete É one whose life is governed by his experience of and relationship to beauty,' says Talley, who shares childhood memories in passages that are evocative of freshly ironed bedding and sweating glasses of iced tea on a hot summer day.
Those looking for an addendum to dishy fashion tell-alls such as 'The Devil Wears Prada' will be disappointed. While Talley does discuss the industry its pitfalls and its perks the emphasis of 'A.L.T.' is on his grandmother and Vreeland, the women who taught him that true style lies in living graciously.
$24.95; 228 pages, Villard
'My Life in Heavy Metal'
by Steve Almond
Many short story collections whirl and spin from location to location, placing new characters in new places. Good short story collections imbue the characters with a subtle commonality. The best short story collections allow the reader to become engrossed in each story without fully realizing the common thread until they read the final paragraph or the final sentence of the final story.
Steve Almond offers a model of the very best in his debut collection. The stories skip from El Paso, Texas, to Katowice, Poland. Almond renders men and women navigating their relationships to each other and themselves with effortless detail and honesty. His simple descriptions evoke times and places that are at once universal and completely specific.
In the title story, a recent journalism grad working as a clerk and sometime music critic at an El Paso newspaper swims laps at a local pool where 'the lifeguard was a quiet woman who wore clunky glasses and a red Speedo one-piece with a towel wrapped around her lower body.'
In 'The Body in Extremis,' a 30-something teacher meets up with a friend of friend in his new city. They play Scrabble and drink whiskey. They have sex, but don't want to complicate anything by labeling their 'arrangement.'
Almond's description of the young woman as seen through the teacher's eyes is dead-on: 'Ling was a grad student in mechanical engineering. She seemed determined not to let that dampen her self-image, which was that of a reprobate hipster. She was sexually frank. She smoked. She drank and talked excessively of drinking. She listened to bands like Pavement and Loaf, whose appeal was predicated on a desire not to express much effort.'
Sound like anyone you know?
$12; 204 pages; Grove Press
'James Dean Died Here:The Locations of America'sPop Culture Landmarks'
by Chris Epting
If summer books are geared to short attention spans, then 'James Dean Died Here' fits the bill. Author Epting has compiled a list of American landmarks with photos and brief blurbs about the sites.
It makes fascinating reading and is bound to be followed by conversation: 'Hey, do you know where Frank L. Baum wrote 'The Wizard of Oz'?' That makes it good family fare, especially if you're in the car, because you're bound to be near one of more than 600 sites Epting lists.
Epting divides his list into eight categories that rather overlap each other but include Americana, history and tragedy, crime, celebrity deaths and infamous events, rock 'n' roll, television, movies and sports.
Armed with this volume, including addresses and directions, you can visit the spots where: Buddy Holly died in Clear Lake, Iowa; Bigfoot was photographed in Bluff Creek, Calif.; Helen Keller lived in Tuscumbia, Ala.; and Colonel Sanders invented his chicken recipe in Louisville, Ky.
Or take a look at Thoreau's Walden Pond in Concord, Mass.; the bridge at Chappaquiddick, Mass., where Teddy Kennedy's presidential hopes died with Mary Jo Kopechne; Appomattox (Va.) Courthouse, where Lee surrendered to Grant to end the Civil War; Vaughn, Miss., where Casey Jones crashed the Cannonball Express; and North Bridge in Concord, Mass., where the Revolutionary War began.
Have the kids figure out which is closest; that should keep 'em quiet for a while.
By the way, Baum wrote 'The Wizard of Oz' at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, where 'Some Like It Hot' was filmed.
$16.95, 312 pages, Santa Monica Press
'Retro Happy Hour:Drinks and Eats with a '50s Beat'
by Linda Everett
Linda Everett is a cookbook collector and food expert who lives in Ocean Park, Wash. The reclusive kitchen goddess has a spiffy new book chock-full of recipes and tips for throwing a retro cocktail party.
Pass the clam crisps, please.
Best items to have on stock: cream cheese, sour cream, walnuts, almonds, popcorn, cayenne pepper, green olives, butter, flour, sugar and salt. With these humble ingredients and one apron trimmed in rickrack you're on your way to whipping up Everett's recipes for inexpensive dips, crackers and snacks.
Some of the recipes are culled from Everett's collection of cookbooks; others are more modern. Portland's Mostest Bestest Dip, the ubiquitous artichoke dip that people love for reasons unknown, is here, as are sure to be new favorites such as Mount Saint Helens Chocolate Punch and Walla Walla Cookies.
The book excels in the salty snack category. Recipes for Smoky Mountain Almond Nibblers and Aunt Lucy's Famous Walnuts make for simple cocktail party-grazing.
All these salty snacks will leave guests clutching their throats with thirst, so turn to the back of the book, where delightful beverages, both alcoholic and virgin, await.
If you're like some people, you like to look at cookbooks more than you like to put them to use. To that end 'Retro Happy Hour' is decorated with original artwork and barware from the '50s (some borrowed from Collectors Press publisher Richard Perry's private collection) and images of country clubbers in ascot neckties and Grace Kelly gowns.
$16.95, 126 pages, Collectors Press