Best Books of 2016 – Chapter Three

deadwake

I became a fan of Erik Larson after reading Devil in the White City several years ago, which was only reinforced once I read his book Thunderstruck. So when I saw that he had published another book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, I quickly added it to my wish list. I was not disappointed.

It is truly amazing to me how Larson can write non-fiction that reads like a novel, almost as if he were an eyewitness. His account keeps you enthralled from beginning to end and even though I knew how this story ended, it was still a page-turner for me. As usual, Larson interwove several related stories together to give multiple perspectives of the tragedy that occurred. The one story that surprised me the most was a love story that I knew nothing about, one that could have been a significant distraction to a key player within the story.

Jumping from parallel story lines in London, Paris, Washington and the north Atlantic Ocean, as the events unfolded I found myself hoping against hope for a different ending. But his telling is true to reality. Even when I got to the eventual climax of the tale, I couldn’t put the book down as my heart rate quickened as the disaster unfolded.

In the epilog, it was truly amazing to read all the “what ifs” that could have resulted in the story playing out significantly in a less tragic way. While one mystery of why the ship sank so quickly was largely explained, the overall puzzle as to why the attack occurred in the first place given the secret knowledge that was gained at the time will remain much in the fog that weather-wise, could have prevented the loss in the first place. Finishing the book left me thirsting for another Erik Larson.

fromtimetotime

It was with immense excitement when I discovered that before he died, Jack Finney had written this sequel to his cult classic time travel book, Time and Again, a book written in 1970 and one that I had thoroughly enjoyed reading based on a recommendation from Stephen King in his time travel book 11/23/63.

TimeandAgain

Before purchasing though, I checked out a few of the reviews and found them to be polar opposites. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first book, I decided to judge for myself, bought it, and chose to read it on vacation when I could enjoy long, uninterrupted periods of reading time.

As with the first book, this one wove actual historical events into the time travels of the protagonist, Simon (Si) Morley who this time documented his adventures with a portable camera, a device unavailable in his previous travel to the New York of 1882, when he was forced to make sketches of his travels. In this latest book, the intrigue involves Si on a secret mission to 1912 in an attempt to alter events that play not only into the beginning of World War I, but also the fateful loss of that infamous ocean liner on its maiden voyage in April of 1912, two seemingly unrelated events.

Again in this book, the moral dilemma is raised of the unknown and inconceivable consequences of altering the course of history, only this time an outcome that could directly impact Simon’s son. I won’t reveal the outcome so as not to spoil the ending for those of you who may chose to read this second book. But having read both books now, I find myself squarely in the middle of the reviews half way between the polar opposite positive and negative reviews. I would highly recommend the first book, which I thoroughly enjoyed several years ago. As to the second, I will say in my opinion it is not as good as the first. But for someone intrigued with time travel, they are both books worth reading.

marylourhodated

A book that had been on my wish list for over a year—ever since I heard a podcast interview with its author, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong—was Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic. But thanks to an Amazon one-day sale for $1.99, I snapped it up. While the author interview was what originally piqued my interest, what got me to add this book to my list in the first place was a nostalgic memory from the first year I was married when my wife and I would watch a rerun of the show every afternoon after work. So I read this book with a number of visual fond memories from the TV series.

The TV show originally aired on Saturday night from 1970 to 1977. These happened to be the years I was in high school and college, a time when I would not have been caught dead at home on a Saturday night watching TV, which explained why I never saw the shows when they were originally broadcast.

While of late, I’ve read a lot of history books, I’d never read a book about a TV show before so I didn’t quite know what to expect. But the book followed a very natural chronological progression. Opening with the story of Mary on the Dick Van Dyke show and following that, how the producers came together to develop the new show’s concept, what was most enjoyable to read was the casting of the characters. Even though I knew who would end up being the selected actor or actress in each case, it was surprising how many of them were selected almost in a serendipitous way.

Once the cast was set and writers secured, much of the book revolved around many of the challenges encountered developing and filming the show with frequent push back from the network bosses. It was most eye-opening getting the “back story” behind some of the more revolutionary episodes—subjects that were often being broached for the first time in a 1970s era TV show. For instance, in the pilot episode, Mary was originally supposed to be newly divorced but the network nixed that in favor of a recent break up with a long-term boyfriend.

One of the challenges for Mary was actually overcoming the image of her not being Dick Van Dyke’s wife, Laura Petrie, but rather being the independent, self-sufficient single woman she portrayed in her new show. This she actually did extraordinarily well. But what I didn’t know from just having seen the reruns 10 years after they aired was what a huge impact the show had on television at the time. In its relatively short seven year run, it garnered numerous awards and was second only to All in the Family in terms of weekly viewership. Moreover, it was the first to feature a woman cast as the main character and employed many women writers when men wrote the majority of shows.

When the story unfolded about the final season, the emotions of the cast, now a family, literally came through the words and it was with sadness that I read these last pages. But with all the inside information gained from having read this book, I am now motivated to go back and watch all 168 episodes of the show, something I should have time to do when I retire.

To be continued…

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