By Stuart Nulman
For me, the first Book Banter column of the new year means taking one last look at the year before and see which books stood out for me over the previous 12 months. I read an average of 50 books every year, so that it can be reviewed in the pages of The Montreal Times every week. Choosing a book to review is always done through a process of elimination, and that same process is done as I decide which were my favorite books of 2013. Although some of my choices may not have made other critics’ best books of the year lists, they were books that quickly caught my interest, read with great enthusiasm, and constantly recommended to people who asked me about which of the latest releases they should be reading.
So, without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2013.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. This is my choice for book of the year. LeDuff, a former New York Times reporter, decides to return to his hometown to work for a small time Detroit daily paper, and see how the Motor City has declined so dramatically. His findings, which are chronicled in the book, are sobering and shocking. When you read about a major American city that is virtually falling apart with growing poverty, crumbling buildings, reduced city budgets and services, and rampant corruption amongst its city administrators, the reader finds it hard to believe that such neglect happened to the birthplace of the American automobile industry, and that it has undergone such a decline for nearly 60 years. This is a book that serves as a massive wake-up call for any city administration and should be required reading for all North American mayors as a warning about getting their respective city’s affairs straightened up before it’s too late.
Top of the Morning by Brian Stelter. The morning shows of the four major U.S. TV networks are big time money-makers. And as a result, the competition for ratings is quite fierce. Stelter, a former media reporter for the New York Times and is currently the host of CNN’s weekly media watchdog show “Reliable Sources”, offers a controversial inside look at the cutthroat world of the network TV morning show. Specifically, his focus is on NBC’s “Today Show” (and how co-host Ann Curry was unceremoniously booted out in the summer of 2011) and ABC’s “Good Morning America” (particularly how its spirit of camaraderie amongst its hosts and Robin Roberts’ public battle with cancer, helped to raise it to the top spot in the ratings). Although the book was panned by Entertainment Weekly, I still thought that it was an interesting behind the scenes look at how much vitriol is being splashed around as you watch your morning TV fix with your cup of coffee.
Solo by William Boyd. The literary James Bond is back in action with a thriller by a well-known British novelist. And if you have read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond thrillers, you will be totally satisfied with the result (after all, Boyd was approved by Fleming’s estate to write the book). This time, it’s 1969, and 007 is sent on an assignment to a mythical African banana republic to assassinate its demagogic dictator. There’s plenty of action and thrills (and some interesting plot twists), not to mention a Bond girl that would make Pussy Galore and Honey Rider proud.
Still Foolin’ Em by Billy Crystal. This is a combination memoir and wit & wisdom collection, as the veteran comic looks back at his impressive 40-year career in show business (which all began with his dead-on impersonation of Muhammed Ali) and his reflections on his entering the world of senior citizenship, as he recently turned 65 years of age. Full of honesty, anecdotes, and his trademark self-deprecating, kvetchy style of humour, Crystal sets the standard at how a stand-up comic should write a book.
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis. Of the plethora books that were released this past year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I found this book to be quite intriguing. It’s a portrait of Dallas between 1960 and 1963, and it’s not a flattering one. It was a city built on oil wealth; however, its major business, political and religious leaders were ultra conservative and virulently opposed to Kennedy and anything that he stood for. It got to the point where many of Kennedy’s top advisors and cabinet members repeatedly warned and pleaded with him not to go to Dallas during his fateful trip to Texas that late November in 1963. A fine addition to the growing library of books about the late – and legendary –35th President of the United States.
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin. The late Johnny Carson, throughout his 30 years as host of “The Tonight Show”, earned him the title of “King of Late Night”. However, it was his lawyer Henry Bushkin that helped him wear that TV crown. Throughout his 18 years by his side, Bushkin discovered the true face of Johnny Carson, which is revealed in this eye opening biography/memoir. The book tells the story of the many facets – both good and bad – of the TV legend, from his annual summer jaunts to Wimbledon, to his many personal insecurities, to his messy marriage to his third wide Joanna. We’re not going to get so many first hand accounts about the enigmatic Carson, but this book is a close as we’ll ever get to discovering what Johnny Carson was really all about.
The Astronauts Wives Club by Lilly Koppel. If you enjoyed Tom Wolfe’s 1979 best seller The Right Stuff, then this book is the perfect companion piece. Koppel argues that the success of the U.S. space program, especially the race to the moon against the Russians during the 60s, was not only due to the bravery of its astronauts, but also to the quiet devotion of their wives. However, Koppel reveals that they were more than just trophy wives, but also role models for the modern American woman, who secretly pursued their own careers and livelihoods after the spotlight was finished shining on their husbands. Basically, they were the unsung heroes of the golden age of the space race.
That takes care of 2013. Have a very literary 2014.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.