(3/25/2023) Reading, for the third time, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, this time in a slightly abridged version published by Barnes & Noble. I like those handsome trade paperback editions because they have plentiful footnotes and more detailed endnotes. Why you ask, would I lift up that bulky tome for the third time? Simple: it’s my absolute favorite novel for three reasons: the story, Hugo’s careful delivery of it, and his amazing narrative voice. Which means it passes with flying colors my trilogy of requirements for a great book.

Nonfiction wise, I am currently very much into the American Revolution. Having read long ago David McCullough’s John Adams, I’m now almost done with his 1776, an account of that pivotal year that, like all his historical and biographical works, reads like a novel. Yesterday the mailman brought me Washington’s Crossing, historian David Hackett Fischer’s fat book about that famous voyage across the Delaware River on Christmas Eve night in 1776. So I will venture forth, not with a musket in hand but a glass of my friends Raymond and Gladys Haak’s excellent Madeira, the founding fathers’ favorite wine, from their Santa Fe vineyard and winery.

Ruth Moore: Spoonhandle and A Fair Wind Home

The second of those two novels was in the box of books I’ve told you about that ended up with me years after my mother’s death. I had never heard of Ms. Moore, and was surprised to learn (from Google of course) that she is still considered perhaps the strongest literary voice from the state of Maine and shared the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks in the 1940s with Hemingway, Faulkner and Sinclair Lewis. These two novels are wonderful stories full of well drawn characters and absolutory beautiful description. Spoonhandle, and other books by her, are still in print in handsome trade paperbacks from Amazon. I’ve already ordered Candlemas Bay.

Wilton Barnhardt: Gospel is a novel I first read years ago that has picked at my memory often enough to make me pick it up again (which I have more trouble doing this time: it’s huge). It’s about a heavy drinking crusty old Chicago-Irish professor and his quest to find a long lost biblical gospel (and unknowingly his misplaced faith) that takes him to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and America. It’s also about the young, innocent and naïve female graduate student who the university that is funding the expedition insists he take along with him to keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s sort of a combination of Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code, but much better written than I found that novel to be.

H. W. Brands: Our First Civil War provides a unique insight into the American Revolution by focusing on those who chose to rebel against British rule (patriots) and those who refused to (loyalists) . One case in point: Benjamin Franklin was a leading patriot, but his son William, the British governor of the New Jersey colony, was a confirmed loyalist (the Revolution is particularly interesting to me, and I suspect reading this book will send me back to Gore Vidal’s novel Burr, which will be my third time to read it in the last nearly fifty years). I’m a huge fan of H. W. Brands’ writing and strongly recommend The First American and Traitor To his Class, his biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both were short list finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. All of Brand’s books are excellent.

Robert Flynn’s North to Yesterday, is my friend’s excellent novel about a 19th century cattle drive from south Texas that was published before Larry McMurtry tackled the same theme in Lonesome Dove. Flynn and I are fellow inductees in the Texas Institute of Letters and first met when we were teachers in a writers workshop week at Mississippi College over twenty years ago. McMurtry was in TIL also, but I never met him.

John Guy: Thomas Beckett: Warrior, Priest, Rebel. An excellent biography of the English Archbishop who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 AD. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, it will almost surely send me back to C. S. Lewis’ fine play Murder in the Cathedral. I have a copy somewhere in the unorganized mass of our books that are everywhere.

Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael. Since I was already submerged in 12th Century Britain in the Beckett biography I figured I’d keep swimming with this novel about the soldier of the Crusades turned monk who grows medicinal herbs in his abbey when he isn’t solving murders. I read it years ago along with several others in the series but forgot who was murdered and by who (I’m beginning to agree with a friend who says when to get to a certain age you only need to own one book, which you can read over and over). It was faster going than the big biography, and I expect Saint Peter’s Fair, another Cadfael whodunit, to arrive from Amazon soon.

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