Pavlov would love the Internet.

Cranky Cuss

Cranky Cuss
Ossining, New York, United States
February 28
I am the author of "Send In the Clown Car: The Road to the White House 2012," currently available on Amazon and CreateSpace. I'm currently semi-retired after 23 years in a corporate environment. My motto: The conventional wisdom has too much convention, not enough wisdom. Corollary: Even Einstein was wrong sometimes, and you're not Einstein.


DECEMBER 16, 2011 10:08AM

Book Recommendations for Christmas

Rate: 18 Flag


(All books below are available in paperback and for Kindle and Nook, unless otherwise noted.)


I may not be the best person from whom to accept book recommendations.  I tend to read a lot of nonfiction and I was surprised and dismayed to find that I had only read three novels in 2011.  Many of the books I read this year were published ages ago. Oh well, you’ve been warned. All of the books below were ones I wanted to write about but did not (yet) find the time.


Many Open Salon members have written commendable books and I’ve posted about several of them: Matt Paust, Con Chapman, Amy Abbott aka Bernadine Spitzsnogle, Caitlin Kelly, Jill Reese aka Writer Mom (with an introduction by yours truly), and there are several more on my Kindle or in the pile of books near my desk. Here are two more I loved.


              book1          book2


If you haven’t read Nikki Stern’s Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority, what are you waiting for?  Her clarity of thought, absence of ideology and downright reasonableness demonstrate why she’s one of my favorite people in the world.  Why can’t we have elected officials like her? (Nikki will probably hate me for suggesting that! And if you think I have a conflict of interest because she's my boss over at Does This Make Sense: bite me!)


OSer Ingrid Ricks’ Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story is her memoir of growing up with a devout Mormon mother, a traveling salesman father and the abusive Earl, who does not deserve the dignity of the word “stepfather.”  Despite the sometimes downbeat subject matter, it is a compelling, enjoyable read; I read half of it the first day.  Ingrid nails the narrative voice of her youthful, enthusiastic self, and it’s a pleasure to spend time with her.  She sketches in the characters so fully and vividly that I actually had to stop reading a couple of times when I got furious at Earl’s antics. Absolutely terrific book, and thanks to Alysa Salzberg for recommending it.  (Not yet available for Nook.)


        book3      book4


I have been downloading many Kindle singles, pieces that are too short for a book and too long for a magazine article. Many are priced for $2.99 or less.  One I found most intriguing was Confessions of a “Rape Cop” Juror by Patrick Kirkland, who served as a juror in a controversial New York City trial this summer about two NYPD members who were accused of raping a drunken woman who they had assisted home. The cops’ acquittal drew howls of outrage from many corners.  Kirkland’s story explains in detail how the jurors, despite heated and contentious arguments about what happened, ultimately reached a verdict that they felt was consistent with the law, even if it pained some of them personally. Co-written by Katie Sokoler.  (Only available for Kindle.)


I tend to read a lot of crime books (since I’ve been thinking of trying my hand at one). None this year was more eye-opening than Sarah Burns’ The Central Park Five, her account of the 1980s Central Park jogger case that had the New York tabloids roaring with a barely submerged racism. Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken) explains how five young African-American and Latino men were persuaded to give dubious confessions to the crime, how the authorities ignored the lack of forensic evidence linking them to the crime, how even the black community (and probably the defendants’ own lawyers) assumed they were guilty and, especially distressingly, how the police and the tabloids refused to believe in their innocence 13 years later when DNA evidence exonerated them and pointed to the true assailant.  The book is a much needed reminder of how easily any of us can be persuaded to believe in something that simply isn’t true, and how vehemently we will defend that position even when presented with compelling contradictory evidence. (Not yet available in paperback.)


            book5            book6


A crime story on a more historic scale is Hampton Sides’ Hellhound on His Trail. His detailed account of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the subsequent manhunt for James Earl Ray is a page-turner like a great spy novel.  It’s nauseating to realize how easily a worthless individual can take down a great one. The chapters on Ray’s appalling family were especially jaw-dropping.


Methland by Nick Reding was published a few years ago, but I just got around to it a few months ago.  Ostensibly about how the methamphetamine epidemic affected one small town in Iowa, the book’s true subject is the erosion of America’s manufacturing base and how that has devastated many American small towns.  It’s hard to be optimistic about our economic future after reading Reding’s book.




Finally, one novel I can heartily recommend is Faithful Place by Tana French. Published last year, French’s story, set in modern Dublin, is on the surface a crime story: the investigation of the death of the narrator’s teenage girlfriend from 21 years ago.  What makes the book so much more is the author’s pitch-perfect (to me, anyway) depiction of the family dynamics of a struggling working-class family in Ireland.  French’s dialogue is colorful, at times raunchily hilarious, and the interplay between the family members, as well as their distrust for the authorities, feels authentic.


I intend to read a lot more fiction in 2012.  Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad has been calling to me, I can’t believe I haven’t yet read the Raymond Carver anthology, Stephen King’s latest is on my Christmas list and Ed Gorman’s Ticket to Ride (thanks, Matt) is cued up on my Kindle.  I’ll force myself to read the latest essay collections by Sloane Crosley (How Did You Get This Number) and Dave Barry (I’ll Mature When I’m Dead – autographed!), even though reading them will feed my inferiority complex; maybe that’s why I’ve avoided reading David Foster Wallace.  Rosanne Cash’s memoir (again autographed!) and James Kaplan’s Sinatra bio are sitting in the pile and the bio of Steven Jobs is staring at me too, and the new Pauline Kael bio is on my wish list. My wife raved about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and even though I’m not much of a techie, I’m dying to read Kevin Mitnick’s tale of being the world’s #1 hacker, Ghost in the Wires. Now … where the hell am I going to find the time to read all these? Santa, can you give me a few more hours in the day?


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Thanks for the prop, Crank, and for the intriguing suggestions.
If you're going to read more fiction in 2012, and some of it is going to be "crime" fiction, you can't do better than James Lee Burke. His plots are convoluted but he can flat out write.
And, right now I'm reading Black Hills by Dan Simmons. I'm 100 pages into the 650 page book and it's incredibly well written and researched.
If you like Simmons, may I recommend his DROOD and THE TERROR? Both were fantastic. But stay away from his latest--an anti-Obama dystopican novel.
He can write, that's for sure.
Outstanding choices. Can especially endorse Matt Paust's book.
I love reading book reviews - and you write yours in a delightful way, informative and fun. But the bad thing is...then I want to READ ALL OF THE BOOKS - and I get overwhelmed because there is just too much out there to read. Which is kind of wonderful, come to think of it....

I'm glad you liked Ingrid Ricks' book - like you, I thought it was fantastic, so well-done and moving.

Thanks for sharing your book I'm overstimulated like my cat gets when we come home. I might have to solve that by running around the apartment for a bit, just like he does.....
Thanks so much for this! r.
Cranky: I'm blushing and loving the in-your-face part of the recommendation...

Seriously, I like the idea of more OS writers following suit. I've been on a research-related non-fiction tear (rare for me, as I prefer the escape of fiction) and I'm encouraged to put together my own little list. I hope others jump in; I'd love to hear what they have to say.
Good piece Cranky, especially the first selection!!!
I also have stacks that are waiting, but just added a few from your list. I haven't read Methland, although I lived the story in my own small hometown. I haven't wanted to revisit all the issues raised by the Meth epidemic that swept through the mid-west, but maybe it's time.
Thank you for this. It's a huge xmas gift to have Hippie Boy included on your list. And I'm looking forward to exploring these books (Starting with Matt's...which is currently next in line on my Kindle)
Thank you, Cranky, you have a huge heart! I've also read Nikki and Ingrid's books, and am working on the others. I think it is so great how the OS family supports each other. RRRR for your heart.

When is the next sequel of the TINK MOVIE coming out? I heard it has an XXX rating!
Books make great Christmas gifts especially those written by our talented OS colleagues. Thanks for this.
These researches are such a Service. Service without expecting financial remuneration are the highest-level of good one can do for humanity.
I agreed with your first paragraph. I seem to go back and reread old books.
I underline.
I must read:
Nikki Stern ETC.,
Many-many here.
I read Con Chapman's book ref he Boston Red Sox. I must make more time.
Time is fleeting.
It's how we spend.
Spend time reading.
Spend money on books.
I'll cheat and read Reviews.
There are so many pages.
I read front and back flap.
I followed Mequella Holt y Roybal.
I can enjoy reading her Post Here.
Ay eat hot chili and drip on book.

My nose runs if I read with chili.
Thanks again. One day we read?
I keep getting very brain weary.

If we write a book we walk nude.
A author wrote that. I write notes.
I started about sixty. Then quits.
I read fluff and do not care who knows it hahaha. But I am reading
I am Nujood- Age 10 and Divorced,, about an arranged marriage in Yemen between a 10 yr old and a 50 year old man.
Really well done and so tragic.
Good on you for mentioning all the OS people.
"When is the next sequel of the TINK MOVIE coming out? I heard it has an XXX rating!"

NEXT WEEK!!! XXXX rating but who keeps track of such things!! ;D
I feel like quitting my job now so I can read all these. I'll definitely talk loud when my book club picks a new read.
thanks for the can you make the days longer?
Great suggestions, Cranky. Thanks & happy reading.