The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch (Norton, $14). If I die before Thomas Lynch, a poet and a working mortician in Milford, Mich., I’d like him to bury me. Better still, I’d like him to eulogize me, since he writes with a lyricism that could make the dead return just to see how the ceremony shook out.
All of the early journalism of Tom Wolfe—The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Pump House Gang, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine. Does that count against my total? Tough. They’re of a piece. Would you separate Matthew from Mark, Mark from Luke, Luke from John? You could, but then they wouldn’t be the Four Gospels. Which is what Wolfe’s collections are to journalism.
Pretty much anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Because there is a sentence like this on nearly every page: “The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!’”
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (Univ. of Chicago, $12). A jewel of a novella, written when Maclean was in his 70s. You’ll love it if you fish, but fishing is only the start of what there is in it to love.
The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries (Univ. of Chicago, $14). A much overlooked classic by a mostly forgotten comic writer. Written after his daughter died of leukemia, this novel finds De Vries turning down the funny to rage at God. It reads like Ecclesiastes gone wrong. Strangely, though, few things can steel faith like voicing the particulars of doubt. I read this book in a single night, forgetting to sleep.
Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool by Walt “Clyde” Frazier (out of print). A perfect document of its time. In Rockin’ Steady, the New York Knicks’ legendary 1970s playmaker gives helpful tips on everything from how to catch flies with your bare hands to proper sideburn maintenance. Some would call this a coffee-table conversation starter. I just call it “my bible.”
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