Books Read January 2009

Peace by Richard Bausch
I’m not particularly drawn to war stories but somehow I ended reading two this month. This little novella only covers a couple nights during the winter of 1944, but it packs quite a punch. Seven young American GIs are sent on a reconnaissance mission up a hill near Cassino in southern Italy. Lead by a seventy year old Italian man with rope-soled shoes, they begin to trek through snow, up what looked like a hill, but is a very steep mountain. During the journey they begin to doubt the old man’s loyalties to them; question if they will survive the freezing night; and try to reconcile their part in killing a Nazi officer’s female companion earlier that day. There is a thread of terror laced with confusion throughout the book and right up to the last page.

Testimony by Anita Shreve
I happen to be a big Anita Shreve fan. She’s got nerves of steel and tends to explore issues, scandals and stories that many writers shy away from. Testimony is no exception. The very first page details a sex party (caught on tape) at a posh Vermont boarding school. As the Headmaster views the tape he wonders how best to handle the incident – which gets more and more complicated once he sees the faces of the participants. I love how Shreve lets the men, women, students, and parents who are involved, use their own voice to tell how their lives are destroyed by one bad decision. An intense drama.

The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig
Not in a long time have I anticipated a book release more than this one. Not in a long time have I been more disappointed. Revolving around the players of Montana’s undefeated "Supreme Team" we catch up with them a few years later as they do their duty in World War II. Ten of them are stationed around the globe in various dangerous places. The eleventh man, Ben Reinking, has been taken out of pilot training to chronicle the adventures of his teammates for publication in newspapers around the country. The law of averages says all but one of his teammates should come through the war alive. I really tried to read the whole book, but it was like wading in concrete.

The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan
Need to exercise your emotions? I have the perfect plan -- read Grogan’s new book. It will put you through a literary emotional circuit course. One minute you’re laughing (swigs of sacramental wine according to Grogan is the best part of being an alter boy) and the next you’re in tears (we tag along as his parents grow older and pass on).And “pin kisses” from your Mom—what’s up with that?” Imagine the constant state of schizophrenia growing up in a very-very devout Catholic home outside Detroit during the free-love-get-high 1960’s & 70’s. You may remember Grogan from his first book, Marley & Me. Well, this is the story of what came before he got married and picked out a wacky dog. Excellent memoir.