As is my custom each year at this time, I will share, in this week’s column and the next one, some comments on books I have read in the past 12 months.
Terry Fallis is a two-time winner of the Leacock Medal for humorous writing and Albatross, his latest work, is a delightful read. It involves a Toronto high school student, Adam Coryell, who has never picked up a golf club. Then Adam is identified by a delightfully wacky Swedish professor as having a perfectly-proportioned body for playing golf. Almost instantly, Adam is winning tournaments, making sponsorship deals and has throngs of fans following his every move.
There is a problem though. Adam doesn’t like golf. The life he knew is slipping away along with the love of his life and he wonders if success is worth it.
Ian Hamilton is a superb crime writer as demonstrated in The Water Rat of Wanchai. His lead character, Ava Lee, is a Toronto-based forensic accountant with training in judo. She has been hired to recover $5 million lost by a family business in a shady deal. Her search takes her to Seattle, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Guyana and the British Virgin Islands. Her greatest challenge comes from Capt. Roberts in Guyana, who controls the local police, politicians and criminals. He will help her only if he gets a nice chunk of the $5 million. It is a delight to follow the twist and turns of Ava as she struggles to complete her task.
Ron Chernow has written a fascinating and detailed biography of Ulysses S. Grant, the leading general in the U.S. Civil War and subsequent president. Before the war, Grant’s business ventures had all failed. And even though he saw a distinguished service in the Mexican War, he resigned from the army in disgrace and amid recurring accusations of drunkenness.
But during the Civil War he showed his real talents and ultimately defeated Robert E. Lee, becoming president Abraham Lincoln’s most trusted general and strategic adviser.
His fame led to two terms as president but his time in office was plagued by corruption scandals involving his closest staff members.
The book is an outstanding read about a man described by Walt Whitman as “nothing heroic — and yet the greatest hero.” The book is a balanced biographical work that makes sense of all sides of Grant’s life, successfully explaining how this simple man could be at once so ordinary and so extraordinary.
Christopher Somerville says he always pictured cathedrals as Ships of Heaven. In a thoroughly surprising and interesting book of that name he recounts visits to 12 cathedrals in the British Isles and Ireland. It was a brief review in the Times Literary Supplement that led me to this tome and, out of curiosity, I bought it for my Kindle — and was glad I did.
Most of the cathedrals visited were begun in the Middle Ages and, as you might expect, they have, over the 600 or more years of existence, have suffered damage from the elements, wars and neglect. Yet all hold a special place in the hearts of the inhabitants of the towns surrounding them.
In the pages of this book, you will meet all sorts of interesting people from clergy to stone masons repairing the buildings to guides who take visitors through the cathedrals.
I have visited several of places Somerville describes and his book brings back happy memories that make me want to visit the rest once this pandemic is controlled and we can travel again to visit distant places.
Fareed Zakaria, a broadcaster and columnist with the Washington Post, has recently written a book everybody interested in government and social change should read. In Ten Lessons for a Post Pandemic World, Zakaria lays out in clear and thoughtful prose the challenges we will face once the health crisis is controlled.
An example is the coming revival of global trade and the need to cope effectively and peacefully with the rise of China by promoting co-operation among Japan, Europe, North America and South and South-East Asia in formulating a rational policy framework.
Zakaria brings a careful structure to development of the “lessons,” and analysis of what lies ahead. I found it almost impossible to put this book down; it is a must read.
Next week, more books to give and get this holiday season.
David Bond is a retired bank economist who lives in Kelowna.