Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Books of 2014

One of the (many) joys of retirement is having the time to read as many books, and as many kinds of books as you want.  In 2014, I read 43 books.  Yes, I actually keep track of such things.  And, yes, I will confess that there were some, but not many, among those 43 books, that I either skimmed, or never finished, because, I am doing this for my pleasure, and if I find I'm not enjoying it, I toss it!

Anyway, looking back at the list one more time, here are some recommendations for you, just in case you missed them the first time around, or if perhaps I didn't mention them in an earlier Grandstander post.


"Their Life's Work" by Gary W. Pomerantz.  A book about the Pittsburgh Steelers dynastic teams of the 1970's.  If you are a life-long Steelers fan and think that there is nothing more that could possibly be said about these teams (as I did), think again.  It has been called the football version of Roger Kahn's classic "Boys of Summer", and a higher compliment could not be paid.   You will gain new respect for Chuck Noll and Joe Greene after reading this.  A definite MUST READ for football fans in general and Steelers fans in particular.

"One Summer - America, 1927" by Bill Bryson.  The always entertaining Bryson takes a look of momentous and (seemingly) mundane events that occurred over the course of the summer of 1927.  Fascinating, informative, and immensely readable.

"Pedstrianism" by Matthew Algeo.  A look at a spectator sport that swept America in the late 19th century, made celebrities of the athletes, and even led to the use of performance enhancing drugs, but then disappeared from the landscape of the American sporting scene almost as quickly as it appeared.  

"Where Nobody Know Your Name" by John Feinstein.  A look at life in baseball's minor leagues over the course of one season.  Feinstein focuses on about a dozen minor league folks: players, managers, an umpire, and even a broadcaster.  Fabulous book that will reinforce your knowledge, in case you've forgotten it, that ANY player who makes it to the Major Leagues has truly earned it.

"FDR's Funeral Train" and "The Hidden White House" by Robert Klara.  Remarkably detailed and endlessly fascinating books on Presidential history by Klara.  The first one describes the funeral train that left Warm Springs, GA in April 1945 with the dead body of President Roosevelt and traveled to Washington DC and Hyde Park NY and back to Washington in the space of four days, and how one Presidency ended and another began.  The second describes the renovation and rebuilding of the White House that took place during the Truman Administration from 1949-52.


I read a number of novels over the course of the year, including those from perennial favorites Jonathan Kellerman, John Sandford, Jeffery Deaver, Carl Hiaasen, and even Agatha Christie, but I want to focus instead on the works of Max Allan Collins.

I have written about the incredibly prolific Collins in this space on many occasions.  I first discovered him in 2013 when I read one of his "historical mysteries" called "The Titanic Murders", and I have been hooked ever since.  He has written literally hundreds of novels and short story collections, and, frankly, not all of them are to my taste, but I enjoy his aforementioned historical mysteries, and I absolutely love his series of of private detective novels involving the character of private eye Nathan Heller.

Heller started as a Chicago police officer in the early 1930's and then became a PI. The stories are written as first person "memoirs" of Heller's, and they recount his numerous cases involving real historical figures such as Al Capone, Frank Nitti, John Dillinger, Huey Long, Bugsy Siegel, Charles Lindberg, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Ruby, and Jack and Bobby 
Kennedy (yes, Heller gets involved in the JFK assassination!).  You have to suspend disbelief when you consider that ONE guy could be involved in the investigation of seemingly every major crime of the twentieth century, and even Collins agrees that this is ridiculous, but once you do, you are in for some very entertaining reading.

In 2014, I read ten books by Collins.  Six of those were Nate Heller novels.  In all, Collins has written fifteen Nate Heller novels and published three collections of Heller short stories. I have read all but four of those novels and all of the short story collections, and my goal for 2015 is to finish reading the Heller Canon in its entirety.

You don't have to read these novels in order of publication, but if you want to start, I would suggest that you start with the first one, "True Detective", wherein Nate gives you a lot of his biographical detail which is helpful as you read subsequent novels.  After that, you can pretty much dive in anywhere along the way.

If you like mystery and detective fiction, you won't be sorry.

Here's to great reading for everyone in 2015!

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