84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff


Helene Hanff is a freelance writer who loved obscure classics and British literature, much of which, she couldn’t find living in New York.  The story, “84 Charing Cross Road”, takes place in 1949 with Helene noticing an ad for books in the Saturday Review of Literature, by a used bookseller in London named Marks and Company. 

She sends a note and request to the shop manager, Frank Doel, and he replies with a note of his own and the books she requests.  More requests and letters follow, and they are returned with the books requested, and more letters, building a warm friendship between Helene and the store staff that lasts over 20 years.

Helene learns from Nora Doel about the impact of rationing on London in the 1950's, so she sends parcels of food as often as she can of difficult items to find in post war London, along with her letters and birthday cards, all much-appreciated items.

Over the years of correspondence, they discuss politics, sports, religion, and local foods.  The comments about the books requested were interesting, just as you would expect from a book about a bookstore. One letter Helene sent had the poem "Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Roberinson included  in it. (See poetry section)

A visit to the bookstore was planned and anticipated for years by Helene, but she just kept putting it off. Frank Doel died in 1968 before she was able to make the trip, but she did finally visit in 1971 but the shop was then empty.  The five-story building where Marks & Co. was located during the time the book covers still exists.



“If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.”

“But I don't know, maybe it's just as well I never got there. I dreamed about it for so many years. I used to go to English movies just to look at the streets. I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I'd go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said: "It's there.”  

"Why is it that people who wouldn't dream of stealing anything else think it's perfectly all right to steal books?” 

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to "I hate to read new books," and I hollered "Comrade!" to whoever owned it before me.” 

“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.”

The Deal Of A Lifetime, by Fredrik Bachman


This small book begins with a father looking back over his life on Christmas Eve, wanting to tell his own son what he has concluded.  The story starts with him saying he has taken a life, but he doesn’t admit, at this point, whose life he has taken.

This man recently spent a lot of time in a hospital and while there he met a five-year-old girl who had cancer. The girl knows she won’t beat the cancer she has, but she just tries to help the adults in her life deal with it.  As he considers the little girl, he realizes how meaningless his own life has been. He had left his wife and son 20 years before seeking success and financial gain.

He would like to help the little girl with cancer and he would like to see if he can begin a relationship with his son, but it will require “The Deal of a Lifetime”.

As he stands by his son’s bed he says: “Hi. It’s your dad. You’ll be waking up soon, it’s Christmas Eve morning in Helsingborg, and I’ve killed a person. That’s not how fairy tales usually begin, I know. But I took a life. Does it make a difference if you know whose it was?”

Backman introduces this story telling us that it was originally a story in his local paper, written around Christmas of 2016, and that it meant a great deal to him. It may mean a lot to you when you ponder the decision that was made. The book is short but effective in making you ponder the value of a life.


“The only thing of value on Earth is time. One second will always be a second, there’s no negotiating with that.” 

“Happy people don’t create anything, their world is one without art and music and skyscrapers, without discoveries and innovations. All leaders, all of your heroes, they’ve been obsessed. Happy people don’t get obsessed, they don’t devote their lives to curing illnesses or making planes take off. The happy leave nothing behind. They live for the sake of living, they’re only on earth as consumers. Not me.” 

“You were always someone who could be happy. You don’t know how much of a blessing that is.” 

“I, who had wanted to live a life high above everyone else, ended up with a son who would rather live deep beneath the surface.”

The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe


If you approach Tom Wolfe’s book, The Painted Word, skeptical as to why an accomplished writer would write a critic of Modern Art, then your likely to still be asking that question when you finish.  Wolfe’s premise is that Modern Art or Abstract Expressionism, which became popular after World War 11, is incomprehensible, hard to look at, and produces anxiety.  He says the essential principal of this art is flatness and that three-dimensional effects are pre-modern having been around since the Renaissance. He says that flatness becomes a goal diluting meaning and message.

Wolfe claims his righteous indignation was the result of what was his reading in the Sunday New York Times in April 1974 when he was surprised to find this paragraph:

“Realism does not lack its partisans, but it does rather conspicuously lack persuasive theory. And given the nature of our intellectual commerce with the works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial- the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our understanding of the values they signify.”

This may be the reason he wrote the book, but it looks a lot like a bandwagon that came by and he jumped on to tell the world that the modern artists really don’t have anything to say and, of course, the best and meaningful message is from the writers.

Wolfe refers to the well-educated people who appreciate the arts, saying this smug elite group have made the decision as to what art is for everyone.  This is disturbing to him because he sees it changing a world order that he prides himself in understanding, and believes that the contemporary artists, conspiring with the elites, are changing things for no definable reason.

Tom Wolfe’s message is to critique Abstract Expressionism, which he says evolved to Minimalism and then to Conceptual Art. His real message may be just an approach to satire the social life and radical politics of the art world, and of course to tell us how smart he is.

Quotes by Tom Wolfe

“Andy Warhol. Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois” 

“Aesthetics is for the artists as ornithology is for the birds,” 

“All of them, artists and theorists, were talking as if their conscious aim was to create a totally immediate art, lucid, stripped of all the dreadful baggage of history, an art fully revealed, honest, as honest as the flat-out integral picture plane.” 



The Midnight Line, by Lee Child


The Midnight Line, by Lee Child is a Jack Reacher novel. The Reacher character stays basically the same and the action of the story resonates with the others this author has written - currently 29.

Reacher gets off a bus at one of the first rest stops, intending to go to the end of the line, off to nowhere special, when he walks by a pawn shop and sees a small women’s West Point class ring in the window. He knows how hard they are to earn, especially for a woman, from his own years at the school. He sees that the ring has 3 initials inscribed inside: he buys it and decides to try to find the owner and return it.

He pushes the pawn shop owner for the source, and then moves up the chain of supply, which eventually mix with opioid dealers and trouble -of course. Along the way he is joined with a former FBI agent and Mackenzie, the sister of Rose, the ring ’s owner.

Arthur Scorpio’s laundromat in Rapid City, S.D. is a hub for an illegal opiate business and that contact suggests that Rose may be in Wyoming. The descriptions of the empty countryside seem to be a natural setting for what may be a sadness that is settling into the character Reacher.

We learn a lot about illegal use of opiate drugs and heroin both referred to as American products. Of course, the story has some fights with tough guys, expected in Reacher books. 

The last part of the book offers some tenderness, maybe a surprise to Reacher fans, but the book is another one that you won’t want to put down.

Quotes: The Midnight Line

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to bill you.”

"The Zip Code is about the size of Chicago. With five people. But hey, welcome to Wyoming.” 

“Her eyes were green, and they were warm and liquid with some kind of deep, dreamy satisfaction. There was sparkle, muted, like winking sunlight on a woodland stream. And bitter amusement. She was mocking him, and herself, and the whole wide world.” 

“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” 


Bossypants by Tina Fey


"Bossypants" is Tina Fey, the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live and producer and head writer for 30 Rock where 200 people depended on her for their jobs. The name may also describe her managementtechnique.

She presents herself as a funny half Greek girl, nerdy, self-confident, and clearly having an amazing sense of timing, but also implying that she is still who she has always been.

Her stories present a clear view of double standards that women are held to in her world saying that some people finding her impersonation of Sarah Palin as "ungracious" was, to her mind, the perfect example of that. She adds: “Palin is not fragile and she, Fey, is not mean.”

A life lesson she says she learned from improv comedy:  "Always agree"; "Make Statements"; "There are no mistakes only opportunities".

She has never been afraid to make comedy out of female vulnerability. The audience loves it but it is likely not just funny but a clear message.

The book is not a memoir, but it does tell us a lot about her life experiences and what brought her to her current success.  A memorable comment about when she interviewed for “Saturday Night Live” was “Only in comedy does and obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.’

“Bossypaints” will be for many a book they will read in one setting.

Quotes by Tina Fey

“Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

 “Do your thing and don't care if they like it.” 

“It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

"My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.” 

“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.” 

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” 

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” 

The Bookshop of Yesterdays, a Novel, by Amy Meyerson


Miranda Brooks is an only child, close to her mother and father and very fond of her uncle Billy.  The story starts: “THE LAST TIME I SAW MY UNCLE, HE BOUGHT ME A DOG. A GOLDEN retriever puppy with sad eyes and a heart-shaped nose. I didn’t have her long enough to give her a name. One moment she was running around my living room with the promise of many adventures together and the next she was gone. It was the same way with Uncle Billy. One moment he was waving goodbye as he reversed out of my driveway. Then I never saw him again”

Billy had an ugly fight with Miranda’s mother, and disappeared on her 12th birthday. Up to that time going to his bookstore, Prospero Books, was something she loved to do, and Billy would let her pick out any book she wanted and often arrange scavenger hunts for her using book titles as clues.

Miranda is living on the east coast, teaching middle school, and in a relationship. It has been 16 years since she has seen Billy when she receives unexpected news that he has died and left her Prospero Books, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. She returns for funeral and then decides to stay for the summer to try to decide what to do with the bookstore and to find the answers to some questions. She learns that Billy has set up one final scavenger hunt for her that she hopes will provide answers to why he left when she was 12 years old.

The clues left for her are hidden in classics like Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Bridge to Terabithia. Some are left in envelopes given to past friends.  The clues clearly lead to her unanswered questions and to many of the people in Billy’s past.

The author leaves us glad that we found Prospero Books and wanting to know the employees of the store, and the other characters more. Miranda finds some surprising answers to the past and for the future.


Amy Meyerson

Amy Meyerson teaches writing at the University of Southern California. This is her first novel.

American Wolf, A True Story Of Survival And Obsession In The West by Nate Blakeslee


A truck arrived in Yellowstone Park on Jan. 12, 1995 carrying eight gray wolves from Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. They became the first wolves to roam Yellowstone since the 1920s when the last pack was killed. By the end of 1996, 31 wolves were relocated to the park.

American Wolf, by Neil Blakeslee, brings two very different points of view into focus to see the impact of the reintroduction of wolves; always a political problem with the hunters and ranchers on one side, and those who loved the wolves on the other. 

Rick McIntyre is a biologist who spent much of his life in this part of the country recording wolf sighting, and what took place in their lives, every day for 15 years.  Many wolves had special tracking collars and McIntyre’s detailed daily notes presented an insightful look into the lives of the wolves. One female wolf, labeled as 832F, was better known to tens of thousands of people as #06 and what we learn about her comprises one side of the issues presented in this book.

To present the other side of the issues the author interviewed many of the hunter’s and also included a lot of detail on the political issues that took place into trying to stop the introduction.

It was intended that the Elk population would be reduced with wolf’s introduction, but much more happened when that happened, and many felt that the wolves saved the park.

The wolves also changed the coyote population which increased the rodent population, which increased bird population.

The streams changed with increase in beaver population, due to more feed being available , since the Elk, being more cautious, were spending less time in the low valleys.

06 was a big, barrel-chested alpha female whose home was in the Lamar Canyon Pack part of the park where she led a strong pack. Rick McIntyre’s notes and knowledge had made this wolf world famous with crowds coming to the park to just get a look at here.

The author interviewed the man that shot 06.  He was a dedicated hunter using the new open hunting season that, after political battles, had opened up near the park. He was proud of his kill and had 06 pelts hanging on the wall of his home. A few weeks earlier, 06’s pack mate, a beta male was shot and killed in Wyoming as well.

The killing of 06 set off a firestorm of controversy about the collision between wildlife management, science, and hunting that occurs at the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.  The killing led to concerns over whether hunters used the GPS signals to go after these particular wolves.

The collars cost the government $4,000 each providing valuable information over the 17-year study providing invaluable research. 06, her pack mate, and 2 other wolves with collars were shot in the Lamar area along with 10 others near the park borders of which 5 of those also wore collars.

In a story that so clearly shows how important the correct balance in nature is, and which detailed so much about the lives of the wolves, this book is well worth reading.


Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson


Treasure Island starts in the mid 1700’s where an old sailor, Billy Bones, is hiding out at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast. Billy is concerned that a certain sailor will find him and take his sea chest that contains some money, a journal and a special map.

Jim Hawkins is the innkeeper’s son, an obviously good person right from the start, and the narrator for this story.  Jim is hired by Billy to watch for any sign of a sailor approaching the inn, someone comes, and a confrontation follows. Billy prevails but he soon after has a heart attack. Jim goes through Billy’s things and finds the chest and then the map that shows the way to an island where a big X marks where a treasure of gold is hidden. Jim get some locals team up to buy a ship and sail for the treasure.

As they travel to the shipyards to buy a ship, they hire Long John Silver, a Bristol tavern-keeper as ship's cook. A crew comes together, not without issues, but they set sail for the distant island on the map. Just before the island is sighted, Jim overhears Silver talking with two other crewmen and realizes that Silver and most of the other crew members are pirates who have planned a mutiny. Jim tells the captain and they calculate that they will be seven to nineteen in trying to defend against the mutineers.

When the island is reached the mutiny takes place with the crew separating behind Silver and Captain Trelawney.  Jim and the Captains group get away and set up defenses in a stockade they find. They also find Ben Gunn, a half-crazy Englishman, who tells them that he had already found the treasure and moved it, but he will help them get it if he can return with them.

The pirates had left guards on the ship and the challenge is to hold off the pirates, who out number them, regain control of the ship, and find, move and load the treasure.

A key character is Jim who in the beginning is a timid older child on the verge of manhood, but by the end has matured incredibly. He outwits the pirates, takes control of the ship and saves lives.

The plot is a challenging search for treasure exploring desires, and greed within all the characters. Jim and the captain’s crew gain procession of the treasure. For the pirates, their greed proves irrational and futile and they lose everything.  

Quotes  from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Sir, with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.” 

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” 

“Seaward ho! Hang the treasure! It's the glory of the sea that has turned my head.” 

“Dead men don't bite” 

“If it comes to a swinging, swing all, say I.” 

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.



The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz


Dean Koontz, just like a good movie, sets the mood with the opening scene saying: “Sometimes a mayfly skates across a pond, leaving a brief wake as thin a spider silk and by staying low avoids those birds and bats that feed in flight.” Tim Carrier and Linda Paquette may have both felt they were laying low, but the author tells us in his second chapter that ‘A man’s life can pivot on the smallest hinge of time. No minute is without potential for momentous change, and each tick of the clock might be the voice of Fate whispering a promise or a warning.”

Timothy, a stonemason sitting in a bar, is accidentally mistaken for a hitman by a stranger who hands him an envelope containing $10,000 and a photo of the intended victim, a writer named Linda Paquette. Krait the real killer arrives soon afterwards, and Tim manages to bluff him by pretending to be the client, saying he's had second thoughts, and is cancelling the hit while giving the killer the $10,000 as a "no-kill fee".

Krait learns what happened and comes for Linda, but Tim has tracked her down and they have run, but they barely manage to stay one step ahead of him. The killer seems to have the ability to track cell phones, financial transactions and GPS tracking; implying that he is working for someone very powerful.

Tim and Linda, who seem to have been in love from the moment they met, have many close calls narrowly escaping the killer. Trying to retrace Linda’s life they look for what prompted Linda’s death sentence? Was it a visit to a coffee shop frequented by a senator making shady deals?  Why was that coffee shop burned down and why have other past patrons been killed?

As a first-time reader of Dean Koontz, his talent for his character development can be clearly seen in the character of Krait. We see him as a psychotic vicious killer who personal habits seem to distinguish the danger he represents. He enjoys going into people’s houses and going through their belongings, trashing products and art he doesn’t approve of. He carefully cleans up after himself when he makes meals in the kitchens and puts the products he disposes into the trash cans. 

Each of the characters are convincing and add to the plot. The bar tender where everything started, Liam Rooney, and his wife Michelle, his friend and Policeman-Pete Santo , and Tim's mother all have important support roles.

The book moves from chapter to chapter leaving you wanting to know what is coming next and not wanting to put the book down.

Quotes by Dean Koontz

“Intuition is seeing with the soul.” 

 “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation, almost as good for the soul as prayer.” 

“She was fascinated with words. To her, words were things of beauty, each like a magical powder or potion that could be combined with other words to create powerful spells.” 

“Human beings can always be relied upon to exert, with vigor, their God-given right to be stupid. ” 

Leaders, by Richard Nixon


Richard Nixon writes about the leaders he had known, and those who he had personal encounters with. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Douglas MacArthur, Konrad Adenauer, Nikita Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai are some of these....Of most interest is how Nixon see’s these people and the opinions he offers about them: ones he strongly held from which we learn as much about him about the leaders he discusses.  For example, he said: ''In their personal diplomacy Khrushchev and Brezhnev were like Lyndon Johnson. They felt compelled to reinforce their words with some sort of physical contact. Khrushchev's tactile diplomacy was almost always menacing.

When Brezhnev reached out to touch or grab my arm, he sought to implore, not to bully. But should these gentler means fail to persuade me, Brezhnev could also apply sheer muscle. What struck me most about Brezhnev was his emotional versatility. At one moment he would speak with what seemed to be perfect sincerity about his deep desire to leave a legacy of peace for his grandchildren. In the next he would assert with unequivocal determination his right to control the destinies of other nations all around the world.''

So much is being said in today’s political climate about Nixon, and his response to Watergate, that it is interesting to reread this book and she how differently he saw the rest of the world from the one that was here in the United States at that time. 

Nixon’s said early in the book that managers work with their goal being ‘'to do things right'', compared to leaders whose goal is ''to do the right thing''. He doesn’t tell us how to identify the “right thing” and we are left wondering if this is just a rational way to say the end justifies the mean?

Nixon’s said also that great leaders are those who ''so effectively wielded power on such a grand scale that they significantly changed the course of history for their nations and for the world.'' He seems to admire the results of power but does not have a lot to say about the negative consequences that happened in a grand scale over history.

First published in 1982 this is one of Nixon’s many books worth rereading.

Quotes by Richard Nixon

 "A public man must never forget that he loses his usefulness when he as an individual, rather than his policy, becomes the issue"  

"By the time you get dressed, drive out there, play 18 holes and come home, you've blown seven hours. There are better things you can do with your time"  

"We must always remember that America is a great nation today not because of what government did for people but because of what people did for themselves and for one another." 

"You've got to learn to survive a defeat. That's when you develop character"  

"I wish I could give you a lot of advice, based on my experience of winning political debates. But I don't have that experience. My only experience is at losing them"