"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day" Our Favorite Books (At the Moment)

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Jane Eyre
Frozen in Time
Echo Burning
American Dreams
Duel with the Devip
Beach Music
Revision and Self-Editing
Road Dogs
Fractured Spirits
Paris Dish

The great thing about our murder of writers here at The Peorian is the diversity in tastes, especially when it comes to book and novels we love. And it would be silly to try and get our writers to select their favorite book of all time. That would be like trying to get a parent to select their favorite child, when everyone knows no one likes children.* So we asked our writers, "What's your favorite book at the moment?" Check out their answers below. Enjoy!

*EDITOR'S NOTE: Kevin Kizer, the writer of this column, does not have children of his own and routinely refers to them as "filthy, bacteria-laden creatures." So ignore his digressions.

Troy Smith
American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, by H.W. Brands

Brands, a professor at the University of Texas, has written 25 books on U.S. history, covering subjects from Benjamin Franklin to the Gilded Age to the Cold War. Using political history, and in particular presidential history, as a window into broader social and cultural trends in America, Brands shows how our nation has evolved, for better and for worse, since the height of American power at the end of World War II. 

He traces the development of U.S. policy during the last half of the 20th century, illustrating how closely domestic and foreign issues were linked, one often driving the other in a direction that few could have foreseen at the time. Focusing attention on the interplay between public perception, public opinion, and the political reality that informed our leaders when they made decisions, he reminds us that even the seemingly infinite power of post-war America had limits, perhaps more than we are willing to admit even today.

Brands humanizes his narrative by effectively contrasting the styles and personalities of the presidents with numerous anecdotes and memorable quotes. One personal favorite is Eisenhower’s response to a reporter’s question about what ideas Vice-President Nixon had contributed to his administration, “If you give me a week, I might think of one.”

Ken Zurski
Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Mitchell Zuckoff
Duel with the Devil: The Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

I've been working on research for a new project and my head has been deep into a stack of books on railroad history lately, but I'm looking forward to reading two new books coming out this spring and summer. Frozen in Time is the new work by Mitchell Zuckoff who wrote the terrific Lost in Shangri-La, about a daring World War II rescue set in the New Guinea jungle. Zuckoff's new book is a similar rescue-and-survival story set in the Arctic. Can't wait!

Paul Collins is the author of The Murder of the Century about a late 19th-century high-profile murder case and the New York newspaper's quest to cover, or more importantly, solve the crime. Collins’s latest, coming out in June, is about Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and another unsolved murder mystery. It's titled Duel with the Devil. By the way, awhile back, both Zuckoff and Collins were kind enough to respond to emails from an aspiring new author looking for a little advice (Yes, that would be me). Here's my advice to you: If you like a book, you can usually let the author know. In many instances, an email can be found on the author bio page or through the publisher. Trust me an author appreciates it. Just saying. (kzurski@earthlink.net)

Bill Knight
Echo Burning: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child

After re-reading all of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries in order last summer, I decided to read Lee Child's Jack Reacher action novels the same way.

I just finish Number 5 (out of 13), Echo Burning, and, so far, I think the character is compelling but the author needed an editor. He goes off on too many self-indulgent, behind-the-scenes, Tom Clancy-style tangents about caliber and tactics and equipment, and generally reads like no one wanted to suggest he trim extraneous prose after he created a best-seller. I'll finish, but Child is no Parker.

Lindsey Tanner
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Hidden behind the pen name Currer Bell, a match to the initials of her own, Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre — my current read. Host to some of the most eloquent language of any writer to have struck pen across paper or letters on a keyboard, the novel isn’t just art, it sentences are. For the modern reader, familiar with hurried conversation and recycled vocabulary, accustomed to conversing in fragments, slang, and hash tags, the detail of Bronte’s writing is almost overwhelming. Or refreshing. Bronte set the ominous biography of the life of Miss Jane Eyre on the moors of England. And you are given no choice. You too endure the cold breeze, powerless under heavy clouds soon to empty and drench the world below, yet again. You must also feel the percussion of horse hooves on cobble, the billow of heat hurled from a stoked fire, hear teacup clash against saucer, and see candles cast away shadows. You walk the passages of the Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Manor, complete with drafts, the reply of your own voice and a secret. It’s a tale of Jane Eyre and eventually, Mr. Rochester. And I won’t tell you how this love story ends but the plot is unpredictable and character depth seems infinite. The combination makes for one of the most riveting tales to survive the 1800s and a must-read ever since.

Terry Towery
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
Write Great Fiction: Revisions and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

I generally devour three or four books a month, sometimes more and seldom less. I tend to have two books going at any given time -- a novel and something non-fiction (and often writing related). Right now, I'm reading Pat Conroy's Beach Music for the second time, along with Write Great Fiction: Revisions and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.

Because I write novels (two so far, but only the current one is publishable) that are a somewhat curious literary/thriller hybrid, I do try to read novels from both genres. For instance, I've recently read thrillers by Jodi Picoult, Michael Crichton, Brad Meltzer and John Grisham. Stephen King is my all-time favorite thriller/horror author, and I have read all of his novels a dozen times or more over the years. In the literary genre, I love Chabon, Conroy, Anne Tyler, Anne LaMott, Toni Morrison, and, perhaps most of all, the great John Updike.

My most cherished books on the art of writing are by two of my favorite novelists: On Writing by Stephen King, and Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott. I also love historical fiction. In the past month, I plowed through the wonderful A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and 1776 by David McCullough.

Matt Richmond
Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard

I’m about two decades late getting on the Elmore Leonard bandwagon. But a couple weeks ago I saw this quote from Leonard on writing: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” How could you read that and not want to check him out?

I picked a title at random – Road Dogs. So far, it’s entertaining, addictive stuff. He’s right, it doesn’t really sound like “writing.” The prose has the shape and rhythm of what you might call “dirtbag vernacular.” As a reading experience, I’d actually compare it to reading Shakespeare, in that you have to muddle through several pages before the voice of the author gets established in your head and the story really flows. Road Dogs is not exactly MacBeth, but it’s not trying to be, either. It’s a well-told cops and robbers story, and a really fun read.

Kevin Kizer
Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital by Sylvia Shults
Paris is a Nice Dish: Its Recipes and Restaurants by Osbourne Putnam Stearns

Now, both of these books are related to Peoria but in different ways. The first, Fractured Spirits, is an interesting and enlightening look into history of the Peoria State Hospital, which was one of the most innovative mental health facilities of its day. That was thanks to the vision of Dr. George Zeller who believed the purpose of a mental health institution should be to treat patients and not lock them up. Incidentally, the term “basket case” comes from the way some mental patients were confined – literally in wicker baskets or worse. But that was before Dr. Zeller changed the face of mental health care. While the book recounts the history of the institution, its primary purpose is to recount the numerous tales of ghost sightings over the years, with many firsthand stories. While I am not a believer in other worldly things, this book makes me even a bit skeptical of my own skepticism (but I am skeptical of that). This book is a great read for anyone interested in this important landmark in mental health care or things of a supernatural nature.

The second book, Paris is a Nice Dish, relates to Peoria because I pulled it from the well-stocked shelves of the Pettengill-Morron home. The book was published in 1952 and was purchased by Miss Jean Morron for one of her worldwide cruises, which inevitably took her to Paris. It provides travelers with all kinds of tips for travelling in Paris – including advice on (I kid you not) how to hook up: “If you feel your oats, and, being of the rougher sex, wish to sow a few, consult le concierge, and he will instruct you in protocol.” Valuable advice, indeed, for Miss Morron. The author, who was “Radio’s Food Magician” in the ‘40s, also offers up many essential Parisian recipes, like anchovy éclairs and creamed shrimp in a potato wall. Bon appétit! 


About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.