Opinion Columns & Blogs

Great books you may have never read


This week, it’s books again. The difference is that even avid book readers haven’t heard about most of these, though, in my opinion, all are excellent. Give some or all a chance in 2017.

Let’s start with one of my all-time favorites. Yes, I’ve written about it before. It’s “Lone Star: A History of Texas and The Texans,” by T. R. Fehrenbach. Sounds dull, doesn’t it? It’s anything but. I’ve never underlined in a book as much. An example is on page 516: “The long, open border, stretching from Eagle Pass to the Gulf of Mexico had already become a serious problem for Texas.” That was in the 1850s! It’s one of my all-time top 10 books.

On a somewhat similar note is “State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America,” edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey. You think it’s a geography book, don’t you? It’s not. It’s what 50 gifted authors have written about 50 different states. Two examples should whet your appetite. Alabama by George Packer: “Color is the oldest, deepest truth in Alabama, but it ebbs and flows…” Tennessee by Ann Patchett: “…Shiloh…more than ten thousand men…had died there in 1862…If anybody tells you Tennessee has changed much, tell them to come out to Shiloh.” Admit it, you’re interested.

Next is “Goat Brothers,” by Larry Colton. I read it in 1993. This is on the cover: “The true-life American epic of five men who meet as California fraternity brothers in the early 1960s and live out the dreams, failures, loves and betrayals of their tumultuous generation.” On page 237 of this 559 page book the author began writing about his experience playing baseball with the Macon Peaches and the team’s trip on the team bus, “The Coffin,” to play the Montgomery Rebels. He described the bus as the same one “which was used in the off-season to haul the Bibb County chain gang down to the Ocmulgee River to bust rocks, a sauna on wheels.”

What about “The Old Man and the Boy,” by Robert Ruark? A couple of quotes from the book for you to consider: “…I am what you might call a monument to trial and error,” and, “But he (the old man) purely despised idle chitter-chatter, people that just talked without having anything to say.” I am and I do, too. You’ve probably heard of this one, but, if you haven’t read it, do so before it’s too late.

Now, for two books you probably haven’t read or heard about: “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba,” by Tom Gjelten which I finished on Jan. 25, 2009 and about which I wrote, “I learned lots about Cuba, its people, and, of course, the Bacardi family and their rum company”; and, “Telex From Cuba,” a novel by Rachel Kushner and about which I wrote on Feb. 8, 2009, “I…recommend it to anyone who wants to know what was probably going on in Cuba during Batista’s time and when and after Castro took over.” Two good ones.

Another “good one” and, in a way, similar to the “Bacardi” book is “The House of Gucci,” by Sara Gay Forden. This is what I wrote about Gucci on May 11, 2015: “…It taught me lots about family business, starting a business and sustaining a big business once you get it established… It also reminded me of people’s foibles and how it greatly affects business, especially a big family business…” A 9.25 on a 10 scale.

Now, two books about two very different Georgia legends. First, “Footnotes to History,” by Griffin B. Bell and given to me by my friend Jim Cole in 2009. I wrote in the front of the book: “Excellent. All high school students, indeed all Americans, interested in their country should read this.” You should too! And next, different, but equally compelling is “When Men Were Boys: An Informal Portrait of Dean William Tate,” by John W. English and Rob Williams. This is on the book cover: “For more than 60 years his name has been associated with the University of Georgia. But he was always more than that. Southern Apologist. Counselor. Eternal Sophomore. Wild Bill. God’s Angry Man. Storyteller. Track Star. Historian. Humanist.” You don’t have to be old and a UGA graduate or fan to love it, but it will help!

Let me end with a quote by Joshua Ferris from the book, “State By State” and under Florida: “But few know about the Flora-Bama bar, located on the border between Florida and Alabama, an area known as the Redneck Riviera. The Flora-Bama sponsors a yearly mullet toss. For a fifteen-dollar entry fee, you have the chance to stand in a ten-foot circle in Alabama and throw a dead mullet across the state line into Florida, no sand on the mullet allowed. Throwing the mullet the farthest wins you a specially designed mullet trophy.” This doesn’t have anything to do with anything except its great writing and reminds me of my visits to the Flora-Bama. What a place!

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.