Summer Reading

The View From Argyle Heights: Reading & Writing & Even Some Arithmetic
by Homeowner Harry (Another in a series of observations about life in West Midwood as it is lived today…or maybe not)

May 13, 2011...The beach and vacations beckon! So it’s time to think about what books we want to take with us. Or in my case, which books I will stuff in my suitcase intending to devour … only to experience the guilt and shame two weeks later as I re-pack them, untouched, for the return trip home, having read nothing longer than a Mets box score.

As I pondered the question of what I should pretend to read this Summer, it occurred to me that we have a number of published writers in our neighborhood and maybe I should seek out their guidance. Then, as it turned out, there were so many, I had to narrow it down to just those inhabitants of our leafy glen with a published book available on Amazon. That bottom line qualification ruled out many with journal articles, blogs and other writing credits. Sadly, it also eliminated me, since my seminal work, Flying Saucers & Credit Default Swaps: The Alien Plot To Buy Our Debt, had to be serialized on www.ufos-and-your-finances.com when space aliens threatened my editor.

Anyway, there are five among us with published books and what a diverse group it is!

Al & Mary Nofi At Omaha Beach, Normandy
ALBERT NOFI, a West Midwoodian for 35 years, has written more than 30 books. Yes, that was three-zero my friends, and not a typo. Amazing? Face it, most of us can’t even name 30 books. Al and his wife, Mary Spencer, were attracted by Westminster Road’s leafy cocoon and diversity in the mid-1970’s, when the Nofi family escaped the urban jungles of West 96th Street while Al was still a teacher in the City’s schools. Al retired as an Assistant Principal and for the past two decades has built an incredible second career as a military historian and analyst. He started out as a war-games designer and then a defense strategist, working with some of the most brilliant tacticians in the country, at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia, and then at the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, in Newport, Rhode Island. Somehow he also found time to secure a PhD in military history along the way. People, if we ever declare war on Fiske Terrace, I think Dr. Nofi should be calling the shots. 

Al’s latest book, chronicling the U.S. Navy’s strategic thinking in the run-up to World War II, To Train The Fleet For War, was recognized by the U.S. Navy League as one of the best books of the year on naval history. Al has also published books on the Civil War, the Marine Corps and the Spanish-American War. One of his best-received works was on the founding fathers of Texas, The Alamo and the Texas War for Independence, published in 1992. Later that year, Al and Mary lost their daughter Marilyn in a hit and run automobile accident at the age of 24. Marilyn, who had once worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster, is buried in the historic Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery in south-central Texas. Nowadays, the Nofi’s spend most of the year in Austin, Texas, near Mary’s family. Al’s reading habits are of course geared toward military history and as a board member of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, he edits its Newsletter. Al's reading list is heavy on military and ancient history, much of which can be found at http://nymas.org/, a great web site if you're a history buff like me, containing oodles of free podcasts, including Al's marvelously spirited presentation of the US fleet's war games during the 1930's.  Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=albert+nofi

DAVID ROSEN also moved to West Midwood from an apartment – in Park Slope – in a quest for more room for his family, arriving in the mid-1990's with his wife Tori and their daughter Sarah. David is a Professor of Anthropology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey and in addition to a PhD from the University of Illinois, he also has practiced law, thanks to a J.D. from Pace Law School. In 2005, years of field research in Sierra Leone, Kenya, Israel and the Palestinian Territories culminated in a very well received study of child soldiers, Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism, published by Rutgers University Press and now available in paperback. David’s interest in this subject, on which he has now become a recognized expert, with published articles in the Connecticut Journal of International Law, American Anthropologist, among other journals, originally stemmed from an encounter many years ago with a paramilitary group when he was living in the Kono District of Sierra Leone. This armed contingent, David remembers, “acted like thugs and they all seemed to be quite young; then when civil war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991, I realized that it was very much these same kinds of kids who were being recruited into the rebel forces".

As for Summer reading, David likes murder mysteries, especially by Ian Rankin who “mostly writes police procedurals set in Edinburgh.” Jacqueline Winspeare (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries), Peter Robinson (Inspector Banks) and spy novelist Alan Furst are also favorite authors. If they haven’t produced any new work, David will look for Israeli novels in translation and in this vein recommends David Grossman’s To the End of the Land. David especially enjoyed Virkram Chandra’s Sacred Games ("a big think novel about an Indian detectives pursuit of a well entrenched mobster"). Jonathan Franzen’s best seller, Freedom, is also recommended.   Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Armies-Young-Soldiers-Terrorism-Childhood/dp/0813535689/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306781426&sr=1-4

BETH DUNFEY, like so many others, emigrated to West Midwood from a Park Slope apartment with her husband Sam Nisson, in search of a spacious, kid-friendly environment. By that time, Beth had already authored BThe PowerPuff Girls Save The Day Sticker Book, using her late grandmother’s name, Ruth N. Carey, as a nom-de-plume. Published by Scholastic, where Beth worked for many years, helping to create the Harry Potter franchise, she is now a freelance editor and full-time mother of Roy, Nora and Tommy.  In between bedtime stories and melt-downs, Beth plans to read Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell (“a young adult book that's supposed to be great!”) and heartily recommends Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. Other recent favorites include: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan; The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman; The Lost City of Z, by David Grann (“a thrilling nonfiction read from a New Yorker staff writer about a man who becomes obsessed with finding an ancient civilization in the Amazon”); Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin; and This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper (“a fun read perfect for the beach”). Beth also recommends these young adult novels: Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater and The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (“soon to be a major motion picture!”).  Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Powerpuff-Girls-Save-Sticker-Book/dp/0439160154/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306781263&sr=1-7

PATRICK HOWELL O’NEIL is the only West Midwoodian scribe who was born and raised in Argyle Heights. Patrick’s Starcraft Bible was published in January and has generated a lot of attention in the computer gaming world. In researching the book, I chanced upon more coverage of Patrick on the Internet than all the other four authors combined. Interviews, pictures, long rapturous reviews and even a “coming attraction” trailer for the book with theme music by Hans Zimmer that frankly was so awesome, I immediately downloaded it to my iPod. Patrick’s reading selections have something for everyone and are so well described, I will let them speak for themselves:

Masters of Doom by David Kushner is the story of how a couple of young talented guys who lacked direction in their early twenties went on to be the artists and programmers and minds behind several of the most important video games of all time, becoming pop culture icons and unimaginably wealthy rock stars with all the good and bad that comes with that. It's a very good book period but is absolutely awesome if you played games in the 80s or 90s.


A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is one of the few fantasy franchises I've ever read in full. It started in 1996 and has a new book coming out in July. At this point, it's a genre classic and required reading even if you are raising your nose and rolling your eyes at the thought of reading a fantasy book. It's more of a Machiavellian political thriller than a classic fantasy book. There's less wizards in robes and more sharp tongued politicians with daggers on their person. It's also got an HBO show now but do yourself a favor and read the book that started it first.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a beautiful book about a father and son moving through a gorgeously grim post-apocalyptic landscape, hoping to find anything good at all. It's won a ton of prizes (including a Pulitzer) and is on a million and one best-of-the-decade lists. Don't wait for me to convince you, just read it.”
Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=patrick+howell+oneill&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Apatrick+howell+oneill&ajr=0

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN is the culture critic at large for the New York Times after serving as that paper’s chief music critic for many years. Ed grew up on Avenue N and East 14th Street, and recalls taking a circuitous bike route to Midwood High School just to sample “the charms of this neighborhood”. Friends of his parents (the Brenners) lured Ed and his young family to Argyle Road where Ed and his wife Marilyn have reared three children (Dena, Aaron and Anna) in their now almost empty nest at the crest of Argyle Heights. Ed, a Yale grad with a PhD from the University of Chicago, has won numerous awards for his music criticism and once did graduate work in mathematics at Brandeis, interests which led him to write Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics, named one of the Top 25 Books of 1995 by both Publishers Weekly and The New York Public Library. Reissued in paperback in 2006, Emblems explains why “the connections between math and music are far from accidental”. One of those connections occurs whenever I play guitar since I can often hear audiences mumble that they are “counting the minutes until that noise stops.” Ed also wrote a marvelous essay, "Utopia & Its Discontents", one of the three that comprise the 2003 book, Visions of Utopia published by Oxford University Press. Ed points to the Internet as the latest quasi-Utopia for its more visionary proponents.
As for Summer reading, Ed expressed deep disappointment when informed that Flying Saucers & Credit Default Swaps: The Alien Plot to Buy Our Debt was not available in book form, since it is hard to read Internet stuff on the beach and not get sand all over it. Ed actually prefers audio books these days, which allows him to listen on the subway, in the car, or while e-mailing me late one recent night: “Right now, George Guidall is reading Crime and Punishment into my ears; it is so good I almost dread listening. I might as well recommend him as a good reader (check out audible.com)…I also recommend literate historical spy fiction by Alan Furst and thrillers by Vince Flynn. And then there are some great Dickens readers and...back to work!” Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Edward+rothstein

Finally, my wife Virginia is a member of two Book Groups that meet regularly and I figured she must have some good picks since she reads about two books a week. She left out a stack for me to peruse but I couldn’t get past the watercolor dust covers showing reflective stationery female adults. None depicted UFOs, human zombies or even a single mangled corpse. Of course, I expected as much. Years ago, I tried to join one of her groups, but when I kept suggesting we read The Zombie Plot To Poison Our Food Supply, I got the boot.

Well there you have it. Alert readers will have noticed multiple recommendations for Jonathan Franzen and Alan Furst. All in all, I must admit there are some books I am tempted to stuff in my suitcase – just in case the Mets are mathematically eliminated by mid-July. Particularly that book about that guy looking for a lost civilization on the Amazon web site, where all of West Midwood’s authors may be found as well.

[EDITOR’s NOTE: If you have a published book available on Amazon and were not included in this article, please address your concerned outrage about this or other issues, including zombies, to joe@enright.com (“an ego so big, he needed his own domain”), who can also be found roaming through http://argyleheights.blogspot.com/]
The Strand - My Favorite Book Store

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