Books My Dad Loves
Some of my most beloved childhood memories are of my father reading to me. Not just as a young child, but well into my middle school years. I loved it - spending time with him, but also sharing these books and stories with him. Whatever age I was, he always seemed to genuinely enjoy the books we read. When we read Dealing with Dragons he loved the dragon Kazul and the princess Cimorene as much as I did (I was also the only kid in 6th grade who knew how to correctly pronounce ‘Cimorene’). A couple of years ago, he asked me if kids still read Cam Jansen books and remembered how much he’d loved those ones. (The answer is yes, and they’re still wonderful).
We stopped reading aloud at some point, of course, but even now we talk about whatever we’re reading or call each other to recommend something we just finished. His book club doesn’t take my suggestions as often as I’d personally like, but we chat about what they’re reading and what he thinks. Now I can see how widely he reads, and how many different genres and books he enjoys - which I think explains why he liked Ramona and all those other children’s books as much as he did.
Dad, if you’re reading this, please don’t call to tell me you didn’t actually like Dealing with Dragons all that much. For everyone else, here’s a taste of what it’s like to talk to my dad about books and maybe you’ll be inspired to read one. Or to call your kid or parent or friend and talk about what you’ve been reading.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
The book begins with the story of an American on a voyage in 1850. Then, suddenly, it’s the story of a Belgian composer in 1931. The West Cost in the 1970s, present day England, and onward to near future Korea and post-apocalyptic Hawaii. Traveling forward and backward in time, Mitchell explores how the threads of these different lives all interconnect throughout time.
My dad loves all of David Mitchell’s books, but Cloud Atlas is his favorite. He never has his own copy, because he keeps giving them away. He praised the way that Mitchell is able to write in so many different styles and genres, calling it “imaginatively complex” and “unbelievably fascinating”. Mitchell drew him in with his exploration of the interconnections of human generations and the illustration of common human behaviors, including human cruelty and the battle against it. For anyone put off by the story threads that can seem so disparate, he says it all hangs brilliantly together.
Wolf Hall and the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, by Hilary Mantel.
In England in the 1920s, Henry VIII hasn’t produced an heir and is determined to defy the Pope, annul his marriage, and marry Anne Boleyn. In steps Thomas Cromwell, an English lawyer, to serve as Henry VIII’s chief minister. From within Cromwell’s head, the reader lives a fictionalized version of this tumultuous period in English history.
Although my dad claims Cloud Atlas as his favorite book, I’m somewhat dubious because he had more to say about Wolf Hall than all the other books combined. He’s read the whole series at least twice. He couldn’t stop singing Mantel’s praises: “She’s a sublime writer” and “the woman can write like you would not believe” and “I do not know how she does it, it’s amazing.” He loves the story, too; the high stakes, life at court, and what it’s like to work for a King. He says Cromwell is “almost like one of those protagonists in an adventure story who has all the right skills at the right times.”
If none of that convinces you to pick up Wolf Hall, here is what convinced me: “Sometimes there are books that you’re reading and you come across a passage, and you’re so affected by the passage that you want to tell someone else about it, but there’s no way you can. You can read it to them, but there’s something about the gestalt experience that you can’t convey. And there are a ton of those moments in her books.”
Master and Commander and the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian
Jack Aubrey is a new captain in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Stephen Maturin is a ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent. In this first book in the series, the two men have their maiden voyage together, in a tale that details both their eccentric friendship and naval battles.
“I’ve read them all at least twice,” says my dad. He described the books as a series of stories about fascinating characters, two totally different men who are close friends, and an intriguing look at the time period. He loves the picture he paints of life on board a British ship, the brutality of the battles, and the imaginative nature of the stories. “Every one of the books is fun.”
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
In The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the northern and western migration of Black Americans from 1915 to 1970, and how it changed American society at large. In that time span, almost six million Black people left the south in search of a better life. Wilkerson tells the story through the lives of three specific individuals, following thousands of interviews and in-depth research of this and other migrations.
My dad says this book “should be required reading for every American.” He praised the way it “shows in very specific stories how people created a new life for themselves, and yet it also doesn’t gloss over that even when they got out of the south they still had to struggle because of racism and white supremacy.” While this is non-fiction, he encouraged even fiction readers to give it a chance: “It’s packed with factual information, but delivered around real human stories” in a narrative format. “It’s anything but dry.”
Lastly, I asked my dad about something he was currently reading. Here’s what he suggested:
From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, by William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen.
My dad says: “I haven’t finished it, but I think it might also be a book everyone should read.” The first part of the book is a “detailed argument that describes the outrages imposed upon Black people in this country from 1619 to the present.” Darity and Mullen don’t focus their attention solely on slavery, but instead argue that reparations should be based equally upon antebellum treatment. “They outline it so clearly, the impact of white supremacy, the terrorism that has been applied to Black people since Reconstruction, documented with clear facts and research. I don’t know how anyone could refute it.” Finally: “I can’t wait to find out what their proposal is, because I think the idea makes absolute sense, it’s just a question of how reparations can be done in a way that really makes a difference and in a way that could get done.”