Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

Now that summer’s unofficially drawing to a close with an earthquake and a hurricane, the summer reading list is pretty much done.

Don’t know why, but I decided this summer to read some of the great fiction of our time (“our” meaning the last 50-60 years or so). Maybe because Borders went out of business this year and I was able to snag them cheap.

Anyway, here’s what I read this summer:

1. Catcher in the Rye: J.D. Salinger’s classic coming-of-age story that was controversial as hell back in the day. Even in these enlightened times, I can see why.

2. Of Mice and Men: Probably the best short novel ever written. It’s said that OMaM could be put on the stage without changing a word or direction. Yeah, pretty much.

3. Coming Back Stronger: Drew Brees’ first-person story of his rise to NFL almost-stardom, his imminent fade into history (courtesy of a devastating shoulder injury) and his rebirth in a city being rebuilt, New Orleans, and skyrocket ride to superstardom. It’s a Super Bowl story, and clearly not a Pulitzer candidate, but an enjoyable read (not least because I’m a hard-core Saints fan).

4. No Angel: Former ATF agent Jay Dobbins’ gripping tale of his time as an undercover cop/member of Hells Angels (the only federal agent to ever infiltrate the club). It’s all Jay, all the time, but you cannot put it down. One awesome story.

5. Seven Plays: The title says it all: seven plays by Sam Shepherd (aka Mr. Jessica Lange). I love reading (and watching) plays — after all, I’m from the same town as Tennessee Williams. Shepherd’s stuff is cutting-edge almost to the point of being bizarre (and in some cases past that point), but the way he keeps it together is fascinating. And a little breathtaking as you read it.

6. The Father of All Things: Tom Bissell‘s journey to Vietnam with his Marine dad was easily the best book I read all year, let alone summer. I met Tom a few years ago at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and spent an afternoon chatting with him on a porch. I’d had his book for years without reading it, but I’m glad I finally did. His writing is a lot like his personality: thoughtful, wry, smartass and at times outrageously funny. If you haven’t read Tom’s work, start.

7. Portnoy’s Complaint: There’s coming-of-age stories, then there’s coming (wink)-of-age stories. Roth writes the latter. Hysterical.

8. Valhalla Rising: Many years ago, I got into an argument with someone over who was the bigger badass, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee or Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. I argued the former (and still do). But I read a few Dirk Pitt novels and enjoyed them, but not nearly as much as some people. I picked up Valhalla Rising a couple of weeks ago. It’s not bad, if you don’t mind the unlikely dialogue, the impossible feats of derring-do and the absolute perfection with which the characters perform their role.

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