“Books are your friends, my friends,” sang Jiminy Cricket on 1950s television. The Walt Disney cartoon character was right, and there is no time like the holidays for reading books and giving them as gifts. Irish writer Richard Steele said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” and his words are as true today as they were when he wrote them more than two centuries ago. Here are some books that I recommend for mental exercise during the holiday season or any time of the year.
Civil rights icon John Lewis died last year, but his posthumously published Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation continues his legacy. This small volume is packed with advice and anecdotes from the life of Lewis, including his battle against cancer, memories of working alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and his thoughts on the present-day pandemic, contemporary activism, the joy of friendship and the value of a loving marriage. Carry On is the last testament of John Lewis, but readers can also enjoy his autobiography, Walking With the Wind. I treasure my signed copy.
Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa takes readers inside President Donald Trump’s desperate bid to hold on to the White House after losing the 2020 election. Its publication earlier this year came not long after the MAGA mob of Trump cultists stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Both authors are longtime contributors to The Washington Post, where Woodward’s reporting on the Watergate scandal helped to topple the Nixon regime in 1974. Peril is an ominous but appropriate title for this book that follows Woodward’s two other books about Trump’s trumpery, Fear: Trump in the White House (2018) and Rage (2020).
Katharine Graham was publisher of The Washington Post when that paper exposed criminality in the Nixon administration and defied the government by publishing the Pentagon Papers that showed the secret and seamy side of the Vietnam War. She loved journalism, she loved America, and she loved the nation’s capital. Katharine Graham’s Washington is an absorbing compendium of writers and writing about the city from 1917, the year of her birth, until 2001, the year of her death. Included in the volume are views of the city by such observers as Will Rogers, Art Buchwald, Rosalyn Carter, Harry Truman and Perle Mesta. Lovers of Washington will enjoy this book along with Graham’s 1997 autobiography, Personal History.
The turbulent decade of the 1960s has been the subject of movies and television shows like this year’s film The Trial of the Chicago 7 and the new incarnation of TV’s “The Wonder Years.” Journalist Nora Sayre lived through that era, and her 1973 book Sixties Going On Seventies is an inside look back at those tempestuous times. Whether you are an aging Baby Boomer like me or a young person wanting to take a trip back in time through the pages of a book, Sayre’s words written nearly 50 years ago are some of the best reporting about a decade that is forever seared into the psyche of this nation.
Longtime Athens journalists Al and Conoly Hester have passed away, but they live on in their works like Athens Memories: The WPA Federal Writers Project Interviews and Athens, Georgia: Celebrating 200 Years at the Millennium. In 2010, Al Hester published Enduring Legacy: Clarke County, Georgia’s Ex-Slave Legislators Madison Davis and Alfred Richardson. The book, which he dedicated to his wife Conoly, tells the dramatic story of two African-American men who endured rampant racism after they were elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1868 during the postbellum Reconstruction Era. Enduring Legacy is a book title that sums up the contributions made to journalism and the Athens community by Al and Conoly Hester.
These are only a few books that I have found to be exercise for the mind and friends for the soul. Happy reading, and happy holidays.
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