As you may or may not know - or care, for that matter - I've forsaken L.A. for Lower Alabama for a few weeks to do some research for the forthcoming smash hit, Brady's Dissertation: Eight Or So Chapters That Changed A Very Small Subfield of Sociology for a Few Years Until Cultural Analysis Falls Out Of Fashion, If It Hasn't Already.
In the hours in which I'm not giving myself motion sickness with a microfilm reader or driving all over south-central Mississippi in search of transcripts of speeches and interviews, I've been hanging out with the family, eating well (oh oysters, you magnificent sea boogers - how I'll miss you when I leave), and getting book recommendations from the kinfolk. Here's a couple that I've started on:
Mea culpa: I'm only about forty pages into each of these, but in the interest of actually posting for a change, I thought I'd share the contents of my bedside table.
Nonfiction-wise, my uncle Charlie recommended John M. Barry's Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. (Ha! Another one!) I'm several chapters in and it's a corker of a story so far, full of turn-of-the-century engineering/hubris and fascinating/horrifying political shenanigans.
If you are an Isambard Kingdom Brunel groupie, or enjoyed The Great Deluge you will probably find this to be right up your floodplain, so to speak. I'm not far enough along yet to tell if the flood really Changed America, but given that a young Herbert Hoover made his name on the national stage in the course of the recovery efforts, I'd say the book probably earns the subtitle.
On a walk downtown the other day, my dad and I stopped in at Bienville Books, where we happened upon Flashman at the Charge, one in a series of books that he and all of his friends have been devouring like eighth-graders on a Harry Potter binge. Flashy, as our protagonist is sometimes called, is a lot like Blackadder, only randier, more venal, and even more cowardly. (There is, so I hear, a Blackadder character who's an homage to ol' Flashy.) Flashy may be a little much, though it's too soon to tell; unlike Blackadder, you rarely get the sense that you're in on the joke along with the protagonist, and George MacDonald Fraser's humorous prose is about as subtle as if it were painted purple and dancing naked on top of a harpsichord singing "Subtle Prose Is Here Again."** Still, what it may lack in finesse it makes up for in a wealth of historical detail, and if you appreciate bawdy humor you might enjoy this one quite a bit, even as you find yourself appalled by every third sentence or so.
In short, if your dad has a birthday coming up, odds are either of these would probably be a perfect gift.
* This may in fact be the worst pun I've ever used in a title. I'm pretty pleased with myself.
** Paraphrased with apologies to the good writers over at the BBC.