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October 7, 2013

Some book picks from an avid reader

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The Daily Star

---- — I came to reading begrudgingly. I was an impatient student easily bored with books. Finally an eighth-grade English teacher in Sidney, Kay Jester, figured out my problem. She told me that I had an inquisitive mind and had an affinity for storytelling. She also told me I was reading the wrong books.

She offered up her own copies of “Moby Dick,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Red Badge of Courage” as a way to open my eyes. Kind of like a 1963 teacher-student challenge.

I loved them all and haven’t stopped reading since. Mrs. Jester is long gone now, and I can only imagine her exultation at the thought that “Chuckie in the back of the first row” (she called me that; we were seated alphabetically throughout my school years) would some day be able to point to several books that he himself had authored.

Books have been my lifelong companions. I still have books that were on my boyhood bedroom shelves more than 50 years ago. I’ve carted them to college to apartment to trailer to condo and to my own homes. They’re my friends. Sure, some of them are upset because they remain closed up in dark boxes in my garage or basement, but that’s OK. They know I’m still here.

I thought I might share some of my reading interests with you. I’ve received a remarkable selection of books from family and friends this year. Here are some favorites. Yes, they are heavy on the nonfiction side. But I think you might find one you’ll enjoy.

“Devil in the Grove” tells the story of the legendary black jurist Thurgood Marshall in his early days as a civil rights lawyer. His story is frightening. He dared to face down the slack-jawed, dentally challenged dimwits who were the pillars of the Jim Crow South in the 1930s and 1940s. He went there to defend poor blacks who’d been brought to hanging trees on trumped-up charges. The chapter where Marshall himself escapes his own lynching by just a few minutes left me breathless. This book, by Gilbert King, tells a little-known yet equally important story of this towering 20th century figure before most of us had ever even heard of his name

“Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage,” by Hugh Brewster, is the latest in an endless line of Titanic chronicles. Only this one takes a unique twist on the doomed ship and its passengers. Brewster describes the lives, fortunes and fates of all of the upper-crust passengers on the ship. It really was a millionaire’s cruise with several of the richest people in America on board. The author tells who they are, how they got so stinking rich, what they had for their last meals on the ship and what they wore as they either dove into a lifeboat or sank beneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

And the local angle will keep you flipping through to find the wealthy Ryerson family from Cooperstown. Emily survived. Arthur went down with the ship.

“Chocolate Wars” is an absorbing look at the infancy of the giant chocolate companies and their struggles to remain on top. From the earliest days in England when 4,000 Quakers ruled the chocolate business to the more-recent head-on collisions with such American giants as Forrest Mars and Milton Hershey, this book tells a sweet and intense story of the world’s favorite treat, chocolate. And the author has a stake in the way this book eventually comes out, too. Her name is Deborah Cadbury. Yes, those Cadburys!

Last but not least, a book that I call the best read of 2013 (so far). Pulitzer Prize author Sheri Fink offers us a literary wonder in “Five Days at Memorial.” This exhaustive look at what happened during a five-day period at a marooned city hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is hard to put down. And hard to read. Grim, dark, sad, tense and utterly mesmerizing, it reveals the honor, dignity and valor of nurses and doctors left on their own for almost a week in a hospital filled with critically ill patients, no electricity, no toilets, and no help coming to save them. You’ll never look at a nurse the same way after reading this terrific book.

Angels of Mercy? That is a monument to understatement.

So take it from “Chuckie in the back of the first row,” there are some great stories out there for you to explore between the covers of some excellent new books.

I’ll catch you in two …

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find him on Facebook by searching “Big Chuck.” He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.