As a full time beach-dwelling creature, I feel like I am particularly qualified to confirm first-hand that the summer of 2021 is off to a rip-roaring start, and thank goodness for that. With Memorial Day just concluded and Independence Day coming at us, the beaches are packed, restaurants thriving, and beloved summer traditions renewed.
For many, of course, there is no more hallowed seasonal tradition than the summer reading list. So far 2021 has been a solid year for books of all genres, several of which have caught my attention. To discuss them all would require much more space than I have here, so I thought I would humbly share five of my very favorites, in no particular order, for your own consideration. As you will see below, I have a strong preference for nonfiction, but have included something special for fiction lovers in the No. 5 slot. Happy summer and happy reading!
“World Travel: An Irreverent Guide,” by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever
(480 pages, Ecco, April 20, 2021)
I was skeptical of this one when I first caught wind of it, immediately thinking the idea too cute by half. How could one tape recorded concept meeting between Bourdain and his longtime lieutenant shortly before Bourdain’s unexpected death somehow be transformed into a jumbo-sized travel guide “written” by Bourdain, I wondered? As I learned more about it and then read it, I quickly realized that I had called it wrong. This is in fact a lovely book – part travel guide, part related clever Bourdain commentary pulled from episodes of his television shows, and part reflections from his family, colleagues and friends in the form of pithy essays sprinkled throughout. This book is more than an excellent basic travel reference to 43 global locales, from Argentina to Vietnam. It is a well-deserved and fitting tribute – an obvious labor of love for Laurie Woolever and the others involved – deserving of a place on your bookshelf. Oh, and Wesley Allsbrook’s charming illustrations are utterly perfect and make the whole thing all the more special.
(304 pages, Post Hill Press, March 30, 2021)
As I wrote in April after reading the review copy I had been sent: “Uncannily timely. And brilliant. Want your blood to boil and your faith to fall even more in those who claim to ‘serve’? This one’s for you.”
Author/editor/economic adviser John Tamny’s incisive examination of scattershot leadership in the time of global crisis from which we are still trying to recover may seem like a strange suggestion for a summer reading list. I get that. But we cannot fully recover without understanding and learning from mistakes – particularly ones that can be avoided if God forbid we ever find ourselves in a similar situation again. The coronavirus has dominated more than a year-and-a-half of our lives and left us devastated economically and socially. Tamny here sheds critical light on how “politicians were tragically relieved of basic common sense in their response.” It’s not much fun, but is most important. And typical of Tamny, it is levelheaded, meticulous and eminently readable.
“Philip: The Final Portrait,” by Gyles Brandreth
(Kindle Edition, 443 pages, Coronet, April 27, 2021)
“… by the time the obituaries of Prince Philip appeared … he was recognized as a remarkable man: as an individual, progressive, challenging, thoughtful, pragmatic, unexpected; as the Queen’s consort, uniquely supportive from start to finish.”
I have been an unabashed Philiphile (just coined that, thanks) for quite some time. Of the many books I have read that involve the late Duke of Edinburgh, perhaps my favorite is 2004’s charming and insightful “Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriage” by Gyles Brandreth. Brandreth – a longtime acquaintance of Prince Philip and a most interesting fellow himself – has revised and updated that work, turning the focus toward new content about the late prince and his legacy. The result is an even more insightful portrait of the man born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark that left me deeply moved and filled with admiration for a life brilliantly led in so many ways. “Philip: The Final Portrait” had a full United Kingdom release in April while other markets including the U.S. were limited to Kindle, where it is available for download now. The hardcover version will be released in the U.S. on Aug. 17 and can be pre-ordered here and here.
“No Way Home: The Crisis of Homelessness and How to Fix It with Intelligence and Humanity,” by Kerry Jackson, Christopher Rufo, Joseph Tartakovsky and Wayne Winegarden
(200 pages, Encounter Books, March 16, 2021)
Strangely, the fervor with which we as a society once committed ourselves to addressing the nation’s homeless crisis seems to have cooled in recent years. “No Way Home,” borne of a dizzying array of brain power in Mssrs. Jackson, Rufo, Tartakovsky and Winegarden, could help remedy that. These four diverse and distinguished thinker-authors have together written in “No Way Home” a powerful, honest and smart treatise that is making people think differently and more seriously about real solutions. It is a thoughtful call to arms and an essential book for anyone with interest in one of the most solvable crises we face as a nation. Read it and be inspired.
“False Light: A Novel,” by Eric Dezenhall
(343 pages, Greenleaf Book Group Press, Feb. 23, 2021)
My prolific friend Mr. Dezenhall released his 11th book (seven novels, four nonfiction titles) earlier this year to much well-deserved praise. Of course, there exists no better person to pen “a thrilling tale of revenge set against the vibrant backdrop of sensationalist modern media” than he, who by day is an internationally known damage control expert and CEO of one of the most recognized high-stakes communications firms anywhere.
There is so much to “False Light” and its main character, the colorful, dark-witted, world-and-journalism-weary reporter “Fuse” Petty that it’s really a challenge to do it justice in a few lines. One reviewer boiled it down just right in describing the read as “a ripped from the headlines story about old-school journalism, cancel culture and the destruction of a reputation for a slimy character that deserves to have his true colors revealed.”
It is that and so much more. So pick it up. It’s great. And since this is the only fiction title in my little mix, I gave it a little extra love in the form of a Q&A with the author, including links to more information and reviews embedded within. Here goes:
CJ: Eric, “False Light” is a great read that feels like a journey, and is entirely worthy of the praise it has received. Do you have a particularly favorite review? One that really nailed it from your perspective?
ED: Virginia Hume’s piece in The Dispatch really nailed how the timing of the book coincides with cancel culture, punitive woke-ism and illiberalism in the newsroom.
CJ: I’m really curious about how long it took you to write, from conception to completion. The timeliness of your narrative is quite striking. Some of the stuff you get into in the book is happening all around us, like, right now …
ED: I had been taking notes on the subject matter – revenge and character assassination – for several years, but as #MeToo, woke-ism and cancel culture took off, it really got going. The writing itself took about a year. I tend to need a number of years to obsess about something and lose sleep and then about a year to actually write. Before I had the plot developed I had been preoccupied with a simple question: What would happen if somebody who got away with everything his whole life found himself on the receiving end of somebody just like him? That’s the question that got the book going.
CJ: You and I met right around the time when your first fiction book, “Money Wanders,” came out in 2002. Your last one, “The Devil Himself,” came out in 2011 with a hella prolific five others in between, all of which I have read. I’ve recognized bits of you in each of your protagonists. But I definitely see a lot of you in “False Light,” particularly in the character’s more philosophical moments – not to mention that unmistakable Dez humor. More obvious than the others for sure. Am I right?
ED: “False Light” probably has most of my voice of any of my novels. A lot of the other ones have my protagonist dealing with organized crime, which, of course I don’t do in my real life.
CJ: Wait, what?
ED: Shhhh …
CJ: Oh. Right.
ED: Fuse, the main character, and I share an ineptitude with technology as well as an overall bewilderment over the state of the culture. We don’t like getting older. There is a line in the book about the modern world telling Fuse, “Look, we don’t want you here.” That’s about right. We also worry obsessively about our children. In real life, I commit far fewer federal crimes than he does.
CJ: I don’t think I have seen a book with an author Q&A and discussion topics at the end, as there is in “False Light,” but I found them to be interesting additions. What spurred those?
ED: It was my publisher’s idea. I had raised with them some concern about being a straight white male author dealing with a subject like #MeToo and they suggested a Q&A. I also made sure my entire editorial team was made up of women because the book deals with the aftermath of a sexual assault and I wanted to make sure I got the subject matter as right as I could despite not being able to personally identify with being a victim of that crime.
CJ: Smart. So what’s up next? Anything in the works?
ED: Given what has happened to the book world, I always feel like I’ve just written my last. One thing I’m doing is updating my 2014 non-fiction book on scandal, “Glass Jaw,” to reflect how the crisis management world (my day job) has changed since it was first published.
Christian Josi writes on a variety of subjects for a variety of publications. He is founder and managing director of C. Josi & Company, a multimedia and public affairs consultancy based in Virginia Beach, Virginia.