61-year-old reader

Posted: December 3, 2010 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

So…what does one recommend to a 61-year-old man who’s decided to take up reading for the first time since high school? 

A little context, I suppose. It may surprise some of you to know that I – a man with a degree in English Education, a professional writer, and someone who has been doing the words-on-a-page thing in some form or another since the age of six – am the product of parents who do not, so much, like the reading.

In fact, I recall a particularly disheartening moment in my teens when my dad flat-out said, “I don’t really like books.”

But apparently, he’s turned around on the subject, upon realizing he’ll need a hobby once he retires in a couple years. So he thought he’d give this “reading books” thing another go.

Alarmingly, the first one he sought out? Catcher in the Rye, specifically because he recalled blowing it off in high school. He was interested, but not blown away. Granted, the ideal time to be blown away was when he was in high school and could somehow relate to Holden Caulfield, or alternatively in his early 20’s when he could read it a second time and realize just how fucked up Holden actually was.

And yet – he enjoyed the experience of reading. He kept along with it, describing for me a mystery book that sounded close-to but-not-entirely-like a Sue Grafton book. That one he liked.

But not wanting to pigeon-hole himself, he also expressed an interest in reading some more classics – by which he again means, the stuff he blew off in high school. (He recalls really liking “The Call of the Wild” and similar.)

Ah, but there is this caveat (for those of you who may remember I wrote an action-fantasy book and figured we might have a “Field of Dreams” moment with that): he doesn’t want to read any fantasy or science fiction, since – and I’m quoting here – “I don’t want to stretch my brain that far.”

So gazing at my book shelf, I’m thinking:
The Great Gatsby (he’s already expressed interest in that one)
Candide (because for classical lit, it’s right in his “damned if you do/don’t” sense of humor)
Hell’s Angels (I think this is kind of up his alley)
The Long Goodbye (it fits his mystery-standard, and is my favorite Chandler book)
A is For Alibi (because I think this might be more up his alley than Chandler)
Around the World in 80 Days (?)
Some Elmore Leonard book

What about you, my dear, hyper-literary readers? You have a chance to get a guy into reading-for-fun. What’s the book you’d recommend? (Keep in mind, if it’s got an SF/fantasy bent or is a little “out-there,” Chuck Palahniuk-style, you better have a good pitch. I’ve been trying to figure out which Gaiman book might do it for him…Anansi Boys might do it?)

  1. Tad says:

    Your dad is awesome. You have to actually invite your folks to the Derby party this year!

    Can you sneak Cat’s Cradle or some other Vonnegut stuff by him without him realizing there’s some sci-fi in there? I’ll look through my shelves sometime to see what else might be good.

  2. braak says:

    If he wants to hit the classics, To Kill a Mockingbird is a pretty good choice.

    You can stick on those early Robert B. Parker books, too, because it’s entirely possible that he watched Spenser for Hire at one point.

  3. richie says:

    Thomas Wolfe – You Can’t Go Home Again

  4. Lolly says:

    Gaiman is pretty great for non-readers. American Gods might be too dense and dark, but Anansi Boys might be a good bet. Or how about Good Omens? Funny, smart… Unless he’s a fan of the Jesus. Then that won’t be so good.

    How about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf books? It’s mystery writing and it has the setting and some of the conventions of noir without the, you know, darkness. His plots are not awesome as mystery stories go, but his characters are fabulous and Archie Goodwin ought to appeal quite a bit to someone of his generation. Agatha Christie is great as well, but I wonder if she isn’t more “for the ladies”.

    How about the Corrections? It’s an intimidatingly big book, but it’s not a difficult read (unless my perspective is skewed, maybe?) and it deals with the struggles of “ordinary Americans” in such a beautiful way.

    If he has any affinity for New York, Pete Hamil’s Forever is amazing, and despite some fantasy elements, it is emphatically not a fantasy book.

    I have a few more suggestions, but let me know if you think anything I mentioned might work, lest I give you a list of 100 Books Your Dad Would Hate.

  5. dagocutey says:

    Definitely give him “Mockingbird” — my non-reading sister loved it. I’d recommend “Water for Elephants,” and if he doesn’t mind violence and profound bleakness, anything by Cormack McCarthy is good.

  6. sebastian says:

    Reading Charles Bukowski for the first time at 61 years old seems like it would give you the same sensation as reading Catcher in the Rye as a teenager.

  7. Hsiang says:

    How about some Steinbeck? I’ve done Cannery Row every two years for decades (yeah, I’m old) and never been disappointed. Also, Travels With Charley still resonates well and will appeal to the cranky old bastard within us all.
    Would he like Peter Matthiessen? His latest, Shadow Country< was kinda awesome and the rest of his catalog is quite appealing to the armchair traveler.

  8. southwer says:

    Robert Parker and Lee Child. paperback mysteries but really charmingly written and fun. Stuart Kaminsky. John Burdett. Ooh! The Yiddish Policeman’s Union! Harlan Coben. Colin Harrison. William Lashner.

  9. braak says:

    Michael Chabon might be something to work up to; he’s got a narrative style that–while I really like it–can be a little challenging for the unpracticed reader.

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