Dads can be notoriously tough to buy for, so Father’s Day brings a fair amount of angst for gift-giving sons and daughters. Here are five books to spare you from buying a necktie or golf balls and make you a family hero.
KING OF THE COURT
We’ve all said it—especially harried parents torn between workplace and home, with precious little time to themselves: “If only I had the time to practice, I could get really good at (fill in the blank).”
In Late to the Ball, Gerald Marzorati recounts how, at age 60, with work and family responsibilities winding down, he fills in the blank with competitive tennis. Marzorati, formerly editor of The New York Times Magazine, knows what he is up against in his quest to make the leap from decent club player to a force on the national senior circuit: lifelong players with extensive backgrounds in the game, many with international experience. But he stubbornly (and at no small expense) makes the effort. There’s the requisite coach along the way (more than one, in fact), but also cameos by a psychotherapist, a biomechanics expert and an ill-fated friend, all of whom have lessons to impart. Marzorati soaks them all in, but in the end—and to the reader’s benefit—appears to succeed just as much in improving his perspective on life as in perfecting his backhand.
STOPPING THE BOMB
Don’t be surprised if, partway through The Winter Fortress, you get the urge to flip to the back cover and make absolutely sure that it’s a nonfiction book. This tale of a daredevil mission to slow Germany’s World War II progress toward an atomic bomb could only be conjured by a master storyteller. Neal Bascomb’s a master all right, but the events he describes in fly-on-the-wall fashion—working from recently declassified documents, firsthand interviews and previously unseen diaries and letters—are true. In 1942, the Nazis were bent on developing a nuclear capability, and a fortress-like facility in Norway was crucial to their goal. Making incredible sacrifices, commando teams made up largely of Norwegian patriots battled harsh conditions and nearly insurmountable odds in their quest to derail the Germans’ plans. It’s part spy tale, part action-adventure yarn as the saboteurs strap on skis and undertake the mission of a lifetime. We know how it will turn out, but there are plenty of surprises along the way in a book that, once you reach the midpoint, is almost impossible to put down.
Taking on a subject near to almost any dad’s heart, The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink is a light, informative read that goes down easily on a hot summer day. Author Dane Huckelbridge clearly loves his subject, and it’s obvious he had fun drinking his way through the necessary (really it is, Dear) research. And you’ll get quite an education as Huckelbridge starts in New England and works his way across the country, with shoutouts to beloved brands such as Iron City, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Anchor Steam Beer. He traces beer’s roots in other cultures, notes that it came over on the Mayflower and describes how, for a time, beer battled with whiskey before emerging as America’s alcoholic beverage of choice. Breweries large and small are toured, and there are numerous history mini-lessons along the way, with such figures as Ben Franklin and George Washington making appearances. And who knew that Gen. George Armstrong Custer unwittingly played a role in the early mass marketing of beer? So it almost goes without saying: Tell Dad to enjoy this book with a glass of beer close by.
SUMMONING THE FORCE
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the world has a few problems. But Cass R. Sunstein is here with The World According to Star Wars to tell you the Force can fix them, along with taking off those extra five pounds and curing the common cold. OK, just kidding on those last two—but Sunstein, a Harvard professor and behavioral economics expert when he’s not geeking out with the Imperial March playing in the background, is a true believer and then some when it comes to the wildly successful Star Wars films. In Sunstein’s view, fortunately written in an un-professorial tone, the movies unify people, connect generations (got that, Dad?) and form a modern myth that exists as a “rousing tribute to human freedom.” And just to seal the Father’s Day deal, there are enough “I am your father” references to sustain a drinking game, and there’s an entire chapter (this book calls them “episodes”) entitled “Fathers and Sons.” So sure, you can just read that one chapter. But trust the Force—you’ll enjoy Sunstein’s musings all the way through.
SECRETS OF THE PAST
The world cannot end in The House of Secrets, because it’s billed as the first in a series. The conspiracy thriller is co-written by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg, with Meltzer getting top billing—that’s understandable, as his credits include multiple bestselling novels, plus graphic novels and children’s books. He also hosts “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel and “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” on H2. Novelist Goldberg (the Burn Notice series) is no slouch either, so they have combined for a fast-paced novel that keeps the reader guessing all the way through. After all, how can you go wrong when you start off with a dead body (oops, make that two!) that has a Bible implanted in its chest and is dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform? The task of making sense of all this falls to the daughter of a TV host who’s a lot like, well, Brad Meltzer. And Meltzer (the real one) says the book’s premise is based on fact. So buy it for Dad, but don’t be surprised if you see him acting strangely as he turns the pages.
This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.