With Father’s Day approaching, it’s time to wrap that present you’ve had hidden away for months. Wait, you have nothing hidden away and no idea what to buy Dad? Here are five books that will be even more welcome than a box of golf balls.
What Father’s Day list is complete without an unabashedly sentimental—yet realistic—look at the father-son relationship from first-person experience? Two and Two: McSorley’s, My Dad, and Me, by Rafe Bartholomew, fills that bill admirably. It also serves as a history of McSorley’s Old Ale House, a 163-year-old institution in New York’s East Village, as well as a compendium of anecdotes about things that can only happen at a beloved neighborhood bar (nowadays, alas, also a frequent tourist stop). Bartholomew, a sports writer and editor, writes lovingly of his father, known as “Bart” over the course of his 45-year bartending career, and also gives us some of his own coming-of-age glimpses along the way. If you can survive St. Patrick’s Day at McSorley’s, we learn, you can survive just about anything. But just when you think this is strictly a fathers-and-sons book, some of the best writing appears in the chapter dealing with the author’s mother, Patricia, who conquered alcoholism only to find life had an even bigger punch in store for her.
BROTHERS IN ARMS
Fatherhood takes a back seat to brotherhood in The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home, but the family ties are just as strong. They extend to the author, Sally Mott Freeman, a former speechwriter and public relations executive who is the daughter of one of the brothers. Her curiosity piqued by a family argument, she sought to unravel the story of her uncle Barton’s life as an MIA naval ensign during World War II (it’s no spoiler to note that he was actually a prisoner of war) and the efforts of his two brothers—also Navy men—to find and rescue him even as they fight their own battles. Meanwhile, the home fires are tended by a tenacious mother who never hesitates to pick up her pen and give the powers that be—all the way up to President Roosevelt—a piece of her mind. Tenacious in her own way, Freeman uses archives, interviews and diaries to uncover Barton’s tragic story along with those of his brothers and fellow prisoners, who endured unspeakable horrors in Japanese prison camps as war raged in the Pacific.
TEAMS AT THE TOP
Want to see Dad exercise his long-dormant debating skills? Just give him a copy of The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams and watch him search for his favorite team in author Sam Walker’s Tier One ranking. He’ll hunt in vain for baseball’s Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, or the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. (Hint: He’ll find Jordan in the chapter titled “False Idols.”) Rest assured, the New York Yankees (1949-53 edition) did make the cut, along with the Collingwood Magpies of Aussie Rules football and 14 other teams. If your team isn’t on the list, Walker is ready with the reasoning for the snub (for example, the lack of a “true championship,” i.e., Super Bowl, for part of their existence kept the 1960s Green Bay Packers from Valhalla). And perhaps not surprisingly, given Walker’s background at The Wall Street Journal (he founded its daily sports report), the book doubles as a guide to success in business, with pointed commentary on what makes leaders effective or ineffective (go easy on the vitriol directed at teammates, Mr. Jordan).
WHAT A CATCH
Dad can get in touch with his inner Walter Mitty with Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean. The seemingly sane author, Morten Strøksnes, and an eccentric artist friend decide they want to haul up a Greenland shark—bigger than the great white, and thus the world’s largest flesh-eating shark—from the oceanic depths off the coast of Norway. Think Moby-Dick, but shorter and funnier with enough random factoids to fill a whale’s belly. Waiting for a shark to bite (the line, that is) gives Strøksnes plenty of time to muse on such topics as Norwegian history and mythology, seafaring tales, space exploration and even the shark itself. (The “drunkenness” referred to in the title comes from eating the flesh of the Greenland shark, which contains compounds used in the nerve gas trimethylamine oxide.) Ranging over a full year, the quest for more than a nibble yields satisfying insights into friendship, aspirations and the thrill of the chase. When the end comes, it’s almost anticlimactic.
Warning: Reading The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits can be a queasy experience, for at least a couple of reasons. For starters, the author of this absorbing memoir, expert rock climber Tommy Caldwell, spends a fair amount of time thousands (yes, thousands) of feet above ground level, protected only by a web of ropes, attempting to conquer the Next Big Climb. His targets include El Capitan’s 3,000-foot Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, which he conquers in 2015 with climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson. But Caldwell’s relationship with his gung-ho, adventure-guide father is also cringe-inducing and provides insight into his motivations and doubts, along with at least one failed relationship. If Caldwell’s name rings a bell, it’s possibly because one of his international expeditions ended with him and his companions—including the woman who would become his first wife—being held hostage by militants in Kyrgyzstan in 2000, escaping only when Caldwell pushed a captor off a nearly sheer dropoff. Somehow the captor survived, but it’s clear the incident still haunts Caldwell. Between the thrills, this book will haunt the reader, too.
This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.