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So a friend thrusts a book into your hands and tells you, “You gotta read this one. I know you’ll love it!” You accept the gift with a smile on your lips and a twist of pain in your guts. On past occasions, your well-meaning friend has given you three other books, two novels and a book of history, all of which you not only disliked, but also never finished. You return home with this latest offering, open the book, read the first page, the second, the first chapter, the second chapter, and you realize with a rush you’re in love with the author and the story.

Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman once wrote “I hear America singing.”

Ah, those were the days.

It is 1926, and Lillian Boxfish, mid-20s and ambitious, arrives in Manhattan, where she lands a job working for the greatest department store in the city, R. H. Macy’s. That famed emporium hires her as a copywriter, and within five years she is the highest-paid advertising woman in the United States.

After finishing the last pages of Libertarians On The Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books (Arcade Publishing, 2016, 259 pages), my first thought was: I am glad I am not a farmer.

When verbally attacked and left speechless by an assailant, who among us has not long afterwards pondered the mot juste that might have left our assailant gasping for breath on the canvas, that perfect riposte that would have left us the winner standing in the ring?

In Charles Martin’s novel A Life Intercepted (Center Street Publishers, 2014, 326 pages), college senior Matthew “the Rocket” Rising has everything going for him. He’s one of the best college quarterbacks the gridiron has ever seen, the NFL has made him the number one pick in the draft, and various sports companies are salivating to have The Rocket endorse their products. Best of all, Matthew is married to Audrey, his high school sweetheart, his helpmate and anchor whose love for him seems bottomless. 

In 2011, William Forstchen’s apocalyptic novel, One Second After, appeared on best-seller lists. After reading for review this story of an EMP strike on the United States and the struggles of the residents of Black Mountain, North Carolina, to survive in a world without electricity, my first impulse was to rush to my neighborhood Ingles Market and fill my car with canned goods, dried foods, and medical supplies. This vivid account of death, destruction, and suffering in One Second After scared the hoot out of me.

Having given up listening to the dreadful music and talk shows available in my car radio, last week I popped the first disc of Pat Conroy’s South Of Broad into my CD player. Since that auspicious moment, I have driven around town and countryside besotted by words, loop-legged with sentences, schnockered by syntax, blasted, blitzed, bombed and blotto with language. Were a state trooper to pull me over and administer a roadside test for verbal inebriation, nightfall would find me sleeping off my drunken spree in the local slammer.

You’re stuck. 

It’s your boss’ birthday, your nephew’s graduation from high school, your cousin’s promotion at work, and you need to buy a gift. You enjoy reading and books, and want to give them a present in line with your own interests.

In The Jealous Kind (Simon and Schuster, 2016, 400 pages, $27.99), novelist James Lee Burke drops his readers into Houston, Texas, in the 1950s: drive-in restaurants, jukeboxes, duck-tailed punks, jacked-up cars, and teenagers discovering the tangled moral code of the adult world into which they are about to enter.

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