Friday, January 14, 2022


They say a house without books is like a room without windows. Truth in humor applied, the biggest advantage of reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the opportunity to get into the mind of another person. Whenever I visit someone’s house, I tend to take a quick moment and review the books on their shelf. After all, you can tell a lot about someone by the books on their shelves. With an eclectic list of genres that I enjoy, my bookshelves can only provide a glimpse into my interests.

During this past calendar year I read a total of 37 books, which was below my par which came to one-per-week. Still, the following three were among my favorites and I wanted to take a quick moment to recommend them… if the subject matter is your cup of tea.


Nevil Shut’s On the Beach (1957) dramatized a dismal portrayal of human behavior when they realize that life is about to end. After a nuclear World War III destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. The citizens of Melbourne, Australia, a mixed group, provides the basis of character study from all walks of life. Each person deals with impending death differently from the others.

The second book was Pat Frank’s Forbidden Area (1956). His later book, Alas, Babylon, was a magnificent read so I was intrigued enough to want to read another of his. At this point I will make it a tradition to read one of his novels every year.


Here we are introduced to a group of strategic B-99 bombers in flight – our main weapon against the country’s enemies. We then learn about Stanley Smith, a spy for the Soviets, who is sent to America on a secret mission. Then we are introduced to “The Intentions of the Enemy Group,” a military think tank in the Pentagon. The job of this secret, small task force is to theorize and prevent any possible attacks from a foreign power and they are only answerable to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (“Forbidden Area” refers to the office in the Pentagon where the group meets.)


The group is confronted with a mysterious problem which has downed a number of B-99 planes every time they reach a certain altitude. Every plan is taken apart and reviewed and reassembled and still the planes explode when they reach that noted height. With no hard evidence as to what is downing the planes, there is a risk that the country’s main strategic weapon may need to be grounded until someone discovers why they are crashing. A new member of the group, Colonel Jesse Price, believes that the plane crashes may be due to sabotage.  Price is a flyer whose loss of an eye during the Korean War has grounded him. Too valuable to be released, he is made the Air Force representative to The Intentions of the Enemy Group, a top-secret high-level organization which is trying to keep a step ahead of enemy thinking.


He theorizes that grounding the planes may be exactly what the Soviets want. When we see that Stanley Smith is on Hibiscus Air Base, the source of the downed planes, the audience is given an insight into just how much Jesse Price’s suspicions may be correct. With Christmas Eve only a few days away, Price believes an attack on the United States is imminent. If the planes are grounded, the Soviets will be able to invade a defenseless America. The question is, will Price and the Intentions of the Enemy Group be able to discover the enemy agent, reveal his means of destroying our aircraft, and prevent the attack against us in time?


The method by which the acts of sabotage is created is clever. It is also history revisited time and time again. An act of terrorism so simplistic, in an era where we consider ourselves so invincible, that we failed to underestimate the enemy.


The other book to reach my top three list is The Rack (1958), is an award-winning novel by A.E. Ellis, which told of a young Englishman named Paul Davenant, suffering from tuberculosis in the days before effective antibiotic treatment, who arrives at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps with high hopes of a full cure and a normal life. But as the weeks and months pass interminably by, Davenant undergoes endless tests and medical procedures, each more horrific and dehumanizing than the last. Despite the pain, indignity, and tediousness, Davenant never loses sight of the outrageous, farcical side to his situation, the absurdity of it all. When he falls in love with a fellow patient, he becomes determined to recover his health, but will he succeed, or will all the tortures he has endured have been for nothing? 


All three are recommended reading if you want something to enjoy over a cup of hot tea by the fireplace during these cold winter months.