Reading resolutions

‘You Only Rock Once,’ by Jerry Blav­at, and An­thony Horow­itz’s ‘The House of Silk’ are among re­com­mend­a­tions for pop­u­lar read­ing in the new year. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

If your New Year’s res­ol­u­tion is to read more books, re­port­er John Loftus sought some re­com­mend­a­tions.

If one of the New Year’s res­ol­u­tions you’re con­sid­er­ing is to get more read­ing done, here are some re­com­mend­a­tions from a way-less-than-sci­en­tific­ally-con­duc­ted poll in which each re­spond­ent was asked to name a book that’s just fun to read.

You might find a few of these books on cur­rent best-seller lists, but some are far from new re­leases.

Phil­adelphia Daily News en­ter­tain­ment re­port­er Chuck Dar­row likes You Only Rock Once by Jerry Blav­at, which hit book sellers in Ju­ly.

 “As a long­time ac­quaint­ance of ‘The Geat­or with The Heat­or,’ I have of­ten wondered when he was go­ing to pub­lish his auto­bi­o­graphy,” Dar­row said. “As a res­ult, this is one of the most an­ti­cip­ated books I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the best bio­graph­ies — and I’m not just say­ing that be­cause I’m a big Blav­at fan.

 “His Geat­or­ness has led an in­cred­ible life filled with some of the biggest show-busi­ness names of the past half-cen­tury, in­clud­ing Frank Sinatra, Sammy Dav­is Jr. and Don Rickles. Non-per­form­ing le­gends like Mafia don An­gelo Bruno and Frank Rizzo also played roles. And while he may not be known west of Down­ing­town or south of Ken­nett Square, his im­pact on Amer­ic­an pop cul­ture of the past five dec­ades has been in­es­tim­able.  For in­stance, Frankie Valli & The Four Sea­sons may nev­er have made it out of Ne­wark bowl­ing al­leys had it not been for Blav­at’s early pat­ron­age.”

Cheryl Arpa, so­cial-work ser­vice co­ordin­at­or for the Ste­arne Ele­ment­ary School in Frank­ford, likes mys­tery nov­els and one par­tic­u­lar au­thor.

 “I am a com­plete diehard fan of Mary Hig­gins Clark mys­tery nov­els. One of my first was While My Pretty One Sleeps (1989), and from there, I was hooked.”

She’s not alone. All of Clark’s 42 books have been best sellers.

 “I read all of her books some years ago un­til there were no more writ­ten, and most re­cently over the sum­mer, I picked up one of her new­er nov­els and began to delve deep in­to the world of mys­tery and sus­pense,” Arpa said.  “I en­joy her books thor­oughly be­cause she al­ways por­trays a strong, in­de­pend­ent fe­male char­ac­ter in each of her books and the plots of most of her books (are set) in New Jer­sey, Con­necti­c­ut or New York, so I can re­late to the areas.  I was liv­ing in Man­hat­tan at the time I had read all of her nov­els, and as a single, in­de­pend­ent fe­male, I ap­pre­ci­ated her por­tray­al of strength and self-as­sur­ance that Mary Hig­gins demon­strated for each fe­male char­ac­ter in her nov­el.”

Clark’s latest, I’ll Walk Alone, was pub­lished this year.

The Brief Won­drous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) is re­com­men­ded by City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.) 

 “It is writ­ten by young Domin­ic­an writer Jun­ot Diaz.   It cov­ers the life of an im­mig­rant teen and his ad­just­ments,” the coun­cil­wo­man said.

Oscar has a lot of ad­just­ing to do, too. He’s an over­weight New Jer­sey kid wait­ing for his first kiss, and if that isn’t enough to gloom up his life, he has a fam­ily curse to con­tend with, too.

 “My fa­vor­ite funny book is The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary,” said at­tor­ney Marci Hamilton.

The 1944 nov­el “is writ­ten from the per­spect­ive of an eld­erly sculptor (Gul­ley Jim­son) … .  It gets you in­to the mind of an artist with a fresh per­spect­ive, and re­minds us how much of every­day life we miss just run­ning through it.”

For pure en­ter­tain­ment, Hamilton en­joys Janet Evan­ovich’s nov­els about the antics of Stephanie Plum, the Trenton, N.J., bond agent who can’t shoot straight. 

 “Every book has sec­tions that are laugh-out-loud funny, es­pe­cially if you have ever been to ‘the Burg’ in Trenton!”

For the un­ini­ti­ated, the ‘Burg is a res­id­en­tial neigh­bor­hood that might re­mind you of Brook­lyn or South Philly, and it really is some­where in between.

Evan­ovich num­bers al­most all of the Plum books. The latest, Ex­plos­ive Eight­een, was pub­lished in Novem­ber.

How about something loc­al to the North­east?

Shan­non Mc­Don­ald, ed­it­or and own­er of on­line news­pa­per NEast Philly, has a fa­vor­ite in Green Grass Grace (2003) by Shawn McBride, which is set on a sum­mer week­end in Holmes­burg in 1984 and relates the ex­ploits and plot­ting of 13-year-old Hank Too­hey.

 “It’s not new or pop­u­lar, but is very en­ter­tain­ing. I own three cop­ies (one signed), all dog-eared and high­lighted with my fa­vor­ite parts. Even at its heav­ier parts, the book is light-hearted and re­minds me of the things I did as a kid in the sum­mer (minus all the curs­ing and smoking). And I nev­er tire of try­ing to fig­ure out what fic­tion­al name the au­thor has giv­en to a loc­al park/street/busi­ness.”

Bustleton res­id­ent Ly­dia Pull­man en­joyed The Oth­er Boleyn Girl by Phil­ippa Gregory.

 “I love his­tor­ic­al fic­tion, and this book really de­liv­ers,” said Pull­man.

 “The story is about Mary and Anne Boleyn, sis­ters, and their re­spect­ive re­la­tion­ship with (Eng­land’s King) Henry VIII.  Most people know about Anne Boleyn and her tra­gic end, but not about her sis­ter Mary, who also had a re­la­tion­ship with the king and a son by him.  

 “The au­thor has a gift for trans­port­ing the read­er in­to the Tu­dor mon­archy and shows the read­er how dif­fi­cult it was to live as a wo­man in early 1500s Eng­land.  One ac­tu­ally learns about his­tory while read­ing this book.  You can see how much re­search the au­thor did when de­scrib­ing day-to-day life.

 “I gave it to my daugh­ter to read and her com­ment was something like ‘I learned more about the his­tory of that era by read­ing this book than any text­book on the same sub­ject.’  She loved it also.”

If you like his­tor­ic­al fic­tion and mys­ter­ies, too, yours truly re­com­mends any of El­lis Peters’ nov­els about Broth­er Cad­fael, a 12th-cen­tury Welsh Be­ne­dict­ine monk. Peters, the nom de plume of pro­lif­ic au­thor Edith Par­geter, pro­duced 20 Cad­fael books, and some of the stor­ies might be fa­mil­i­ar to view­ers of the PBS Mys­tery! series in which Derek Jac­obi por­trayed the canny mon­ast­ic de­tect­ive.

The books are set against a civil war between heirs of Wil­li­am the Conquer­er that raged in the mid-12th cen­tury, so there are plenty of bod­ies already pil­ing up in the bor­der town of Shrews­bury and its sur­round­ing coun­tryside any­way. Not all the corpses are war dead, though, and Cad­fael’s own long pre-cler­ic­al ex­per­i­ences as a cru­sader and ad­ven­turer are drawn upon to sort things out. What makes these stor­ies par­tic­u­larly in­triguing is that the monk has to work with very prim­it­ive “forensics,” and he of­ten has to de­feat su­per­sti­tion, re­li­gious zeal and mis­in­form­a­tion to solve the mys­ter­ies that keep turn­ing up.

Each Peters’ fan prob­ably has his or her fa­vor­ites. Mine are Monk’s Hood and The Vir­gin in the Ice. The last Cad­fael nov­el Peters pro­duced just be­fore she died was Broth­er Cad­fael’s Pen­ance. The book was pub­lished in 1994; it’s set in 1145.

Sher­lock Holmes afi­cion­ados who can’t get enough of the pipe-smoking Baker Street geni­us will en­joy the latest entry in a long list of Holmes stor­ies not writ­ten by the con­sult­ing de­tect­ive’s cre­at­or, Ar­thur Con­an Doyle. Best-selling au­thor and scen­ar­ist An­thony Horow­itz climbs the 17 steps from the street to 221B and of­fers up The House of Silk.

Any­one who has read Doyle’s scores of Holmes mys­ter­ies will re­cog­nize the nar­rat­ive voice of Dr. John Wat­son faith­fully re­cre­ated in Horow­itz’s story about an art deal­er who con­sults the de­tect­ive about an Amer­ic­an crim­in­al he fears is out to do him in.

Of course, The House of Silk, which is a phrase the de­tect­ive hears re­peated as he in­vest­ig­ates, is much more than a 19th-cen­tury stalk­ing case. There’s more than one plot line, and it is up to Holmes — and his read­ers — to fig­ure out how they in­ter­twine. 

Horow­itz had the bless­ing of Ar­thur Con­an Doyle’s es­tate to write The House of Silk, which has been in stores for about a month. Read­ers might re­cog­nize where in time in the Holmes can­on the new story be­longs. The hints are in the very be­gin­ning when Wat­son notes that Holmes was re­cov­er­ing after he had starved him­self in or­der to con­vince a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous crim­in­al that he was dy­ing. 

And, fi­nally, stay­ing in Eng­land, here’s a ma­gic­al sug­ges­tion from Michelle Feld­man, cor­ridor man­ager for the Frank­ford Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp.

 “I am cur­rently re-read­ing Jonath­an Strange & Mr Nor­rell (2004), Susanna Clarke’s ‘his­tory of Eng­lish ma­gic.’ It’s a long book but a fast read. Both the writ­ing and storyline, about two ma­gi­cians in the 1800s who re­store Eng­lish ma­gic, are really well done and suck you in. I can’t put it down, and I’ve read it already!”  ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

Time for books …

A lot of us live crowded lives. Scrap­ing to­geth­er the odd hour or two just to sit down with a book isn’t al­ways easy. Here’s how some of the people who re­com­men­ded books find the time to read.

“I read at night be­fore go­ing to bed, even if it’s just twenty minutes; not only do I en­joy the read­ing, but it also acts like a sleep­ing pill. Also, any free time I have on the week­end, even if it’s fif­teen or twenty minutes at a time between chores and er­rands, I make it a point to pick up my book. I really make time to read, but it’s easy for me be­cause I love to read.” — Ly­dia Pull­man

“I just read whenev­er I have the chance, even if it’s just a page or two at a time.” — Chuck Dar­row

“I man­aged to read over the sum­mer when the sched­ule be­came more flex­ible and I wasn’t as ex­hausted as I am dur­ing the winter months when my chil­dren are in school and there is little down­time. When the time is avail­able, delving in­to a good Mary Hig­gins Clark nov­el is just the medi­cine I need.” — Cheryl Arpa

“I read in bursts. There are weeks that a book is al­ways in front of me, and there are weeks I barely even look at a news­pa­per. My wife and I en­joy col­lec­tions of short mys­ter­ies and hu­mor, and ac­tu­ally read aloud to each oth­er. On long car trips, we “read” in a sense while on the road by listen­ing to books on CD.” — John Loftus

“I try to set aside one or two weeknights a week to read be­fore I go to sleep, in­stead of watch­ing TV or do­ing work. I wish I could read on the El. If not for mo­tion sick­ness, I’d get through books much faster.” — Shan­non Mc­Don­ald

“I al­most feel like I can­not af­ford not to make the time.” — City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez

“It is really dif­fi­cult to find time to read for pleas­ure, so I make sure to read be­fore I go to sleep as many nights as I can. Usu­ally I only get fif­teen or twenty minutes of read­ing in be­fore I fall asleep, so I rarely fin­ish books quickly, but I think it’s very im­port­ant to take that time. It’s good for your brain and your soul.” — Michelle Feld­man

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus