Silk Parachute - John McPhee
The best writers read. And reading McPhee, one of the true masters of nonfiction writing, is one way to immerse yourself in graceful, elegant words about everything from lacrosse games to a subterranean geology that links England, France and the Netherlands.
That said, McPhee's skills as a writer and observer cannot mask that he is working and always has worked from a position of privilege and rank.
This, his most personal collection of essays, reinforces that vantage point. Here he is, on the football field with his physician father as he treats the players on Princeton's team. Off to Vermont goes the young John, playing canoe-tipping games that will turn out to save his life in a heady rafting adventure later in life.
And lacrosse. Segments of this essay - a history of the game, an artful description of the speed and nuance of playing it - are classic McPhee. Others, such as his introduction to the game at Deerfield Academy, can be disarmingly personal.
Yet after reading paragraphs and pages, there is a gentle reminder that this is another world, the only one McPhee truly knows.
The collection is a triumph of style and a brilliant way to fashion what is, in effect, a memoir. To that end, McPhee is at the height of his talent in describing the East Coast scene and sensibility that created him.
Sh*t My Dad Says - Justin Halpern
From McPhee's literary works to shit. Well, that's the title anyway.
But it's not that far of a stretch to go from the Northeastern intellectualism of one to the West Coast practicality of another.
Halpern is just writing what he knows: Life growing up with a blunt if witty father who loves his family the only way he knows how: with liberal sprinkles of reality and vulgarity in everyday life lessons.
The author scores a win, though, by showing the nature of their father-son relationship through the years, culminating to when as a 29-year-old man he had to move home after a break-up. Halpern got the book deal -- and his now working on a TV pilot - after launching a Twitter account with some of his dad's philosophies:
"That woman was sexy. . . . Out of your league? Son, let women figure out why they won't screw you. Don't do it for them."
Not poetry, but you get the point.