By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
Gift giving isn’t always easy. This year, why not rejoice in the knowledge that there is a universal present which is sure to please? Books! The following are noteworthy not only as great reads, but because each is recounted by one of your neighbors and includes a reference–oblique or otherwise–to the very place we call home.
Mark Weston’s oeuvre is a reflection of his passion for understanding foreign countries and their indigenous cultures. Giants of Japan, his first book, is the result of research done while living in Japan for three years. This authoritative tome was used as a jumping off point for his next book, Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars, in which one chapter from Giants is transformed into a children’s book.
Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present, Weston’s latest, is the product of his position as a visiting scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The story begins with the life of Mohammad and continues with the journeys of his followers. Full of interesting anecdotes, told in an eminently readable fashion (the antithesis of a dry history book), the book is suited for “anyone interested in the Middle East,” and those drawn to good story telling. Weston highlights the relevance of this read, “Saudi Arabia is a very strange country but it is our ally.”
In Carol Weston’s work, the voices of her middle school aged protagonists ring remarkably true. Authenticity is achieved by listening attentively to the concerns of readers as Advice columnist for Girls’ Life. In her column entitled–you guessed it–Dear Carol, she is privy to matters of the utmost importance to her readers. “I receive letters from girls every single day; letters about crushes and friendship and body worries…my inner 12-year-old is alive and well,” she says.
Ava and Pip, the most recent of her 13 books and her fifth diary-novel for readers aged 8 to 12, is the story of two sisters: Pip, the eldest, who is terribly reserved and the source of much consternation for her parents; and Ava, her little sister, who “figures out a way to help Pip find her voice–and in doing so, finds her own.”
And yes, Carol is indeed related to Mark Weston. They are sister and brother and grew up in Armonk. Incredible as it may seem, their parents were both writers. Her characters’ parents “have a passion for palindromes and wordplay.”
For the thrill of a lifetime, go along for the ride with Armonk native Richard Doetsch in his latest The Thieves of Legend. The “adrenaline rush” he feels when researching his books is real–he skydives, kitesurfs, bungee jumps and more! “You can translate that feeling of fearlessness and incorporate that into your characters,” he observes.
In this latest of adventures for his protagonist Michael St. Pierre, a voyage to China is in store. The juxtaposition of the casinos in Macao and the Forbidden City are fertile ground for the author’s imagination. St. Pierre also visits castles in Spain, mansions on the Amalfi Coast and a Pacific island, all in the pursuit of treasure. He has less than five days to uncover an ancient mystery in order to save the life of KC, his ex-girlfriend. Stay tuned for the premiere of one of his earlier works, The 13th Hour, on television. There are also three movies “in various states of being.”
Pot Shards: Fragments of a Life Lived in CIA, the White House, and the Two Koreas, is the memoir of former Ambassador to South Korea Donald P. Gregg. Gregg’s title comes from the pot shards he found throughout Japan and Korea; pieces of wholes that led him to think about how one pieces together a lifetime of memories.
One such memory recounted in the book is his proudest accomplishment. In 1973, during his tenure as CIA station chief in Seoul, South Korean agents kidnapped Kim Dae Jung, the opposition political leader. As news spread of the action, riots erupted at several universities and an American-educated Korean professor was arrested, falsely accused of instigating the riots at the university where he worked. “He was either tortured to death or to the point where he jumped out a window,” Gregg says.
When Gregg relayed the information to his superiors, he added that he wanted to personally (apart from his role in the CIA) protest the action. He was counseled against following through. “I brooded and finally broke the rules. I went and spoke to the chief bodyguard of President Park Chung Hee and said ‘What happened to him is unworthy of what Korea hopes to become.” A week later, the director of Korean intelligence was fired. “His successor put in place a prohibition on torture,” Gregg proudly states.
Gregg wrote Pot Shards for any and every audience but, in particular, for his children and wife, Armonk native Meg Curry Gregg.
Sarah Ellen Rindsberg, the quintessential bibliophile, hopes you have as much fun giving and reading these books as she did writing this piece.