Morrill Books

our humble recommendations:

We recommend books by William Saroyan like My Name is Aram and Human Comedy and his play, The Time of Your Life.

The first chapter of My Name is Aram is a haunting yet breezy (is that possible?) thoroughly magic story about Aram's cousin who "borrows" a white horse and shares it with him for night rides. Get My Name is Aram for the first chapter. You will never forget it.

Saroyan's writing style is deceptively simple. You think to yourself, "Shoot, I could write like this." Somehow, Saroyan's stories often reach the level of magic. I'm mystified by how he does it.

The Human Comedy is a nice novel that will take you back to the languid summer days of a small town in the 40's--yet the war is going on and there are scenes like a telegraph boy having to bicycle over to a woman's house to notify her that her son was killed in the war. This novel, too, has a style that is deceptively simple.

The Time of Your Life appeared on Broadway around 1938 and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Why? Well, critics are not quite sure. Some believe it was due to the fine actor who played the leading role. By the way, Gene Kelly played the part of the dancer.

One lonely Christmas Eve, I saw the video of the play starring James Cagney. He spent 90% of the play sitting down in the middle of a bar which is kind of interesting for a man who could dance so well. Cagney and his sister bought the rights to the play and made a movie out of it so they could feel good about having brought some real literature to the screen. But the movie lost a lot of money. I fell asleep before I saw the end. Ten years later I found it on video and I was able to watch the whole thing. Cagney completely changed the final scene but this was OK with Saroyan. How could that be? How could Saroyan have given his approval? Even though Cagney dumbed it down and made it less dark, it still lost money.

The Broadway play-goers loved it but this might have been the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome. Unpretentious film-goers, even with the commercial ending, left the theater with one thought: "Huh?"

Nothing much happens and the Cagney character defies category. Perhaps Cagney just wasn't as good as the original actor. Maybe Cagney wanted to receive the tremendous adulation that the lead character got on Broadway and thought it was just a matter of getting the part. I don't know.

But I did find the movie fascinating, though I can't tell you exactly why. I bought the play and read it and I wasn't disappointed. The movie follows the play word for word--except for the ending. Guess how much the movie costs? Just $4.95. Amazing.



We recommend books by Primo Levi, especially Survival in Auschwitz, The Reawakening and Moments of Reprieve. Those three books should be read in that order. They're like three chapters in a long book.

We've read all of the major Holocaust books and they just don't compare with Primo Levi. It's amazing that he isn't better known. Steven Spielberg should have made a movie about Primo Levi--but then he wouldn't be Steven Speilberg, would he?

There are some books we read when times are tough. The books by Primo Levi fit the bill.



We recommend a short story by Jack Finney, "Of Missing Persons."  It was once titled "Verna." It  is a story you'll never forget. This story can be an obsession.


We have  mixed feelings about The Story Bible by Pearl S. Buck. Sometimes we are excited about it and sometimes we feel it misses the mark. Some things from the Bible come to life here--like the character of John the Baptist. If you ever wish the Bible read more like a novel instead of cryptic collection of strange stuff, read what Pearl S. Buck did. It's not a bad job.


Faithful Elephants will make you cry. How many books can you say that about?

Faithful Elephants by Tsuchiya --  Hardcover  Faithful Elephants by Tsuchiya -- Softcover

It looks like a child's book but it could traumatize a young person under the age of 12.



How about Matilda by Roald Dahl -- the Spanish language edition. Some books, like Alice in Wonderland, are actually better in Spanish. You don't don't believe it? We don't blame you. But we say it's true


We recommend books by J. D. Salinger  like Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. Raise High is probably our favorite and yet it isn't one of his bestsellers. It's an excellent book to read if/when you're depressed.

If you can, get ahold of what Nabokov wrote about Salinger's A Perfect Day for Bananafish. He says it is one of America's best stories.

If you are tempted to have Salinger as an obsession, or if you know somebody who is obsessed by Salinger, we say don't worry. But John Lennon, after all, is dead.

Though Salinger continues to be well liked, his writing is astonishingly good literature.

Franny and Zooey can be a chore to get through but the ending makes it worth it. You know that book that Franny was obsessed with? It's a real book, and thanks to Salinger, it's still in print. It's The Way of A Pilgrim. You can learn all about the Jesus Prayer and how to pray incessantly.

The new Hapworth 16, 1924 story which was actually published by the New Yorker in the mid-sixties is the only thing by Salinger which falls short. Hapworth is a joke of a story. It's like when Dylan tested his adoring fans by trying to sound like a Vegas act.

We took the time to write a reader review for Amazon.com on Hapworth. If you go there, you'll see it.

The Nine Stories are all pretty good. Bananafish, though one of the best, is the least consistent with the rest of the Glass myth.

Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes (is that the title?) goes overboard on style but it's quite a story. The Laughing Man is a favorite. Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut will seem like the most part just two middle aged women sitting around drinking but it's a good story. Down at the Dinghy is forgettable and Teddie might not have any value at all. For Esme with Love and Squalor is many readers' favorite. The art school one that has a character named Bambi Kramer is one of our favorites and the only story that was first rejected by a magazine before it was published. Imagine that!

The only thing we'll say about The Catcher in the Rye is that it's a "must read." Many writers like this book but we know several readers who have returned to it a second and third time only to be disappointed.



Did you like The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air? Lost at Sea by Pat Dillon is better. Dillon is a far better writer.


Reinventing Government by David Osborne is a revolutionary book. Nobody used the term "reinventing" before Osborne popularized it. I hope Bartlett's Quotations will recognize that someday. It's by far the best of it's kind. Any other book with the word "reinventing" is just ripping off Osborne. Shame on them. Read the real thing. The guy is a genius. And a revolutionary. Too bad Gore ripped him off. Oh well.

If you want to go beyond laughing at Dilbert, read this book.



We recommend books by Nelson S. Bond. He's the father of American science fiction. He's the writer who gave Bradbury his start. If you're serious about science fiction, you already know all about Nelson S. Bond. If you are a TV watcher, keep your eyes open for his work soon appearing there.


We recommend everything by Raymond Chandler except Poodle Springs which was his last book. He ran out of creative steam before he wrote it. Gosh, but Chandler is fun to read. And since it's literature, you won't feel hung over.

Chandler wrote literature. And his metaphors will make you ignore the plot. "Something smells and it's not Wild Lilac." "She was a blonde. She would have made a bishop kick his foot through a stained glass window."

When you read Chandler, hold a pencil. You'll want to go back and read lines over. They're too good to be true.

Try to get ahold of Chandler's essay on the detective story. It's very well written. And read about his life before you marry an older woman.



We like Hemingway. Death in the Afternoon is shocking. We love the way he introduced an imaginary interlocutor and though he doesn't really understand bull fighting, nobody really needs to know that.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is one we return to time and again. It is just a plain fun book. Light and uplifting. It's one of those read-when-you're-depressed books.

Hemingway's best book, we believe, is The Sun Also Rises. (Can you believe it sells for under $4.00?) The beginning grabs you by the shoulder and won't let you go. It's conversational and fascinating--though he uses a couple of words in strange ways. This is the best beginning of any book we've ever read. We were surprised to discover that the book had a different beginning and his editor just make him lop if off. Hats off to his editor!



That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan is another version of Hemingway in Paris which is probably a lot closer to the truth. If you need to know the truth, read this book. Hemingway sure made a seductive myth about himself. We don't fault him for improving on the truth. We had fun reading this book and we couldn't put it down. By  the way, Callaghan wrote an outstanding short story called Luke Baldwin's Vow.


Suds in Your Eye and High Time by Mary Lasswell are delightful books. Terribly dated, but delightful. She was a pretty good writer. It's too bad she isn't better known. These books are out of print but they're worth tracking down. (Correction. Suds is back in print!) They make excellent gifts and they warm the heart.


We remember seeing Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman in our local drug store. That was quite a few years ago. We didn't buy it or steal it but we did get my hands on a stolen copy. We had to clean out the apartment of a local radical and he left all of his books behind. Did you know that the State of California had its own HUAC? Abbie Hoffman could write and he was fun too. Steal This Book influenced our philosophy of education a lot more than John Dewey.


A Story Teller's Story by Sherwood Anderson is a real delight. It's a treasure. Strange that it's not well known. We like it better than Winesburg, Ohio.


How to Play With Your Food by Penn & Teller is a book that you might love. We found that it makes for an excellent gift. We've bought this book and given it to everybody we know. The first chapter is actually quite serious and it's quite good. We saw Penn & Teller in San Francisco when they first started out. We guess that's kind of like name dropping? We mean, we have no point.


Another book that we've given to everybody we know is Nicaragua by William Gentile. Do you like good photography? This is probably one of the best portrait books published in America. Our favorite is the cover photo. Gentile used to be exploited by Newsweek Magazine.


Speaking of Nicaragua, Stryker McGuire, also of Newsweek, wrote Streets With No Names. We don't really recommend it but we like the title. Who was that woman he traveled with? We could never figure that out.


Should we mention The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran? We have to. It's one of the most frequently given books and usually to only special friends or step-parents.

It's been much maligned. But we're brave.

The Prophet is really a lot like Koran and who can put down the Koran? Lots of wisdom in the Koran. Now, the language of the Prophet has the gentle charm of one whose native language is not English and therefore wants to choose each word carefully. It's like how the Bible probably should have been written and how your Swedish grandmother told you fairy tales. Your friends are your needs answered. OK, so it sounds a little like a Hallmark Card. It is like a Hallmark Card, but better. Stand close together, yet not too close together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart. And the oak tree and the cypress grow, not in each other's shadow. And the mountain is clearer to the climber from the plain. Another book you might consider by Gibran is The Madman. "You ask me how I became a Madman? It happened thus...."



If you are between the ages of 6 months and 7 years old, you'll like Good Night, Gorilla read to you. Yup, it's one of the best children's books we've ever seen. It's almost like Good Night Moon but less Piagetian.


Why aren't be recommending To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? It's one heck of a book but the movie is better. The pacing is excellent and the sound and music happen to be exceptional. We can't say enough about this film. Dill looks like Truman Capote. And he probably wrote the book, anyway. Sorry, Harper.


The Atlantic says that Bob Dylan now sounds like Gabby Hayes doing Bob Dylan around a campfire for the amusement of his cowpoke buddies. We don't quite agree. Have you heard Dark Eyes? It's worth the price of Empire Burlesque. (Warning: the rest of the album is garbage.) His Royal Albert Hall bootleg album wasn't recorded at Albert Hall. Isn't that just like Dylan?


If we are going to mention Bob Dylan, we may as well say a kind word about Iris DeMent. Iris DeMent is nice.


You might like Mrs. Dalloway and you might like To The Lighthouse, but you ain't read nothing if you haven't read The Waves. Boy, what a book. We wonder if Hemingway ever read it? We liked Quentin Bell's bio of Virginia Woolf.


Do you remember when Norman Cousins said you could laugh yourself to good health? Well, we think he's dead. But no matter. The Marx Brothers is one of the reasons that Woody Allen chooses not to kill himself. We like A Night at The Opera (everybody does) and Cocoanuts, but our favorite is Duck Soup. They're doing a revival of Animal Crackers, so that might be worth checking out too. If you haven't come to terms with the Marx Brothers, you're leading the unexamined life. In case you wanted to know.


James Clavell wrote Shogun . We liked the video and we understand the book was pretty good. But it was also pretty thick. We don't like thick books. Anyways, we got home from work early one day, turned on the TV and saw an after-school-special called The Children's Story. What a great story! James Clavell wrote it one day after he found out that his little daughter was reciting the Pledge of Alliance at school and didn't have any idea what it meant. Clavell's daughter grew up and appeared as the main character in the video. The video has been very difficult to find. We contacted three actors in the production and even they don't know where it can be purchased and I've never seen it on eBay but I did learn of one guy who actually has a copy of the reel-to-reel film. But thanks to Chrissy Fenton (does she still go by Chrissy?) and Vanessa Biery, I got a copy of a video that one of their mothers recorded off the TV when it was broadcast. I passed my copy over to Patience who uses it in her classroom and she passed it along to Robert who preserverd it on DVD.  If you would like to borrow Robert's copy, I think he'll mail it to you for a small shipping and handling fee. I imagine around $10. Here's the info on how to get your hands on a copy.   One more thing. Vanessa, I think, used to work in the World Trade Center. One more thing, Ms. Fenton has a lot of interesting memories of what it was like behind the scenes when the movie was made. I found her stories very interesting and she was very sweet to take the time to tell me about them. I love this little film--and everybody who was in it has been very gracioius toward me. )


Roy Blount, Jr. is a genius though he's an uneven genius. He wrote a piece about John Wayne in The Atlantic that was extraordinary. He was frequently compared to Mark Twain. Why? Because Twain wrote humor which was also literature. Blount hasn't written his Huck Finn yet, but What Men Don't Tell Woman had us laughing long, loud and hard.


Was Richard Brautigan a good writer? Well, no, but we liked him. Brautigan must have been fun to know before he got successful. His friends at the time said he always had complete confidence that he would make it as a writer. But a lot of people are like that in Washington Park, drinking cheap port. Trout Fishing in America is not a good book, but it was an early one and for some reason it sold well. Our favorite is  The Abortion. (Gosh, Amazon says it's "The Abortion." I had thought it was "An Abortion.".) Too bad he didn't have a better editor. It could have been much better. If you put it down after the first 100 pages, that's OK. A couple of his short stories are nice. His later books are simply no good. In Watermelon Sugar is his most conventional and it's pretty good. There are a number of versions of that book with key wording different. I always wondered about that. One of his poems is especially nice; it's called "The Chinese Checker Players." After he became a well known writer, he became pretty obnoxious. He lost just about every friend he had including Peter Fonda. He shot himself at his place in Bolinas but by that time he didn't have any friends who noticed his absence. The police discovered him because neighbors complained about the smell of his decomposing body.


If you liked Trout Fishing in America (and we didn't), you probably won't like Nets of Awareness by Francis Pritchett. True, there's no fish, or no fish that we could find, but it's a great book to read at the airport, especially if you happen to be flying to Pakistan.


Harry Farrell wrote a great book about the last lynching in the United States. It happened in San Jose. One of the nice things about Swift Justice is that Farrell writes elegantly.

A Midnight Carol is historical fiction about the writing of the Christmas Carol. Patricia K. Davis wrote it and it knocked our socks off. This woman can write!

Toni Morrison wrote a children't book called In The Box. It makes a great gift for anybody, any age.



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