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Christopher Guest

Lord Haden-Guest, the 5th Baron Haden-Guest, or as he is better known, Christopher Guest, is an American-English actor, composer, comedian, director, musician, and screenwriter, best known for his mockumentary (a term he detests) style of filmmaking. His latest film, Mascots, which is now streaming on Netflix, follows Best in Show, For Your Consideration, and This Is Spinal Tap, in this same manner of outlined but largely improvised comedy.


Great Expectations

Charles Dickens
It is difficult to pick one Dickens novel, but this one has everything for me — a plot with multiple twists, unforgettable characters that are as alive today as when it was written and a deeply emotional core. It is also tremendously funny.


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A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas was the first writer to reach my heart. His work is musical and essentially a painting with words. It still feels like a dream to immerse myself in this piece.


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Passage to Juneau

Jonathan Raban
Raban takes the reader on a literal and metaphorical journey. It is autobiographical, historical and filled with sharp observations about the connection between humans and the natural world.


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Undaunted Courage

Stephen E. Ambrose
I am obsessed with the subject matter. The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 remains the quintessential adventure. Ambrose perfectly distills the journals, and his skillful retelling of the journey becomes a perfect introduction to this important event. I own the 12-volume set of the journals published by the University of Nebraska and have spent a lot of time delving into that collection.


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The Uncommon Reader

Alan Bennett
This novella is wildly imaginative and has one of the best premises I have ever encountered. The Queen of England comes across a bookmobile while walking her corgis on the Palace grounds. She feels compelled to borrow a book and the ensuing infatuation with reading changes her life and the lives of everyone around her. A brilliant, and thankfully prolific, writer.


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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon
A Czech artist arrives in New York in the late 1930s and joins his cousin, a Brooklyn-born writer, and together they create comics. The world of comic books at that time was exploding, with the arrival of Superman in 1937. It would be criminal to try and explain these adventures, but Chabon is a truly great writer and fortunately he gets to do that in this book.


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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin
A novel about childhood friends who are reunited amid a murder investigation in the South. Franklin is a superb storyteller and this immersion into the dark recesses of the South is memorable. The novel has made a deep impression on me.


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William Bryant Logan
The symbiotic relationship between the oak tree and civilization is powerful. From acorns as food, to ink, and the more obvious uses of the wood itself, Logan connects the very origins of man with the oak and all it has provided. It is clear that Logan reveres the profound importance of this tree and skillfully combines the science with a poetic fervor.


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At the Earth’s Core

Edgar Rice Burroughs
I was 12 or 13 when was introduced to the fantasy/adventure books written by the author of the famous Tarzan series, and first read this novel. The idea of a huge mole machine burrowing to the center of the earth and discovering flying reptiles and other dinosaurish creatures was magical. The writing style now seems somewhat formal and clumsy, but as a young reader I was whisked along into the unknown. Later, in the 1930s, the author has Tarzan make the journey, too. How could that not work?


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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America

Garry Wills
A small but epic book. Wills masterfully analyzes the Gettysburg Address in terms of its oratory and historical context. Debunking the notion that the 272-word speech was spontaneous or at least quickly written, he reminds us of how fastidious it was. For Lincoln, a man who frequently quoted Shakespeare and was well read in many areas, this was an opportunity to say a great deal at a crucial time of the Civil War. His brevity — the actual Oration by Edward Everett was at least two hours long — was stunning at the time but clearly no accident. Required reading.


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