What follows is Part 3 of my annual look back at a year in reading. The list concludes with a list of the 10 books that I most enjoyed in 2021, in alphabetical order. I didn’t include books by Don Winslow in that list because they would have dominated. You really can’t go wrong with anything by Don Winslow. . . .
Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate — Despite the lengthy title, this was a truly fascinating read. It was published in August 2013, and you can bet that not much has changed in the intervening eight years. Author Rose George was able to spend five weeks on the Maersk Kendal, one of those giant container ships you may have seen going under the Lion’s Gate Bridge. To say that this one is an eye-opener would be a real understatement.
Nothing Ventured — In the Clifton Chronicles, author Jeffrey Archer’s seven-book series following one family, one of the characters, Harry Clifton, is a writer of crime novels involving a copper named William Warwick. Now Archer has spun Warwick into a series of his own, starting with Nothing Ventured. There’s nothing deep here, just an easy read. The second and third Warwick books, Hidden in Plain Sight and Turn a Blind Eye, also helped get me through a few days in the latter part of 2021.
October 1964 — Published in 1995, this was picked by The New York Times as its sports book of the year. As much as it’s a story of the 1964 World Series, it’s a story of that MLB season with a heavy focus on the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. They would meet in that World Series, and this is more a story of how they got there than anything else. Written by the legendary David Halberstam, it is impeccably researched and loaded with anecdotes and notes on many greats and a lot of not-so-greats. I had read this 20 years ago; I think I enjoyed it even more this time around.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — First, Quentin Tarantino made the movie of the same name, then he wrote the novel. If you have seen any of his movies, well, this is just as quirky. It is, as The New York Times, put it “a pulpy page-turner.” It also features Charles Manson and his crew and a whole lot of Hollywood-based gossip.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft — A few years ago, Stephen King — yes, that Stephen King — took a break from writing thrillers to bang out this really neat book. In the first bit, he tells about his early life and how he came to be a fiction writer. Then he goes on to write about writing — some dos and a lot of don’ts. And he finishes up with a detailed report on the accident — he was drilled by a guy in a blue van — that almost killed him. This was a nice, enjoyable look into the life and thought process of one of today’s most-prolific writers.
Pain Killer: A Memoir of Big League Addiction — This one, by former WHL/NHL enforcer Brantt Myhres, is hard to read, especially the first two-thirds. Myhres didn’t have much of a childhood, then went on to fight his way through the WHL and into the NHL. But a lot of it was snort coke, guzzle Jack Daniels, punch an opposing enforcer in the face, get punched in the face. Rinse. Repeat. Myhres really should be dead. Really. This book is ample proof of that. Instead, despite having only a Grade 9 education, he turned things around to the point that he ended up working for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings as player assistance director. That lasted for three seasons until he lost his job in a regime change. If only this book had fewer cocaine-and-Jack anecdotes and more on Myhres’ life after snorting and drinking, more on why none of the NHL’s other teams has hired him, more on his work with First Nations youngsters. If only . . .
Pat Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend — Despite never having met the late Pat Quinn, author Dan Robson has done a more than credible job of chronicling the life of the cigar-chomping guy who was known as The Big Irishman. Quinn never gets nearly enough credit for being ahead of the game as a coach, especially when it came to using video, basic analytics, nutrition and various training techniques. Robson also explores the downside of Quinn’s career, including the eye-opening episode where he agreed to join the Vancouver Canucks — and accepted a hundred grand — while under contract to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Second Life of Nick Mason — After five years in jail and with at least another 20 years ahead of him, Nick Mason, the creation of author Steve Hamilton, makes a deal with a devil named Darius Cole. And thus begins Mason’s second life, one that is on the outside, mostly in the streets of Chicago, but is controlled entirely by Cole. Mason is one of those good bad guys, so this is quite readable and enjoyable. . . . Exit Strategy is the second book in what surely will become a long-running series.
The Sentinel — This is the 25th book in the series that chronicles the adventures of Jack Reacher, the lone wolf who makes his way aimlessly across the highways of a nation, always seeming to find a mess to clean up. In this one, there are Russians and Nazis and a whole lot more. Yes, it’s all good fun. This is the first Reacher book not to have been written solely by James Grant under his pen name of Lee Child. He shares writing credit for this one with his younger brother Andrew Grant, who is Andrew Child in the publishing world.
Serge Savard: Forever Canadien — This book, written by journalist Philippe Cantin, was a huge success in Quebec with the French version selling more than 30,000 copies. And it’s no wonder. Serge Savard was one of the great players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, one of the NHL’s proudest franchises. Cantin, with Savard’s co-operation, runs through his childhood and his climb up hockey’s ladder — from all-star defenceman to Montreal’s GM, a job he lost four games into the 1995-96 season when president Ronald Corey fired him. Savard lets it all hang out, too, as he pulls back the curtain to show the Canadiens, warts and all.
Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink — It was May 17, 1979, and the Philadelphia Phillies were at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a game with the Cubs. The Phillies scored seven runs in their half of the first inning but, with the wind blowing out, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. Author Kevin Cook takes an entertaining inning-by-inning look at what transpired on that glorious afternoon, with lots of anecdotes and sidebars on participants like Dave Kingman, Bill Buckner, the troubled Donnie Moore and a whole lot more. This is a wild and crazy read.
A Time for Mercy — John Grisham has brought back lawyer Jake Brigance for a third time — after A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row — and he doesn’t disappoint. This time, Drew Gamble, 16, whose family is all but indigent, has shot and killed a policeman. Of course, the story isn’t that simple and, yes, it’s a page-turner.
The Wanted — The homes — 18 of them — belonging to some of the elites have been broken into and it turns out that the perps are three young people. The mother of one of them hires Elvis Cole to get to the bottom of this mess, and he brings sometimes-partner Joe Pike along for the ride. Cole and Pike are regulars in books by author Robert Crais.
The Winter of Frankie Machine — If you haven’t figured it out already, I am a big, big fan of author Don Winslow. And I absolutely loved this book that was published in 2006, Frank Machianno, aka Frankie Machine, is a retired hit man trying to make an honest buck. He runs a bait shack on a pier in San Diego and has a few other things on the go. He’s got an ex-wife, a daughter and a girl friend. But now someone wants him dead. Yes, it’s a familiar story, but Winslow’s writing makes it different.
Without Remorse — It had been a long, long time since I cracked open a Tom Clancy-written book, so I didn’t know what to expect from this one that was published in 1993. The paperback version is 685 pages and I really enjoyed it. This is the first book that features John Clark as the primary character and it bounces smoothly between the various storylines.
The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret — Nashville had the A Team. Motown had the Funk Brothers. In Los Angeles, it was the Wrecking Crew. These were the studio musicians who played on oh, so many hit songs, including for the Beach Boys. Did you know that Glen Campbell — think Wichita Lineman and By the Time I Get to Phoenix — was a member of the Beach Boys? Did you know there were two Beach Boys bands, one for the studio and one on the road. Author Kent Hartman has all that and a whole lot more here. I guarantee that if you read this one you won’t ever look at ’60s and ’70s music the same ever again.
Year of the Rocket: John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, a Crooked Tycoon, and the Craziest Season in Football History — There may be just a bit of hyperbole in the title but the CFL’s 1991 season really was one to remember. Prior to the season, comedian John Candy, a true, blue Canadian, hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, then a tycoon and later a convict, purchased the Toronto Argonauts. Then they signed Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish star who likely would have been the NFL’s first overall draft pick had he not headed north. The Rocket got what then was football’s richest contract and, all these years later, it still makes an observer shake his head. Author Paul Woods, who has followed the Argonauts for years as a journalist, writer and fan, was there for all of it and details the entire story — the good, the bad and the ugly that followed 1991.
A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
Billy Summers, by Stephen King
Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Crosby
Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player, by Fred Sasakamoose
Deacon King Kong, by James McBride
The Dynasty, by Jeff Benedict
Newspapering: 50 Years of Reporting from Canada and Around the World, by Norman Webster
Serge Savard: Forever Canadien, by Philippe Cantin
Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink, by Kevin Cook
The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret, by Kent Hartman
Part 3 of 3