Spencer’s Reading List | Week Six

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Six

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” —Anna Quindlen

Friends & Fellow Readers,

Six weeks ago, I promised to send you a weekly book list for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. As we gradually return to pre-COVID life, we are nearing the end of shelter-in-place. As such, this will be my last book list. Thank you again for your continued friendship & support, and – as always – Happy Reading!

1: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (fiction, published in 1964)

My friend & neighbor Lisa Jacobs recently suggested that I include some books for kids, so I thought I would start with this classic.  If you have young children, please sit down and read this book to them. It will make a lasting impression – I know it did for me. I remember when my Mom read this to me that she cried at the end.  At four years old, I didn’t understand why. Now I do. You see, “once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.”  At some point in your life, you will be the tree — and if you are really, really lucky, you will also be the boy. I hope you are one of the lucky ones, but if not, make sure your kids are.  Enough said.

2: Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens (fiction, published in 2018)

This is the first and so far the only novel by Delia Owens – and she published it at 69 years old!  Perhaps her many years of latent talent is what makes this book so powerful:  It topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 AND 2020 for a combined 30 non-consecutive weeks, and was selected as Barnes & Nobles’s ‘Best Book of 2018.’  Yes, it really is that good.   It sold more print copies in 2019 than any other adult title, fiction or non-fiction.  I am tempted to try and explain the deep messaging in this book, but I know my limitations.  All I can say is that it reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were.  If you only read one book on this week’s list, this should be it. But really, why would you read only one?

3: The Lost City of Z by by David Grann  (nonfiction, published in 2009)

This is another first book for the author, and it is an epic read. New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani described it aptly as “at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing.”  It tells the story of British explorer and all-round badass Percy Fawcett and his mission to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon.  He was never heard from again, but he left clues which sparked almost a  hundred years of speculation & legends – and inspired multiple expeditions of explorers to venture into the Amazon to retrace his steps.   This book was fascinating – I did not want it to end.

4: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, (fiction-or maybe not-published in 1957)

Ayn Rand’s 4th and final novel, this was considered her magnum opus – and it truly is.  Many people shy away from reading this because they believe it’s a book about politics – but it’s not – it’s just a damn good story of science fiction, mystery, and romance. But like every good story, it has a message for the reader.  That message encapsulates everything I believe but don’t have the words to articulate.  Who is John Galt?  You should find out.

5: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fiction, published in 2014)

I stumbled across this book just browsing through my local library, picked it up on a whim, and it has sort of haunted me ever since. The plot is set in the Great Lakes area after a swine flu pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu” has killed most of the world’s population.  But that part is only peripheral to the real story, which is about the parts of our culture that we chose to hang on to when everything goes to hell.  And the parts that we chose define what it is that make us human.  That is my amateur analysis of the book. I hope it hits you the same way.  On a related note, I saw this article last month in the newspaper. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to.

6: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (fiction, published in 2013)

This is yet another first novel that knocked it out of the park!  It’s a Jason Bourne-like super spy novel, but way better – one of the best suspense novels you will read.  In July 2014, MGM bought the movie rights for the book and are set to target a series of films, similar to the Bond franchise.  As far as spy thrillers go, this is hands down the best, and relegates the likes of Clancy, Ludlum and LeCarre (as good as they are) into the also ran section. I just could not leave this one off the list.  You will thank me!

Your Suggestions

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (fiction, published in 2016) – This recommendation was submitted by my friend and our next Lee County Tax Collector Noelle Branning.  The theme of this book may seem familiar – it is about a man ordered by the government to remain in his home under house arrest for life; while this a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, apparently this has been commonplace in Russia (where the story takes place) for hundreds of years.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (fiction, published in 2019) – This recommendation was submitted by my friend Tracy Caruso, who runs a book club of her own.  This setting for the book is New York and Florida, and it is based on true story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and had its history exposed by a university’s investigation. It was named one of TIME’S best books of the decade.  It is the follow-up to Whitehead’s 2016 novel The Underground Railroad which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  The Nickel Boys won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Whitehead only the fourth writer in history to have won the prize for fiction twice.  Judges of the prize called the novel “a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption.”

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill (historical fiction, published in 2007) – This book comes highly recommended by my friend Germaine Hyatt; she rates this as one of her top reads.  I’ve read some reviews and this book has been compared with Harper Lee’s seminal work To Kill A Mockingbird.  For this comparison to even be made is enough for me – I look forward to giving this a read.  The plot is certainly intriguing: kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War.  BET has produced an award-winning miniseries based on the book.

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Thank you again for your interest in my reading list. When I started this project, I had no idea how much positive feedback I would get – thank you for that.  This has become my favorite part of the week, as I truly enjoy writing these lists and playing amateur critic. Can you tell that as a kid I wanted to be a writer when I grew up? I hope that I have introduced you to a book or two that you will love a much as I do.    And because there are so, so many more books that I want to share with you, I may pick this up again at a later date.  But for now, take care, keep in touch, and keep reading.

Sincerely,

Spencer Roach

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Five

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Five

“There is nothing more luxurious than eating while you read—unless it be reading while you eat.” – E. Nesbit

Friends,

This week’s list is an oddity in that it’s exclusively comprised of non fiction works. But don’t let that deter you, these are are all page-turners! I’ve also included some of your suggestions at the end as a bonus. Please keep them coming. This is week 5 of our 6-week reading list, so next week’s list will be the last. Stay tuned for one more list and, as always, Happy Reading.

1. Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter (memoir, published in 2009)

This is the gripping tale of a young girl’s journey through Florida’s foster care system. Ashley was removed from her parents at age three and lived in 14 different foster homes before being adopted. Not for the faint of heart, this book shines light in all the dark corners of Florida’s foster care system. This should be required reading for every case worker and every educator. I had a chance to speak to Ashley (now a foster parent herself) to get her thoughts on reforming the foster care system. She is truly an inspiration. Read this one, it was an international best-seller.

2. The Innocent Man by John Grisham (true crime, published in 2006)

Did you know that John Grisham serves on the Board of Directors for the Innocence Project? Did you know that he has only written ONE work of nonfiction? This is it, and proves that truth certainly is stranger (and more disturbing) than fiction. This is the story of Ron Williamson, a promising minor league baseball player who was wrongly convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death. After serving 11 years on death row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence introduced by the Innocence Project and was released from prison only 5 days before his scheduled execution. Netflix released a six-part documentary series based on the book in December 2018. But don’t watch it – read the book instead!

3. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder (nonfiction, published in 1998)

This is an epic American adventure story that chronicles the opening of Earth’s last frontier. In September of 1857 the ‘SS Central America,’ a side-wheel steamer carrying nearly six hundred passengers returning from the California Gold Rush, sank two hundred miles off the Carolina coast. Over four hundred lives and twenty-one tons of California gold were lost. It was the worst peacetime disaster at sea in American history, a tragedy that remained lost in legend for over a century. But in the 1980s, a young engineer set out to do what no one, not even the U.S. Navy, had been able to do: find the treasure. And after years of intensive searching, he sailed into Norfolk with an incredible fortune in gold coins, bars, nuggets, and dust, plus steamer trunks filled with period clothes, newspapers, books, journals, and even an intact cigar sealed under water for 130 years. Life magazine called it “the greatest treasure ever found.” This will tap your inner explorer. Go for it.

4. A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr (nonfiction legal thriller, published in 1995)

The summer before I started law school, the school sent out a required reading list prior to starting classes. This was on it. John Grisham called it “the most compelling chronicle of litigation” that he has ever read. It is the true story of an epic courtroom showdown pitting a giant corporation against a young and flamboyant lawyer, who ultimately risks (and loses) everything to try and get justice for the death of children. You do not need to be a lawyer to appreciate this book, but it will leave you with a appreciation for the power of a courageous lawyer to make a difference. The movie version was released in 1998 and starred John Travolta and Robert Duvall.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (nonfiction, published in 2010)

This is a biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater, spent 47 days drifting on a raft, and then survived more than two and a half years as a POW in three brutal Japanese camps. Unbroken spent more than four years on The New York Times best seller list, including 14 weeks at number one. It is the 5th longest-running nonfiction best seller of all time.

Your Suggestions

I’ve received dozens of emails with suggestions, and here are a few that stand out. I haven’t read these, but I certainly intend to.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (fiction, published in 2019)

This recommendation was submitted by Joyce Easton. I looked it up and last Sunday this book is still on the New York Times best-seller list at number 7. Reviews consistently describe this as a page-turner and psychological thriller. I’m on hold for a copy at my local library.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (fiction, published in 2007)

This recommendation was submitted by Liliana Guerra. No, it’s not a story about Elizabeth Warren (ok, ok, I couldn’t resist). It tells the story of life on an Indian Reservation from the perspective of a 14-year-old who elects to attend an all-white school outside of the reservation. This book is intriguing for two reasons: it is described as a “graphic” novel and contains 65 comic illustrations that help further the plot, and it has also been banned from some school libraries across the country. I don’t know about you, but a banned book is one I absolutely want to read, especially when recommended by a high school teacher.

Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King (nonfiction, published in 2012)

This book came highly recommend by both Sara Clements and Tami Holliday. It is a history of attorney (and future Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall’s defense of four young black men in Lake County, Florida, who were accused in 1949 of raping a white woman. They become know as the Groveland Four and they were posthumously pardoned by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2019. I honestly don’t know how this book never made it onto my radar, but I’m grateful for my friends who sent me this recommendation.

Thank you again for all the feedback, and please keep it coming. Next week will be the last installment of my reading list, so let’s make it count. I do see every email that is sent to this account, but for a faster response you can email me directly at [email protected]

Sincerely

Spencer Roach

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Four

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Four

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Suess

Friends,

This week’s list consists of two books that should be required reading for every Florida man (and woman), my thoughts on post-French Revolution literature, a travel book that changed my life, a book named after a bird, and a boyhood memoir from the 1950’s. Happy Reading!

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (fiction, published in 1844 -1846, translated into English in 1850)

The French Revolution produced some of the greatest authors in human history, and it is impossible to truly understand Dumas, Victor Hugo, or Charles Dickens without appreciating that they grew up in the long shadow of this seminal event. Thus the focus in their stories on both the depravity and the nobility of human nature.The Count of Monte Cristo is a timeless tale of secret identity, a prison break, a fortune made (maybe stolen), and a girl who got away.  It was the original story of the hero with a secret identity, and this model has been replicated over and over:  Superman, The Lone Ranger, Batman, etc. This book was even mentioned in the movie Shawshank Redemption.  (Do you know the scene?) I have read this book at least 4 times – it never fails to deliver.

2. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts (travel, published in 2003)

I have worn out my copy with highlights and underlining, and have given many copies to young adults contemplating world travel. Since reading it, I have traveled, worked, or lived in over 20 countries world-wide.  Rolf Potts is a contemporary of Tim Ferris, has worked for National Geographic Adventure, and is an accomplished travel writer. This book will teach you how to travel for the rest of your life.  If you suffer from wanderlust, you owe it to yourself to give this a try.

3. The Swamp by Michael Grunwald (nonfiction, published in 2006)

This book explores the history of the Everglades from the time of the Seminole Indians all the way through the governorship of Jeb Bush.  It is a compelling story of our state’s ill-conceived attempts to transform an ecological wonder, and of our attempts to bring it back.  This book should be required reading for every Florida resident and politician.  Another must-read is A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, which tells the history of Florida through three generations of the MacIvey family.  If you aren’t from Florida (and let’s face it, who is?) you will have a much better grasp on the historic context of our state after reading these two books.

4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (fiction, published in 2013)

The plot involves a terrorist bombing coupled with family separation, the dark underworld of stolen art, and the timeless question about whether the choices we make are a result of our trauma or our character, and contemplates “the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire”. This is a riveting story, I could not put it down.

5. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolf (memoir, published in 1989)

This book recreates the frustrations, cruelties, and joys of adolescence.  It’s a book about holding on and letting go, and the power of possibility.  Profoundly moving. I read this book in the 6th grade and the impression it made has never left me. This book was made into a movie in 1993 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction, published in 2003)

This is a heartbreaking story about the fragile relationships between fathers and sons, humans, and their gods, men, and their countries. It is raw.  If you can only read one book on this week’s list, it should be this one.  What are you waiting for?

Thank you again for your interest in my book list, and please feel free to email me with your comments and feedback. I do see every email that is sent to this account, but for a faster response, you can email me directly at [email protected]

Sincerely

Spencer Roach

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Three

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Three

“You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”  – Russell T. Davies (from Tooth and Claw in Season 2)

Friends,

It is always difficult to narrow the list down to just five, and as you can see I was once again unsuccessful in doing so. Happy Reading!

1. Educated by Tara Westover, (nonfiction, published in 2018)

This is one of two books that I recently read in one sitting, with the other being Lawman. Tara Westover was born to an extreme anti-government and survivalist family in rural Idaho. Extreme as in no birth certificate, never attended school, never went to a hospital or doctor. This is her story of joining civilized society. This book has now been on the New York Times best-seller list for the last 110 weeks and still going.

2. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, (legal thriller, published in 1987.)

In my opinion even John Grisham takes a backseat to Scott Turow when it comes to legal thrillers. This was his first novel and the movie version featured Harrison Ford in the starring role. If you love this book – and you will – grab the sequel Innocent that was published 23 years after the original. It is just as good. Trust me, you will not be disappointed!

3. Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson (nonfiction, published in 2003)

This is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Walter Isaacson was the managing editor of TIME magazine for a number of years and has written several other books. His most widely-known book is Steve Jobs which was published in 2011. (In my opinion it was not a very good book.) But Benjamin Franklin more than makes up for it. This will leave you with a new perspective on America’s most fascinating founding father.

4. Anton Myrer would make the list of my top three favorite authors.

His books will wring every last drop of emotion out of the reader. Incredibly powerful. All of his books are old friends, so I can’t recommend just one. Here are four that everyone should read and will enjoy. Once An Eagle (1968) – this is required reading for all Marines and is used in leadership training at West Point. The Big War (1957), A Green Desire (1981), and The Last Convertible (1978). If you are new to Anton Myrer, then I suggest you start with The Last Convertible. You are in for a treat.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (historical fiction, published in 2015)

Kristin Hannah published her first book in 1991, but The Nightingale propelled her to immediate international stardom. Based on actual events, it tells the story of two sisters in France during WWII and their struggle to resist the German occupation. If you like this book, check out Firefly Lane (2008) and The Great Alone (2012). You’ll need Kleenex for all three.

Thank you again for you interest in my book list, and please continue to pray for the state of Florida and this great nation.

Please feel free to email with your comments and feedback. I do see every email that is sent to this account, but for a faster response you can email me directly at [email protected]

Sincerely

Spencer Roach

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Two

Spencer’s Reading List | Week Two

Friends,

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

I hope you enjoyed reading last week’s list as much as I enjoyed putting it together. For this week’s selection, I’ve included a mix of historical fiction and nonfiction as well as some non-historical titles. I look forward to getting your feedback- now let’s begin!

1. Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, (fiction, published in 1957)

This is a short story that I first read in an English Lit class in college almost twenty years ago, and I have never forgotten the way it made me feel. This is a short story that you can find by ordering “Going To Meet the Man,” an anthology of eight short stories by Baldwin. Short, powerful, deep.

2. 1776 by David McCullough, (nonfiction, published in 2005.)

I seldom get star-struck, but that’s what happened when I had the opportunity to meet David McCullough in person a few years ago. He is one of America’s greatest historians and story-tellers. This is a book that I routinely recommend to those interested in the founding of this county as told from the perspective of the patriots who fought the great fight with General Washington. It brings the revolution alive in a way that few authors can do.

Kane and Able by Jeffrey Archer (fiction, published in 1979 in the UK and 1980 in the US)

This book was an immediate international success and is among the top 100 best-selling books in the world. It is widely considered a modern classic. The plot is enthralling and the emotional impact with linger with you. Everyone should read this book.

4. Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden (nonfiction, published in 2001)

This is the story of the fifteen-month manhunt for Colombian cocaine cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, whose escape from his lavish, mansion-like jail drove a nation to the brink of chaos. If you liked the Netflix series Narcos, you’ll love this book. Fun fact: Did you know that Pablo Escobar once offered to pay off the entire national debt of the country of Colombia in exchange for a pardon?

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (historical fiction, published in 2005)

An international bestseller than was translated into 63 languages, this book is unlike any other you will ever read, as the narrator is death. Ok, no more spoilers. If you only read one book from this week’s list, this should be it, but make sure you are ready for the emotional toll it will take on you.

6. Ok, ok, I could not stop at only five this week. This week’s bonus book is Beach Music by Pat Conroy. (fiction, published in 1995).

In my opinion Pat Conroy is one of the top 10 authors of the 20th century. His body of work is incredible. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Prince of Tides” or “Lords of Discipline.” But the book that touched me the most was “Beach Music, ” which I consider his masterpiece. All of Conroy’s work is largely autobiographical, and his writing is clearly colored by his traumatic childhood. This book sings with pain and glory. You will think of this book for the rest of your life. If you like this book, please email me for more like this.

Please feel free to email with your comments and feedback. I do see every email that is sent to this account, or you can email me directly at [email protected]

Thank you again for you interest in my book list and have a great week.

Sincerely,


Spencer Roach

Spencer’s Reading List | Week One

Spencer’s Reading List | Week One

Friends,

All of my life I have been a voracious reader, and I believe that reading has many benefits, including expanding vocabulary, exposure to diverse perspectives, and a greater understanding of the human condition.

Given that we have all been spending so much time at home, one of the ways I’ve utilized this time is by catching up on some reading, and I thought this may be an opportunity to share my reading list with my friends and constituents.

For the duration of the COVID-19 virus, I will be sending out a weekly list of 5 books that I highly recommend, along with a short description of each work. These books will span the spectrum of fiction, non-fiction, classic, modern, novels and short stories, but each one is a work that I found moving, inspiring, and impactful. For those of you who are readers, I hope you enjoy these as much as I have, and I look forward to getting your thoughts after you read them.

Let’s get started. For this week, I’ve randomly culled my list for a well-rounded and diverse selection, in no particular order:

1. Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw (fiction, published in 1969)

This is one of Shaw’s two best known works, and was serialized for TV  starring Peter Strauss, a young Nick Nolte, and Susan Blakely.  This book was a runaway best seller, and weaves together a coming-of-age novel and the American immigrant experience in the decades after World War II.  This is an epic work that everyone should read.

2. Defending Jacob by William Landlay (fiction, published in 2012)

This is a legal thriller and who-done-it that tells the story of a prosecutor who is faced with the possibility that his son may have committed a murder.  This is one that you will not be able to put down.  This novel became an instant best-seller and put William Landlay on the map.

3.  Lawman by Shon Hopwood (non-fiction, published in 2012)

The author is a convicted bank-robber who spent 12 years in federal prison and is now a Georgetown Law professor.  It is a story of dignity, perseverance, and redemption. I found this book so profound that I purchased a copy for every member of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on which I serve.

4.  Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (non-fiction, published in 2003)

Erik Larson is a master story-teller and meticulous researcher.  I have read every one of his books – no one does a better job at making history come to life.  This books tells the story of the great Chicago World’s fair through the backdrop of America’s first serial killer.  Great read to get hooked on history!

11/22/63 by Stephen King (historian fiction, published in 2011)

Many of you will recognize the historical significance of the title, which was the day that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  This book is a unique and masterful blend of sci-fi, history, politics, and a love story, all told through the context of a time-traveler who decides to go back and prevent the assassination. If you’ve never read Stephen King or believe that he is only a horror writer, I encourage you to give this book a read.  This is one of the few books that I have read twice.  It’s that good!