There are as many kinds of good books for Father’s Day as there are fathers. Many lists of recommended books intended as gifts for dads lean heavily on sports titles. Some go for adventure stories. Others focus on politics. This list, however, is a selection of books about fathers.
The men featured in these books were not all good fathers. (In fact, John Clinch’s re-creation of Huck Finn’s Pap in his novel “Finn” must qualify as a low-point in the annals of fatherhood.) And not all of the men featured in these books were actually biological fathers. (The protagonist of Dave King’s novel “The Ha-Ha” is a Vietnam vet who must learn to be a father when asked to care for a 9-year-old boy.)
Some of them are fictional portraits, and others are taken from real life (journalists Ariel Sabar and Tom Bissell both write about journeys they took as adults with their fathers). Some are historic figures (Theodore Roosevelt and Bronson Alcott) while others (the father and uncle of Edwige Danticat) were heroes only in their own spheres.
But all of the books below, in one way or another, focus on what it means to be a father. We’ve printed this list before, but repeat it now as we inch closer to Father’s Day. If you know a father figure of any kind who might enjoy a thoughtful read about male parenthood, all of these titles are excellent candidates.
1. My Father’s Paradise, by Ariel Sabar (Algonquin Books, 345 pp., $14.95). This moving memoir tells the story of journalist Ariel Sabar’s travels with his father to Iraq in an effort to understand his family’s roots in an ancient community of Iraqi Jews. (CSM review 9/16/08)
2. The Father of All Things, by Tom Bissell (Vintage, 432 pp., $14.95) In a book that combines memoir, travelogue, and history, Tom Bissell tells of the 2005 trip to Vietnam he took with his father, a former US Marine and Vietnam vet. (CSM review 3/13/07)
3. The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard (Anchor, 432 pp., $15). In 1912, after a humiliating defeat in his third presidential bid, Theodore Roosevelt tried to distract himself and his son Kermit with a foolhardy trip down an unmarked Brazilian river. This stranger-than-fiction tale is a gripping read but also a touching father and son story. (CSM review 10/11/05)
4. Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwige Danticat (Vintage, 288 pp., $15) Haitian immigrant Edwidge Danticat has written a moving tribute to her father and uncle, the two men who raised her and loved each other and yet spent most of their adult lives on separate shores. (CSM review 9/11/07)
5. Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father, by John Matteson (W.W. Norton, 512 p., $17.95) Matteson tells the odd, fascinating story of the über idealistic Bronson Alcott and the impact of his life decisions on his daughter, beloved childrens’ book author Louis May Alcott. (CSM review 8/21/07)
6. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf Doubleday, 304 pp., $14.95) A father and son push an old grocery cart through civilization’s ruins and debate ethics along the way in this dark but bracing work by National Book Award winner Cormac McCarthy. (CSM review 10/03/06)
7. The Ha-Ha, by Dave King (Little Brown, 368 pp., $13.95) With this story of a mute Vietnam vet suddenly asked to care for a 9-year-old boy, King creates a strangely lovable hero. (CSM review 1/4/05)
8. The King of Kings County, by Whitney Terrell (Penguin, 368 pp., $14) In this rueful but loving coming-of-age tale set in Kansas farm country in the 1950s, a boy wrestles with his feelings about his dad, a real estate con man. (CSM review 9/9/05)
9. Finn, by Jon Clinch (Random House, 320 pp., $14) Novelist Jon Clinch offers a cruel but compelling back story for the life of Huck Finn’s Pap. (CSM review 2/27/07)
10. The Blue Star, by Tony Earley (Back Bay Books, 336 pp., $13.99) This novel is a sequel to “Jim Boy.” Both books beautifully tell the story of Jim Glass, a boy being lovingly raised by his widowed mother and a trio of uncles in Aliceville, N.C., on the eve of World War II. (CSM review 3/11/08)
Happy reading – for both you and the father in your life!
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.