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Old World War II buffs like me will be glad to receive two new books about the air wars of that generation. When I was in grade school I well remember CBS radio reports from overseas. It usually began like this: "This is Edward R. Murrow from London." We could hear bombs exploding in the background and worried looks crept over my parents' countenances. The U.S. was still not in the war and the Brits were taking the brunt of Hitler's savagery. If you want to know more, read "The Blitz," by British journalist Margaret Gaskin (Harcourt, $27).
If you're interested in literary stylistics and parody. "Kafka's Soup," by Mark Crick (Harcourt, $14.95) is the book for you.
Here's a book to settle down in and read while the fire crackles at your side. It's "Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War," by Robert Beisner (Oxford University Press, $35). I grew up reading about Truman's Secretary of State and always like his mustache. He was a natty guy, like his boss, only nattier. Beisner's new book is fascinating because he goes behind the scenes to show how this east coast aristocrat got along with Truman, the ploughjckey from Missouri.
Here's a potpourri of books appropriate to holiday giving, two serious reference books, two thrillers and a charming book for children. "The Yale Book of Quotations," Edited by Fred R. Shapiro (Yale, $50) would make a welcome addition to anyone's library. For one thing it's more fun than Bartlett's and it's more democratic. The Yale book, in fact, spends more time quoting Groucho Marx than it does Karl Marx: (responding to a beach club saying that he couldn't join because he was Jewish) "My son's only half Jewish.
Many years ago, I was elected to the board of the National Book critics Circle, which met six times a year to decide which new books should be given awards. At my first meeting at the Algonquin Hotel, I was shocked when the eminent critic Morris Dickstein nominated what I thought was a comic book. Little did I know that Morris's nominee was Art Spiegelman and his "comic book" was "Maus," a cartoon version of the Holocaust in Poland and its after effects.
Get out your holiday shopping lists. I've just had a flood of excellent histories and biographies. Here are my top picks: "God's War," by Christopher Thermal (Harvard University Press, $35) is a blockbuster devoted to reinterpreting the crusades, what they meant and how they worked. Author Thermal is a lecturer in Medieval History at Oxford and a thorough researcher and skillful stylist. His new book runs more than 1,000 pages and features beautiful color reproductions of medieval art that depicts the crusades.
Whitetail deer are swimming their way into trouble on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and park officials are gunning for them. This week the park announced plans to expand deer hunting opportunities starting in 2007, with new archery seasons and an expanded muzzleloader season aimed at killing more deer. Park resource managers are concerned that deer, which historically have not lived on the islands, are moving in and eating a rare plant called the Canada yew.
Let me give you a leg up on Christmas. When I received the book, my thoughts went back to childhood and an annual radio program at Christmas time. It was Lionel Barrymore reading "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens. It was a wonderful show and prompted me to start a Christmas tradition in which I read to my classes, just before Christmas break. I'm no Lionel Barrymore, to be sure, but my students always liked the hour I took for reading Christmas stories. And the one they liked the best was "A Child's Christmas in Wales," by Dylan Thomas.
Authors in our region have been busy of late. River Falls author Michael Norman is out with "Haunted Homeland" (Forge, $27.95), sixth in a series of Forge books that deal with hauntings. Despite its title, Norman is quick to point out that his book has nothing to do with Homeland Security, but instead reports of haunted houses, haunted hotels, haunted everything. Some of the hauntings are old, like the apparition of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne.
"The Road," by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, $24) represents yet another departure from the norm by the winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award for best fiction. The author of "All the Pretty Horses," has taken on a haunting subject in "The Road" -- world's end. America is burned over. Even the snow showers are gray.