Book bits

Three books about dads, an interview with Vincent Bugliosi, big books for the fall, and what readers are reading.


More than three decades ago, Vincent Bugliosi wrote "Helter Skelter," reputed to be the best-selling true-crime book of all time, about the 1969 Manson family murders. Now, he's tackled an even bigger case inReclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. In more than 1,600 pages (plus hundreds more in an accompanying CD-ROM), the former prosecutor vividly debunks a universe of conspiracy theories. In an interview, Bugliosi talked about the most infamous murder of all time.

What are your main arguments?

I believe beyond all doubt that [Lee Harvey] Oswald killed Kennedy, and I believe beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no conspiracy. I set forward the 53 separate reasons why Oswald is guilty. You cannot be innocent in the real world and have 53 pieces of evidence against you.

Why do you think JFK conspiracy theories have such resonance in American society?

There are many reasons for it, and one is JFK himself. Here was a greatly beloved man, and [the theories] are possibly a way of holding on to this guy who was very special. Another reason: a belief that powerful forces had killed the president gives more meaning to his life and death than the notion than some lone nut with a crazy deranged mind did it.

What motivates the conspiracy theorists?

The vast majority of conspiracy theorists are patriotic, and I think they're sincere. They feel that dark forces are responsible for killing the president, and they want to shed some illumination and bring the killers to justice. [But some] just flat out deliberately distort the official record. There's no question about it.

Are there many people who haven't made up their minds about what happened?

I'm going to convince at least those who are not allergic to the truth and only believe conspiracy theories because they saw the Oliver Stone movie or read a book. The ones on the jagged margins of the community, I'm not going to be able to convince them.

You tell a joke about conspiracy theorists who go to Heaven and hear from God that Oswald acted alone and there was no conspiracy.

The conspiracy theorists start nudging one another and one says, "This is a lot bigger than we thought."
– Randy Dotinga


What happens when a party animal becomes a dad? It's his own story that Neal Pollack tells in his funny, poignant memoir Alternadad. Pollack doesn't want to let go of life as a hipster but something's gotta give when he's confronted with both the responsibility and the overwhelming flood tides of love that come with the arrival of his son, Elijah. Pollack's tale is as offbeat as is his lifestyle but the fundamental dilemma he describes in this memoir will be familiar to parents of all kinds.

His father was a Los Angeles divorce lawyer, a complex, turbulent personality at best, but Bernard Cooper still manages to pack much tenderness (and good writing) into A Bill from My Father, the book that tells the tale of their thorny relationship. Edward Cooper disparaged his son's literary ambitions and once presented him with a $2 million bill for the costs of his upbringing, but Bernard's exploration of his frustrating rapport with his dad remains sensitive throughout.

Even readers who didn't grow up in the 1950s will glow with nostalgia paging through Every Friday, Dan Yaccarino's marvelous new picture book about a boy's weekly breakfast date with his dad and the way the two stroll hand in hand to their favorite diner. The text is simple, the retro pictures are charming, and the sense of father-son closeness is just about irresistible.
– Marjorie Kehe


Prominently on display at the annual Book Expo America in New York last week were several titles likely to hit bestseller lists this fall. These include:

The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold (scheduled for release by Little, Brown on Oct. 16)

I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert (Grand Central Publishing, Oct. 9)

The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Knopf, Sept. 11)

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo (Knopf, Sept. 25)

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, Oct. 1)

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, by Joseph Ellis (Knopf, Oct. 30)

Run, by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins, Oct. 1)

Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (FSG, Sept. 4)

Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham (Doubleday, Sept. 25)
– M.K.


Recently I read a unique book entitled Last of the Donkey Pilgrims by Kevin O'Hara. The author served in the Vietnam War and, in order to overcome the memories of the war's horrors, he decided to walk around the whole of Ireland (his ancestral home) with his donkey, Missie. O'Hara is a skillful, witty writer, recounting history and Irish lore, as well as introducing many unusual characters.
– Franziska Walczak, Oxon Hill, MD.

In Greetings from New Jersey: A Postcard Tour of the Garden State, Helen-Chantal Pike has crafted a vibrant book from her [expansive] postcard collection. New Jersey contains great varieties of natural beauty within its peninsula borders. Fascinating!
– Arthur Scott, Flagstaff, Ariz.

After finishing Gloss by Jennifer Oko, I felt as if I had finished a dish made up of fresh, seasonal ingredients that filled me up without slowing me down. The story follows morning news show producer Annabelle Kapner's adventure from dissatisfied New York network climber to rebellious global changemaker. This satire hit the spot for me.
– Beth Wren Boone, Alexandria, Va.

I continuously read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. With Sam Gamgee, Treebeard, or Gandalf at my side, I cannot feel alone.
– Charlanne Maynard, Natick, Mass.

I'm presently reading Last Team Standing by Matthew Algeo. It tells the story of the Steagles (an NFL team consisting of players from the Steelers and the Eagles – hence the Steagles), that played for one season during World War II. It makes you realize how much the NFL has changed. But even more interesting is the glimpse into what life was like in the US during World War II and how all-encompassing the war effort was.
– John Petersen, Seattle

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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