Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Books I read in the first quarter

The first quarter results (April to June) of books I read indicate an average of five books a month, not exactly a healthy balance sheet. During the period I read a total of 17 books. This included five non-fiction. I also read many comic books.

In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by American journalist and author Ronald Kessler was particularly fascinating.

It offered an inside look at how the Secret Service—the men who would take a bullet for the President—functions in every department starting with its origins under the Department of the Treasury more than a hundred years ago to its present-day avatar under the Department of Homeland Security; the rigid ways of the USSS management, the surprisingly high attrition rate within the ‘force’ and the reasons for it; the protection of America’s first family as well as other important dignitaries and what it entails in terms of mind, men, money, and machinery; and hundreds of interesting anecdotes and juicy tidbits about Presidents and their families from JFK downwards. There are too many to mention here.

But guess which two Presidents were most popular with Secret Service agents? The two Bushes and their wives, Barbara and Laura, who treated the wired men in dark suits and dark glasses with respect and understanding.

In the President's Secret Service told me two things: in spite of being an elite security force, the Secret Service cuts corners that puts the President and other protectees at risk and the job of a Secret Service agent is by no means glamourous as one might believe it to be. The book engages as well as entertains the reader even if its contents can be interpreted as being highly contentious.

Elsewhere: I was disappointed with my reading in two areas: classics and detective-mystery. I read only one of each in the entire quarter when I hoped to read two of each every month. I still have three quarters to try and make up. I also plan to read more humour than I do beginning with James Thurber’s wit.

Here then are the 17 books I read in the last three months. Only 10 of these books, including Kessler’s, have been reviewed or written about in this space.


01. Tales From Firozsha Baag, a collection of 11 short stories about the ethnic Zoroastrian (Parsi) community in Mumbai, by Rohinton Mistry, the award-winning India-born Canadian writer
02. No Comebacks, a collection of 10 short stories with a twist in each plot, by Frederick Forsyth

Spy Thriller
03. The Athena Project by Brad Thor
04. Chameleon Kill, the fifth novel in the The Terminator series, by John Quinn
05. The Iron Tiger by Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson)

06. Hard Texas Winter, a western by Preston Lewis
07. Breakheart Pass by Alistair MacLean

08. In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
09. The Snake by Mickey Spillane

10. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

11. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

12. The Man Upstairs and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse


13. In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by Ronald Kessler

14. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist monk and author

15. Renewal: A Little Book of Courage and Hope by Eknath Easwaran, spiritual teacher who founded the Blue Mountain Centre of Meditation in California

16. India To-day (1913) by Oliver Bainbridge, an author and lecturer from Australia

17. Rediscover the Power of Positive Thinking, a revised version of The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, minister and author


  1. A pretty good crop, I'd say. That's very interesting that the Bushes were so well liked by the Secret service folks. Says something nice about them.

    1. Thank you, Charles. There's some pretty interesting stuff about Presidents and their families in the book. I was surpised about the Bushes too. The Secret Service apparently had a difficult time with the Nixons, the Fords, and the Carters.

  2. Prashant, this is a great list. When I read non-fiction, which is not often, it slows down my reading. But I think you have read quite a lot.

    I am eager to read In the Heat of the Night. I will also check out the spy fiction you read and see if I want to try it.

    1. Thank you, Tracy. I didn't read as much as I'd have liked to over the past three months. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is a very well-written book and I liked the strong character of Virgil Tibbs, the black detective from LAPD, who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in "racist" south. I saw the movie starring Poitier as Tibbs before I read the book, though I'd suggest reading the novel first.

  3. Prashant, I think I'll check the espionage stuff out as well. I picked up a few of the early Mickey Spillane's after reading your review of The Snake - so thanks.
    Previous years, I think I used to aim for at least one non-fiction a month, but have slipped this year. I think the one most likely for me would be the Secret Service one, but I might need to trim some off my pile first.

    1. Col, The Terminator series is on the lines of the Mack Bolan series and there is little to differentiate the two. I can't say much about Brad Thor as THE ATHENA PROJECT is only his first book I've read; though, I'm tempted to read more of his work. Personally, I can never go wrong with Jack Higgins who happens to be one of my favourite writers.

      I have returned to Spillane after a long time and I'm glad his crime fiction still holds up for me, not that I have read all of his books.

      On hindsight, Ronald Kessler is fairly repetitive in his book on the Secret Service. Also, I didn't mention that he'd official permission to write it the way he did, obviously; for instance, exposing the shortcomings of the USSS in a way that it'd encourage the management to run the service in a far better way than it does. Healthy criticism, as they say.

  4. Great reads-I hope to read Mistry's collection of short stories soon

    1. Thank you, Mel. The dialogue in Rohinton Mistry's collection of short stories is exactly the way it is spoken by the Zoroastrian (Parsi) community (he belongs to) in the city of Mumbai. I could relate to just about everything he wrote.