George Sessions Perry Walls Rise Up — Most hobo tales are weighed down by sorrow and angst, but not this one. A little known, hard to find gem that tells of three Texas dust-bowl drifters who find trouble yet remain “pure of heart”. Jimmy, their leader, is unforgettable. Perry later wrote the novel, Hold Autumn In Your Hand, which became the movie, ‘The Southerners’, about a poor farmer and his family in depression-era Texas, starring Zachary Scott. The great Beulah Biondi plays a remarkable “granny”. Perry influenced Larry McMurtry.
Lynn Snowden Nine Lives — In the tradition of George Plimpton’s role immersions, Snowden took nine widely ranging jobs, from a roadie for a rock band (Skid Row) to a production line worker in a chocolate factory. The result is a fascinating trip through working class America in the nineties. She commits herself gamely to each job, which is amazing in itself. She followed it up in 2000 with a prescient book about her attempt to become a boxer, and has published little since. A classic work of journalism and fun to read.
Jan Valtin Out of the Night — I used to fish used book stores in my youth and often find several dusty copies of this thick tome. Finally, someone told me it was an enormous best seller in 1941. I read the first sentence and never looked back. Although an excellent new edition is available in paperback, I recommend the old hardcover to grateful friends. This autobiography begins with Valtin as a bicycle courier for labor unions on the docks in Hamburg (his dad was a merchant seaman) to his role as an agent in the Comintern in ports around the world. Finally, he infiltrates the Nazi Party, then gets captured and sent to a concentration camp. He’s held long enough to be hunted by both sides when he escapes. Many “firsts” here, from his eyewitness accounts of secret meetings with Goebbels to an insider’s perspective of the death camps. Impossible to put down and I’ve never found a book that matched it. If you like Robert Kaplan, Sebastian Junger or Jonathan Krakauer, you’ll feed off this for a month.
William Kotzwinkle Fata Morgana — Before the author of E.T. became famous, he wrote many marvelous and quirky novels. My favorite is this romantic elegy to love and middle age. A weird and unforgettable fantasy.
Peter Reich A Book Of Dreams — The son of a cutting edge pioneer in the early days of psychoanalysis, Reich acquits both himself and his dad beautifully in this heartbreaking memoir. Wilhelm Reich was treated brutally by the federal authorities in the 50s for making the sorts of claims that today would draw a small fine. One of the best, and most unusual father-and-son books, and hard to find. Published in 1973, it’s carried by the larger public libraries.