by Robert Mason Jr.
What a long, strange year it’s been. There’s no better way to describe 2017, based on the books I’ve read.
For starters, it was the first year in some 25 that favored author James Lee Burke did not publish a new book. That threw me off my game.
It was one of those years where I definitely read more restaurant menus than books—and I don’t mean glancing at them just to make meal selections.
Menus are not to be taken lightly. I read them from front to back.
Friends accuse me of studying a menu as if I’m going to be tested on it. They’ve even placed food orders for me so the server can get the process rolling while I leisurely read every word. It’s part of the overall culinary experience.
In 2017, I read menus from Washington, D.C., to Birmingham, Ala., with stops in Tuscaloosa, Ala, Homewood, Ala., Mountain Brook, Ala., Waldorf, Md., Nashville, Tenn., Franklin, Tenn., Yorktown, Williamsburg, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Richmond, Mechanicsville, Short Pump, Petersburg, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Bridgewater, Dayton, Gloucester, Glenns, Urbanna, Locust Hill, Topping, White Stone, Irvington, Kilmarnock, Lancaster, Lively, Tappahannock, Fredericksburg, Warsaw, Montross and Callao.
A good menu will include an easy to read list and brief descriptions of the dishes, a little history about the establishment, maybe even the community. Illustrations and photos add points.
The best menu I perused all year is found at Something Different, 213 Virginia Street, Urbanna. With eight pages, including front and back cover, it offers a 20-minute read give or take a sip of something cold or hot.
There are pages devoted to breakfast; appetizers; soups, salads and sides; entrées; kids meals; and drinks; and three words to remember: “Meat-Fire-Good!”
• Best reference: The Holy Bible, King James Version.
• Most inspirational: The Joy of His Presence, compiled and edited by Jennifer Grimaldi and Munah Davies. A collection of Christmas writings from Salesian Missions.
• Funniest read: If Cats Could Talk, published by New Seasons, Publications International, Ltd.
• Best picture book: If Cats Could Talk.
• Best history: America: A Journey of Faith & Freedom, by Caleb Garraway.
• Most enlightening: America: A Journey of Faith & Freedom.
• Best nonfiction collection: The Soldiers’ Story: Vietnam in their Own Words, by Ron Steinman.
• Best resource book: Understand Rap: Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You & Your Grandmother Can Understand, by William Buckholz.
• Best novel turned into a movie, or mini-series: The Drop, by Dennis Lehane.
• Best book recommended by a friend, family member or co-worker (fiction): The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter.
• Best prose: The Education of Little Tree.
• Best book recommended by a friend, family member or co-worker (nonfiction): American Fire, by Monica Hesse.
• Best true crime: American Fire.
• Best courtroom drama (nonfiction): American Fire.
• Best journalism: American Fire.
• Most twisted love story: American Fire.
• Best excerpt (with all due respect to Monica Hesse): “Love is a weird act. An optimistic delusion. A leap of faith and foolishness. Sometimes when it is tested, imperfections that were there from the beginning, lurking deep, can begin to work their way to the surface. Even two people who love each other deeply will always be two people, two souls. You can’t ever completely get in someone else’s head, or in someone else’s heart. It is the greatest tragedy and the greatest beauty of a relationship: that at some level, the person you are closest to will always be a total friggin’ mystery. Maybe the real mystery is why we ever do it at all. It must be something incredible.”—American Fire.
• Best all-around read: American Fire.
• Best advice: Pray for Shrimp: A Forrest Gump Impersonator’s Guide to Gumption, by Paul Dengler.
• Most beneficial career read: Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability, by Penelope Muse Abernathy.
• Most challenging read (nonfiction): Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability.
• Should have been a textbook: Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability.
• Best trivia: “Essential Reading: 500 Greatest Books of All Time,” a flash card collection from The Lagoon Group.
• Best wine-tasting schedule: Saudé Creek Vineyards, 16230 Cooks Mill Road, Lanexa.
• Best biography: Waylon: Tales of an Outlaw Dad, by Terry Jennings with David Thomas.
• Best music: Waylon: Tales of an Outlaw Dad.
• Best serial novel: Inherit the Dead, edited by Jonathan Santlofer, introduction by Lee Child, afterward by Linda Fairstein. Contributors include Matt Billingham, Lawrence Block, C.J. Box, Ken Bruen, Alafair Burke, Stephen L. Carter, Marcia Clark, Mary Higgins Clark, Max Allen Collins, John Connolly, James Grady, Heather Graham, Bryon Gruley, Charlene Harris, Val McDermid, S..J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Dana Stabenow, Lisa Unger and Sarah Weinman.
• Best book by a local author (nonfiction): Tales That Bind Weems Virginia, by Patricia L. Rose.
• Best local heritage: (tie) Tales That Bind Weems Virginia and American Fire (set in the Eastern Shore).
• Best local picture book: Tales That Bind Weems Virginia.
• Best novel by a local author: Say Nothing, by Brad Parks.
• Best mystery: Say Nothing.
• Best sleuthing: Say Nothing.
• Best book to read while browsing in Barnes & Noble: Bannon: Always the Rebel, by Keith Koffman.
• Best political memoir: Bannon: Always the Rebel.
• Best current events: Bannon: Always the Rebel.
• Best courtroom drama (fiction): The Last Juror, by John Grisham.
• Best newspaper coverage of a crime and subsequent trial (fiction): Willie Traynor, editor of The Ford County Times in The Last Juror.
• Scariest misuse of technology: The Store, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo.
• Most books by the same author: Three by Lee Child—Night School, No Middle Name and The Midnight Line.
• Best collection of short stories: No Middle Name.
• Most macho protagonist: Jack Reacher in any of the Lee Child books.
• Best diner: Wherever Reacher goes.
• Best coffee: Wherever Reacher goes.
• Fastest cars: In “James Penney’s New Identity,” No Middle Name.
• Coldest beer: In “A Guy Walks into a Bar,” No Middle Name.
• Just plain weird: Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen.
• Best Riverneck read: Escape Clause, by John Sandford.
• Best fishing: Cat fishing on the St. Croix in Escape Clause.
• Best farm: Frankie Noble’s Minnesota farm in Escape Clause.
• Best swimming hole: On Frankie Noble’s Minnesota farm in Escape Clause.
• Best romance: Virgil Flower and Frankie Noble in Escape Clause.
• Best dog: (tie) Honus in Escape Clause and Rocco in The Drop.
• Best billiards: Red’s Bar & Grill in Escape Clause.
• Best collection of quotes: The Essential Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Thinkers, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi.
• Best recipes: Steeped in Evil, by Laura Childs.
• Best farming advice: Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future, organized by the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, introduction by executive director Jill Isenbarger. Contributors include Barbara Kingsolver, Amigo Bob Cantisano, Wes Jackson, Chellie Pingree, Verlyn Klinkenborg, Karen Washington, Joan Dye Gussow, Raj Patel, Barbara Damrosch, Gary Paul Nabhan, Mary Berry, Dan Barber, Will Harris, Anna Lappe, Joel Salatin, Bill McKibben, Ben Burkett, Amy Halloran, Naphi Craig, Wendall Berry, Aice Waters, Eliot Coleman, Brian Richter, Michael Pollan, Fred Kirschenmann, Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson, Temple Grandin, Wendy Millet, Mary-Howell Martens, Rick Bayless, Danielle Nierenberg, Aklan Savory, Marion Nestle, Richard Wiswall, Nicolas Jammet and Mas Masumoto.
• Best activity book: Flowers Coloring Book: Beautiful Pictures from the Garden of Nature, published by Chartwell Books, Quarto Publishing Group, USA, Inc.
• Most anticipated book: Robicheaux, by James Lee Burke. Anticipating the January 2 release, I pre-ordered my copy weeks ago and expect it to arrive any day.
I’m looking forward to cracking Robicheaux open with a big plate of Something Different or a bottle of Saudé Creek.