Last Blast of Summer Reading

Hard to believe it’s the end of summer, especially with temps around here expected to top 100 again. But the days of lazy beach reads and guilt-free “it doesn’t have a thing to do with my job or my dissertation” books are just about over for many of us.

T&S commenter Bill MacKinnon shares a short review of his recent reading:

Having just finished reading this book, I cannot help but share with you the notion that some T&Sers might find it of interest for that final weekend of beach reading or other odd moments. I refer to J.R. Moehringer’s “The Tender Bar, A Memoir” (New York, Hyperion, 2006). What relevance does this book have to the readers of “Times and Seasons”? It should be directly of interest to those LDS readers seeking a reaffirmation of the wisdom of WoW, a better (albeit vicarious) understanding of several aspects non-Mormon life rarely encountered by Latter-day Saints, and what may be the best-written (yet funny) coming-of-age memoir in the English language. It also provides a glimpse into one suburban New York community that is still a mixture of the Wall Street commuters and those engaged in more gritty fields such as police work and lobstering.

Moeringer is a thirtyish resident of Denver who is the “L.A. Times” Rocky Mountain regional correspondent. While earlier living in Atlanta and covering the South for the “L.A. Times” he won a Pulitzer for his series about a small, traditionally black community in Alabama undergoing change. “The Tender Bar, A Memoir” was on multiple best-seller lists for months when it came out last year. It is a sort of late twentieth-century version of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories but set on Long Island ‘s Gold Coast rather than northern Michigan or Italy.

What is this book about? It is the non-fiction tale of Moeringer’s growth from age seven as a boy abandoned by his father and “taken in” by a bar — Publicans (originally named Dickens’) — where his maternal uncle was a bartender. Publicans is 146 steps from the tumultuous life in his grandparents’ home, where Moehringer lived with his single, working mother. The bar is in Manhasset, the north shore Long Island community that was home (dubbed “East Egg”) to Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby character. For the most part, the bar’s patrons are not plutocrats but rather the ethnics (mainly Irish and Italian) and fishermen who frequent the watering holes of Manhasset’s Plandome Road. Having spent six years before the mast in a highly-ethnic New York Air Guard radar squadron bivouacked in an estate hard in the lee of Manhasset and filled with Publicans’ customers in its ranks, I can attest to the keenness of Moehringer’s ear for dialogue and his first-rate feel for atmosphere and behavior. The eccentrics and characters to be found there provided a sense of community and mentoring otherwise absent in Moehringer’s life. His memoir takes the reader through his chaotic, hard-scabble upbringing in his grandparents’ home, his search for his father, his improbable admission to and passage through Yale, and his Dickensonian experience in his first post-college job as a “New York Times” copy boy. The extraordinary writing in this book’s Prologue and Epilogue (in which he gets over old-flame “Sidney,” goes west, gives up alcohol, and returns to Manhasset for some of the 50+ funerals immediately following the 9/11 tragedy in lower Manhattan) are alone worth reading.

If this seems off-topic, go back and read the earlier discussion of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, including “Slaughterhouse Five.” Moehringer’s slang is occasionally crude but nothing of the Vonnegut stripe, having been buffed by Moehringer’s Neiman Fellowship at Harvard and a tour of duty with the “Rocky Mountain News” during the interval between his experience as a goffer at The Grey Lady and his great success at the “L.A. Times.” This is NOT just another version of William Kennedy’s “Bar Fly,” the depressing saga of life in Albany, New York’s sleazy taverns 150 miles up the Hudson River.

Keep an eye on J.R. Moeringer….mebbe the T&Sers in L.A. and Denver would comment on his newspaper stuff.

Anybody else run into Moeringer? Alternatively, what’s on your last blast of summer reading list?

11 comments for “Last Blast of Summer Reading

  1. My summer reading started with _Kite Runner_ (read at my daughter’s suggestion). What a marvelous book! I am finishing the summer with _The Secret Life of Bees_. Because I’ve been commuting to help edit the documentary I’m working on, I decided I’d listen to audio books. This book was such a joy that I’m listening to it again. It makes me want to return to the writing world–at least for a vacation.

  2. Margaret, the summer reading I\’m happiest about is finally (finally!) reading _Heresies of Nature_. If you do return to the writing world, I will not make the mistake of waiting so long to read your work again!!

  3. Ray, as you’re looking for “The Tender Bar, A Memoir” keep in mind that I’ve occasionally managled the spelling of the author’s last name by inadvertently leaving out the “h.” It’s Moehringer (pronounced MO-Ringer). Names are a funny — but apparently true — part of the book. Part way through Moehringer reveals that he has accidentally discovered that he is not of Irish descent with a German name but rather of Italian descent with a maternal grandfather who quirkily appropriated a neighbor’s German last name so as to “fit in.” The book also includes an account of his failed attempt to establish his own non-borrowed identity while at Yale by trying to become legally “JR Maguire, ” a gambit that fails when he drinks away the $75 required by the State of Connecticut to accomplish such a change. Then there is his subsequent fight in Manhattan with senior editors at the “Times” who insist that he cannot style himself as “JR Moehringer” but must carry the by-line “J.R. Moehringer,” a stylistic requirement that they also had forced on President Truman re his middle — no period — initial.

  4. Alas, J., I know what you mean. Ironically, one of the last non-work books I did read was _The Secret Life of Bees_, and ironically-er, I was introduced to that by Pat MacKinnon when I visited with Bill and Pat a few years ago on my way home from MHA in, I think, Kirtland.

  5. My best summer read was The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong and my best late Spring read was The Secret Life of Bees. Actually I am spending way too much time reading blogs. :-)

  6. The Spiral Staircase strangely resonated with me. It was given to me by a law school friend who had also previously been in the process of becoming a nun. Such an interesting insight into that world.

  7. I read Karen Armstrong’s A History of God and The Battle for God last summer and thought they were fantastic. I’ve been inspired to give The Spiral Staircase a go now.

  8. I started the summer with Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet and ended it with You Suck by Christopher Moore. Pretty much covered the bases with those two. Also read Don Rickles’ book and the Kimball Biography, not a lot of difference :-)

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