Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert (2005, Random House)
After Tim Russert wrote a book honoring his dad, he performed a small book tour as part of the promotional efforts. A book tour is where the author goes to different cities throughout the country and does signings and/or readings from the book. At Russert’s events, he was consistently given stories of how other people’s fathers had strongly affected their lives. It showed how well the book had resonated with readers.
Russert decided to ask, on his show, for readers to send in stories of their fathers for a new work. This is the book which resulted, and it’s beautiful.
At a time when many people are encountering family problems due to politics, it’s especially valuable to find a series of uplifting stories about dads. Most of the stories are inspirational. Many are instructive. Some provide good ideas for other parents. Some are funny, or heart-wrenching, or both.
Russert groups the letters into themes (The Teacher, Tolerance, The Survivor, Forgiveness, Missing Dads, etc…) and writes an introduction to each set. Each individual letter also gets a sentence or two about what made it distinctive enough for inclusion.
I believe this is a book which should be in most houses. It’s a great reminder of the value of family and human contact, and it’s a wonderful set of examples about how deeply we influence those around us even when we may not notice it.
My Mother, the Detective by James Yaffe (1997, Crippen & Landru)
When something is done well, people remember. Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, author James Yaffe occasionally produced “Mom” stories for mystery magazines. They were variants on a form made familiar to most through works like Encyclopedia Brown or Ellery Queen; a policeman, returning home, would open up about what was bothering him to a relative who would solve the case.
In these stories, the detective was a Jewish man named Dave and the astute relative was his mother. At the time they were produced, Fred Dannay, one of the two men who comprised the Ellery Queen writing team, raved about them and swore they would be be compiled into a book some day. That day was delayed by a few decades after Yaffe walked away from mystery writing to become a playwright, but in the 1990s he decided to return to the form with a handful of novels… and mystery fans, it seemed, remembered the Mom shorts and wanted to read them.
Crippen & Landru obliged with an edition that shows the evolution of Mom; she starts with a much harder, snarky edge than she has in later stories. Central throughout, however, is the completely realistic interaction between mother and son. She’s a bit overprotective, she’s food-focused and has a bit of a martyr complex; he’s dutiful and appreciative but suffers through her faults. The family dynamic is perfect, and they are just as much short vignettes about a loving Jewish family as they are mystery stories.
Yaffe returned to the characters decades after giving them up, producing a series of novels through the 1990s. For those who enjoy the shorts, the novels are a solid continuation and will likely be worth purchasing.