Summer Reading — Books Fit for the Season, Part 2
- Thursday, June 03, 2010
Read part one of this list here.
Readers are a hopeful lot. Ask most serious readers what they intend to read over the next month, and you are likely to hear a considerable list. Books stack easily in more ways than one. The stack of books to be read beside the desk or reading chair is a statement of hope. No matter how busy we find ourselves to be, the books are there waiting.
That is why summer is a special season for reading. Finally, we can read some of those volumes we have been promising ourselves to read. Hopefully, the stack for summer reading includes some books to read for sheer enjoyment. The following is a list of ten books that, in my opinion, make for great summer reading. The list is heavily weighted in history, but the kind of history I first learned to enjoy as a boy — history that tells a story worth knowing about people and times that fascinate.
This year's list also proves that boys never grow up. Among the ten books I commend this year are books dealing with cowboys, Indians, gangsters, lawmen, trains, spies, and battles. Those looking for books on birds and romance should consult some other list.
6. Jimmy Burns, Papa Spy: Love, Faith, and Betrayal in Wartime Spain (New York: Walker and Company).
Children often imagine that their parents are not what they appear to be. How many boys have conjured the imaginary conception of their father as a spy — a man who only seems to be a stockbroker, grocer, or insurance agent, but is actually a secret agent? In the case of young Jimmy Burns, the truth was more exciting than his imagination.
In Papa Spy, Jimmy Burns tells the story of his father, Tom Burns, a young publisher who became the British press attaché in Madrid during World War II. Jimmy Burns was born after the war, but as he grew up, he discovered the kinds of clues about which other children dream. He found a pistol and a miniature camera, which, along with a great deal of other data drawn from his parents, led him to suspect that his father had been a secret agent during the war.
After his father's death in 1995, Jimmy Burns set out to discover the truth. Trained and experienced as a journalist, Burns conducted interviews and spent hours in the archives of both Britain and Spain — including the personal archives of Francisco Franco. Along the way, Burns tells the story of Spain's collusion with Hitler and of his father's ties to figures ranging from Leslie Howard to Soviet spies Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. He also takes readers into the world of British literature before, during, and after the war, revealing the great divide that emerged between the secularist and socialist Bloomsbury group and the Roman Catholic writers and publishers such as his father.
Sometimes, your father really is a secret agent. But, as Jimmy Burns' story of his father reveals, that is a morally complex discovery which includes shadows that can never be fully explained.
Before VE Day was over, Burns was taken by a group of officials from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the German embassy to officially "liberate" it from Nazi occupation. The Nazis has vacated the building in an operation staggered over a number of months, the exodus seemingly completed just hours before Burns arrived. Missing were works of art, and documents which had been removed or destroyed. The only remaining pieces of furniture were some chairs, office desks and filing cabinets, all of which were empty. In one of them Burns found a Mauser pistol and a large number of Iron Crosses, many of them apparently intended for the Spanish volunteers who had fought for the Blue Division on the Eastern Front. Burns pocketed them all, then climbed on to the roof and hoisted the Union Jack.
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