What should my grandfather read?
September 7, 2012 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend books for my recently-widowed grandfather?

My grandmother passed away this summer, leaving my 92-year-old grandfather single for the first time in seventy years. His life feels understandably empty. The last time I visited him he mentioned that my aunt gave him a book, which he appreciated, since his days were long and it helped pass the time. I'd like to send him a few more, not only to help him pass the time, but also as a caring gesture. Can you recommend some?

His interests:
He served in the Navy in World War II and has an interest in that
The natural world (he used to really enjoy gardening, but yard work is hard for him now - regardless, he's still kind of interested in plants, birds, and nature)
He is a lifelong resident of Racine, WI and is interested in his hometown and home state
He was a tool and dye maker, so he's very mechanical. He likes to figure out how things work.
He's a devout Catholic

Topics to avoid:
Bereavement or grief - he gets help in that area already
Love stories, for obvious reasons
Books about travel
Books about politics

The book he's reading right now is Coop by Michael Perry.

Can you recommend some fascinating reading for my grandfather?
posted by christinetheslp to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like your grandfather is a fascinating individual! I'm also Navy - albeit about, oh... 50 years his junior! Wish we could hear his stories.

I'd recommend "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James D. Hornfischer. It's a tough subject, but I'm betting your grandfather has some thick skin and is used to it. Might even be able to weave in some stories of his own.

Also of interest might be some books about the WWII memorial here in Washington DC?
posted by matty at 8:43 PM on September 7, 2012

Books my uncle, a Catholic WWII vet and engineer, and I discussed because we both liked them: Moby-Dick, Harry Potter, Dr Dolittle.

Has he read Patrick O'Brian? Natural world, one character is a devout Catholic, it's all about the Royal Navy, plus they're just so very good.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:46 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consider books by James Jones.
posted by HuronBob at 9:00 PM on September 7, 2012

Arctic Homestead

Unbroken my go-to for any reading recommendation and also goes along with his interest in WWII

Place in the Woods - for his interest in nature.

Along the Coop line, I also enjoyed Michael Perry's Population: 485.

A Walk in the Woods
posted by Sassyfras at 9:03 PM on September 7, 2012

I think your grandpa would like My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. It is an account of the author's childhood during the mid to late 1930s when his British family picks up stakes and moves to the Greek island of Corfu. Durrell grew up to be a well-known naturalist, and the books are all about the animals, birds, and insects that he finds during his long, carefree days of wandering around the countryside. It is a wonderful book that really immerses you in Durrell's observations of the natural world. It's also wickedly funny, but the humour is pretty PG (it is not a children's book, but I read it when I was a kid and I don't remember it being particularly inappropriate.)

If he likes it, there are two sequels in The Corfu Trilogy: Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:12 PM on September 7, 2012

If you think WWII might be a little too hard to take, Six Frigates is the story of how the Navy was founded. While it does have a focus on the politics, I don't think the back and forth of the Federalists and anti-Federalists would be quite what you mean by "politics", though I may be wrong. Benedict Arnold's Navy and George Washington's Great Gamble are awesome Revolution-era naval stories.

If his naval interests extend to other countries, The Safeguard of the Sea and The Command Of The Ocean by N.A.M. Rodger are both excellent and cover the naval history of Britain up to 1815. The Tsar's Last Armada is the engrossingly bizarre story of the Russian Navy sailing to defeat at Tsushima, which set up Japan's naval supremacy in the years leading up to WWII. Castles of Steel and Dreadnought are about Britain and Germany in the run-up to WWI.

In a less-combative vein, Sea of Glory is about the little-known US Exploring Expedition which did a few things like discover Antarctica and establish the basis for the Smithsonian.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:13 PM on September 7, 2012

Not a book, but what about getting him window sill herbs to grow? Then you can get him botanical books about those.
posted by kellyblah at 9:14 PM on September 7, 2012

A lot of Nevil Shute's novels have engineering as a plot element. Trustee from the Toolroom, No Highway, Slide Rule: The Autobiography of an Engineer all reference his career as an engineer. Antoine de St.-Exupéry's "Wind, Sand and Stars" is about the wonder of flight during WWI. Some of the Thomas Pynchon short stories in Slow Learner might fit as well. Finally, the Aubrey - Maturin canon of Patrick O'Brian deal with - among other things - practical seamanship and nautical engineering in the 19th century.
posted by jet_silver at 9:17 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

They're kind of what I think of as "airplane books", but I have enjoyed W.E.B. Griffin's "The Corps" series. It's about the Marines but has a ton of Navy lore as well and they mostly take place during World War II, specifically in the Pacific theater. My career-Navy sister enjoyed them as well.
posted by padraigin at 9:18 PM on September 7, 2012

Didn't preview adequately, The corpse in the library. Cheers!
posted by jet_silver at 9:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides. It's about the mission to rescue soldiers in the Phillipines after the Bataan Death March. It is a bit gruesome at times but an absolutely riveting book. If he is interested in books about war he'll be sure to enjoy it.
posted by sacrifix at 9:33 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

he's still kind of interested in plants, birds, and nature

I suspect he might really enjoy My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. It was published in 1956 so it's something of a nostalgic read, and it's funny, light-hearted, engaging and fascinating.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:36 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about a book that identifies birds of his area? If he put out a feeder, he would attract birds (and probably squirrels, but they have to eat, too).
posted by Cranberry at 11:23 PM on September 7, 2012

Anything by Aldo Leopold, the father of Wisconsin's wildlife ecology and conservation movement.

This is a pretty regional suggestion (books are published by UW Press), but he might like books by Jerry Apps. He's a former prof at UW who taught agriculture techniques, etc. to farmers, and wrote stuff on the side. Good guy. Anyways, he's written several novels about a fictional town called Link Lake and the families, businesses, farms, etc. there. One is a historical book about a traveling preacher, one is about a guy who gets "In A Pickle" (title) with the big canning company that comes to town, one is about the cranberry growers...

They're pretty mild and are based on the land, so he may get a kick out of them.
posted by Madamina at 5:33 AM on September 8, 2012

I would really recommend a great and true memoir by a WWII submarine commander, Eugene Fluckey - Thunder Below . Fluckey's personality and respect for his men raises this above the standard war memoir.
posted by gudrun at 9:03 AM on September 8, 2012

N'thing the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Travel and politics are involved as the characters sail the globe carrying out their Royal Navy missions, but I don't think this is what you mean to avoid.

Has he read the oldie-but-goodie Connections by James Burke? Many people prefer the PBS series, but that's available on DVD.

For nature in the bigger sense, he might enjoy some of the astronomy/physics books by Neil deGrasse Tyson. For a more engineers-in-space approach, I found Packing for Mars by Mary Roach equal parts fascinating and hilarious.
posted by Quietgal at 10:49 AM on September 8, 2012

I'm late to the party but I wanted to suggest a couple of books my dad really enjoyed. He was difficult to buy gifts for and didn't read fiction, but these books were successful gifts:

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw: "In this superb book, Tom Brokaw goes out into America, to tell through the stories of individual men and women the story of a generation, America's citizen heroes and heroines who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America. This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values--duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself." (There are a couple of followup volumes to this one I think, a collection of letters and maybe one more.)

Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley: In February 1945, American Marines plunged into the surf at Iwo Jima—and into history. Through a hail of machine-gun and mortar fire that left the beaches strewn with comrades, they battled to the island’s highest peak. And after climbing through a landscape of hell itself, they raised a flag.
Now the son of one of the flagraisers has written a powerful account of six very different young men who came together in a moment that will live forever. (There's another one by James Bradley called "Flyboys" which looks really good too).

Hope this helps!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2012

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