SMTH: The perfect holiday gift of reading

One of the joys of the Christmas season is the gift of books, but even better is having the time to read. Somehow or other, you just put anything pressing aside for the holidays and immerse yourself into a relaxing environment. That allows for reading.

Reading during Christmas break is one of the highlights of the year, and I managed to get an early start with the books that had gathered on my reading table. First there was “FDR’s Funeral Train” by Robert Klara. An invigorating book, it reads like a mystery novel as the author takes you from Warm Springs, where Roosevelt was visiting when he died, to FDR’s final resting place at Hyde Park, N.Y.

The intrigue of all the developments — from hustling his lady friend Lucy Mercer out of town to selecting the coffin and making the railroad arrangements to the stopover in Washington for a memorial service at the White House — makes the book hard to put down. And to further pique your interest, a Soviet spy made the trip from Washington to Hyde Park, believe it or not.

Fresh off the press is “His Father’s Son,” a book about Earl and Tiger Woods (Gotham Books) by a good friend, Tom Callahan, who recalls conversations over the years with both men, laying out an abridged summary of their lives and posing this question: “Were the women what made Earl and Tiger tick, or were they just what made them human?”

Callahan observes acutely, “In a way, Tiger handed down his own sentence when, during the Fuzzy Zoeller fried chicken and collard greens affair, he (Tiger) said ‘I forgive but I don’t forget.’ No one will ever forget his hypocrisies. No one will ever look at him in the same way. Of course, redemption is as available to Tiger Woods as it is to anyone. That would be a great story.”

From the unfinished shelf, two books. There is “We Were There: Normandy,” eyewitness battlefield stories from World War II, a book that is treasured since it was a gift from Lou Brissie. Brissie lost the full use of a leg in the Italian campaign but survived to become a big league pitcher — a remarkable story of a Great American who has deep affection for those who become attached to the history of WWII.

Then there is Jimmy Carter’s book “Sharing Good Times” about fly fishing, traveling, faith, the outdoors, White House vacations, and other experiences. Easy and stimulating reading, it makes you realize that the former president is a very good story teller.

Frank Hyland, retired Atlanta Journal sportswriter, has written a moving book about his friend and colleague Lewis Grizzard. Hyland, a fine writer himself, offers an insightful review of the late columnist’s embattled life and checkered career. Grizzard’s life was truly a curious saga of intermittent success and downturns, all stimulated by wanderlust and ill health — to say nothing of jealous and conniving editors.

Today, I often think of the many social outings and high times of Lewis’s abbreviated life. One of the most hilarious afternoons took place after a Georgia game between the hedges, highlighted by a skit in our backyard when we collected a cast of characters to re-enact his first three marriages (there were four). The third Mrs. Grizzard was actually in town and played herself in the skit.

Lewis never laughed like he did on that afternoon in the early ’80s when the Bulldogs were enjoying high times, his books enjoyed robust sales, his column was appearing in 300 papers, and his heart was beating without hindrance.

Little did we know that within a few months, he would experience three open-heart surgeries, the last one fatal. The medical challenge, incongruously, began from an infection from his wisdom teeth. Some say Lewis drank too much. Perhaps, but I say he had a hint of what was facing him. It was enough to make any man resort to strong drink.

Loran Smith is co-host of The University of Georgia’s “The Tailgate Show.” He is also a freelance writer and columnist.