Why ‘Mercury Pictures Presents’ is worth the read, other books recommendations for 2023
By Mary Rogers
In the final weeks of each year, I’m eager to see what stories debut authors — as well as veteran writers — will tell in the coming months.
I seldom look back at the reading choices I made in the previous year, but if pressed to point to a couple of my 2022 favorites, I’d say “Mercury Pictures Presents” by Anthony Marra is worth the reading time.
Set in the 1940s and filled with humor, endearing characters, and wisdom, this is the story of people who must reinvent themselves to survive. Many of them have escaped Europe’s iron grip of fascism, artists who land in Hollywood as movies become an important propaganda tool for a country facing the war years and blind to its own shortcomings.
It is not a story tied up in a pretty package, but Marra’s elegant writing shimmers with hope and possibility. Surely this will become a movie.
I also liked “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin. This is a story about three unlikely friends who are masters of video game design. They partner up and create a wildly successful business.
Now I’m not interested in video games, but I do like the notion of restorative play. Besides, I was completely pulled into this story by the author’s wordsmithing. Spanning 30 years, this trio must navigate the ramifications of ambition, deceit, deep hurt, the struggle for identity, the weight of disability, and the redemptive touch of love.
At its core, this is a love story like no other.
But this January afternoon, I’m deep into “Waco: David Karesh, the Branch Davidians,” and a “Legacy of Rage” by Jeff Guinn. You can find it on January 24.
Jeff, a friend since our long-ago time at the Star-Telegram, has a reputation for impeccable research. He uncovers information that often turns what we think we know on its head and asks us to change our minds or at least thoughtfully consider the new evidence.
That’s what he’s done with this story of the Branch Davidians and their leader David Koresh, who thought of himself as a prophet and one of the Christs. Yes, one of several. It has been almost 30 years since federal agents surrounded a rambling stretch of buildings at Mount Carmel, a 77-acre plot of ground just north of Waco.
Now for the first time, a dozen ATF agents tell their stories of the 51-day siege that ended in a fiery spectacle that left more than 70 dead including two dozen children and Koresh himself.
Survivors also speak out as do locals and reporters who were expected to cover the unfolding drama from a press staging area more than a mile away and with access to little more than government-generated press releases.
But why did these people die? Where does the fault belong? There’s plenty of blame to go around, says Jeff.
Jeff spends several early chapters on the beliefs of the Davidians, the group that came before them, and the rise of David Koresh. It’s a 170-year history that takes some time to cover, but without this, it would be difficult to understand the siege at Waco. Government agents weren’t interested in the Davidians’ beliefs, he says.
The book is full of new insights; some large, others small. I was surprised to learn that Koresh played guitar and often sang and strummed at a Waco pub. His guitars were painted with Biblical images and scripture passages. He and his band, made up of other Davidians, became the Saturday night house band.
They also traveled to Las Angeles hoping to land a recording contract. The band wore T-shirts emblazoned with “David Koresh/God Rocks.” It was a way to spread the word, he said.
But no contract came.
Jeff always turns up new information. That’s what he does best. You may remember him as the Star Telegram books editor who brought well-known authors to Bass Hall and interviewed them on stage.
Many of you will be more familiar with the books he has written since leaving the newspaper, including bestsellers “Manson,” “Road to Jonestown,” and “Go Down Together: The Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
I think this one will be an award winner, too.