Books

There are billions of books so even broaching the subject seems about as fruitful as trying to fend off a typhoon with a feather.  However, if my own writing persuades a single person to read one of the authors mentioned hereafter, then all will not have been in vain.

A book can be a companion on a cold winter night, a friend at a lonely airport, or a consolation when one is blue.  It can get one thinking or put one to sleep.  It can be many things, but only if one has the wherewithal to give it the opportunity.  Thanks to the example of both my parents, I have experienced the power of reading.  So, give yourself the feeling of a good book, particularly if you do not have it already.

Mike Connelly, John Sanford, and C. J. Box write “page turners,” i.e. books that are quick, easy reads, that are perfect for anyone who might need an impetus to get reading for pleasure for the first time or all over again.  One learns about police and everything related to them in Los Angeles in the books of Mike Connelly.  John Sanford, particularly in his “prey” books, writes about a detective working mostly in Minnesota.  (They are “prey” books because the word “prey” appears in every title of this series.)  C. J. Box has captured the flavor of Wyoming as he recounts the exploits of his chief protagonist, Joe Pickett.  Joe is a game warden who is a pain in the neck to his superiors and to some hunters simply because he does his job. He has a wife and three daughters, whose lives are also chronicled in these “Joe Pickett” novels. My sympathy goes to any other writer from Wyoming because C. J. Box has captured the market of that state’s reading public already.  Every other state should be so fortunate as to have a writer laureate like C. J. Box.

Fore more serious readers two minor American classics are “The Plum Thicket” by Janice Holt Giles, and “Montana 1948” by Larry Watson.  “The Plum Thicket,” set in Arkansas in the early 20th century, has the same feel as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and has the most unforgettable ending of any book I have ever read. “Montana 1948” is set in the northeastern corner of Montana and tells a story when the lives of the white people and the native Americans intersect.  Longer books than either of these are “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner, which I have read five times, and “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry.  Wendell Berry is a modern Thoreau and “Jayber Crow” is billed as the memoir of the town barber.  In truth, it is much more than that.  Of American authors, I must also mention Pat Conroy with his “Prince of Tides” and “South of Broad.”  “Prince of Tides” is an easy read and is fine book with  to start reading Pat Conroy.  Finally, Ken Follett more than deserves mention.  From his “Eye of the Needle” to his latest book, “Column of Fire,” Ken Follett never fails to create a marvelous story.

And speaking of storytellers, the entire country of Ireland grieved the day Maeve Binchy died.  In novel after novel she captured the life of 20th century Ireland in a very entertaining way.  “Scarlet Feather” is my favorite of hers, telling of two young caterers.  And speaking of Europeans, there is, of course, the marvelous Stieg Larsson trilogy, beginning with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” His protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is the most distinctive heroine in any novel to come my way.

Of the “classics” I have read both “Huckleberry Finn” and “Vanity Fair” twice. The former is every bit as good as advertised, and the latter has the most elegant writing I have ever encountered.  I have not read either “War and Peace” or “Don Quixote.”

Of non-fiction I hold “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin to be a very great piece of writing.  It tells the story of the men comprising Lincoln’s cabinet and is incredible in its majesty.  Probably because I am from Texas, I have read all of Robert Caro’s books on LBJ.  I have read Christoph Wolff’s biography of Bach three times, and read “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. (Surely everyone living in the Chicago area has read “The Devil in the White City.” or at least heard of it.) I also have read “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner and the two one-volume histories of Mexico and Texas by T. R. Fehrenbach.  “Cadillac Desert” discusses dam building in the western United States.

In recent months the two books that linger most vividly on my mind are “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto, and “The Prague Sonata” by Bradford Morrow.  If you have not lived with both of them, put the rest of your existence on hold right now, go get them, and begin a new chapter in your own life.

“The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto is about the Dutch settlement of Manhattan.  Even if you think you know American history, you don’t know anything until you have read this book.  You learn something new on almost every one of these several hundred pages, and, frankly, you wonder how you lived prior to picking it up. Here is a tidbit from the book that you may not know:  Wall Street is named after a wall the Dutch built to keep out the English.  I could go on and on with nuggets like that, but suffice it to say that when you have finished “The Island at the Center of the World,” you are just sick that New York City is not called New Amsterdam today. I will credit my sister with introducing me to that mighty tome.

“The Prague Sonata” is a mystery that one does not have to be musical to enjoy, although if you know a bit of music history, your appreciation of the story might be enhanced.  Basically it is about a piano sonata whose three movements are separated from each other because of the Nazi invasion of Prague.  The story is about the effort to put them back together and then to discover who the composer is.

I must not forget to mention a collection of essays by Barry Lopez entitled “Crossing Open Ground”   Its “Children in the Woods” is a most sensitive piece of prose.  And speaking of children, my favorite book for children is “The Runaway Bunny.”

There is a memorial in Berlin that is very easily missed because it is a hole in the ground in the middle of a large plaza.  The hole is covered by a piece of see-through material, which one can walk over, and in the daytime the sunlight reflects off the material so that looking into the hole is impossible.  At night, however, one can look into the space just fine as its lights reveal an area occupied by empty bookshelves. The empty shelves represent all the books by supposedly Jewish authors burned by Hitler on the night of May 10, 1933 over the very spot where the memorial is located.

Readers burn with desire for the written word and like nothing better than to share the feeling of a good book because they have gotten out of themselves and explored the world in their very hands. Many people could go back through what I have just written and substituted their own favorite works; their selections could all be different from my choices, and be every bit as valid.

Emily Dickinson got it right when she wrote:  “There is no frigate like a book.”

 

 

 

 

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