From Sunday's Times and News-Star
Life’s too short to read bad books.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I would bail on books that, after reading 50 pages, made me feel like I was getting poleaxed by Joe Frazier in his prime. Some sort of misplaced pride issue or deep-seeded need to finish what I’d started.
This was very dumb. Now I’ll bail in a heartbeat. Had to leave only a couple by the road this year, and didn’t feel guilty a bit. Progress!
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge most based on past experience and on opinions from friends who you’ve discovered have similar reading tastes. I’d thought about reading “1491” -- about the Americas before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and because I was born on Columbus Day Eve – but was told by someone I trust that reading it was like trying to run up and out of a history ditch. Neg!
On the other hand, the best all-around book(s) I read this year was the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson, the North Africa/Italy/Europe part of World War II. Read like literature. He’s working on a Revolutionary War series now. Sweet.
Some people read Atkinson’s work because they “had” too, and that’s the thing about how books affect people. A friend of mine’s father read “The Day of Battle,” Atkinson’s work on the Italian Campaign, because his father had served in Italy and was Division Ordnance Officer with the 92nd Infantry Division. This was a gentleman who grew up in northwest Arkansas, was a University of Arkansas engineering graduate, volunteered to return to active duty in 1940 as an Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant and, by the fall of 1944, was a Lieutenant Colonel who would retire as a “full bird” colonel in the Army Reserve.
“He never talked about his experiences during his service in North Africa and Italy,” my friend wrote. “When I would ask questions about the 92nd Division, I usually got a two or three word reply and no other details! He left Shreveport for duty in North Africa and later the Italian campaign on April 1, 1943, on a Merchant Marine vessel. When he returned home in late November of 1945, I did not know who he was and sometimes referred to him to my mother as ‘that man.’”
War is hell, which some families know as others never can. A good historian can at least offer an educated shoulder to lean and to learn on.
“The Death of Santini” by Pat Conroy is the best “memoir” I read in 2013. It is depressing, at times dumbfounding, and a must-read if you love Conroy. He can be over-the-top here or there, but America has no more lyrical writer than this son of the Carolina coast.
“Light of the World” was my favorite fiction, the latest by south Louisiana-reared James Lee Burke, still my favorite at “earthy” writing, of the smells and sights and textures of Cajun country.
Re-read Paul’s letters in the Bible; plenty there to keep anyone occupied for a while, a while being defined here as “the rest of your life!” A book titled “The Insanity of God” by missionary Nik Ripken is not as convicting, but it’s still an attention-getter: few of us consider that Old Testament stories – only the names have changed -- are being played out overseas today. I’d recommend “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor too, for beautiful and thoughtful writing.
“Wild Trees” by Richard Preston – I read his “The Hot Spot” about the Ebola virus years ago – “Winterdance” by Gary Paulsen (about the Iditarod), “The Big Burn” and “Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan are high on my pile. Still haven’t but must read “Rising Tide” by John Barry. And maybe “Isaac’s Storm,” by Erik Larson. And some Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald, to see what Travis McGee is up to on his houseboat in Slip F-18 in Fort Lauderdale.
And “Lord of the Rings”? Maybe this will be the year. But like you and most other book lovers, I’m already way behind…