I’ve loved books as far back as I can remember. When I was almost five, I started Cooke Elementary School in Northwest Detroit. That’s a long time ago now, but I still remember the school—staffed by plenty of tough old birds, some with their hair done up in braids like stern fräuleins out of Heidi. I remember the school library where I read the Billy and Blaze books by Clarence William Anderson. It’s not like I’ve remembered the author’s name through these intervening years. In fact, until I Googled the title a few minutes ago, I had forgotten about the eponymous Billy as well. I have remembered some of the illustrations and—more—the joy I felt reading those books.
Tom just mentioned that I need to tell you more about why I liked Billy and Blaze. I admit the specifics are harder to dredge up than the memory of the joy. I liked this book because I liked reading about someone who actually got a pony. I wanted a pony–really a horse. I loved the pony rides at some of the parks I went to with my family. I still want to own a horse, but it seems impractical because a) I don’t know anything about taking care of horses b) horses are expensive c) we own 1/10 of an acre inside a city. I also enjoyed Billy and Blaze because it may have been the first series I read by myself. Not only did I get to enjoy one story, but there was more and then more pleasure to anticipate.
Another book I enjoyed (and have since remembered) from those very early years was Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Robert Clyde Bulla. I reread Squanto a few years ago and I believe I have it now in storage as part of my Native American book collection. Nowadays, I wonder whether Squanto was wise to have been such a good friend, but that doesn’t change the happiness I experienced in reading the book. I think I was probably seven when I read Squanto. Here, I think I was first experiencing a sympathetic hero as well as a strong plot related to real life happenings–a literary element I enjoy to this day.
Here’s the point: Even books that are not deemed great or good literature or even decent popular writing, can calm that whirling in my head (see yesterday’s Prologue) and help me to consider new facts and ideas. This is all leading up to the four books I am currently reading:
Lamentation by C.J. Sansom is the latest in the six book (so far) mystery series about Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in the time of King Henry VIII. Not only have I learned more about politics and intrigue in Tudor England than I’ve ever known, but I have had to consider again the nature of good and evil and of power and powerlessness. We don’t have torture in the Tower of London now, but otherwise those twisty, dark, hot, and smelly London streets remind me too much our own times. Matthew Shardlake tries to be a good person in a bad, or at least troubled, world. When I can, I try to do that, too.
I picked up Van Reid’s Cordelia Underwood or The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League at a store called Bull Moose in Brunswick, Maine. I had facilitated the first part of a workshop and felt the need of a calming book to read that evening and on the plane back home the next day. Cordelia, a young adult book and a New York Times Notable Book, fit the bill. I read it in my spartan college dorm room at Bowdoin College and at the Portland airport and in the air. I’m not sure I will finish it right now, but I will cart it along for my next lonely trip because as the NYT Book Review says, this book is “an amiable, richly populated first novel…” (from the blurb on the back of the book).
The book that has most often been in my backpack recently is Look to the Mountains: Southeastern Utah and the La Sal National Forest by Charles S. Peterson. Tom’s father, the forest supervisor of the Manti-La Sal National Forest when this book project was undertaken, gave us this book when we recently visited him in Florida. I don’t know what has happened to me, but for the last many years, there is no reading I enjoy more than digging into non-fiction histories of the American West. Talk about calming my fretful mind: for me reading about the natural history, prehistory, and history of San Juan and Grand counties in Utah is like the meditative breathing I am always forgetting to do. It’s like chanting a mystical syllable and I don’t know why. I do know, or at least suspect, that I am the only person in this country reading Look to the Mountains at this time.
Speaking of Grand County, Utah, about a week or so ago Tom bought me, Tattered Legacy (A Nora Abbott Mystery) by Shannon Baker, published this year. I’ve only read 30 pages so far and it doesn’t seem to be (charitable comment) a particularly well-written book, but I am continuing through it because the setting is Moab, Utah. Perhaps almost too trendy for its own good, Moab is in the middle of some of the most beautiful landscape on the earth. Clarification: I have not seen most of the landscapes of the earth and many other places that I’ve seen are also beautiful, but the red rock desert touches me in a way I can’t express with any amount of modifiers, hyperbolic or not. Tattered Legacy is nothing like the reality of the Southeastern Utah landscape and history. So far, this book is overly replete with villainous polygamists and clunky prose, but I am going to finish it. Our hero, Nora, works for a group that is trying to convince Congress to expand Canyonlands National Park. I keep trying to convince Congress and President Obama to do the same. If you want to read more about the efforts to save the land and the human treasures of this area, please see the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Bears Ears Coalition, and others.
Waiting in the wings: Stephen King, Finders Keepers. My husband it is reading it now, but only in the daylight!