Sometimes a book touches our hearts in a very special way. In the winter and spring of 1978, having saved from our combined incomes of the previous year, my wife and I celebrated our January wedding by traveling for three months to Europe. We lived there cheaply, as young people traditionally do. With friends we shared an apartment in Switzerland for a month. In March we fell in love with Italy, staying in rooms for as little as $4 per night and exploring Rome and the southern coastline.

About 15 years ago, one frequent guest at our bed and breakfast here in Waynesville was a Mrs. Irene Harrison, wife of a well-known New York state attorney and daughter of Charles Seiberling, the tire manufacturer. Though Mrs. Harrison was 106 years old on her last visit here, she maintained an intense and often eccentric interest in politics, remaining convinced, for example, that fluoridated water involved some sort of government plot against the American people. Once, as I passed through the parlor where she and her son nightly debated current political developments, I stopped and asked her, “Mrs. Harrison, you’ve obviously seen quite a few presidents in your lifetime. Which do you judge to be the best among them?”

After reading three autobiographies in less than 10 days, I emerged from the encounter feeling much like a lover who has finally encountered the full physicality of his beloved: I’m thankful for the romp but find myself a little disillusioned, a little disappointed with some parts of the romance.

Wonderful words

 

Like many of my fellow writers and readers, I am a sucker for word books. I love dictionaries — I own at least six of them, ranging from the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary to my own personal favorite, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary — thesauri, grammar books, and books on word origins.

Cupid’s reading list

Valentine’s Day is just around the bend, and for anyone with even a breath of romance in the heart — whether you’re madly in love or you’ve just gotten your heart ripped apart by some human version of Hurricane Katrina — it’s time to look at a few books that might help make romantics out of all of us.

Preschool children are normally as full of questions as a quiz show host on a fast night. They want to know who, what, when and why. They want someone to explain how and where and how much. They want to understand those things in this world which the rest of us, except for perhaps a few scientists, poets, and mystics, no longer see.

In One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance (ISBN 0-312-30443-9, $23.95), Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys and Who Stole Feminism? and Dr. Sally Satel, author of PC, MD: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine, make the case that our therapeutic society has run amuck, leading to a steady collapse of moral values and traditional American virtues.

Mind those manners

Talk To the Hand #?*!: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss.
Gotham Books, 2005. $25 — 216 pages.

The Compleat Gentleman by Brad Miner. Spence Publishing, 2004. 264 pages.

The Truth of the Matter by Robb Forman Dew. Little & Brown, 2005. 336 pages.

This year marks 140 years since the end of the American Civil War. In that time a gigantic library of books regarding the conflict between the Gray and the Blue has come into being with scores of books published annually on what Shelby Foote once called “the American Iliad.” Sometimes other events will cause this steady flow of literature to rise to flood-tide; the centennial anniversary of the war sparked everything from a Civil War comic strip in the papers to Civil War song albums, while Ken Burns’ television series on the war and the internationally bestselling novel Cold Mountain both sparked a renewed interest in the conflict, again accompanied by a burst of publications.

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