Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you look at what you are doing and where you are and realize how ridiculous you appear?

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Sometimes loss and death give little or no warning of their arrival. The doorbell rings at two in the morning, and we open the door to find a policeman waiting to say, “Sir, I’ve got some bad news.” We arrive home from a normal day at work and find our beloved spouse lying on the floor, fallen with a brain aneurysm. We go to a hospital expecting to bring home a healthy baby and instead find ourselves arranging a funeral. We go into work to a job we love and find ourselves leaving an hour later under guard and with a pink slip in our pocket. We find our beloved in the arms of another and wonder what the hell happened.

In House Of The Rising Sun (Simon & Schuster, 2015, 435 pages, $27.99), James Lee Burke tells the story of Hackberry Holland, a retired Texas Ranger, and his son Ishmael, their separation since Ishmael was a small boy, and the wars they fight against various enemies to try and find each other again.

In December 1922 Hadley Hemingway set out from Paris to join her husband Ernest, then a newspaper reporter and an unpublished writer of short stories, in Lausanne, Switzerland. With her Hadley took a valise filled with her husband’s stories, including the carbon copies. While still in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, Hadley stepped away from her baggage to buy a bottle of Evian water. In that short time a thief stole the valise and with it all but two of Hemingway’s early stories. Hadley never forgave herself for her carelessness, and Hemingway, unable to believe that his wife had packed everything in the suitcase, actually returned to Paris to their apartment to search fruitlessly for remaining pages of poems and stories.

For decades, the lot of poor white Americans has worsened. Marriage rates have plummeted while out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed. Unemployment, particularly among young white males of this class, is endemic in many small towns in the Midwest and South. Particularly disturbing are the death rates in this group for men ages 30 to 65. Poisonings, suicide, and liver disease have lowered the life expectancy of these men, a fact that one commentator found “unprecedented” in modern times in America.

bookIn 1968, Peter Berger, a Boston University sociologist, told the New York Times that by “the 21st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture …. The predicament of the believer is increasingly like that of a Tibetan astrologer on a prolonged visit to an American university.”

This one’s for students, especially those of you in secondary school and college.

Let’s get right to the point. Reading, writing, and mathematics are the keys to education. Master these three subjects, and you can tackle any academic subject.

It’s a wonderful day when a book surprises us with its wit, story, style, and wisdom.

Recently I was talking with an old friend when who mentioned having read years ago Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods. My friend had then felt no attraction to Bryson and had wondered what all the fuss was about, yet in the last few months he has become a Bryson fan, intent on reading all his books. What set off his new-found respect for Bryson’s novels, travel books, and essays I don’t know, but hearing the thrill of enthusiasm in his voice reminded me once again of the importance of books and why we read and love them. 

Most of us like lists: “The 100 Greatest Novels of the Twentieth Century,” “The Ten Best Movies of All Time,” “The Top Five Barbeque Eateries in North Carolina,” and so on. We peruse such lists, mentally congratulating the choices we approve, shaking our heads over those we don’t, and bemoaning certain personal favorites that never even made the cut.

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