Of course, we’re intended to read from cover to cover many books — novels, histories, biographies, and more. It would make little sense to begin Mark Helprin’s novel A Soldier of the Great War on page 340 of its 860 pages. We might open and commence reading Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat, on page 241, but we’d miss some of the main points of this fine biography.
In My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc., 2012, 378 pages, $23.95), 84 writers tout their favorite bookshops. The stores beloved by these writers range from Manhattan’s enormous Strand Book Store to our own City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, reviewed here by novelist and poet Ron Rash.
One of the great joys of reading occurs when we bump into a book by an author we’ve never heard of, idly turn the pages, and then find ourselves becoming entranced by the words, the story, and the characters. We take the book home from the library or bookstore, read it as if under a spell, and leave the last word of the last sentence feeling ourselves changed by the encounter, as if we have added some new component to our personality.
Nearly 20 years ago, while browsing the shelves of the Haywood Country Public Library, I came across a collection of videos about Richard Sharpe, a British soldier fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. My sons and I were already fans of Sean Bean, who plays the lead in this remarkable BBC television series of 16 films, each of them 100 minutes long. I knew the films were based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell, and occasionally glanced at one of the books but never read Cornwell.
Among Americans the two most egregious social stigma are smoking and obesity. We relegate smokers to sidewalks and rooftops when they wish to indulge their habit, and some communities have declared vast swatches of public spaces tobacco-free zones, as if blowing smoke in a park will drive men, women, and children to early graves.
One moment, please. To ward off the brickbats, cudgels, stones, dirt clods, and rotten tomatoes sure to come my way, I must clap on my armor: breastplate and plackart, gorget and pauldrons, greaves, fan plates, visored helmet, and other bits and pieces of metal protection.
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.