A start on that ever-growing pile of books

So many books, so little time.

Many booklovers may have uttered that old saw with a sigh, but in my case these words have never been truer. On my spare desk a stack of books sits waiting for review, three more wave to me from a bedside stand, and two are calling to me from the steps leading from my apartment to the upstairs. Here are books from three different libraries, books sent in the mail for review, books picked up from the library sale. In addition, I am still working my way through Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, trying to read at least half an hour every day in order to finish the 11 volume series by the end of the year.

Book examines change in rural Appalachia

In the last 75 years, the landscape and the culture of the Appalachian South have undergone enormous change.

Take the town in which I live. Just 16 years ago, this town offered two large grocery stores, a K-Mart, and of course numerous other small, family-owned shops. That was the extent of choices for shoppers. The nearby motels wore that look of seedy disrepair found in so many such establishments built in the 1950s. The town boosted 10 Seven-Elevens, but had few restaurants other than the usual fast food places. By their dress and accents, many of the people in the stores and on the streets were easily identifiable as natives, born and bred in these hills.

God’s broadcasting station — the great outdoors

When I taught homeschool seminars in Latin, history, and literature in Asheville, I would wait for a cold spell in February and then email my students to come to class dressed for the weather. On their arrival I would lead them outside and hold class for half an hour beneath gray skies and temperatures well below freezing. With any luck we might even find some bits of falling snow. The students would stand shivering in the cold — some of the boys apparently considered t-shirts and shorts appropriate winter clothing — and then we’d tromp back into the classroom.

Tyler delivers another delightful novel

Years ago, my wife and I belonged to a Waynesville book club in which a couple would act as host every month and select the book for discussion. Once when our turn rolled around I chose Anne Tyler’s Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant. The other members seemed to enjoy Tyler’s novel, though at one point one of the women mentioned that she thought Tyler’s characters were too eccentric.

“But aren’t we all eccentric?” I asked.

Older books are still worth a read

Two days ago, I finished reading Jon Hassler’s Rookery Blues (Ballantine Books, 1995, 485 pages). Hassler focuses his novel on the lives of professors and administrators at a small state college in Minnesota. One faculty member, a former worker in the oil fields, tries to organize a faculty strike. Two more become acquainted through playing music and fall in love. Another, a shy pianist dominated by his mother, finds fulfillment in a faculty band playing blues and jazz. A budding novelist has no talent for teaching.

Hiaasen’s graduation book misses the mark

About 15 years ago, I was listening to a female critic discussing the seasons’ upcoming movies. When the moderator mentioned Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the critic laughed and said, a little bitterly, “Well, we’ll all have our knives out for that one.”

An antidote to our society’s hysteria

Over the past few decades, our society has pushed for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students. Countries like China and India have far outstripped America and Western Europe in the number of graduates they have produced in these fields. Some observers of future trends fear that that this lack of engineers and scientists will have negative repercussions on our technology and our living standards. 

These concerns are undoubtedly valid and worthy of our consideration, and we should encourage young people to enter these fields of study if they find satisfaction in those endeavors. 

An endearing coming of age teaching story

When we are in school, we consider ourselves fortunate when we find ourselves in the company of inspiring teachers. We value them at the time, and if they are very good, then they stay with us for the rest of our lives. We may not remember much of what they taught us, but their example can serve to inspire us, to guide us in our lives. We connect with them in the classroom, and that connection, brought about by some magic we can never quite figure out, remains long after we have left behind the world of textbooks and exams.

History of American furniture a fascinating story

Oscar P. Fitzgerald’s American Furniture: 1650 to the Present (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 621 pages) is a door-stopper book, a behemoth with well over a thousand photographs, some in color, most black-and-white, and as promised by the title, a history of American furniture and craftsmanship since the time of the thirteen colonies.

Choose your summer reading carefully

The last 10 days have brought some broad swatches of time for reading.

Two novels have traveled from the library, visited my fingers and eyes, and returned to their comrades on the shelves. Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization — I’ve just finished Volume VI: The Reformation — keeps me out of trouble for 30 minutes a day, and old friends like Robert Hartwell Fiske’s The Best Words, Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War, Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop, and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life offer, as a Coca-Cola ad once put it, “the pause that refreshes.” 

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