When the workload gets heavy, I turn to lighter reading. Here are some things I have enjoyed over the last several months.
It’s tough to beat Louis L’Amour for a wide variety of stories where the old West is well portrayed and men treat women with respect, and sometimes awe.
Ernest Haycox develops believable characters, some of whom have difficulty discovering they are in love. Bugles in the Afternoon is a good starter. Border Trumpet also deals with army life in hot, dry Arizona. Earthbreakers (his masterpiece), Trail Town, and Burnt Creek describe the characters that settled Oregon.
Tony Hillerman gets Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee entangled in mysteries involving Navaho Indian traditions in “the four corners” of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
I recommend browsing the youth and children’s sections of the library. Some of the best reading is hidden away there. I especially like the older Newberry Award books. They are often written from a worldview and moral base that support the values I learned as a child.
Treasure Island is a great story (which I have difficulty imagining a child reading today because of the vocabulary). I love the early part where two sailors buy a jug of hooch to sell by the cup to make money. They keep buying cups from each other, trading the same coin back and forth. When it is all gone and they are drunk, they fight over who has kept back all the money they received! The Dark Frigate (Charles Boardman Hawes) and Carry on Mr. Bowditch, about the man who wrote all the mathematical tables for navigation, (Jean Lee Latham) are both stories of men of the sea. A Sailor Returns (Theodore Taylor) is the touching story of an old sailor who locates his daughter after 30 years.
Adam of the Road (Elizabeth Janet Gray) and The Twenty One Balloons (William Pene duBois) are fun stories. I like to read Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll) every few years. Did you know there are 39 books about Oz (Frank L. Baum)? They are much too slow for most children today. And there are 21 books about the Black Stallion (Walter Farley)!
World War II.
I classify war reading as “light” because I don’t take notes on it. It reminds us of the high cost of freedom. War writing reminds us of the world-conquering mentality of and the destruction done by Axis forces, how closely we came to losing the free world, and estimates of the cost of finishing the war without the bomb. (The military estimated that an invasion of Japan would cost 1 million American casualties. Many of those men were already on ship heading for that invasion when the war was concluded.)
Books I read this year include Baa Baa Black Sheep, (Gregory “Pappy” Boyington) the story of Pappy Boyington, a fighter pilot hero, One Man’s War, (Tommy LaMore) the story of a captured pilot who never got over losing his Polish girl friend, and The Burma Road, (Donovan Webster) the story of the heroic building of a road from India to China to provide a route for attacking Japan from China. You learn a lot about geography, peoples, and soldier’s escapades and suffering in these books.
Life around the World.
The Bookseller of Kabul (Asne Seierstad) is a true story of a Danish writer’s year of living with a middle class Muslim family for a year immediately after the fall of the Taliban. Get a realistic picture of life in a typical Muslim family.
Girl of Kosovo, (Alice Mead) historical fiction by a relief worker, describes, from a teenage girl’s perspective, an Albanian village wiped out in the war.
Follow the River (James Alexander Thom) is a gripping fictionalized account of a woman’s true escape from Indian capture and 500-mile journey in 1755.
Song of Saigon (Anh Vu Sawyer) is the story of a terrifying escape from Vietnam (on my shelf to read next).
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) is the first in a series of mystery stories set in Botswanna. Delightfully they carry the flavor and philosophy of the country.
Brother Cadfael is a worldly experienced monk in 14th century England who solves a series of mysteries in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters). A Morbid Taste for Bones is the first volume.
Farm and Family Life.
Jesse Stuart, author and teacher, wrote of Appalachian life a generation ago. His books and stories are classics. Best known are The Thread that Runs so True, Man with a Bull Tongued Plow, and Clearing in the Sky.
Wendell Berry is the current Kentucky storyteller who values small community living. Start with The Memory of Old Jack. Many of his stories follow the same characters and build a whole community.
Everyone now knows of Jan Karon, who has written the Mitford series, the small town adventures of Father Tim. We visited her home in Blowing Rock North Carolina, from which she finally had to move because of all the people peeping around the bushes.
Leaders are learners and learners are readers. Keep reading!