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Summer Reading-Not Enough Time

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Thursday, September 6th, 2007
New Orleans, Louisiana

WHAT HAPPENED TO READING A GOOD BOOK?

August has always been my special month to read extensively. No how to, general information, politics, or any other type of practical knowledge reading. It’s always been fiction. Off to summer digs at Gulf Shores, with nothing more to do than fishing, swimming in the ocean (before the sharks came), and going through a stack full of novels I had saved up in the previous months.

I didn’t get to the beach this year. And I am guilty of not doing nearly enough summer reading. Americans are reading less and less and it has become a disturbing trend.

The average reader claims to have read only four books this past year. One in four adults say they have read no books at all. Book sales are flat throughout the country, and with some exceptions, independent bookstores are becoming more and more a thing of the past.

There was some good news in a new poll released last week. People in the south read a little more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels. Democrats read a little more than Republicans but not by much. And surprisingly, surveys show that those who say they never attend religious services read now twice as many books as those who attend frequently.

I guess you can blame both television and the Internet. But we also do not seem to get away enough. I�m surprised at the number of my own friends who don’t take off with their family for several weeks like we traditionally did in the past. And when we do, there are the proverbial companions including our cell phone, blackberry, and laptop. Distractions galore that do not lend oneself to curl up with a good book.

I did give it my best shot on a number of hot August nights, and did a fair job completing my eight novels specifically set aside. The one yet to read is James Lee Burke’s, “The Tin Roof Blowdown,” that my friends who have read it say is the first important novel to come out of the ruins of Hurricane Katrina. Burke has always been a reliable witness in the maelstrom of modern American South. I heard him speak in Baton Rouge some months ago. Most of his works are located in New Orleans and south Louisiana. He said plaintively that “the New Orleans I knew is gone forever, and its destruction is a harbinger of what’s ahead for the nation. If they want to see the future of this country, come visit Louisiana.” Disturbing. Really disturbing. It’s at the top of my list on my nightstand.

New Orleans author Thomas Laird has been in the Far East more than anyone I’ve ever met. His new book out, “The Story of Tibet, Conversations with the Dali Lama,” is next on my list. Tom has been on my radio show, and has interviewed the Dali Lama at length. He simply went up, knocked on the door, and asked for an interview. And he got it. He was a wonderful radio guest, and I am anxious to read his book.

Another title on my list is “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (Seven Steps to Genius Everyday).” Author Michael Gelb says that by studying da Vinci’s life in genius, we can make our own discoveries in the understanding of the boundlessness of our own full human potential. That sounds pretty good to me. But at my age, I still hope there are a lot of untapped resources in me I would like to find.

Another in my stack is “Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis.” I’ve read it before. But it is a book I reread every few years. Author Howell Raines gives his own middle age experiences that will resonate to any guy who is aging, been through a divorce, deals with the growth of his children and the death of friends, mentors and relatives. I’ve lost a number of friends and mentors in the past year. I passed my mid-life crisis (on several occasions) but there are lessons remembered here.

And finally, “Little Cowboy Poetry.” I used to want to have a ranch with horses and plenty of cows. I never did, but I’ve always enjoyed a number irreverent cowboy poets like Baxter Black and Ross Knox. Poets who write about cowboys generally focus on the ordinary stuff of life, but there are some genuine truths here with some poems that are primitive and funny that intersperse truths that are no less eternal.

I ought to set a deadline, but it is hard to deal with parameters when you are up at 4 o’clock in the morning preparing for your job, and spending your afternoons looking after family problems and trying to stay extra fit for an old guy.

The vacation thing has got to be revisited. For me at least, the days spent on the shore looking through a box of books have always been as pleasant and fulfilling, if not more so, than most of the better things that I have experienced. And there is more good stuff to add to my list that seems to come out every week.

As an accommodation to making a living, I will always throw a laptop in the car and have a blackberry somewhere around. But I will do my best to make these items secondary to the fiction and other works I’ve enjoyed for so many years in the past and hopefully, for many years to come.

******

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them.”
~ Ray Bradbury ~

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana.

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