The Long Way Home 2.10.2023

Pondering the conclusion of my seventh decade, I’ve been thinking about books I’ve owned and read over the years.

Reading was something I did when the powers that be kept me out of grade school for six weeks to keep my mononucleosis from infecting my peers. It was the sixties. Passing the time between home visits from my tutor, I read books about my sports heroes and mysteries like the Hardy Boys. This reading pleased my tutor--I dutifully reported everything I’d read. And it was fun.

As a young adult, I would read motivational and self-help books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The books in this genre helped me overcome a deep-seated sense of inadequacy early in my business life. 

Then I moved on to business-related books like “In Search of Excellence” by Robert Waterman and Tom Peters. In my thirties, I was reading dozens of books in this genre. I’ll leave it to others to say if they made me a decent manager.

In those days I loved going to bookstores. Every week or two I’d visit a bookstore, almost always leaving with a handful of new books, fiction and non. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of books, most of which I’ve read at least once. After we moved a few times, the number of boxes was too much. I’ve kept a small number of them that had some special meaning, but the rest have been donated to “Library Friends” in several states.

Despite my initial resistance to e-books, I’m now on my second Kindle. It lets me read in bed without a lamp to bother the bohunk and I can adjust the font size to accommodate these aging eyes. 

I remember my dad’s reading habit when he was my age. A child of the Depression and veteran of the Pacific theater during World War II, he loved the paperback westerns of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. You’d find the old man at his kitchen table in the Richfield house, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes as he read the moral tales the Westerns contained. There were boxes and boxes of these books when he died.

As for me, I’ve spent much of the last few decades reading history, philosophy, biography, and current events. I’ve read most of Caro’s books about LBJ and almost every novel by Jim Harrison.

Lately, I got tired of the non-fiction world and have moved into fiction, mostly detective novels. I borrow e-books from the Arrowhead Library System. Since I don’t pay for them, I can dump the books if they’re crap. Most of my selections have been grand.

Where my dad got his life lessons from westerns, with heroes shaped by the pioneer and Civil War days, I get my lessons from the hardscrabble world of crime fighters shaped by more recent times. 

My heroes are the likes of Travis McGee who lives on the Busted Flush in Cedar Key, FL. His character and philosophy were shaped by World War II. The likes of Harry Bosch and Walt Longmire were shaped by the Vietnam experience. Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher have characters shaped by the Cold War and the War on Terror.

Westerns and detective novels are about the inhumanity, cruelty, and lack of character of people in positions of power. Those people are eventually overcome by imperfect heroes forged in the crucibles of horror. 

From them, and my dad, I learned that you don’t have to win every battle to win a war. You just need honesty, integrity, and persistence. 

Reading, for us old guys, makes sense of the world we’ve survived.