Eastern Wake: Opinion

Column: There is joy in a good book

Johnny Whitfield, columnist The Eastern Wake News and The Clayton News Star.
Johnny Whitfield, columnist The Eastern Wake News and The Clayton News Star. tiwabu@newsobserver.com

Most every Christmas, there is at least one book among the gifts I receive. And, so there is a flurry of reading that starts immediately after the holiday and lasts for as long as it takes to finish that book.

Work, family and all of life’s other obligations make it exceedingly difficult to carve out time to read a book. But life slows down a little bit during the holiday period and there’s enough time to get engrossed in a good book deeply enough that I want to finish it no matter what else is in the daily planner.

This year, I’ve been transported to the 1940s quite a bit. After getting a copy of Harry Truman’s biography under the tree, I learned about growing up in the midwest during the turn of the century, the power of political bosses and their machines and the moral dilemma of using atomic bombs to end the worst war in the the world’s history. Personally, I’ll never have to deal with questions like those, but it’s fascinating to peek behind that 70-year-old curtain and watch it go on.

Then I had the chance to learn about the same war from a different perspective. Zebulon’s all-star citizen Barrie Davis, in answer to a question from one of his children, penned his own memoir, A Pilot’s Story, about World War II and the role he played in it. He was, as you may know, a fighter pilot who, after having shot down his sixth enemy airplane, became an ace. It’s a rare distinction and to read his story is to learn that there was very little that was easy – or fun – about it, except for the joy of flying.

Most recently, I’ve turned to ligher fare, re-reading the Lewis Grizzard book Last Bus to Albuquerque, published after his death in 1994. It is a collection of his humor columns with a host of remembrances written by friends and colleagues who knew him well. To this day, I can repeat, word for word, several of his standup routines and the funny stories he told in front of audiences filled with “his kind of people,” a reference to his southern, kind of redneck-y lifestyle.

Of course my tastes in good writing may not jive with yours. Plenty of people like the suspense thrillers of Stephen King or the Tom Clancy mysteries. Younger readers will read and re-read J.K. Rowling’s epic sagas of Harry Potter. Few of us, sadly, will sit down and read a book of poetry or a collection of short stories, though they, too, can carry the reader far afield from the stresses of daily life and into a fantasy world of make-believe.

These days, television seems to be the way we escape our everyday world. It is, of course, much easier to sit in front of a television for an hour and watch the CSI detectives solve a crime in an hour than it is to read the same account over a week. Sadly, for those who spend hours in front of the television night after night, they miss the rich play on words and the vivid descriptions that really draw readers into a world different from their own.

And while the opportunities to read for pleasure have lessened as time has marched on, I’m grateful when I can escape the world of bills, deadlines and child-rearing for an hour or two at the time and settle into my easy chair to get lost in a book.

If you haven’t read a good book lately, give it a try. Stop by the library and take 30 minutes to browse the selections and find something that really, really piques your interest. Then go home and throw off the cares of the world for a little while and get lost in a good book.