Friday Firesmith – Reading

Friday firesmithI stopped reading fiction all together for about ten years. I also stopped reading nonfiction along the way and I have no idea why. Someone bought me a Kindle and I never realized it was easier to read on one of those devices. I started reading nonfiction again and sure enough, now I’m back to reading some fiction. I was once a voracious reader. I could devour an entire novel in a few days, a week at the most, if it wasn’t a great book. I read one of Anne Rice’s books, “Lasher” in a single day, but it wasn’t that good at all.

Because Kindle and other devices have taken over the world the state of bound books is in decline. Books, and good books in particular were once a little on the pricey side and I had to buy used books if I wanted to read. There was always some used book store stashed away in nearly every town, but these too will be shutting down soon. It’s an odd thing to think that the used book store will one day be no more. I wonder if anyone remembers the last Blacksmith shop in their town closing and what it meant.

I was once scolded when I was in the Army for “having too many books” and I knew right then and there I couldn’t stay. How can there be too m any books? Well, at one point in my life I gave away all my books and there were about three thousand of them. It was time to release them back into the wild, back into circulation again, to be read and loved again by someone new. The local library took them in and if just one of those books winds up being read by just one person and that person loves that one book as much as I did, I can die happy.

A culture isn’t truly evil until it starts burning books. Banning them is one step away from that. I have no idea how schools and churches are going to go about banning electronic books but sinister part of this is how easy and how quietly something like that can be done. With a press of a button someone can destroy “Catch 22” or “Lolita” or any other book on any device out there. “Fahrenheit 451” warned us about a society were books were burning on sight but we now are dealing with a world where a book could disappear without a match being struck or a sound being made.

I read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” in 1976 when I was a freshman in High School. Everyone laughed at me for reading the series. An animated version of the book came out in 1979 and everyone loved it. Now, if they can only get “Dune” right.

“Dune” is that one book I will always have a copy of, somewhere. What about you? What book will always be on your desk?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.


64 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Reading”

  1. The Stand is my all time favorite. Enders game and the Giver are pretty close to the top. I hate to admit this but I’m 41 and the Harry Potter series is something I like to read twice a year.

    Thanks for reminding me about Dune, I forgot about that one I’ll have to get that one again

  2. “…What book will always be on your desk?…”

    “The Time It Never Rained” by Elmer Kelton. A story of a rancher in a small town in West Texas during the drought of the 1950’s, and his efforts to endure. The dialogue, the characters, the plotting, the very details of life in Rio Seco all created one of the finest pieces of Texana I’ve ever read, and a book which certainly stands as some of the finest American fiction ever written. Elmer Kelton, who was from West Texas, wrote many fine books, but had he never written another, he’d be remembered for “The Time It Never Rained”. I strongly recommend it.

    I agree with you about the disappearance of used bookstores. I grew up reading, almost voraciously, and loved to go with my mother to used bookstores. As an adult I kept the habit, and enjoyed bringing home sacks of books. As I became able to travel more with my second wife we took a special joy in driving through a small town or a faraway city and spotting a bookstore we’d never tried. We’d return home from long road trips with the back end of the car sagging under the weight of books and more books. No more. Many towns no longer have any sort of bookstore, new or used, and one of the small sources of delight in my life has been taken away by the Internet.

    I will grant that Amazon and the other online sellers give me access to any book I want by any author at any time, but there’s something to be said for just browsing. I’ve discovered more hidden gems simply by walking down the aisles of a bookstore than I ever did on Ammy.

  3. I miss the little used bookstores, we had a great one here. Sadly, it too, closed. I am a bibliophile. I love books, I love the smell of books, new books, old books. I still say they are better than any e-reader any day.
    I had a Nook once, my son bought it for me for Christmas one year, it never worked, I tried to take it back to Barnes and Noble where he bought it, they refused to help me in any way with it. I’m sure you can guess my feelings towards them.
    As for what book…. there are a few.
    1. Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo. I read this book when I was 12 and have read it many times since, Ms Waldo put many hours of research into this novel and it shows, it’s a fictional account of the Lewis and Clark journey from one woman’s perspective.
    2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Could not put it down, it’s about a family history, links to Vlad the Impaler and Vampires
    3. The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski. New world ancient civilizations, another page turner, looking forward to finding more of his work.
    4. Of course anything by Christopher Hitchens.
    I’m currently reading about Alan Turing, the book is pretty dry, but interesting. I have varied tastes when it comes to books. I literally have a Rubbermaid tub full of books to get to. I still will.

  4. The Bible. NOT!!!
    How about authors? Anything by Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, or Dave Barry. Yeah, I’m showing my south Florida bias.

    • I enjoy Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, just a little bias there. LOL.
      I agree about the Bible. I think if anyone actually read it, not the cherry-picked version of it, maybe there would be fewer creationists out there.

  5. I can’t say “on my desk” but I can see me always having a physical copy of one of the ‘Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers’ handy. I also miss browsing books in a bookstore but it’s just too convenient having every book I want on my iPad. Problem is though, I tend to start reading something and not finishing it. Always get distracted. I think I have about ten books open now. As far as banning books? I think that’s effectively impossible now, thanks to the internet. As much as they’ve tried, ‘Anarchist’s Cookbook’ is still available. I thought SyFy’s Dune and ‘Children of Dune’ mini-series was pretty good, though I would love to see a big-screen epic on the scale of ‘Lord of the Rings’.

      • Mike, if you’d pick it up and give it 20-25 pages or so, you wouldn’t be able to put it down. McMurtry nails the American West with his characterization and plotting. And, it’s one of the few very long pieces of fiction to be done justice by Hollywood; the miniseries was very faithful to the book and just as good. Casting was letter perfect.

  6. I’ll likely own a copy of `The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ for the rest of my life.

  7. I have a few books but I have bought very few since I got my Kindle. I love the Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books and have the complete collection; most of them bought used from little stores or eBay. We still have a used book store in our town and local libraries have sales on a regular basis. One thing about having the Terry Pratchett books is that they have such great cover art. That is what I will miss most about printed books.

    Paul, I can’t think South Florida without thinking of Tim Dorsey.

    • wmenns,
      Tim Dorsey is from Tampa. I will always feel sorry for a woman who sat next to me one day on a flight from San Francisco to Miami. I was reading my first ever Dorsey book, don’t remember the name, and literally laughing out loud so much that I know I was irritating her. Tampa. It’s that town on the west coast of central Florida that wishes it were south Florida!

  8. Used bookstores are a little slice of heaven, and I will miss them greatly. I’ve become addicted to ebooks because of the ease of acquisition and use, but it definitely lacks the soul of paper, (that smell…).

    I understand your concern about the apparent ease of electronic banning, but it wouldn’t be nearly as easy as you might think. If you know where to look, nearly every book ever published has been scanned and is available online completely free, albeit in the darker corners of the web. Essentially, it has made banning next to impossible in real terms.

    That’s the true power of the internet: the harder governments try to censor it, the more powerful it becomes. It has changed human society in ways that even the gun, the automobile and the airplane did not. It may be centuries before historians look back and put their metaphorical fingers on the creation of ARPANet as the most important event in human history, but I can assure you that they will eventually do so.

  9. … Frank Herbert’s “Dune” saga
    … “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman
    … “Mindbridge” by Joe Haldeman
    … “The Hemingway Hoax” by Joe Haldeman
    … actually, most anything by Joe Haldeman
    … Issac Asimov’s orginal “I, Robot”
    … just about anything by Arthur C. Clarke

  10. Although I have a lot of books that I will keep for the rest of my life, the ones I keep going back to include: The Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick, A Christmas Carol (yearly yule tide ritual), The Town and The City (a very early Kerouac), and a one-volume collection of Poe’s works.

    I have a nook, but much prefer the entire cachet of a paper book. I have trouble keeping involved with electronic reading for some reason, but then, I’ve been reading paper books since 1948, and e-books only since about 2010.

    • Fred.

      I quit reading there for a while and it was Kindle that brought me back. There are books that can only be found in hard cover, however, so I’ve ventured back into the real world of reading.

      I wonder what the next generation of readers will look like? It stayed the same for so very long now everything is changing very fast.

  11. I have a hard time getting rid of any books (or magazines) and have been known to save books from the dumpster where I live, even if I don’t read them. Though I have a tablet now (a Kindle Fire HD/HDX was considered), I still prefer to have the books in my hands and haven’t gone to the digital side as much as I have with music or games. I haven’t been to the used book store in a while, but should probably stop by to see if they have something that catches my attention. As for new books, I buy a few a year, sometimes more if I get in a reading mood and keep up a good pace; the best I’ve done is 3 days for The Stand and 1 day for the first four Dune books, which I need to pick up again someday).

    As for the books I’ll likely have around, add me to the list of people who say The Stand. A Prayer For Owen Meany and The Book Of The Dun Cow and World War Z would follow, along with the books that make up Lord Of The Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Dune and Myth Adventures. However, picking only a handful of titles from what I still have or have read in the past is hard and my picks might not always stay the same.

    • The Stand shows up on a lot of lists, Elvisshot, and I wonder why it has such a broad appeal. For my part, I like the scenes that describe what the world would look like after the end and how the characters go from being part of a society to wanderers to being a part of a society again.

  12. Also concur about “The Stand”, although “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank is also stunning. An every five-year book, in my mind.

  13. My reading list consists mostly of older English murder mysteries ( think Christie), anything by Hemingway, I reread To Have and Have Not regularly, anything by Steinbeck, Stout, John D. McDonald, Paul Theroux, Shelby Foote, Sandberg and an oldie, The Caine Muntiny Court Martial.
    My wife and I travel a lot and I find it so convenient to carry my Kindle with 10-12 books instead of lugging around the print edition, but I do miss old paperbacks.

  14. I have a Kindle Fire, which I bought because the library was lending books to Kindle Fire or Nook. I buy bargains by authors I really like, but I go to the library regularly. There’s nothing like a real book in your hands! I’m trying to get rid of stuff so my kids won’t have to when I’m no longer around. But I have so many books I just can’t part with. I will never part with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, too many mysteries to mention, Roman history, including both ancient Greek and Roman authors, any number of books in Spanish, and, of course, Dune.

  15. Living where I do, I happen to know a granddaughter of Hemingway. She says he was more the myth than reality. Hard to swallow, but the truth does that from time to time. Her family called her the black sheep, she loved it especially when she proved the believers wrong.

    I also grew up reading books as Mom was a school teacher and a librarian, so you can imagine how I grew up. Books, Books, and more books. I never wrote in my college textbooks and it creeps me out to see kids nowadays doing it.

    In my town the used bookstores are still here. There is a brand new library, but if the AH Mayor had his way he’d close it and often tries to eliminate their budget, or cut it way back claiming it costs too much. IDIOT! Oh and my niece works there. She also is a librarian. She tells me that about 1200 people use the library daily. There are retail stores that would figuratively kill for numbers that high.

    As far as a reading list:

    Frank Herbert, Dune
    Bruce Feirstein, Real Men series
    Thor Heyerdahl, Kon Tiki
    Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (cult classic)and lots of others.
    Isacc Asimov, I, Robot series and many more
    Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 Odyssey series
    Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land only book I have read of his.
    Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
    Carl Sagan, Cosmos and Contact
    Leonard Nimoy, I am Spock

    I must admit, I haven’t read too many classics like Moby Dick, Alice in Wonderland, Old Man and the Sea, etc. not sure why.

    Finally, I saw cartoon once where a guy was visiting his wealthy “friend” and he commented on the library which consisted of a Nook, Kindle, iPad. I hope we never get there.

  16. I keep a copy of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on my desk at work. I read whenever I need to remember things are not as weird as they can be.

  17. I have always liked to read ,I like to “old school” a real book with pages none of this modern stuff

  18. When I was a young man at university, I worked in the Lake Temiskaming area. They had a bookstore, used, called The Cobalt Bookshop. It was one of those places that had a few ramshackle levels, uneven floors and more used books than 2 Barnes & Noble stores combined. You could lose yourself in there for hours. I can still remember the smell of the well used books that they had. I spend a lot of off-time there buying and then reading books on all topics as they were really inexpensive.

    Another must book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

    • Brave New World, Great choice!
      I’ve seen loads of my favorites on other lists here: the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the rings series, I’ve got all the Laurell K Hamilton books, I’ve got the Robert Jordan Wheel of time series, another can’t put them down. Animal Farm, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Life of Pi, Chaucer, Dante,Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Edgar Allen Poe, Ken Follett is one of my favorites. My problem is I have too many favorites.
      I’m a sucker for the classics. I have two large bookshelves packed with actual books. I suppose my son will hate to go through it.

  19. I’m not a big reader. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Perhaps if I stopped blogging I would probably read more.
    It takes me months to complete a book… if I ever complete it. I’m reading two books now. One is ‘Behind The Curtain’ by a producer of the Tonight Show With Jay Leno. I started it in November and am probably one-third through it. I also started reading ‘The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House’ a couple weeks ago. I’m good at starting a book but not so good at finishing one. Many never get finished. A few books I have read and enjoyed (and finished) were Stephen King’s ’11/22/63′, ‘In the President’s Secret Service’, ‘The Green Mile’ and a few others.
    I remember visiting Hemmingway’s home in Key West many years ago. I hadn’t read any of his book at the time. So I bought ‘The Old Man and The Sea’ while I was there. It was a short book and I read it while in the car traveling. While I enjoyed it I didn’t see what made it so “classic” and “one of his finest achievements” as one review said.
    I guess we’re not all voracious readers, and I’m OK with that.

    • I got 11/22/63 a bit after it came out, big heavy book that would hurt my cat if I dropped it. I’d say it’s among his better works (certainly his best in the past 10 years) and though some parts are a bit iffy, especially after the climax, it also has the best and most fitting ending to a Stephen King novel of those I’ve read.

        • Jon, a great book that mixes fact with fiction is “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates, a “biography” of Marilyn Monroe.

          • At the rate I finish a book Marilyn Monroe will probably be dead by the time I get to … oh wait…. Never mind.

    • Jon,

      I thought Moby Dick was one of the worst books ever. I have no idea why anyone would read it. But there are many more people who disagree with me on it.

  20. Stephen King gets no love among the literati of the United States, but I think he lives in the hearts of Americans everywhere. He’s one of us, and his writing reflects that. I also enjoyed “11/22/63”, and still think about it frequently. First King I ever read was “Salem’s Lot”, which just mesmerized me; i was 14. Soon after, I saw my first R-rated movie, which was “Carrie”, from a novel by King. Again, very well done. He seemingly understands every aspect of life and living in the United States, and brings each aspect to life in every novel.

    • Roadie,

      The man keeps selling books to someone out there. The Stand was just plain excellent. I can see why there are those who wouldn’t call it a classic but at the same time it is good work so why not?

      And you are right, King seems to understand little moment in life that mean a lot in all places American.

    • True, for a best selling author, he doesn’t seem to get a lot of praise outside of the Constant Readers. For as much as he’s written, the majority of it’s pretty good and most of the adaptations of his novels or short stories have been at least decent to watch (and IMO Delores Claiborne is better than the book, which I could not finish.

      He writes about a lot of different topics, took a different approach with the zombie trend and even allowed Rage to go out of print for its association with the school shootings. Some of the things he’s written and said have been dissected and twisted, but he hasn’t let that keep him from doing what he loves and does like few others.

      My mom got me into his books (thankfully her love of V.C. Andrews wasn’t passed on) and I wish she could’ve been around longer to enjoy what he’s done in the past 20 years. A lot of people talk about the “Great American Novel” or the “Great American Authors”, but I think the time for those literary pedestals are over if Stephen King cannot even be considered in the same breath as the usual suspects.

  21. I’ve got the Stephen King Dark Tower series and have only read the first book. Time to get back at it again I think. I used to always have my nose buried in a book.

  22. I’m always interested in knowing what everyone else is reading. Right now, I’m reading “Sinful Woman” by James M Cain, one of his lesser known and less well-written books, and also “The Fugitive Recaptured”, by Ed Robertson, a wonderful companion to the television series which I’m currently watching.

    • Maybe we got too used to the idea that what was great was who was great and not the other way around, Elvis. King writes differently and his horror stories aren’t Americana. If he was writing the same way abut different subjects…

      I read Misery in a day. I couldn’t put it down. That says something.

  23. Who’s missing from this list? Shakespeare. George Orwell. Mark Twain. James Joyce. Oscar Wilde. Kurt Vonnegut. J.D. Salinger. Agatha Christie. Ayn Rand. Jack Kerouac. Jack London. Louis L’Amour. John Grisham. Joseph Heller. John Irving. Sidney Sheldon. Did I miss anyone?

    • I’ve always meant to read more from John Irving, as A Prayer For Owen Meany (on my must keep list) is the only thing from him I’ve read. I like Shakespeare from time to time (unless it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), but I find that the Bard’s work is something you have to be in the mood for, which I think can be said for most any author. I haven’t read Jack London or Mark Twain’s novels since I was in school (middle school for Call Of The Wild, The Sea-Wolf and White Fang, putting that almost 25 years ago).

  24. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read a few of his books with mixed feelings, but The Road is stunning.

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