The Twisted Path of Reading

Now before I begin, this is an article that I wrote circa 2012. Hope you enjoy it and remember, if you haven’t read the book (or this article) it’s new to you.

Did you ever read a series of books that at first glance bears no resemblance to each other but the more you read, the more similarities become apparent? Well, that’s what happened to me as I read the following titles:

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, Interviews with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2011) These conversations took place in March of 1964, barely 4 months after JFK’s assassination. Although it comes with both book and CD, I mostly listened to the CD version. (Oh, dear that is a long time ago) At first, I just marveled at Jackie’s voice, as it flooded my memory with thoughts of those lost years. And her voice is almost hypnotic, as well as charming and cultured. Listening to her speaking about “Jack” and their relationship was not just romantic, it was very dated as she spoke about the role of a wife and how submissive she should be. Apparently, she did change her mind in later years. It was somewhat difficult to listen to, knowing what we know about JFK’s lifestyle.

Their conversations range from the staff in the Cabinet, Congress, foreign heads of state, and friends. Having the book nearby helped to identify the myriad of people that she and Schlesinger discussed. And they do mention many people and not all in a positive light. It still amazes me that her family made the decision to publish these seemingly private conversations.

My advice is to listen to these conversations and let me know what you think about Mrs. Onassis after you’ve finished. And then, read Robert Caro’s new book about LBJ, Passage of Power (2012) and compare notes.

And that is a perfect segue into Stephen King’s latest time-travel novel, 11/22/63. (2011) Jake Epping, a high school teacher finds a portal from 2011 back to 1958—it is always 1958 and it is always the same day. Under the tutelage of a friend, he is urged to stop the JFK assassination. Along the way, he prevents other accidents and murders, finds a job, falls in love (he has to fill in the time between 1958 and 1963) and gives the reader a wonderful travelogue of life in the late 50s and early 60s. We learn more about Lee Harvey Oswald and all his cohorts and as all good historical fiction, it was well researched. As good science fiction the fight between changing the past and the past itself was very engaging. Yes, it is long—849 pages—it is Stephen King after all, but I found it fascinating reading, so don’t give up. You must read it until the end.

Which leads me to Cell (2006), also by Stephen King.  Clayton, a graphic novelist, has finally sold his book and at 3:00 pm is standing in Boston Commons, reveling in the fact that he will finally have enough money to rebuild his life with his ex-wife and son, when he starts noticing bizarre behaviors. Anyone using a cell phone immediately becomes a zombie, complete with “Night of the Living Dead” attributes and appetites. He bands together with two other “non-phoners” and together, after exhausting their options, they make their way to Maine to find Clayton’s son, Johnny.  The trip, of course, if fraught with peril as the phoners band together and develop a hive-like mentality and begin to evolve in true King-like fashion.  I am intrigued with the idea that cell phones are used as a tool of destruction or terrorism. This book, possibly a cautionary tale, was written in 2008. Imagine what would happen now as virtually everyone uses cell phones…all the time. (But of course, now everyone texts!) I also found it interesting that we only know what is happening to Clayton and his friends. We never see or hear any news of the rest of the world or even the country. No one of course will pick up a phone or tries to connect with the internet or television after that. This is a page-turner, and you have to keep reading until the climactic ending.

And then I read The Leftovers by Tom Perrota (2011). In what can only be described as a Rapture, ordinary men, women and children suddenly disappear, leaving behind their baffled and grief-stricken families and friends. However, those that disappeared are not the good Christians one would expect from a Rapture-like disappearance. They are simply taken at random. Three years later, strange cults have appeared: The Barefoot People, a hippie-like group who just seems to party all the time, The Healing Hug movement, complete with a guru who likes teenage girls and is awaiting the birth of the cosmic child to usher in a new age. Not so benign is the Guilty Remnant, who wear white and smoke constantly (whether they want to or not). They simply stare at others and wait for the end of the world. The story is tied together by a group of family and friends in the small town of Mapleton. Don’t look for an explanation of these unexplained disappearances. The author is more interested in what happens to the “leftovers”. This was my first novel by Tom Perrota, but it won’t be my last.

The Leftovers reminded me of the families of the 911 victims, which brought me to The Submission, a novel by Amy Waldman (2011). When the 911 Memorial Commission holds a blind submission contest for a suitable memorial and chooses a winner, they discover that he is a Moslem American. And then politics take over. We see everyone’s point of view from the families, the architect himself, the political movers and shakers, the anti-Islamists and the Islamists themselves. Most poignant is a young Afghani widow. There is no clear-cut hero or villain in this novel. This is an important book to read and discuss as we look into the diverse future of this country.

Happy New Year! May next year be better than this year! And may next month be filled with new books!

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