DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

PROPOSED: DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

For Oct. 26, 2011

“Read the best books first, or you may not have

a chance to read them at all.”

                                                                        —Thoreau

Last week’s blog on the Williamsons’ travel books appears to have started something totally unexpected.  Or perhaps it would be more apt to say “restarted.”  Our daughter Michelle suggested I organize a series of blogs having to do with my favorite books—and I had a tough time sleeping that night.  Should I devote one blog a month to a favorite book?  I’ve since become convicted that I ought to do just that.

Former students of mine who are kind enough to check in with the daily tweets and weekly blogs will remember that for years I taught such courses as Great Books of the World and Modern and Contemporary Literature, as well as individualized Directed Reading courses.  Many of you actually took some of those courses.  In those courses, I had the opportunity to share some of my most loved books with my students.  I miss those courses.

After I left the classroom for a full-time career as an author, over a five-year period, I edited special editions of some of my favorite books for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House.  The twelve we created are: Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, The Twenty-fourth of June by Grace Richmond, Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

At the front of each book, under the heading of “A Life-Changing Letter,” were these words:

 

                                    Several years ago I received a letter that changed my life.  Sadly, I don’t

remember who wrote it, only what she said.  In essence, this was her plea:

                        “Dr. Wheeler,

    I have a big favor to ask you.  First of all, though, I want you to know how much I enjoy your story collections; they have greatly enriched my life.  Now for the favor: I was wondering if you have any interest in doing with books what you are doing with stories.

    You see, while I love to read, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start.  There are millions of books out there, and most of them—authors too—are just one big blur to me.  I want to use my time wisely, to choose books which will not only take me somewhere but also make me a better and kinder person.

   I envy you because you know which books are worth reading and which are not.  Do you possibly have a list of worthy books that you wouldn’t mind sending to me?”

   I responded to this letter but most inadequately, for at that time I had no such list.  I tried to put the plea behind me, but it dug in its heels and kept me awake at night.  Eventually, I concluded that a Higher Power was at work here and that I needed to do something about it.  I put together a proposal for a broad reading plan based on books I knew and loved—books that had powerfully affected me, that had opened other worlds and cultures to me, and that had made me a kinder, more empathetic person.

 

You see, we have so little time in this tragically short life in which to read books worth reading.  If, over a seventy-year period, we read only a book a week, that would total only 3,640 books during a lifetime.  A book a month would come to only 840.

So my question to you is this: Would you be interested in such a book club, beginning this November?  Most of these titles would not be new but rather would have stood the test of time.  Some might turn out to be books you once read but might enjoy re-reading.  Others would be new to you.

There would be no cost for joining.  You could either purchase a copy of each book at a bookstore or from the worldwide web (Amazon, ABE, etc), or check it out from your library.  There is another option for some of the titles I’d choose: Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Drive, #245, Littleton, CO 80120 (303) 912-4559.   books@bluebirdbooks.com  www.bluebirdbooks.com   Reason being that for most of my life I planned to open up a book business when I retired, and so purchased many thousands of books over the years for that purpose.  Well, I’ve ruefully concluded that I’ll probably never retire, so I turned over a good share of those books to Bluebird Books for him to dispose of.  He is aware of this book club concept and is enthusiastically on board.  He is honest, conscientious, prices out-of-print books at market norms, and is dedicated to securing books in the best condition possible.  You’ll find him special to work with.  Let him know you’re part of this book club.  Me too, as I’ll be making up a list of names and addresses of each of you who joins.  Would love to hear from you as to reactions to the books we select.

Years ago, I joined the Heritage Book Club and, over time, purchased most of their classic titles.  They tended to cycle through certain authors.  I would too.  Not all at once, but over time.  If you’re like me, however,  you’re not likely to wait but if you fall in love with a certain author you’ll start adding others of their books to your personal library.

As to my favorite books, I’m a sentimentalist who loves romances, family favorites, adventure, historical romances, classics, etc.  I gravitate to books that move me deeply, take me places I’ve never been to before, make me laugh or cry, incorporate values worth living by—pretty much the same criteria I’ve used in selecting stories in my 60 story anthologies.

I’ll be candid with you: I really miss the one-on-one interaction with my students.  Such a book club as this would be second best to actual classroom interaction.  I’m really looking forward to such contact.

BOOK #1 – OUR NOVEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH

THE CALLING OF DAN MATTHEWS        

—Harold Bell Wright

 


Have you ever noticed that it is only in retrospect that we realize that if certain days in our lives had never been, how different our lives would have been.  Well, there was just such a day I’d like to share with you.

It was a heartstoppingly beautiful spring morning along California’s Feather River.  Since my missionary parents were far away in the West Indies, relatives stepped in to keep me from being lonely during vacations.  On this particular day, two of my favorite relatives, Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Warren, pronounced it picnic time.  We stopped en-route to Feather River Canyon at the Tehama County Library where my aunt steered me to certain authors she thought I’d relate to.  I checked out a number of books that really looked interesting to me.  One of them was this particular book, first published in 1909 by the Book Supply Company.  After settling down on a blanket under a great oak, I opened this book, and was almost instantaneously drawn into it—so much so that I lost all track of time, only remaining aware of the haunting riversong.

I was more than ready for this romance.  Having grown up in a conservative Christian church my world view was a bit limited.  Wright, a pastor himself, disillusioned by church politics and broken in health, had come to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to see if he could find answers.  In time, he was strongly impacted by the Social Gospel Movement of the 1890s, the discovery of the Didache being at the root of it.  Only during the last year have I discovered (during research for my second biography of St. Nicholas) that for four centuries the early Christian Church exploded across the Roman World, not because of doctrine but because of living out Christ’s injunctions to serve others, to help those who were ill or in prison or who were in need of humanitarian aid (known as the Didache).  Wright concluded that if he incorporated Christ’s injunction to make service to others the highest calling of his life, he could revolutionize American life.  But not through sermons but rather through fiction.  He wrote three books in what has become known as the Social Gospel Trilogy: That Printer of Udel’s, The Calling of Dan Matthews, and God and the Groceryman.  Not until years later did I discover those other two books.

But the book proved to be an epiphany for me.  It radically changed my life: gave me a vision of selfless service and revealed that God was not owned by any one denomination but rather that He found ways to relate to every human being on earth, regardless of nationality or religion.  He was—and is—Father of us all.

I set out on a life-long search for all of Wright’s other books.  Wright has that effect on his readers.  I know of one woman who cried when she read the last Wright novel.  Cried because never again could she listen to Wright in an unread book.  Not all our mentors are still with us—many speak to us from the grave through their books that live on and on.

So this is why I’m starting with Wright.  As you begin building a library—or expand it to include these books—, I strongly encourage you to buy your own books, choosing First Editions or special editions, keeping in mind that in books, as in art, condition is everything.

I’ll be talking a lot more about books in blogs to come, among our other subject areas.  Next Wednesday I’ll be discussing the importance of journaling and why, if we don’t, we’ll be losing out big time!

No, I haven’t forgotten the Southwest National Parks.  I just got sidetracked!

If you wish to write me, I can be reached at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

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WILLIAMSONS AND TRAVEL

 

WILLIAMSONS AND TRAVEL

For Oct. 19, 2011

As we begin to pack our suitcases for our auto-trip through our Southwestern national park lodges, I thought this would be the perfect time to see if I couldn’t siphon some money out of your pockets.  After all, that’s what’s been happening to me ever since the first time I stumbled on a Williamson book many years ago.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel when the automobile was new?  When there were no transcontinental highways (how about hardly any paved roads at all!), motels, service stations, AAA, repair garages, etc.?  Not to mention automobiles that broke down so often that only the foolish traveled without a chauffeur, mechanic, and ample supply of spare parts and tires.

Well, imagine no more.  Back in 1902, an adventuresome British husband and wife writing team, C.M. and A.M. Williamson, partnered with Doubleday Page to produce one of the most fascinating and informative series of travel novels ever written.  Before they could write such a book, however, the fearless couple had to themselves explore a given travel route.  In the process, they devoured local travel lore, legends, history, historical romances—all kinds of fascinating side trips.  Then they incorporated all the usual mechanical breakdowns, and stirred in enough romance to keep the reader up half the night turning pages.  In short, there has never been another series like theirs!  There could not be, for the age vanished almost as quickly as it began.

Following are the books I have been able to find (first editions when possible):

  •   The Princess Passes                                (1903-4)                         Early automobile
  • The Lightning Conductor                        (1903, 1905)                 Early automobile
  • My Friend the Chauffeur                         (1905)                              Early automobile
  • Lady Betty Across the Water                 (1906)                         General early travel
  • Rosemary in Search of a Father            (1906 – 1907)            General early travel
  • The Princess Virginia                               (1907)                         General early travel
  • The Chaperon                                              (1907 – 1908)            Water travel
  • Set in Silver                                                 (1909)                         Early automobile
  • The Motor Maid                                         (1910)                        Early automobile
  • Lord Loveland Discovers America      (1910)                         Early American travel
  • The Golden Silence                                     (1911)        Travel in desert lands (including camel transportation)
  • The Port of Adventure                         (1913)                         General travel
  • It Happened in Egypt                          (1914)                         Egyptian travel
  • Secret History                                        (1915)                         Early airplane travel
  • The Lightning Conductor                    (1916)                         Early automobile Discovers America
  • Winnie Childs: Shop Girl                    (1916)                          General romance
  • Everyman’s Land                                    (1918)                        End of World War I travel
  • The Lion’s Mouse                                    (1919)                         Post-war travel
  • The Second Latchkey                             (1920)                         General
                                                                                               

Here are some passages from their 1905 novel, My Friend the Chauffeur, that will give you a sense of their writing style:

In France: “. . . we moved like a ship under full sail; but suddenly the road reared up on its hind feet and stood almost erect, as though it had been frightened by the huge snow-capped mountains that all at once crowded round us.  An icy wind rushed down from the tops of the great white towers, as if with the swooping wings of a giant bird, and it took our car’s breath away” (118-19).

In Italy: “It [Certosa of Pavia] was too beautiful to chatter about.  But it did seem strange that so pure and lovely a building could have owed its existence to a crime.  I had heard Mr. Barrymore telling Mamma that it was originally founded in thirteen hundred and something, by the first Duke of Milan with the view of taking off the attention of Heaven from a murder he had committed—quite in his own family—which got rid of his father-in-law, and all the father-in-law’s sons and daughters at the same time.  No wonder it took a whole Certosa to atone for it. . . .”(164).

Bellagio, on Lake Como: “The rest of the party were on an entrancing terrace, looking down over other flowery terraces upon the town of Bellagio, with its charming old campanile, and its grey roofs like a flock of doves clustering together on the border of the lake.  The water was so clear and still that the big hotels and villas on the opposite shore seemed to have fallen in head down, and each little red-and-white canopied boat waiting for passengers at the quay had its double in the bright blue mirror.  Clouds and mountains were all reflected too, and it seemed as if one might take one’s choice between the real world and the dream world” (192).

My favorite passage from the book, however, is from Maida (the loveliest passenger in this ancient Panhard automobile) who plaintively poses this rhetorical question: “What becomes of the beautiful army of days marching away from us into the past?  The wonderful days, each one differing from all the others: some shining in our memory, in glory of purple and gold, that we saw only as they passed, with the setting of the sun; some smiling back at us, in their pale spring dress of green and rose; some weeping in gray; but all moving at the same pace along the same road?  The strange days that have given us everything they had to give, and yet have taken from us little pieces of our souls.  Where do the days go?  There must be some splendid world where, when they have passed down to the end of the long road, they all live together like queens, waited upon by those black slaves, the nights that have followed them like their shadows, holding up their robes.

“I’ve had this thought in my mind often since I have been flashing across Europe in an automobile, grudging each day that slipped away from me and would not stay a moment longer because I loved it.  I wish I knew the way to the land where the days that have passed live; for when those that are to come seem cold to me, I would like to go and pay the old ones a visit.  How well I would know their faces, and how glad I would be to see them again in their own world!” (205).

If you too are getting the Williamson bug, just log on the Internet and begin chasing down these wonderful travel romances.  Your travel life will never afterwards be the same!

* * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll ourselves hit the road.  Please come along.


THE CHANGING SEASONS

The snow is falling again as I write these words.  Another reason for living in the Colorado Rockies.  In fact, the two seasons are slugging it out, as the golden aspens (at peak only a week ago) are clearly reluctant to surrender the field to the forces of winter, but they have no choice in the matter given that each season is as inexorable as incoming and receding tides.

We’ve been waiting almost half a year for this moment: when once again it is safe to build a fire in our moss rock fireplace.  If the truth must be told, when we moved back to Colorado in 1996, the real estate agent had been given a list of 30 priorities (what we valued most in our new home).  At the top were: It should feature serenity, a view we’d never tire of, lots of snow, and a wood-burning fireplace.  Today we get to revel in all four.

OUR BLOG WORLD

Our daughter Michelle and agent, Greg Johnson, joined forces two years ago to drag, kicking and screaming all the way, this dinosaur of the ink and paper age, into the new digital age.  “You must blog!  Thus was born the weekly blog, Wednesdays with Dr. Joe,” which has continued unbroken even during that hellish period when an unscrupulous predator hacked into our world and shut us down.  We have no idea how many readers we lost during that traumatic period.

What I have discovered is that blogging is such a new construct that there are few entrenched norms—unlike tweets where a Procrustean Bed of 140 spaces preclude deviation length-wise.  As you have discovered, I joined the ranks of those who prefer the longer format.  It’s really much like the weekly column I wrote once, “Professor Creakygate,” for the students attending Southwestern Adventist University.  Once you establish a rhythm, it’s just a matter of not breaking it.

Given my penchant for longer blog series (the Northwest National Parks, the Southern Caribbean, the Zane Grey convention in Virginia, the Trembling World, and the upcoming series on the Southwest National Parks), I have discovered that long series where I dwell on a subject for months at a time can put my voice into a straitjacket which precludes me from speaking out on hot current issues.  Because of this, I hereby announce that this time, expect periodic breaks; but rest assured, always I will afterwards resume the series topic.

OUR TWEET WORLD

I held back as long as I possibly could—until my agent held my feet to the fire long enough to risk ignition—on adding the tweet dimension to our lives.  On October 1, I started daily tweets, concentrating on quotations chosen from a half century of collecting (hundreds of thousands).  Not just quotations, but quotations that help make sense of this thing called “life.”  Speaking just for myself, this hectic life we live virtually guarantees that we will break down unless we turn to a Higher Power than ourselves and also seek wisdom from others who have learned much from the batterings of the years.  These hard-earned nuggets of thought and insights end up providing us with just enough strength and courage to face each day.  Changes of pace too, for without changes of pace (such as humor) in our thought-processes, we become warped or petrified.

During my 34 years in the classroom, one aspect was a constant: a thought written with chalk on the blackboard each day.  My students looked forward to something new that greeted them each time they came in the door.  Also, I have since discovered that many of them copied those quotes into their notebooks and have lived with them ever since.

I’m an avid collector of quotation compendiums.  Some few I find worth the price; many, if not most, are not (merely quotations flung onto paper, without regard to their relative power or effectiveness).  I don’t know about you, but what I hunger for most are quotes that make me think, that make me re-evaluate my own habits and inter-relationships, that end up making me a different and better person than I was before.

I also realize that we are each fighting off electronic strangulation; so much so that we try something new with great reluctance.  It is my earnest desire that you will find these tweets worth the time it takes to check them out each day.

MY PERSONA

For years now, my agent has been trying to hammer into my thick head this message:

Our old world (paper and ink-driven) is changing by the nanosecond.  While books are likely to always be with us, they will never reign supreme as they have during the last six centuries.  Like it or not, electronic books will continue to expand their reach.  What this means is that the old templates will no longer work like they once did.  Your persona is no longer captureable just in traditional print.  But rather, you owe it to your “tribe” [people who are kind enough to listen to what you write and what you say] to speak out about life and values multidimensionally: through paper and ink books [75 so far], through public speaking, through media appearances on radio and TV and book-signings, through your blogs, through your tweets, and through all the plethora of new communication technologies.  Only by keeping up with all this as best you can, can your unique voice (your persona) have any chance of remaining alive during coming months and years.

And since I do wish to stay in contact with all of you, I am committed to continuing to create books (traditional and electronic), blogs, and tweets.  Do let me know if all I’ve articulated in this blog makes any kind of sense to you.

* * *

Next week, we will transition through the abstraction of travel toward the Southwest parks and lodges.

* * *

AUTUMN LEAVES



 

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

Oct. 5, 2011

Everywhere, as I pen these lines, there is gold.  To paraphrase Sound of Music, “The hills are alive with the gold of autumn.”  Saturday, we battled rush-hour type traffic up into Clear Creek Canyon.  Everyone, it seems, had concluded, It’s time to drive up into the mountains for our annual autumn fix.  Yesterday, we took highway 285 south, battling traffic again.  At Kenosha Pass, thousands of cars and even more thousands of camera-toting people of all ages, clogged the mountaintop.  And on across the vast reaches of the South Park plain, the aspens lit up the sky.

Conifer Mountain is ablaze as well—splotches of gold, orange, yellow, and umber interspersed with lodgepole pine green.  We keep looking at and photographing our equally beautiful long driveway.  For well we know, it will not stay this way: in only days, the wind will strip the leaves from the aspens, and then we’ll know for sure that Old Man Winter’s on his way.

When teaching at Washington Adventist University, many were the Octobers when two professors and I would take a bus load of students north into New England (they’d get class credit in English, history, or religion), visit cultural sites, and “ride the colors down.”  Those autumns are indelibly limned in the archival galleries of my mind.

Only once, in a short story, have I attempted to capture autumn’s essence.  I titled it “October Song,” and included it in my book titled What’s So Good About Tough Times? (New York: WaterBrook/Random House, 2001).

I began my romance with twelve lines of poetry:

Oh to be in New England in autumn

When the leaves turn from green to gold;

Oh to be in New England in autumn

When I too am growing old.

The years, they are a-passing

Passing like the scarlet, brown, and umber leaves

Wearily letting go, and cascading down

From the soon to be naked trees.

Rolling up the rugged shore are waves of blue and gray;

Blue today in the serenity of Indian Summer,

Gray tomorrow in the hurricanes of late autumn

With autumn leaves the in-between.

For I too am nearing my October;

Remorselessly the sands of my hourglass

Sift down and down and down

Just like the leaves, just like the leaves.

Later in the story, I return to the theme of autumn with these prose lines, articulated by the story’s fictional protagonist, John A. Baldwin:

I have always loved autumn in New England, and so I try to meet my tryst with her every year.  Two songs have deeply moved me since I was young.  They are Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and Kurt Weill’s “September Song.”  They move me still, even more than they did in those days gone by, perhaps because those words now mirror me, and my age.

For me, too, the days are “dwindling down to a precious few.”  I, too, no longer have time for the “waiting game.”  I, too, have reached my life’s September, and October is knocking at my door.  And well I know how great a distance separates May from December.

But I don’t feel old.  Like Tennyson’s immortal Ulysses, I am nowhere near ready to slow my wandering steps and wait until Death comes after me.  Death is going to pant a little before he catches me.  As long as I live and breathe, I shall create and attempt to make a difference.  I shall grow, learn, and ever hone my craft.  I shall stay young till that last breath.  Just as the sea refuses to surrender, but assaults its beaches millennium after millennium, just so I refuse to surrender or slow down.  Who knows, perhaps love may yet come to me, improbable as it may seem after so many fruitless years of searching for “the one woman.”  As it was for my long-departed mother, there can be only one mate for me

So while I feel the shortness of time left to me more in autumn than in any other time of the year, it does not cause me to surrender, but rather to “seek, find, and not to yield.”

True I bravely say all this, but deep down I know every October finds me weaker than the one before, and that one of them will be my last.  But I have determined, like Dylan Thomas’s persona, to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” [from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”].

So, wherever you may be when you read these lines, I urge you to climb into your car, and not stop until you find autumn.

* * *

Next Wednesday, for all those readers who are afflicted like us with an incurable case of wanderlust, we shall continue with our tribute to Ken Burns, as we complete the great circle of national parks and national park lodges by loading up the car with Bob and Lucy Earp, and visit Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce, Zion, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, South Rim, Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Great Basin.

We hope you’ll tag along with us!