Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

Sept. 27, 2004

A smorgasbord of books

It's about time I wrote a column to improve minds. This means I will write a column about good books.

This means asking people to read, instead of watch.

This means knowing what makes a book good and then, filling a house with such books.

This means reading to children every day, even before they are toddlers. Little wobblers love books to chew on, and they are sometimes quiet for as long as five minutes.

Where to start

The New York Public Library has a booklet in its lobby entitled "Books of the Century," and on the third floor, there, under glass cases, these books are on display. These are the first books to select to own and read.

They have stood the test of time and were chosen by experts, people who know books and have no axes to grind.

These are the books which have played defining roles in the past 100 years. These are books which show the power of the written word, and can educate, entertain, and inspire us.

I will send you a copy of the "Books of the Century" if you email me a request or write or call. I have several copies of this booklet.

Not all books are worthwhile. As in everything else, America offers a smorgasbord of good and bad. Our libraries stock both kinds of books. So do bookstores.

What to select

First off, don't buy or read anything on the New York Times Best Seller list. These books are fads and the authors are writing only for a market. They are cheap entertainment.

Do I have to name names? Here are just a few: Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown. Shame on you for wasting your time reading these formula writers.

It is not true to say "All reading is good, just so long as you read something." I don't think any English teacher ever said such a thing.

They still teach Mark Twain, Willa Cather, George Elliot, the Bronte sisters and Shakespeare, don't they?

Some of these authors, especially Shakespeare, take some work and concentration. Some of them require a dictionary close at hand.

Good writing rewards us more than anything. The best seller trash goes down like cheap wine, but just makes us sick.

The blockbuster book stores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders are in the business of making money. They don't care about improving minds. They sell books by their covers. Remember the old saying that one can't tell a book by its cover?

The second place to look for books to select are those which have won prizes: The Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the British Booker Prize, for openers.

Oprah, God bless her, is also a reliable source for suggesting good books, oftentimes by new authors.

Do I have the nerve to recommend any particular book? Indeed not, but I can steer you to people upon whom you can rely.

I own a book called "For the Love of Books" (a gift from my niece Mary O'Leary), in which a few hundred celebrated writers (all living authors) tell us about their own favorite books. There are surprises in this book.

Frank McCourt, for example, he who wrote the best seller of a few years back called "Angela's Ashes," tells us that the book which had the most influence on him was the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which he had to memorize for his First Communion.

He says it began with the question, "Who made the world?" and then asked "Why did God make me?" The answer, "To know Him, to love Him and to serve Him," became lodged in his head forever. This was a surprise because Frank McCourt seemed to do quite a bit of Catholic bashing in his books, I thought.

John Updike, who has received two Pulitzers, a National Book Award, and the O. Henry Award for fiction, mentions James Thurber, E. B. White, and Frank Sullivan as humor writers; and mystery writers such as Agatha Christie. As he grew up, it was Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, Kafka, and plenty of others too numerous to mention. Great writers are always great readers.

Probably the best advice is to read more non-fiction than fiction, although, of course, fiction is a powerful source of wisdom and entertainment when it is honest fiction.

Another bit of advice which teaches us something about ourselves is to select the one book you want with you if you are stranded on an island, or snowed in for the winter in a mountain cabin (besides the Bible, of course).

So far, I haven't been able to come up with which book I would choose. I would hope it wouldn't be a book full of crossword puzzles. Or Stephen King.

My name is Jim O'Leary and I approve of this column.

461 Claremore

Corpus Christi, TX 78412

(361) 992-2618


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