The other night on The O'Reilly Factor (yeah, I like Bill O'Reilly and I watch Fox News – deal with it), Bill had a brief interview with Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Near the close of the segment, O'Reilly thanked his two guests and then said: "You guys and your music are part of my life."
That statement—or, more to the point, the sentiment behind it—really struck a chord with me. It set me to thinking …
What are the "parts" that make up our lives? For most of us, our parents and siblings, spouses and children, friends and co-workers, personal experiences, etc.—the loved ones and things closest within the orbit of our family and day-to-day routines make up the major "parts" … and, ideally, the most important ones.
But another important part, the part that helps us deal with what is often the grind of that day-to-day existence our lives can become, is our entertainment. Our pastime. Where we go, what we do to escape the grind, to "get away from it all".
Sometimes these escapes can be as simple as hearing an old favorite song on the radio. When you're a certain age (like O'Reilly and me, for example) and you hear the strains of "California Girls" or "Sloop John B", you are magically transported back to a different time and place—the time and place you were at when you first heard those songs. A time and place where you were young and the world around you and your responsibilities in it were far different … A time and a place and a song and a memory that have now become part of your life.
For the purpose of the rest of this blog and the audience it is likely to reach, I want to concentrate that theme on books and reading.
Books and reading have been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember, certainly for as long as I have been able to read.
I remember reading coloring books, not so much for the pictures I could color but for whatever simple story the series of pictures told … I remember reading comic books … I remember the Whitman Classics adaptations of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Robinson Crusoe (the first books I ever really owned) … I remember the old Classics Illustrated comic books (and the agony of ordering them through the mail and then having to wait for their arrival) – the only place I ever really "read" classics like Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, etc. … I remember purchasing Tarzan and the Lost Empire with its wonderful Frazetta cover off a drug store spin rack in Antioch, Illinois … I remember buying Mickey Spillane's The Girl Hunters off that same spinner …
I could go on and on.
Books have always been a part of my life. A big part.
I still have that original copy of The Girl Hunters. It's been with me for nearly fifty years now. Longer than the blessed 41-plus years I had with my beloved Pam. Longer than I've had my daughter and grandchildren in my life. It has survived countless "moves" from house to house, town to town, state to state. From where I am writing these words, I can turn my head ninety degrees and see it amongst the other Spillane titles on my shelf of all-time favorites that contains my own personal Holy Trinity—Spillane/Mike Hammer, MacDonald/Travis McGee, and Hamilton/Matt Helm.
I remember when Pam and I were first married and our daughter was a baby, we didn't have a lot of extra money so we never really "went out" much, except for movies (drive-in double features) on a fairly regular basis. Pam didn't work outside the home, except for a brief period after our Michelle started school; after all, she was busy raising two "kids". She would always make sure I had "book money", though, even if we had to scrimp somewhere else.
On Mondays when I would return to work, some of my other co-workers would have tales to tell about partying or driving into the city for this or that event over the weekend. When they'd ask me what I did, I seldom had much in the way of anything exciting to report and I always suspected they may have felt a little sorry for me. What they didn't know (or understand) was that, via my books, I went thousands of places and did hundreds of things they could never dream of doing.
The truth of the matter is: I'm the one who feels sorry … for anybody who doesn't read.
In 1998, when I agreed to relocate from Illinois to Nebraska for the company I'd been employed by for many years, I spent nearly six months out in Nebraska alone while Pam stayed back in Illinois (also alone, but with our daughter and grandkids close by) trying to sell our house there before she moved out with me. By then I'd had some modest success with my own writing, though still was holding down a full-time job and getting very caught up in the grandparent thing. I'll admit (and Pam always knew it, too) that at first there was a part of me that had this cockeyed, romanticized vision of me in my motel room each night —free from distractions, no family obligations—pounding relentlessly on my keyboard like a dedicated pulp writer of old, churning out stories right and left, at a pace I'd never before come close to achieving.
Well, it didn't take very long to find out I was lonely and miserable as hell. I pecked away at writing and got down some worthwhile stuff that eventually turned into a book and a couple short stories, but my heart wasn't really in it and the pace of my output was no better (maybe worse) than before.
So you know what sustained me more than anything else during that long, lonely time?
That's right … Books. Reading. I found a used bookstore in a nearby town and there I was immediately among comfortable old friends who helped immeasurably in getting me through that blue time.
Yeah, books—some more specifically than others—have always been an important part of my life. I don't see that changing. In fact, when I give that final spasm and gasp that last ragged breath, I'd say it would be a real safe bet you'll find a book or my Kindle reader not very far out of arm's reach.
Persevere — WD