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Good Non-Computer Books, October 2008

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Some months ago I wrote What's on Your Bookshelf?. Readers chimed in with their own favorite reads: the Iliad, Odyssey, Art of War, the original un-sanitized Grimm's Fairy Tales, Kipling, Divine Comedy, and other cool books. I was pleased to see so much fiction mentioned, as a lot of my friends only read what they have to for work. Which seems like a great way to fossilize the brain and nurture a sour outlook on life.

I suppose that television and the Internet have replaced paper books as entertainment for a lot of people. But I don't believe those carry the same value to your mind. Reading does something different in your brain; to me TV is like candy and reading is like good red meat. (If you're not a meat eater, please substitute your own favorite nourishing healthy food.)

I think there is a lot of value in curling up in a quiet place to read and think. I love peace and quiet. Some of my friends have to have constant noise and commotion. I can't deal with that-- how can you think when you're bombarded with racket all the time? TV blaring, dogs barking, kids yelling, eleventeen phones going all at once-- that's my own vision of Hell. My favorite thing in the whole world is waking up early so I can enjoy some peace before the rest of the world wakes up.

But as usual, I digress. My current favorite books are howtos: howto design and build decks and outdoor structures, and howto build way cool built-in bookshelves. There is a spot in my living room that has been begging to be filled with nice built-ins ever since I moved in five years ago. Finally I have the time and money to do it.

For plain old recreation and relaxation I'm on a Western kick, both fiction and non-fiction. Believe it or not there is a sizable body of wonderful Western literature that has nothing to do with stupid cartoony cowboys-n-injuns or shootouts or sheriffs-n-outlaws. Ivan Doig is one author I like to re-read, like the English Creek trilogy: English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride With Me Mariah Montana. Doig serves up full value, combining engrossing stories and a gift for expression:

"We rode more than an hour to get there, the weather steadily grimmer and heavier all around us, and Stanley fairly grim himself, I guess from the mix of alcohol and mutton sludging around beneath his belt."

Ralph Moody wrote a number of semi-autobiographical books like The Home Ranch, Little Britches, The Fields of Home, The Dry Divide, and Man of the Family. These all carry the common theme of a young man shouldering adult responsibilities, and struggling to be treated as an adult.

I still enjoy the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The dopey, melodramatic TV series of the same name bears only a passing resemblance to the original stories. The books have the same matter-of-fact tone my grandparents and great-parents used when they were describing big events, whether tragic or joyful. No need to go all purple prose because the events speak for themselves, and don't even descend into self-pity.

My all-time favorite Western book is The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie. If your only experience of this majestic, beautiful epic is the ridiculous and awful movie of the same name, erase that abomination from your memory and treat yourself the book. Take your time with it. Guthrie wrote a number of fine novels, including The Way West and Fair Land, Fair Land, which could be considered as part of a series starting with The Big Sky.

Believe it or not, none of these have anything to do with computers. Which is the whole idea. What are you reading these days?

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