By Betty Mills
My desk is piled up with books I mean to read. Why else would I have bought them? Actually I should have simply gone to the library, checked them out for free, gathered my foot stool, my reading glasses and a cup of hot coffee, and had at it.
Truth is, piles of books are common décor in my house, accidentally and on purpose. Why this obsession with the printed page? Maybe because of when and where I grew up on a small sheep ranch in western North Dakota, and as Anne Quindlen says in her latest book, Miller’s Valley, “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up even if they go.”
There was no public library, no bookmobile, and there was drought and the depression. Books were scarce at home and in my rural school. So I just read what was there many times. You probably don’t know anyone who has read Anne of Green Gables more than I — and I always cry when Matthew dies.
But now it is summer, and that’s open season on books. If I want to burrow my way through three murder mysteries in a row, the guilt trips are stowed in the back closet. Summer is for fun and not necessarily attached to a motor, a fishing line, the curl of a wave, or even a crash course in self improvement.
The Florida Keys, in addition to blue water and good fishing, has been the setting for a number of mystery writers, starting with John D. McDonald. He later flunked his status as family favorite by an overdose of sexism, and was quickly replaced by Randy Wayne White with his naturalist hero and an aging hippie sidekick. And just to balance the scales, Christine King had given us a female tugboat captain whose main business is salvage but which inevitably leads to warding off murder.
Another on my list is Louise Penny’s hero, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, described by one reviewer as a “prodigiously complicated and engaging hero, destined to become one of the classic detectives.” Thus Penny’s novels have that extra shine – the reader’s eagerness to find another one.
But easily my new favorite mystery writer is Norwegian. My mother would be pleased. Derek B. Miller’s first novel, Norwegian By Night, involves an aging grandfather moved by his granddaughter to Norway where he saves a small boy whose mother has been gang murdered. It is wit, philosophy, religion, history, human emotion and an exciting and suspense filled chase with an aging ex-Marine sniper as the centerpiece. And the good news is that Miller has a new mystery coming out in January.
Then there’s The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Since bookstores are my favorites of all the merchandising enterprises on my shopping list, naturally the title trapped me. This bookstore is in Paris, but not on any street. It’s on a barge entitled Literary Apothecary, and it’s anchored in the Seine River. The proprietor says about the books he sells, “Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear. Others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short torrid love affair.”
Of course there are always exceptions to lighthearted reading. For example a new book out by Kermit Roosevelt, the great, great grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s historical fiction about World War II entitled Allegiance, and features the internment of the Japanese and the subsequent case before the U. S. Supreme Court. Roosevelt is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and once clerked for the Court. The Washington Post described the book as “informed, sophisticated, often devastating.”
Then if you’d like to delve into a different argument, this one about the treatment of women through the years, and the contributions of single women to make this country live up to its promises, there’s All The Single Ladies, Unmarried Women and The Rise Of An Independent Nation. By Rebecca Traister.
Of course if you are ready simply to laugh a lot, read Bill Bryson’s new book, The Road To Little Dribbling, Adventures Of an American in Britain. An earlier book, A Walk In The Woods, describes his walking the Appalachian Trail, a book which caused me to laugh so much my roommate threatened to forbid reading in bed. This time Bryson is walking from the southernmost shores of Great Britain to its northernmost coast. As always his writing is laced with his wit, but it also has much to say about the beauty of Britain and the changes since he first traveled in that green land.
And in case you wonder what I do with what’s left of my summer, I sometimes make potato salad.
Betty Mills loves books. She belongs to three book clubs, and can share a story of her own when she isn’t reading. In fact, Betty is currently writing her family’s history. Betty was a Bismarck Tribune political columnist for 25 years. She will be 90 this month.