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news-of-the-worldThere are many moments in this small, enticing novel that showcase its excellence, with one that particularly stands out for me. It’s when a 10-year-old girl is perplexed by windows. For four years, she has lived with Kiowa Indians, who kidnapped her after murdering her family. Now she’s being returned to relatives, but she’s lost all acclimation to her former life: “There were drapes hanging in front of the windows against all logic. She did not know why one would make windows in a stone wall and put glass in them and then cover them over with cloth.”  The phrase against all logic is the power punch. How silly of us to shut out the natural world. To live separately from the outdoors, rather than with it, something the girl must unlearn.

The half-savage Johanna Leonberger steadily, suspiciously observes Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. He’s transporting her from Witchita Falls, through the heart of Texas, to Castroville, just outside San Antonio. Not an easy trip in 1870. The unsettled territory between towns is lawless, populated by raiders, vigilantes and Indians. It’s also a politically unstable time during Reconstruction after the Civil War. The Captain’s been paid a $50 gold coin to make the difficult journey. Still, he’s annoyed by the imposition, which he can’t honorably refuse: Kidd drifts from town to town reading newspapers to audiences in assembly halls at ten cents per person. A trip to Castroville is do-able, more so than for the men hauling freight, who have no business in the area. Also, the Captain will protect her.

These are two of fiction’s strongest, most colorful characters I’ve come across in recent books. Captain Kidd is a 71-year-old widow, who fought and lived through the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. His experience, self-confidence, moral character, insight and empathy get him and the girl through the uncertainty of the three-week journey. So, too, does money he receives from reading articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Memphis Daily Appeal, London Times and other newspapers to the public. Meanwhile, the dark blonde, freckled Johanna remains a Kiowa at heart, from a tribe for whom “the baseline of human life was courage.” She’s wise beyond her years and so her choices – and how she interacts with the Captain – provide insight on the nature of her Indian soul.

Not surprising, News of the World is showing up on lists for notable and best novels of the 2016 year. The interesting time in history and unique bond between the Captain and Johanna deliver a solid masterpiece of perfect storytelling. News of the World also was a candidate for the 2016 National Book Award in Fiction.

Little Women by Louisa May AlcottSummertime is classics TBR time for me. That is, a time to dig into those “to be read” books from the past. Maybe it’s the long summer days hearkening back to the childhood time of summer reading lists for school or reading on the porch at night to the comforting sounds of the cricket and cicadas that call me toward the classics. I don’t get to a lot of books published in the past – new books demand I keep up with them — but just a few classics is a enough.

The other day I came across the Penguin Random House list of “21 Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read.” It’s one of those lists that are fun to scroll through and see what you’ve already read. And of course, it will entice you to pick up the ones you haven’t read.

If anything, check out the Penguin Random House list for the beautiful and intriguing cover illustrations, such as the one you see here for Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women.

The following two books aren’t on the Penguin Random House list, but they are on mine and now checked off. I recommend both of them.

The Optimist's DaughterThe Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
I could’ve read this short novel in a day, but I held onto it for a second day because I didn’t want to reach the point where I had to leave the story. Welty’s characters grapple with the untimely death of Judge McKelva, notably his daughter, Laurel McKelva Hand, and the Judge’s young second wife, Fay. Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel in 1973, and deservedly so. The Optimist’s Daughter is fine literature and a memorable story told with undeniable talent. Welty profoundly captures Laurel’s shock, loneliness and courage as she tolerates her father’s crude, second wife behaving selfishly (and ignorantly) at the Judge’s deathbed and funeral – and also as Laurel recognizes she must let go of the past. Mississippi writer Eudora Welty is known for her southern settings, themes and characters. She’s highly acclaimed for her short story collections.The Guardian wrote in her obituary: “In spite of the countless accolades and awards her work garnered, both in the United States and abroad, she remained a regional writer, whose quietly magnificent short stories and novels are suffused with Chekhovian wit and clear-sightedness.”

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtryThe Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this classic McMurtry novel, first published in 1966, a coming-of-age story about two boys, Duane and Sonny, graduating from high school in a go-nowhere small town, Thalia, Texas. Atmospheric, populated with quirky, memorable characters, The Last Picture Show took hold of me and reminded me why I love to read books rich in storytelling about ordinary life. Duane loves Jacy, who’s the popular, rich girl, whose parents don’t want her to marry Duane; Sonny yearns for Jacy at a distance while getting sexually involved with the high school coach’s wife. Fist fights and football games; a local café diner, pool hall and movie theater; big cars and pick-up trucks; and a lot of sex and drinking (what else is there to do?) fill the time for Duane, Sonny and Jacy. But there also are kind, wise, tired small-town folk in this wonderful book that was made into a movie in 1971 with Cybill Shepherd (Jacy), Jeff Bridges (Duane) and Cloris Leachman (coach’s wife).

If you need assistance selecting classics you might want to read, I highly recommend Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure. As the dust jacket says: “This is not your father’s — or your mother’s — list of classics. In these delightful essays, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda introduces nearly ninety of the world’s most entertaining books.”

 

 

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