DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Crazy About Books

I said I wasn’t going to do it again.

But once again, I purchased another stash of used books, this time at an estate sale in our neighborhood in Bloomington, Minn.

I wish I had known the folks who owned this house. It was full of books on every conceivable subject, from great works of literature to volumes about home repair and cooking. I coughed up 10 bucks for a dozen of them. Most I’ll save for winter reading, when I have an aversion to being outdoors in the cold.

But two of the finds are on my night stand already.

  • “My Irish Cook Book” by Monica Sheridan. (I fell in love with that cuisine during our visit to that country last year.)
  • “Giants In the Earth” by O.E. Rolvaag, a novel first published in Norwegian and then in 1927 in English. It’s set in 1873 in what would become the state of South Dakota. Rolvaag attended Augustana College in that state and later St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he eventually became a professor.My interest in Norwegian heritage has intensified as I’ve aged. My sister, Susan Vorland Hanson, is currently visiting Norway, and I’m eager to see her pictures and hear her stories. Perhaps I’ll get there myself one of these days.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Chuck Klosterman

I met many bright students during my long career at the University of North Dakota. One of them was a kid named Chuck Klosterman, who had grown up near Wyndmere, N.D., and showed up as a freshman in 1990.

I recall him as a slightly outrageous and very humorous writer for the Dakota Student newspaper.

Klosterman’s first book was “Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota,” issued in 2001 by Scribner, Ernest Hemingway and Scot Fitzgerald’s publisher.

His 10th book, “But What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past,” was published in 2016. It visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear in the future to those who will perceive it as the distant past.

One critic wrote “I have often wondered how the times I live in will be remembered once they turn into History. It never occurred to me to figure out how to write a book about it, though, which is one of the reasons why Chuck Klosterman is smarter than I am.”

Dorette and I were in Park Rapids, Minn., a few weeks ago. I noticed the book at Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery, one of the two excellent bookstores in that small town. It now waits on my night stand to be read.

Klosterman spoke at the 2009 UND Writer’s Conference, but I see nothing on Google documenting that the University of North Dakota or its Alumni Association have given him any formal recognition for his achievements.

If not, it’s long overdue.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I spotted that the Bismarck Tribune was looking for someone to review “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder” (Nancy Tystad Loupal, editor, South Dakota State Historical Press, 2017), I immediately contacted the editor.

Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).
Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).

Our home library has an entire shelf of books by and about Wilder, the famous prairie writer, and I’ve read them all, more than once. I still have all of my copies of the Wilder children’s books, historical fiction (mistaken by many to be nonfiction) given to me by my mother in the 1960s, and it was only this past winter that I gifted my hardcover copies of the Garth Williams’ illustrated copies of her books to my stepgranddaughter.

My mother wanted me to remember that while we were living in various Army posts around the world, I was still a child of the prairie, and what better way to do that than to read Wilder’s books?

Now, in my fifth decade, I find myself inspired by the knowledge that Laura was already in her 60s when she began writing her books, and thus I forged ahead with starting my own blog, WildDakotaWoman.blogspot.com.

Readers of Wilder are always eager to read more about her life and to visit the places she lived, as I have done over the years. This new collection of essays, a publication of The Pioneer Girl Project, by a number of notable Wilder scholars, will not disappoint. This book is a follow-up to the wildly popular “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” (SDSHS Press, 2014).

The writers of the essays explore in great depth the issues surrounding the contributions of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, to her mother’s books, Laura’s path to becoming a published author, the myths and truths found within her books and the lasting appeal of her writings. “As Wilder’s letter to (Rose Wilder) Lane attests, whenever these two strong-willed women did not see eye to eye on the manuscript, Wilder usually prevailed.”

Countless readers have been deeply touched by her books and the lessons within them, and it is fascinating to plumb the reasons why her books resonate to this day. “Once again, Laura Ingalls Wilder had proven just how relevant she was to another generation.”

Here is one of my favorite Wilder lines, quoted in the book, from a letter she wrote:

“Almanzo (her husband) still loves horses as well as when he was that Farmer Boy, but he doesn’t drive them now. He drives our new Chrysler sedan instead, at least he holds the wheel. Of course I do the driving with my tongue.”

In the essay entitled “Little Myths on the Prairie,” Michael Patrick Hearn states “It is a clean, concrete, muscular English, almost Biblical in its cadences, Hemingwayesque in its clarity and precision. It is the journalistic style Wilder burnished all those years writing for the rural press. …She dispensed with the gratuitous.”

Focusing on the settings of her books, John E. Miller writes, “The prairie, in Wilder’s writings, was a place of wonder and delight, a rich storehouse of life that pleased the eye with luscious sights of wild flowers, tall grass, animal life, and water flowing in streams and contained in lakes.” She “felt a close connection to the land and used [her] craft to express the spirit of the region.”

“The Little House series is an act of creative, edited memory.”  It has given countless readers insights into her prairie world in all its glory and has shaped a love of a unique landscape.

“The Little House is always there, a cherished place where we can go if we need it. And we will.”

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Hemingway Lives

The latest issue of the New Yorker, dated July 3, includes one of the best essays about Ernest Hemingway I have ever read: “A New Man: Ernest Hemingway — revised and revisited,” written by Adam Gopnik.

It is in part of a review of the new biography, Mary V. Dearborn’s 735-page “Ernest Hemingway.”

That one is on my book shelf waiting perhaps for this winter, when I will be more interested in reading than, say, walking around Lake Calhoun just minutes away from our place in Bloomington, Minn.

Here are some excerpts from the long piece. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the individual who is perhaps America’s greatest writer owes it to himself or herself to read it in its entirety.

Some of Gopnik’s commentary deals with Hemingway’s gender reversal fetishes, found most spectacularly in the novel “The Garden of Eden,” not published during his lifetime. The subject was considered immoral a half-century ago, but hardly raises an eyebrow now.

But, Gopnik says, “The new attempts to make Papa matter by making him a lot less Papa and a little more Mama are, finally, not all that persuasive. Hemingway remains Hemingway — the macho attitudes continue to penetrate the prose even when the gender roles get switched around. And those macho attitudes include many admirable things: a genuine love of courage, a surprising readiness to celebrate failure if it is bought with bravery, an unsparing sense of the fatality of human existence, a love of the small pleasures that ennoble it.”

He quotes a paragraph from “The Garden of Eden”:

“On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups … He remembered that easily and he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of cafe au lait.”

Comments Gopnik: “The flow of the butter and the bite of the pepper” — there is more effective gender-blending in his breakfasts than in his bedrooms. The pleasure he takes in the world’s surface is more plural than the poses he chooses on the world’s stage.

“Always an epicurean before he was a stoic, Hemingway is at his worst when he is boasting and bluffing and ruling the roost, at his best when he is bending and breaking and writing down breakfast. Macho and minimalist alike, the sentences are thrilling still in their exactitude and audacity.

“Coming away even from the sad last pages of his biography, the reader feels that Hemingway earned the epitaph he would most have wanted. He WAS a brave man, and he did know how to write.”

RON SCHALOW: Enjoy This Excerpt From Ron’s Book: ‘Perfect Whack Jobs’

Forward: Over 8 million people in the United States have suicidal thoughts —  also known as suicidal ideation — at least once in any given year. For a large subsection of this group, the thoughts never go away, mainly due to chronic depression or bipolar disease. This describes most of the characters in “Perfect Whack Jobs,” a dark comic novel.

Assessing these broken people an unused commodity, a powerful gaggle of simple minded @$$holes concluded this: Since these people think about taking their own lives anyway, they shouldn’t mind doing a little suicide bombing for our country.

Why? Because in 2006, George W. Bush was unwilling to send troops in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and most of the al-Qaida terrorists had fled.

So, a mercenary-type organization was enlisted to breach medical files and scoop up 11 of the supposed suicidal types against their will and hold them in a secret location, until the green light is given.

The Blackwater-type firm soon learns that it is dealing not only with depression and manic depressive disorder, but also psychosis, psychopathy, sociopathy, hallucinations, short attention spans, anxiety, phobias, fear, poor memories, denial, brain cell loss and chronic pain.

Also, dependence on legal drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol. And 11 different personalities with different ideas about how and when they might like to die.

The first arrival is Charles “Sig” Sigismund. In Chapter 2, “Big Pink Pill,” shortly after Sig regains consciousness and experiences a seizure, his handlers try to do an entrance interview with Sig, who has indifferent feelings about life, and death.

“Perfect Whack Jobs” is based on 40 years of dealing with the fractured brain I was issued 60 years ago, and mountains of research, with the hope of giving voice to the many angles of a complicated issue.

Big Pink Pill

Still on the Darkroom floor since the seizure released him, Sigismund has rolled over onto his back, is gazing at the black ceiling, and babbling again—as Agent Johnson sits on a chair a few feet away just staring at the new recruit with a look of bewilderment.

“Whoosh, right by us, then splat! The lawn is way too wet, so this won’t work. But he could have died from something else, right? He doesn’t like it when you tease him. This isn’t tuna! If he bites your hand off, then what? How grotesque. That’s just gross. How can you eat that? Well, dial 911 again and—”

Agent Nitti walks in and leans over Sigismund. “How are you, Charles? Can you stand up, yet? Give him a hand, will you Johnson?”

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned, and you’re not going to believe—”

Nitti snaps his fingers in Sigismund’s face. “How are you, Charles? Hellooo!”

“Hello—what? How are I, Charles? I, Charles, are down, man. It’s terminal. I’m alive, but I’m not bragging about it, and no one should mention it outside these walls.”

“Charles, are—”

“You guys go on ahead without me. Escape this cursed land. Find controversial work in the big baggy metro cluster of slim purse laden debutantes.”

“You’re not dying, Charles,” assures Nitti. “Try to get up, please.”

“OK, man. Don’t warble while I’m in decay, though. It fogs my new cataracts.”

“You’re doing fine, Mr. Sigismund,” reassures Johnson.

Sigismund struggles to his knobby knees and strains to get on his feet, while Johnson crouches behind him, ready to catch him if Sigismund loses the battle and starts to fall back to the carpet. He stops for a moment to squeeze his head at the temples with the palms of his hands. “I can do it. I can do it.”

“You can do it.”

Sigismund’s knees start to give way. “Oops, I can’t do it.” Johnson grabs Sigismund under the armpits and sets him on his feet like he is hollow. “Thanks, man. I don’t have any singles on me, I’ll find you later.”

“You don’t need—”

“Hand me the seven iron, please.”

“It’s not far, Mr. Sigismund.”

“A nine?”

“Just walk towards Agent Nitti. Do you see him?”

“That big son-of-a-bitch by the enormous rusty juke box? That’s a Nitti, huh?”

“The big son-of-a-bitch is Agent Addison. The big jukebox is Nitti.”

“Oh, a musical son-of-a-bitch, eh.”

Sigismund manages his way through the doorway unassisted; but he ducks and covers his head as he passes through the eight foot high opening. “Whew, that was close,” he mumbles, as he tries to straighten back up without putting a hand on the wall or falling. “Have I been drinking mouthwash?” Glancing up, as he shifts and twists for balance, Sigismund sees the silhouette of a tall thick man standing in the middle of a short hallway. There is a white wall and a well lit intersecting hallway about six feet behind the shadowy man. Opened handed, the man’s left arm is cocked away from his side to direct Sigismund like an usher through another doorway. The outline reminds Sigismund of the night he was held up by a big man with a big pistol, which prompts him to reflexively hold up his hands as he marches towards the office door at the invitation of the one dimensional man, who he knew was Nitti, forgot was Nitti, and now realizes it was Nitti all along. “How do I get the taste of minty freshness out of my mouth?”

“Sit down and have cigarette,” suggests Johnson.

Sigismund rounds a corner that isn’t there in the middle of the hallway, and stands frozen in the doorway of a small bright room. His eyes resent the artificial light and his feet sense a long drop with one more step. He waits for a moment until his vision clears up, holding on to the door frame for moral and physical support. “Go on in, Mr. Sigismund, I’m right behind you,” comforts Agent Nitti.

“I need a cigarette for my breath, man.”

Agent Addison shows up in the hall behind Sigismund and Nitti, and tells Johnson, “I’m going in with Nitti on this first one. I’m curious about this flake.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go check on Carlsrud; see what he’s up to, get him to the security room on time for his shift, and plan on meeting with me and Nitti in a little while. I’ll find you.”

Nitti takes a seat at his chair in front of the desk and says, “Charles, I’m Agent Roland Nitti. Have a seat. Yes, right by the desk, there. The man in front of the door is Agent Leonard Addison.”

“Hi Len. Stay off the new couch.”

“How often do you have seizures, Mr. Sigismund?” asks Nitti.

“Sometimes—I don’t know,” sputters Sigismund, as he slowly lowers his rear end into the chair.

“Not every day, I hope.”

“I dabble, but I’m not pernicious.”

“What does—”

“Big black room. Small white room. Who brushed my teeth?” Nitti slides a fresh open pack of Sigismund’s brand of cigarettes across the desk. Sigismund grabs it before it stops and immediately pushes out a single.

“I know your name. You didn’t have to tell me your name, you gratuitous name teller.”

“Sorry, I didn’t—”

“Sometimes, I see a teeny motion picture in my head of me flopping around like an electric trout on the dock, but the frames are out of whack; I think because the projector is dusty and old. It’s noisy. Trapped tight in this secondhand ramshackle body. A big ropey dopey storm. Snap, fizz, crackle.”

“Are you—”

“What is this; like a preemptive inquest court, or a short-handed tribunal?”

“Neither of those.”

“I won’t be a witness against the unruly mob. My name is Sigismund O’Rourke. A senile pharmacist killed my Great Uncle with cruel innuendo and there were no immaculate magisterial proceedings like these.”

“Do you want a sedative to help calm your body, Charles?” offers Nitti, as he settles deeper into his executive high-back swivel chair, and spins it a notch to the left, so he is directly in line with Sigismund. “You’re shaking.”

Sigismund takes a long drag off his cigarette. “No thanks, man. I need to get home before they eat all of the tamales.”

“Tam—”

“Is this one of those stupid team building exercises? I don’t do those anymore. Go on the roof, fall backwards, and we’ll catch you, my ass!”

“Just a talk. Did your friends really put you in a coffin once?”

Sigismund’s attention and eyes lift. “Who told you that?” He studies Nitti’s face and shoulders looking for familiarity, but the squared jawed man with short cropped brown hair sitting across from him doesn’t register.

“You did; kind of.”

“Never did, Quidley; you’re hallucinating. No way will I make the green with a nine in this wind. Copy that. I didn’t green light the ransacking! I never squeal, man.”

“Mr. Sigis—”

“I’m a goddamn cement vault, so you’re in huge trouble with the FISA boys now, mister, you paltry wiretapper! What the hell do you think you’re doing?—I’M playing the Titleist—don’t touch my ball! Jesus!”

“You mentioned the coffin out loud. Did somebody do that to you once?”

“Oh, I get it—you’re legislating from the bench, aren’t you? I knew this wasn’t a normal referendum. And no wonder we ran out of the good cheese, considering the size of these rats. What are we supposed to do with all these stupid saltines, now?”

“Mr. Sigis—”

“Great Scott! Look at the superdome on this guy’s shoulders,” rails Sigismund, while gesturing with his thumb towards Addison.

“I’m standing right here,” objects Addison. “You’re talking out loud.”

“He must have a hard time shopping for dusty fedoras. Have you ever weighed it? Roy has a huge head, but nothing like that gourd.”

“Shut up, Sigismund! You know I can hear you.”

“You’re a big man, too, Mr. Niblets. I’ll bet you can crack walnuts with your earlobes.”

“I can’t, but Agent Addison can.”

“Fuck you, Nitti.”

Sigismund continues. “I used to be pretty big once, too, but heavy smoking, devoted drinking and nominal eating really slimmed me down. I might have been over 200 pounds, once, but that was awhile back.”

“Those things—”

“I’m fairly strong for a fanatical alcohol enthusiast, but not so hefty or bulky. I’m a low functioning drunk, otherwise.”

“Tobacco and liquor definitely take a toll,” agrees Nitti. “Do you know where you are, Charles?”

“It looks like an office, but I don’t want to jump on any rigid conclusions. It’s not an Arby’s. You already said it was an office. How would I know? But it’s nice, though. No question about that.”

“Yes, it’s an office, but—”

“This is a snappy outfit, too. I don’t have many clothes in my closet with seven foot zippers.”

Nitti sighs and shakes his head.

“Please; call me Armando,” continues Sigismund, while looking quizzically at his shoes. “Or call me Sig. Yeah, Sig. I respond to Sig. I used to be a high functioning drunk; last Wednesday for an hour in the morning, I think.”

“Last Wed—”

“You know, your shadow out there in the alley looked just like a shadow that robbed me about eight, nine years ago in Columbus. Or, Akron—it was definitely in Ohio; stupid swing state. Anyway, a shadowy human form, just like your shadowy figure, exactly the same, stepped out from a doorway as I walked on a downtown sidewalk at night, and the man held a gun out to his side at the exact same angle you held your hand—”

Nitti tries to interrupt the filibuster. “Mr. Si—” But Sig isn’t having it.

“Ah, ah, ah—I think he wanted to establish the dynamics of the criminal victim relationship between me and him, and firearms always trump two handed fist hockey in a sidewalk drama. The gunman pushed me into this really crappy abandoned building. Hobo raccoons, wearing sunglasses, at night for some reason, openly scoffed at the cruddy premises in a derisive manner. They seriously dissed the prem. Then, I said, ‘you must be kidding me, man,’ and you know what he said?”

“Sig, I—”

“He said, ‘nope.’ Pithy, huh?”

“That was a long story with no clear point, Sig. Do you want to know where you are, now?”

“It was an anomaly. I had it partially memorized. There’s more to it, but I lost interest.”

“Can we—”

“Did you notice what I did there?”

“Not real—”

“I hijacked the conversation without any concern for your feelings or schedule, and I’ll do it again. That’s the kind of egotistical jerk I am. You’re in my steely sweaty grip, Nibby. I’m going to force you to listen to random tedious stories until you surrender the valuable jewels. They aren’t priceless.”

“Your cogent recitation of that story makes me wonder if your head isn’t screwed on tighter than it appears at times. Seriously, do you want to know where you are?”

Looking down again, his eyes flitting every which way, a once again preoccupied Sig says, “A little. Say, have you seen a bottle of Windsor around here? It was squeezy plastic. Not brittle at all. Much safer. Very cogent. Actually, any bottles of liquor that turn up are probably mine. Do you have a cigarette?”

“You’re smoking a cigarette.”

“Please, call me Sig or Sig. I prefer menthol, but right now I would smoke the ass end of a Moldavian parakeet with Legionnaires disease.”

“You’re smoking a cigarette, Sig!”

“Hey, I’m smoking a cigarette. What are you trying to pull, Joe?”

“I’m not trying to pull anything, and my name is—”

“Is this the China year of the rascally ring tailed lemur, or the amoral mongoose? Riki Tiki Tavi; that agile little reptile murderer.”

“This is the United States year of 2006, Sig. What’s the last thing you remember before waking up in the room with the bed?”

“Remember before 2006, huh? O’boy, that’s an iffy.”

“No, no; what do you remember doing right before you woke up here, Sig?”

“Woke up? Recent happenings, eh? Did you hear about Malloy? The warehouse guys shipped him to Saipan.”

“Does cold mud ring a bell?”

“Is THAT why my scrotal region has an inch of frost on it?”

“Most likely.”

“Yeah, that’s it; frigid French silk mud. I couldn’t get any traction, and my left foot just spun and spun, so I remained stuck. No limited slip differential, you know. Do you think I was trying to bury myself?”

“It was two hours in the mud,” informs Nitti. “If you were wearing shoes, they’re still there.”

“Were they brown Bruno Magli’s?”

“They didn’t look. You were wearing Bruno Magli’s?”

“I doubt it. Well, these shoes aren’t too bad. Three hours? I don’t think they would be good for dancing, though. What? No warning shot? That’s not cool, Sister Mary Catherine Muldoon of Assissississi!” Sig gasps for a breath. “Two hours? My muscular ass hurts in the gluteal region. Did Flansboro shoot me with a rusty crossbow?”

“No, just a needle.”

“A knitting needle, oh, woe.”

“And I’m sorry about the delay in getting you out of the mud. I wasn’t there, and I’ve already chewed out the Agents involved, and of course you have my apologies.”

“How you did that? What, now?”

“The Agents were hoping you would wander out of the muddy field by yourself so they wouldn’t have to go in the muck after you. Evidently, you got in there pretty far before getting bogged down, and—”

“My contractions were six minutes apart!”

“AND—when it became evident you weren’t going to budge, they started wagering on how long you would stand there before falling down. If they hadn’t gotten tired of waiting, you would probably still be there. Of course, if the Agents hadn’t been there at all, you would likely still be in the mud at this moment, so, in a way, it was lucky they were there.”

“There, where?”

“Stuck in a potato field just across the highway from the Comet bar.”

“I mean what State or Province? Or both—I fell asleep right on a northern border one time.”

“Oh. Kansas. Horton, Kansas.”

“Kansas, eh. Never been.”

“You’ve been, now.”

“And you guys pulled me to shore? What for? I was perfectly fine, except for the hypothermia, but that’s an old hat.”

“Because we—”

“I think my knee caps were locked, because the mud was past my ass. It was a major issue of human anatomy that made me flop-less, ergo un-collapsible.”

“We wanted to—”

“That would have been hilarious, though—face down in the mud, drowning like a walking catfish. Seriously, though; those dudes were wasting time on the clock. Amateur gamblers should never leave the halfway house. My gazellish thighs are feeling a little tingly. My whiskey, cigarettes—any word there?”

“You HAVE cigarettes. We’ll see about the whiskey later. Right now, I—”

“And what’s the deal with my other valuable stuff?” shouts Sig. “My clothes are gone, my favorite lighter is gone, my head meds are gone, my lip smear is gone, my huge wad of money is gone, my solid gold pocket watch is gone, my keys are gone, my monocle is gone, and I think I was out of cigarettes, but if I wasn’t out, my cigarettes are gone, and I’m wearing this sandpaper scratchy puke green one piece outfit, and my shoes are in the mud, which is my fault, but seriously, what’s the deal, man?”

“Can I talk?” asks Nitti. “For real?”

“Who’s stopping you?”

“OK; the deal is we took all of that stuff and put it in a box. You were stripped naked, sprayed down like a Chevy, and fitted with new underwear, socks, and the jumpsuit while you were out—and shoes.”

“Whose Chevy was it?”

“I have your medication in my desk and you have a CIGARETTE in your hand.”

“Your medication is in MY desk? Where IS my desk, anyway?”

Nitti ignores the questions. “There was also a second small plastic box in your pocket, filled to the top with some pretty potent sleeping pills that I’m curious about.”

“You’re a curious guy, Joe. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”

“There are enough doses in that box to knock out a rogue cape buffalo for a week, and then kill it. Do you have a pet ox at home with insomnia?”

“No, Gerald only has occasional restless nights and no job, so he watches a lot of TV, but he’s really not the issue.” Sig takes a deep breath. “Those are my out pills. If I am ever in a situation that is too much to bear, I plan to take a handful of those little green pills and permanently escape.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t know if I can bear this situation, yet. What do you think? Can I?”

“I hope so,” answers Nitti.

Sig pauses and shakes his head vigorously. “You could have at least used some conditioner in my hair—I’m a frizz.”

“You can shower again after—”

“I had a Chevy Malibu when they used to put engines in cars—a 747 double barreled and carbonated.”

“That’s inter—”

“Since you have those green pills instead of me indicates a breakdown in my exit strategy. I’m quite stymied.”

“Let’s talk—”
“What kind of sprayer did you use, anyway? I’m feeling a little bleached, a little sand-blasted, and my oldest coat of outer skin definitely went down the drain—I’m tender to the touch and pinky.”

“Sig, can we—”

“The underwear is wonderfully comfortable, but I resent being anesthetized while strange people monkey around down by my lower regions.”

“I’m sorry about—”

“I like to be conscious when strange people monkey around down by my lower regions.”

“Sig—”

“It’s a travesty and sham to suggest that I had anything to do with that fire. I had nothing to gain, so knock off the insinuations, Marko.”

“Fire?”

“How do you put clothes on a grown dead man anyway? I have a gymnastically hard time when I’m mostly awake.”

Nitti sighs once again and forges on. “They use a hydraulic lift. A harness is put under your shoulders and the device lifts you upright with your feet off the ground, so the dressers can just slip on underwear, socks, and jumpsuit, and vice versa. It helps if the person is in a coma.”

“Vice versa, eh. Yup, it’s the 8th grade all over again. Remember when I cut off Roy’s thumb in Mr. Ralston’s stupid shop class? Wee doggies. Talk about a rush to judgment on that incident.”

“Are you hav—”

“It was a routine band saw accident, but he never bowled again,” Sig continues, “at least not with any precision.”

“Of course—”

“The blame game really kicked in quick that time.”

“I’ll bet—”

“And, I’m not out of order, this whole parade is out of order, what with grown men driving tiny cars, and immense equine defecating without remorse and little children being lured into traffic with low caliber high fructose sweets.”

“SIG!”

“I thought I had gone blind, you know. I thought maybe I was leg bitten by a hairy Chihuahua-sized tarantula, which rendered me into a venom induced immobile and sightless state. It turned out I isn’t paralyzed, but who knows if the culprit is still in the garage.”

“We need to move this conversation along, Sig, please. Can you concentrate?”

“I had friends, you know. I used to make money that you could fold. Before I got stuck in the mud and shot in the ass with foot long tranquilizer darts, I dated women of refinement, women of less refinement, married women, and women about to be married, and they all giggled at my stupid jokes and I thought I was so hilarious.”

Nitti just sits back and shakes his head in defeat.

“And since they were all gorgeous, and kind, and smart and sweet and had long fragrant hair, I fell in love with many of them within hours, proposed within days, freely gifted them with diamond pendants, sent sentiment appropriate colored roses, only by the dozen, vigorously ignored the women who loved me back, and relentlessly stalked the fetching females who wouldn’t have me in a million years. I found the world’s most perfect woman four times; each of them my salvation, and all so far out of my league that people assumed the gods had gone crazy, but I cheated on three of them. I always needed just one more thing, or person, in my life to be truly happy. Surprisingly, I started to spiral downward—”

Oh God; here comes the segue. That’s all very int—”

“Isn’t that gullet gaggingly syrupy? What a dish soapy cliché! I wretchingly recite that painfully rancid and sickening women of days past denial oath garbage, like the Lord’s Prayer, whenever I remember to eulogize my vervy relished life era. Habitual self pity. No moderation for me. The horror, the horror—hah!”

“Oh, geez—”

“I memorized that string of words, too. Is this an asylum? But, what a load of crap. Oh, poor me. I could have had it all, but it slipped through my fingers. Boo hoo hoo. Vomitorium city. My life could have been different, but for the love of a good women, if I wasn’t such a drunken whore pig cutlet.”

“I give up.”

“I used to believe that crap. I didn’t know my brain was diseased, but that’s no excuse for falling apart like a Pinto and getting shot in the ass. Those lemon flavored days are gone and I can’t go back, so waa waaa waa. Cry me a lazy little river band of toxic polluted gloppy wet tears. Could I be more pathetic, or crawling with tickly brown recluse spiders? Doubtful. Do you know a guy named Roy? You look just about like this guy I know. Everybody calls him Roy, but I think his real name is Roy. Roy? You’re not Roy!” Sig goes quiet and squints at Nitti.

“I know I’m not Roy. I told you my name a long time ago. You said you knew it. It’s Agent Roland Nitti.”

“What?” spits Sig. “Are you stop-watching the seconds? Cooking the books? Is this some kind of stupid mud race or laundry commercial? I graduated something cum loud with honors, but I won’t do high definition reality television. It’s demeaning to the viewer, and the occasion I lingered below the waves is a matter of public record, so get the hell off my plot!”

“I’m not timing anything; I was just making a point. What’s with all the yell—”

“OK Roy, look, if you haven’t seen my dog, just admit it. I don’t have time to chat with you right now. Frankly, I’m beside myself with distraught worry.”

“Your dog? No, wait!”

“He’s brown; with bleached blonde hair—talk about an intransigent whore. He was staying with friends in the city, but he bolted. He met them in junior college. They were all urinating on the same tree behind the student union, and after a full round of painful rabies shots, it was all cheesecake and peach cobbler. They must have had a maudlin dispute, and he stormed out in a huffer. He’s inflexible about too many minor things. Everything has to be a big freaking melodrama. And, I’m pretty sure his name is Roy. He’ll answer to Roland, but I wouldn’t call him that, unless he’s wearing his catcher’s mask. It might be better if you don’t try to talk to Rollie at all. He freaks out if you use bad grammar, and your speech patterns are a little rough in the transitions. I would just get my throatal and groinal areas covered and be real still, if I were you, and radio for backup. Frankly.”

“Charles. Hellooo? We’ll look for Rooo, er, the dog later. You haven’t taken your medications for awhile, have you?”

“You’re not supposed to mix them with alcohol. I do, sometimes, quite often, daily, but you’re not supposed to. It makes you strange, they say. Crush them, and cook them in your meatloaf, and serve it with a side of green colored string beans.”

“How long as it been? Sig!”

“And that’s good advice, I’m telling you; especially the big pink ones. Have you ever seen the size of those pills? They look like Mallard eggs. I passed out ice tea cold, almost died rigid, trying to choke one of those orbs down—and that was the best pink egg experience I’ve had by far. The barn swallows have been irritable this year—the bugs forgot to hatch, you understand. It could have been a peanut M&M.”

“It was probably a Depakote. They’re pretty big and pink. I don’t see them on your chart, though?” Nitti is intently thumbing through Sig’s file. “When was the last time you took a big pink pill or any of the smaller pills Dr. Weiss prescribed for you?”

“Dr. Weiss! That generously proportioned mollycoddler! Look, I don’t know what he told you, but that moony faced guy is no certified doctor on this continent. Roy is a better doctor than that quack. And his barn smells better.”

“You’ve been seeing Dr. Weiss for almost nine years! If he’s a quack, why did you keep going to him for all those years?”

“I take 38.2 milligrams of aspirin for my heart every day. I smash it with a heavy oak mallet and snort it right into my membrane. I hasn’t had a heart attack since.”

“You had a heart attack?”
“Barely. Hardly worth the effort. They fed me a lot of Maplewood ice cream, though. Pretty runny. I don’t think the nightclub was really set-up right to handle a massive genital heart attack.”

“Uh, huh. Can we talk about your medication some more?”

“What was my percent when you brought me in?”

“Your percent?” wonders Nitti, aloud. “No! Wait! I retract the question.”

“Too late, Snookie. The content of my discontent is the percent to mark my decent. And—that’s what they inexorably decide when I get picked up by the main man.”

Nitti buries his face in his hands.

“A sleepy sheriff guy drains a pint of bakery fresh blood from my arm to check my percent, and about some time later, another dude hollers, ‘Holy Christ, are you sure the mendaciously handsome guy is totally alive?’ Then, they poke at me with an old bent pool cue. Sometimes, I lie really still like a dead hedgehog and hold my breath, and stop my heart, and the crazy eyed youngster with the underprivileged mustache gives me a good jolt in my upper torsel area with those shiny trodes. If you have a Hot Pocket in your back pocket, you need to wait about 20 minutes for it to cool before you can eat it.”

“You’re not in jail. You’re not under arrest. Goddamn it, Sig—”

“You’ll burn the roof of your mouth, painfully so. That’s what I heard from reliable sources, anyway. Roy said his bridgework fused together one time. All he could eat for a month was tangerine margaritas.”

“YOU ARE NOT IN JAIL!” yells Nitti.

“What? I’m not incarsabated? Wait a minute! You’re not Dr. Weiss—are you? You scalpel happy hack! No way am I paying for this drive by session. You made this appointment, not me.”

“I’m not Dr. Weiss. Christ. I’m Agent Roland Nitti of Coal River Shield.”

“I’m not buying any stolen merchandise, either, if that’s your ingenious game plan, so if you’ll kindly leave the premises, I have some reading to catch up on. I’ve got National Geographic’s piled up to my rib cage, and no time; absolutely no free time. The planet is going to hell, but the pictures of it are still spectacular. There are way too many balloons on this boat. No wonder it won’t sink.”

“OK, Mr. Sigismund, Sig, this isn’t working. I’m beat. You’re regressing for reasons I can’t explain. We’ll try again later. Agent Addison, just take Sig to the dorm and find him a bed, I guess. Have Carlsrud keep an eye on him, so he doesn’t wander.”

“Wait a minute—really?” interjects Addison. “Can’t explain his regression? Well, here are a couple of thoughts, professor. Double dose in the ass, frozen below the waist, high altitude plane ride, nominal sleep, no alcohol and who knows what else for hours, seizure—just for starters. Crimony; they spin a guy around like a gyroscope when they spray them down. I get dizzy just thinking about it. Or, he could be past his expiration date, brain-wise, I mean. Geez! That 60 inch blow dryer is no picnic either.”

Sig leans over and whispers to Nitti, “I think that, what do you call them?—a giant whatever, is talking to you, Roy. I don’t know what it is. Take evasive maneuvers. Or stay very still. One bit me, and my radiator system overheated and sprang a toxic leak. Shhhh.”

“I know that, Leonard,” counters Nitti. “I was talking to him, not you.”

“Riiight,” returns Addison, dismissively. “Like he understands what you said.”

“Shhhh! The kids are listening,” whispers Sig. “Seriously, get some counseling, before prices go sky high. Ask the Bishop if eight inch titanium vampire stakes are OK.”

“Come on, Sig, let’s go,” grumbles Addison, as he taps Sig on the shoulder.

“Nice talking to you, Roy. Don’t tell the old man we were out here. Nothing good can come from it.”

ERIC BERGESON: The Country Scribe —’A Treasury Of Old Souls’

Eric discusses his book “A Treasury of Old Souls,” a collection of stories about the older people he knew growing up in a rural setting, and how they shaped his view of life, death and what really matters.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — A Grieving Son Named Scott And An Unlikely Turning Point

By the mid-1980s, my friend and co-author, Patrick O’Malley, had started to suspect that the stages of grief were a harmful fallacy. But as a grieving father himself, and a therapist who worked with the bereaved, what would take their place?

An excerpt from our new book, “Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss.”

The year was 1986. I had grave doubts about the stages of grief but had yet to turn my back on them completely. I had nothing else to fall back on, was groping around for a way to help my grieving clients, and was still trying to come to terms with my own lingering heartache. Scott was a turning point.

At the time, it was a rare guy courageous enough to consult a shrink, and Scott was a strapping, 35-year-old construction worker. He and his father had worked side by side in the family business for eighteen years; that partnership ended the day the older man suffered a fatal heart attack. Six months later, Scott came to see me at his wife’s urging.

When he sat down in my office, he looked like he would rather have a root canal. I’m sure he thought I would light incense and break into a chant.

“Dad would turn over in his grave,” he said. “My wife and pastor said I should come. It wasn’t my idea.” “Why do they think you need to be here?” I said. “My wife says I’m irritable and drinking too much,” he said. “They both say they’re worried about me.”

“Do they have reason to be?” I said.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I have been hitting the bottle a little too hard since Dad died. And I’m not very focused at work.”

“I get it,” I said. “But we won’t go forward if you don’t want to, unless you’re open to at least giving this a shot.”

“That’s fair enough, I guess,” he said.

Although I had serious doubts about the stages of grief, I thought there was a chance Scott might be able to relate to them, like a blueprint on a construction site. “People tend to go through stages when they’ve had a loss,” I said, listing them. “You might be dealing with some anger and depression. That’s pretty normal. We could try to figure out where you are with that.”

Scott didn’t bite.

“Sounds like mumbo jumbo,” he said.

“Come to think of it, maybe it is,” I said.

“So now what?”

“You said your dad would turn over in his grave,” I said. “Why is that?”

“He was one tough fella,” he said. “You should have known him.”

For the next 45 minutes, he spoke nonstop.

“He came from hard times. Nobody ever gave him anything,” Scott said. “But from the time he was a kid, he wanted to own a business — and sure enough, he built ours with his own sweat and blood.”

Scott’s dad was his Little League coach. He taught his son how to hunt and fish.

“In high school, I got caught stealing some beer,” Scott said. “My dad let me sit in jail that night. The next morning, he put me out with the guys unloading cement bags from a boxcar. For a month he made me sweep floors and clean the toilets at the office. He never said two words to me the whole time.

“Then one day he comes and says, ‘It’s about time you decide whether you’re going to be a man or a thug.’”

“So you chose,” I said.

“I chose,” he said. “The beer was never mentioned again.”

I was torn as I listened. I felt a little inadequate because I hadn’t persuaded him that the stages might be useful. I was still looking for clues about where Scott was with his grief. I was tempted to interrupt him, to guide him back to his “grief work.” It was my job, after all, to get him less impatient, less angry, and to curtail the alcohol. It occurred to me that Scott was trying to avoid his feelings by telling me his story, but he would not be deterred. I had no real choice but to sit back and let him talk. He was a natural storyteller and seemed to gather momentum as the minutes ticked by.

“I’m sorry,” I said finally. “We’re out of time.”

He seemed disappointed.

“We could finish the next time,” I said. “That is, if you want to come back.”

“I guess I could,” he said.

A week later Scott picked up where he left off. He remembered how after high school, he decided to go work for his dad.

“One day 10 years later, he called me into his office,” Scott said. “I wondered what I had done this time. Instead he said, ‘It’s about time you take your proper place here. From now on, you and I will be co-owners.’ He shook my hand and told me to get back to work. It was the proudest day of my life.”

Scott and his dad had their share of arguments but always resolved them.

“We were always competing,” Scott told me, a wistful smile on his face. “Shooting the deer with the biggest rack. Catching the biggest fish. Betting on football and basketball games. The loser had to buy the first beer the next time we were in the bar. But he never kept track. He always bought the first one.

“And I remember how he was always so patient with customers,” Scott said. “As tough as he was, he had really good people skills. The customer was always right, even though many times they were just plain wrong. He and I would argue about that. I wanted to charge more when people made unreasonable demands or changed their minds about a paint color. My dad reminded me that the next job might come from the last one. ‘A positive recommendation was more important than proving a customer wrong.’”

Then Scott paused, seeming to brace himself for what came next. The telephone call. The emergency room.

“He was gone by the time I got there,” Scott said. “He was laying there with these wires attached to him. His eyes were closed. But that wasn’t my dad. He was up with the sun every day and could outwork 10 men and now . . . nothing. I felt the room start to spin, but I had to snap out of it because my mother was holding onto my arm and she was a basket case. I had to keep it together for her. I’ve always had to keep it together.”

Finally, Scott couldn’t talk at all because of his weeping. I thought, “There are no theories or diagnoses needed here. Scott is doing exactly what he needs to do.”

Telling his story was his therapy.

While the official publication date is July 1, you can preorder on Amazon here and save more than five dollars on the paperback.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Giant Of The Senate

I’ve never been much for writing book reviews. Mainly because I don’t know how to write book reviews. Call this one an appreciation. (If you feel you have to call it anything at all.)

I noticed a lot of interest in “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate” on Facebook and elsewhere. So, here we go.

The new memoir follows Sen. Al Franken’s path from kid to comedian to politician to public servant. From somewhat humble (?) beginnings (he claims to be the first in his family to own a pasta-maker), to Harvard, then “Saturday Night Live,” Hollywood, more “SNL” and finally, the U.S. Senate.

For those who worry that Franken has lost some of his sense of humor in becoming Sen. Al Franken, don’t. He’s every bit as funny as he always was. In fact, over the past decade or so, he seems to have been saving it up.

For starters the book has some of the funniest footnotes ever. Pretty much all of them. Here’s an example. “A note on style from the author:  Because I’m a United States senator, I can’t use the word ‘bull__.’ Even though Washington is indeed awash in bullshit.”

(Apologies for use of the b-word. It will never happen again. On the other hand, it’s nothing you won’t hear on “Conan” every night. Anyway, the quote wouldn’t make any sense without the full word.)

The centerpiece of the book is Franken’s retelling of his 2008 Senate win in a particularly nasty (even by today’s standards) Minnesota election race against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman. A race in which his Republican opponents tried to paint him as a “Tax-Dodging, Rape-Joking, Pornographer.”  The razor-thin win, the recount and the appeals process that lasted for half a year kept Franken from taking his Senate seat until July 2009.

There’s a chapter on how the comedian had to suppress his humor once he got to the Senate, so as to be taken seriously by voters and the press.

There’s a chapter on the mistakes he has made there, especially early on, about which he is brutally honest. He’s made some good ones. Like getting caught, while presiding over the Senate, rolling his eyes and smirking at remarks being given by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on C-SPAN. Not good.

There’s a chapter on how Franken made friends with Republicans once he got to the Senate. Real friends. His technique: First, make them laugh. Then make them friends. Those Franken friends include the likes of former senator, now attorney general, Jeff Sessions, of all people. I didn’t see that one coming.

There’s a chapter, that’s probably gotten the most press, devoted to Ted Cruz, not universally loved in the Senate, to say the least. “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I ‘hate Ted Cruz.”

Franken and friends have some pretty good reasons for their Cruz hatred. Among them, a freshman senator, two months into his first term, lecturing a 20-year Judiciary Committee veteran on the Constitution and calling McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

Reading “Giant,” I actually learned some things about government in Washington. Like, how a bill becomes a law. How a bill “actually” becomes a law. (This is not your father’s political memoir.)

All in all, “Giant of the Senate” is far and away the funniest 400 pages I’ve ever read about politics and government. It’s a flat-out terrific read for political junkies and nonjunkies alike, from an exceptionally dedicated member of the Senate, a little short of infallible, but like his friend and political mentor Paul Wellstone, extremely long on heart and soul.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — One Of My Favorite Desert Mystics, Ed Abbey

It had long been my intention, should I ever get to Tucson again, to visit the Special Collections Library on the University of Arizona campus. This past April, I spent a perfectly blissful week in the southern Arizona city, with good friends, and had a few days for solo exploring. One day I took a Lyft cab to the campus and headed straight for the libraries.

The dedicated librarians at the Special Collections Library led me to the computer to search for my topic, a longtime favorite author of mine, Edward Abbey, who upon his death had instructed that his papers be deposited in this safe place. The staff brought me my requested gray archival boxes, one at a time, jammed packed with treasures, and I spent a rapt couple of hours looking through these, making notes, and taking photographs.

The iconoclastic Abbey was known as a “desert mystic” and published a number of books, the most well-known being “Desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

His biography is well-known.Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he was basically a hobo on a westward train, got out, after which was never the same because he became enraptured with the American West and thus wrote passionately about the West and other topics until he died.

He studied philosophy at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and he tramped around the American West, in various odd jobs, including stints in fire lookouts in national forests; perhaps the most famous time spent living in a trailer in Arches National Park as a seasonal employee for the National Park Service.

 In his “Journal: a Lookout’s Logbook Glacier National Park,” he wrote: “the secret log” and “forest fires: Smokey the Bore is full of shit” and “whose rights take priority? How about wilderness areas banned to all humans?”

He scribbled many thousands of words in his notebooks and drew pictures, keeping track of his wanderings of his deeply insightful observations. He published beloved books that galvanized a generation of Americans hungry for his words about his wildlife, inspired by his writings and his activism.

He also gave a number of memorable speeches, including one time when he walked to the podium, took out his pistol, placed it in plain sight of the audience and proceeded to hold forth on his thoughts about wild places and the need to protect them.

One of the most famous speeches he gave was captured on film and is known as “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam.”

He spoke to a gathering of people who were outraged that the dam had flooded gorgeous places along the Colorado that no one would ever see again. The reason it is called “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam” is because this merry band of environmentalist gathered on the dam and let out a roll of black plastic across the front of the dam symbolizing their hopes and dreams for the Colorado to flow wild once again.

The Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam” was brought to you by the Sacred Land Film Project. A friend of mine, Bart Koehler, was at this event, and was like the vast majority of the people in attendance, not interested in violent opposition but rather in passionate engagement and resistance to out-of-control development in some of the country’s last wild lands. Bart was singing and playing his guitar at this event and went by the moniker “Johnny Sagebrush.”  I’m proud of him and can report that he is still, all these years later, working hard to protect wild places, no matter what life has thrown him in his pathway. Here are a couple of newspaper articles describing Bart and the magic he makes with his guitar.

But back to Abbey.  A thrill went through me as I held in my hands his notebooks and manuscripts.

In his journal notes from a hike in the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness, he writes that it will be a “self-imposed ordeal” … “Why? The need, I guess, for authentic experience, as opposed to the synthetic (books, movies, TV).

This is going to be a long fucking march.

Abbey gave his old friends very specific instructions to follow upon his untimely death. They wrapped up his corpse in an old sleeping bag, put him in the back of a pickup and drove the body to the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness, where they stashed it in an undisclosed location for the vultures to pick. To this day, many make the pilgrimage convinced they might just be the one to find the remains.

In “Desert Solitaire” he wrote:

In these hours and days of dual solitude on the river we hope to discover something quite different, to renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general by a temporary, legal separation from the mass. And in what other way is it possible for those not saints? And who wants to be a saint? Are saints human?

 “Cutting the bloody cord, that’s what we feel, the delirious exhiliration of independence, a rebirth backward in time and into primeval liberty, into freedom in the most simple, literal, primitive meaning of the word, the only meaning that really counts.” (page 137, c1988 edition)

If necessary, we agree, a man could live out his life in this place, once he had adjusted his nervous system to the awful quietude, the fearful tranquility. The silence–meaning here not the total absence of sound, for the river and its canyon are bright with a native music, but rather the total absence of confusion and clamour — that would be the problem. What Churchill spoke of as “bloody peace” — could we bear it for very long? Yet having known this, how could we ever return to the other?” (page 141, c1988 edition)

No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” (page 148, c 1988 edition)

In “The Journey Home,” he wrote:

One wishes to go on. On this great river one could glide forever–and here we discover the definition of bliss, salvation, Heaven, all the old Mediterranean dreams: a journey from wonder to wonder, drifting through eternity into ever-deeper, always changing grandeur, through beauty continually surpassing itself: the ultimate Homeric voyage.”  (page 201 Dutton edition, c 1977)

He continues:

The boundary around a wilderness area may well be an artificial, self-imposed, sophisticated construction, but once inside that line you discover the artificiality beginning to drop away; and the deeper you go, the longer you stay, the more interesting things get — sometimes fatally interesting.” (page 230 Dutton edition, c1977)

In his chapter from “The Journey Home” titled “Freedom and Wilderness,” he writes perhaps some of his most profound words:

What has all this fantasizing to do with wilderness and freedom? we can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without leagues of open space beyond the cities, where boys and girls, men and women, can live at least part of their lives under no control but their own desires and abilities, free from any and all direct administration by their fellow men. ‘A world without wilderness is a cage,’ as Dave Brower says.” (page 235 Dutton edition, c 1977)

My story would not be complete without the telling of this odd tale. Once shortly after 9/11, I flew to Davis, Calif., to see a friend. I changed my return flight, something that immediately “red-flags” a flier for the TSA. I got to the airport for the flight and realized that the book I had in hand was “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Perhaps this was not the best choice for airplane reading. With this combination of coincidences, I got pulled aside for additional screening.

You can see from this photo of our Red Oak House bookshelves that Abbey is a household favorite as his works take an entire shelf. If you’ve not read his works, sit down with one, and I promise you it will be an escape to a hot and quiet place somewhere in the American West, to some of Abbey’s favorite wild places.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — ‘Looking For The Stranger’

A nice thing about being retired is having more time to read.

I’ve just completed two books, one of which I read for first time in college: “The Stranger,” or as it is titled in French, “L’Étranger,” by Albert Camus, published in 1942.

My copy is a new translation in “American English” by Mathew Ward. Set in Algeria, the novel is just 120 pages long.

Camus once described it this way:

“I summarized ‘The Stranger’ a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.'”

The second book was published last year: “Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic” by Alice Kaplan. It’s both an excellent history of Camus’ life and of his most famous book.

So what’s next on my bedside reading table?

I’m going to dip back into “Swann in Love,” the novel within the novel of Marcel Proust’s gigantic “In Search of Lost Time.” Just 200 pages, unless I again become hooked and reread all 3,031 pages of the complete work.