In May of 2015, I said I might not make it before December 2016. But I have written exactly 599 blog posts before today, and that makes this one . . . that’s right: no. 600. (Ooh, give me a moment to imagine belonging to a different 600 Club along with Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Griffey Jr., Willie Mays, A-Rod, The Babe, Hank Aaron, and— eh, Barry Bonds broke the spell.) I originally thought that on every hundredth post, I’d write on my favorite one-hundred books. I ended up just recounting favorite moments from not necessarily favorite books, but the title stuck. You can see the one-hundredth, two-hundredth, three-hundredth, and four-hundredth posts at these links, and the five-hundredth at the link in the first sentence of this paragraph.
My task today is to share seven moments – they could be ideas, details, or scenes – from my reading that I think about often. Since I’ve taken up listening to books in the car again recently, I’ll begin with a few lasting impressions from audiobooks I’ve enjoyed.
• Conrad Anker, The Lost Explorer. Because I listened to this book about the search for the body of George Mallory seventy-five years after his disappearance on Mount Everest, I didn’t have access to the pictures. But I didn’t really need pictures. Anker’s description of the position of Mallory’s preserved, frozen body – on a slope above a precipice, fingers clutching the scree – blasted an image to my mind’s eye that has haunted me on numerous occasions in the last years.
• Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods. When Bryson decided to tackle the Appalachian Trail, he called up his old friend Katz and asked him to be his hiking buddy. Agreeing, Katz showed up to begin the 2,200-mile adventure with a backpack full of Snickers. The image of him flinging scores of chocolate bars across the mountain side an hour or so later, when he had tired of the weight, is hilarious but also emblematic of exactly twenty-nine interlocking problems, vices, and flaws plaguing Americans today.
• Cal Ripken, Jr., The Only Way I Know. I love baseball. (While we’re on the topic, I find it hard to assimilate the fact that the Cubs actually won. I find it hard to believe a certain someone won something else, too; but that’s really beside the point.) This isn’t the first reference to America’s Pastime (oh! how I wish it actually were the National Pastime; baseball is good for America), and it won’t be the last. I think often about the great Oriole playing professional, minor-league games in parks so poor they couldn’t pay anyone to mow the two-foot weeds. But the anecdote that crops up in my random stream of consciousness the most, oddly, has nothing to do with baseball per se. No, what settled in my mental play list is the passage in which Ripken explains how hard it was to teach his kids not to talk to strangers when he, the ultra-recognizable baseball star, couldn’t eat a meal out without greetings and handshakes from a few happy, well-meaning strangers.
• Jonathan Eig, Luckiest Man. Wouldn’t it have been great if Eig could have named his biography of my favorite Yankee Luckiest Man . . . man . . . an? Again, an obscure point far from the center lodged into my memory. Hollywood actually courted Lou Gehrig for the role of Tarzan, but when the producers saw the test photos, they decided his powerful thighs were actually too muscular. Weird.
I listened to the next book as well, but not from a recording. My sixth-grade teacher (who features in two blog posts found under the tag “Mrs. Brandenburg”) read it to the class.
• Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Walking around the campus of the University of Illinois in 1976, I had an epiphany: every kid my age had been tricked by advertising into thinking that wearing blue jeans was a sign of individualism. And so, to show that we were each totally unlike anyone else in the world, every last one of us wore jeans. That insight didn’t come from nowhere; I’m sure it sprang from the soil prepared by Madeleine L’Engle’s streetful of bizarre children all repeatedly bouncing a ball at the same time.
And now, since my blogging plan comes to an end in about eight weeks, long before I’d ever reach a seven-hundredth post, I have to finish with some favorite Dickens moments.
• Charles Dickens, David Copperfield. It is almost impossible for me to handle a wooden ruler without thinking of Wilkins Micawber thrusting his measuring stick and yelling, “HEEP!”
• A Tale of Two Cities. My favorite scene from my favorite book takes place in an unidentified pub off of Fleet Street. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, favorite hangout of Dickens, Dr. Johnson, and numerous other stars of London’s literary firmament, justifiably claims to be the restaurant in question. In a case in the front dining room, they display a copy of A Tale of Two Cities open to the chapter. Next time you’re in London, you should go read it.
So it’s back to the normal routine now. The next couple of posts should feature reports on my current reading in Chesterton and Augustine. Until then, Read More Books. Someone in the U.S. needs to.