Once May Not Be Enough

What draws you back to a book for another read? Do you have books that you reach for over and over again, or are you a one-and-done reader? What about your favorite movies or TV series? What is it that pulls you back in?

I am a one-and-done reader. Not so with movies or TV shows. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the TV series, Miami Vice, or the movie Gone with the Wind. At that breath-clutching last scene, before the credits start to roll, I always say each time, “Why does it have to end that way?” My husband looks at me as if lobsters are crawling out of my ears. He turns his head away and reaches for the remote. I am always wanting a different ending although I know better. Remember the movie Clue when three endings were written? All were quite plausible and worked!

When younger, I was a huge Frank Yerby fan and read every one of his books. The one I did reach for over and over was The Golden Hawk, a swashbuckling novel of passion on the high seas. A second one I read many times is While Passion Sleeps, a wild rustling tale set in Louisiana to San Antonio in 1836 by Shirlee Busbee. I have dog-eared pages and lightly underlined sentences, all donating a self-taught study for what might lay ahead in the future. Young girls dream too. Although my taste in reading has moved beyond, I hold both of these well-read books in my red cabinet bookcase.

Another favorite that I have read more than once is Shadows in the Sun by Wade Davis. The professor I worked with at the time was doing research and asked me to order this book. As soon as it arrived in our office and I opened it, the name itself pulled the jacket open and I was captured by the author’s stories and essays about traveling and living among various indigenous cultures. I ordered my copy and have read it several times. This was during the height of Indiana Jones, and no doubt, these true stories reflected hidden findings and meanings.

I would like to share this poem I was inspired by three of the chapters in this book ~  

Nightfall in Green

The Amazonian sky remains green.

Clouds fold into patterns of mist and light,

hovers in the dim shafts of jade and musk.

The jaguar crawls along the floor with no earth,

cushions of flora and moss mold his prints.

Instincts throb along the forest spine

calling to timid shadows, fear to quiver

behind shields made of ferns.

Other times dreams are sought by Rufino,

those who survive in the denseness. 

Dreams billow among the partakers of the jaguar’s

nectar. Hand and hand they dance under the sky’s dark face. 

Each spirit takes flight with roots and potent herbs.

They see the edges of the world soften. 

Beliefs breathe among the dense fauna in the jungle 

to move beneath its massive thousand shades

of green canopy. In the dark midst, the jaguar lay

still, his waiting ephemeral. 

My point here is inspiration for writing can be hidden in many places or out in plain sight.

Jake Speed, an action-adventure comedy, written by Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford, is another favorite movie my husband and I both like to watch, and yes, I ask “Why does it always have to end like that?” He smartly replies, “Because it is not Gone with the Wind.”  He knows by now I have changed that ending to suit me. I turn my head away and grab the remote.

With books, I refer to reading as a delicious solo event. I look for certain passages where I have marked (with a bit more respect using a sticky note, not a dog ear) and revisit them often. I like most endings, and if not, I change it. What if this happened instead? Same as in a movie if I prefer for it to end differently. I chalk it up to another avenue for writing practice.

There is only one Margret Mitchell and one Gone with the Wind, so I won’t tell you about my version of Scarlet and Rhett because you may be the one to reach for the remote.

A Hunting We Will Go

In Jackie’s blog on May 8, Beloved Books, I commented that I had never read Where the Red Fern Grows and would tackle it. I checked the book out at our library and began. The first copyright was in 1961. I was ten. I will say I was into Huckleberry Finn, pirate escapades, and such in those early years of reading.

I settle on the couch and stop at Chapter Two. Billy gets his first small steel traps. I put the book down. Later I inch back into it and skimmed along halfway through Chapter Seven. Okay, I have just about had it on using a log trick to catch a raccoon. A few days later I picked and poked through a paragraph here, there until the real raccoon hunt began with his two little new hound dogs. Chapter Eight through Nine was the agonizing effort of his first raccoon catch, and before Chapter Ten ended, I put the library receipt back in the book and laid it by the front door.

The point: Reading a book of its time, for its era, culture, and the deep wanting of a little boy to have hound dogs is a grand and deeply dutiful story. I would have received this story far better at the age of ten living in rural Midwest countryside, but not today at seventy-one far removed from country living. At around the same age of ten or eleven, I did go raccoon hunting once. Uncle Mel bought a Bluetick Coonhound at quite a price for that time. He had always had a dog, but not a true ‘hunting’ dog that was bred for this activity. Blue, yes, Blue, was quite the looker, but he was goofier often times and more lovable all the time than being on alert. Uncle Mel took his oldest son, Leslie, and daughter, Sandy, who was my age, and I out into the thick woods well after supper one night. We all hopped out of the truck and off we went through tall brush, grass, brambles, and trees. My uncle broke the path while Blue and us three were eager to follow. We lifted the dog over any fence we came across. Not long into this search, Blue treed a raccoon, high up, little black shiny eyes looking down.

I recall amidst the noise and excitement of the barking and baying I said something or other, like, you’re not going to hurt him, right? And probably made more of a fuss because I was beginning to get the picture. I know my uncle couldn’t see my face because of being so dark but perhaps heard something in my tone. He turned and we all followed. Blue stayed behind for a moment until he discovered we were all leaving and happily bounded after us.

A few years later in 1968 Leslie found a young orphaned baby male raccoon and brought him to the house to take care of him. He named him Rocky after the then-released Beetles song. Rocky Raccoon was a case. He grew strong, nosey, agile, and part of the big family. He was everywhere, anytime day or night. When I spent the night with my cousins, and it was often, I woke up in the middle of the night to a gentle head massage and miscellaneous rearrangements to my hair. He loved the scuffling in long hair, or his nose around my ears, and pawing to get between the blankets. He jauntily went from bed to bed to activate his many pranks.

The day came when Rocky grew into his instincts to leave home and find a mate. Rocky was getting restless, a bit less friendly, and not so content. Leslie and Rocky left one afternoon walking across the backfield toward the old one-room schoolhouse known as Dexter which was surrounded by thick woods. Leslie came back that evening, well after dark. It was a sad week at the house for all of us.

(My dad teasing Rocky with his coffee cup)

Oddly enough, about two years later, Leslie was out in the yard working on one of his dad’s tractors. He heard a type of chittering noise in the alfalfa field beyond the shed. He walked quietly toward the fence and the noise increased to a high-pitch squeal. A large raccoon reared up on its hind legs when he saw Leslie. He chittered, looked back, forward, and lowered himself. Leslie noticed another raccoon and two little ones behind, hiding. Leslie spoke to Rocky as if he never had been gone. After a few minutes, Rocky turned and led his family into the thickness of the alfalfa making their way back home toward the woods behind the old schoolhouse. I think Leslie stood at the fence for a long time.

Although this home has been empty for many years, falling in so to speak, it is still owned by some of the family. I would like to think that somewhere out back in those woods, Rocky’s relatives live on.

So back to our Where the Red Fern Grows and all others, my decree upon reading classics of choice varies from time to time, visiting extraordinary storytelling from an author’s imagination along with perhaps experience threaded within its pages. I respect each of these titles throughout our history that capture and hold in a capsule a place in time and to be carefully placed on our bookshelves. With absolutely no disrespect, Red Fern is back at the library safely tucked upon a shelf.   


Painting by
Sally Rosenbaum

An accessory to being a writer is being a reader. The love of words, whether my own or those of others I admire, is part of the suit I inhabit in the world. I have a library of over 1,000 volumes, hardback and paperback, most in my writing room/library/cat boudoir. There are books in every room of the house. My husband claims every horizontal surface has books on it. I have read most, reread many. Some are on my To Be Read list that I acquired at too-good-to-miss sales at the library and elsewhere. I wonder at times if my library is a subliminal guarantee of eternity as in, I cannot die until I’ve read every book I own. I don’t think so, but it has crossed my mind.

My husband, a man of action not a reader, has come to terms with the love-me-love-my-books attitude and helped transport boxes and boxes from one abode to another over the years. He does not understand the obsession. “Why keep a book you already read?” is his repeated refrain. “Because I love them” is my reply. Even if I don’t reread an entire book, I go back to visit characters or scenes I like. I use books as reference or inspiration when I write. My books have sticky notes and penciled notes in them.

I made a promise (lightly made but mostly kept) to stop adding to the library when I discovered Kindle and Audible. Now I have over 600 Kindle books and nearly the same number of audiobooks that don’t have to be moved in boxes. Two-for-one offers and Kindle free are my downfall. I discovered the digital checkout system, Libby, at the public library and use it for book club books I don’t have and don’t want to purchase. I read two or three books concurrently. The three most recent are Trinity by Leon Uris, Since Then by Sheila Bender, and Lessons in Chemistry (audio) by Bonnie Garmus. Love them all.

I discovered, because of GoodReads, another place to hoard books. It is my “Want to Read” list that feels nearly as satisfactory as a TBR list. I read a review or see books my friends read and put them on the WTR list. It’s free and doesn’t take up space in my home.

a corner of the library
A corner of the library

Once, several years ago, I decided to organize my library and get rid of books I didn’t NEED. I took every volume off my shelves and put them in the middle of the room in stacks by category. My grandson, then about four, wandered into the room where dozens of stacks reached heights nearly to his shoulder. “Wow, Grandma, you must have a million books”.  I, with the coldness of a butcher, put piles of books to be discarded in a corner of the room. Then I asked my best buddies to come over to pick through and take the ones they wanted. We packed up the remainders and I had them take them to the library or Bookman’s or Good Will or wherever they chose. I knew if I took them, I’d end up bringing a few (or many) back because I’d rethink my attachment. I don’t miss them, and I don’t think I repurchased any of them. I didn’t keep a list. My library is again disorganized because I fail to put books back in their assigned place (even with the best intention). Maybe it’s time for reorganization and purge?