Summer Reads

When the few TV shows I watch on any kind of regular basis go away for the summer, I turn to books.  You remember books.  Well?

The other day I was walking past a couple of kids – probably 8 or 10 years old – sitting on the sofa waiting for their parents to finish with their workouts and they were reading

. . . Books!  We’re so used to seeing kids of all ages texting, starring at their phones in some hypnotic state, playing games on the tiny 3 inch screens that, well, I was a little taken by surprise to see kids actually reading.  I wanted to give them a ribbon or something and I wanted to meet their parents.  I mean, this was “alert the media” type stuff.

But, I have to admit with the advent of The Kindle and now the iPad, sometimes I forgo the real thing for the electronic version.  This might merit some pole or survey and could stir up some bee’s nest if I were to ask for votes or opinions on whether you’re book people or Kindle/iPad people.  It’s a hot topic right up there with Red States vs Blue, Cats or dogs, sweet potato fries or original.

The Kindle-type “book” came into my life after I’d spent a while recovering from a hospital stay.  During my down time, I read David McCullough’s work called “Truman.”

It was somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pages and had to weigh 5 pounds.  Got my strength back just picking it up, putting it down, picking it up, etc.

On a trip out of the country on a long, long flight, I tried out the Kindle that I’d won at a golf tournament.  It took a little getting used to but I really liked having several books at my fingertips that were all light as a feather and easy to access.  Heck, I could even change the font size!  Cool.

It made me a little sad that I was collecting books that would never have a place on my library shelf, but really, they’re either decorations or to some slightly embarrassing  elements of pride so that when people come over and peruse the shelves, I can say “Yes, Yes, I’ve read ________.”  There are a handful of books on the shelves that I’ve read more than once. But only a handful.  The rest are just filling space.

So, this summer, our first trip was north to Canada where we spent 8 days on Lake Huron, away from the triple digits of Houston and into the land of the sweater and electric blanket . . . in June!

I read “Unbroken” by Lauren Hildebrand.  If you’ve not read “Unbroken” I’d really recommend it.  It’s the story of a POW held in a Japanese prison camp during WWII.  After having to ditch his plane in the Pacific, Lewis Zamperini and crew were adrift on the Pacific for 47 days then held captive for 30 months.  Mr. Zamperini is still alive and well and lives in California.

You’ll be amazed at this story.  It’s an incredible testimony of the resilience of the human spirit and the human body.  In a time when we’re afraid to touch anything or go anywhere without sanitizing everything, the fact that these POWs survived the horrific conditions and the inhuman treatment is simply amazing.  The end of the story is incredibly inspirational.  And, it made me thankful that men like Mr. Z and men like my father, who quietly and with great dignity, served the United States and the world during the global upheaval that was World War Two.

I read two other books by one of my favorite experts on American history, David McCullough.  “The Great Bridge” is a tremendous story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Wow, I bet you’re thinking “Man, a book about building a bride . . . sounds riveting.”  It is!  When it was finished, the Brooklyn Bridge, with it’s two towers, one on the Brooklyn side and the other on the Manhattan side, were the largest structures anywhere in New York City.  The new innovations that were required to accomplish the building of this structure (that is, obviously, still standing and still in use every day by thousands) were fascinating.  And of course, there are always human-interest stories that parallel the story of the bridge.  From the eccentric and brilliant designers and the labor force given the challenge of completing the massive task, there was drama every day that gave people plenty to debate and discuss.

The other McCullough book I read this summer was “The Johnstown Flood” and “The Path Between the Seas.”  With the work being done right now to improve the Panama Canal, “The Path Between the Seas” was really interesting.  Again, the human drama that accompanied this seemingly impossible task was fascinating.

So, yes, I read a lot these days.  And it seems I end up reading a lot of history.

Early in the year, I read “Decision Points” by former president George W. Bush.  I think the reason I like reading history – and back in school days, it was not my favorite subject – is that we’re kept in the dark about so much that happens to us.  Decisions and events that take place all around us “just happen” and we know little of the details or how things actually come about.  “Decision Points” made it very clear that the news media feeds us like little ignorant birds . . . a seed here and a seed there, a crust of bread, “There, that should be enough.”

Knowing the “how and the why” can take the edge off sometimes.  It’s equivalent to being annoyed by a car speeding by on the freeway, weaving in and out of traffic like a dope, cutting you off and then realizing the emergency ahead.  It’s not that “you never know.”  It’s just that a lot of times, you don’t know.  It helps give people the benefit of the doubt and takes the edge off the fast pace of our lives.

The awareness of our history as a people and as a country will make us more thankful.  Thankful for the people that worked in anonymity to shore up the fabric of a world that is fragile and can come apart so easily.

The knowledge of history can help us beware of the subtleties of evil and how to be on guard, how to protect our hearts and the ones we love.

Another book from my summer reading “In the Garden of the Beasts” by historian Erik Larson told the story of American ambassador William Dodd and his family as they lived in Berlin during Hitler’s ascent to power.  This is a tremendous over simplification, but if someone had paid a little more attention to Mr. Dodd, Hitler’s madness could have been stifled before it became the most horrible, evil nightmare it did.

Someone said “If we ignore history, we’re doomed to repeat it.”

God Help Us to pay attention to the lessons we should have already learned and to keep You before us in everything we do.  Keep us awake when the world tries to rock us to sleep, bent on breaking into pieces all that You have made and all that You have given.

The world is a fragile place, but a beautiful place full of God’s blessing.  It’s hard not to live in fear but I’m convinced that is not His will or purpose for us.  I pray that this moment, you’ll be able to breathe deep and enjoy the peace that passes understanding.

Wayne Watson