Our first community read centers, of course, on the famous author from this hometown, Zane Grey. Years ago, long before dreaming I might one day live here, I read Riders of the Purple Sage. The harsh portrayal of the Mormon characters rubbed a little raw, but I had to admit it was a compelling read.
Now, community readers can choose from four books to read and discuss. Riders, which is on the Library of Congress list of Books That Shaped America, is one, of course. Then there’s the Thomas Pauly biography (Zane Grey: His Life/His Adventures/His Women), a youth book called The Young Forester, and Betty Zane. Betty Zane has clear and immediate ties to the folks who settled this very area, and a talented editor has purged a new edition of antiquated language while remaining scrupulously true to the author’s style and intent. Our college English comp classes have incorporated this book into their curriculum.
We have activities—a concert of music true to the late 1880’s, early 1900’s–the span of Grey’s life. The Scouts hold an outdoor adventure day, with patient horses toting city children on gentle rides and monkey bread cooked over open coals in a cast iron Dutch oven. Kids shoot BB guns at moving targets, and not one person warns that they might shoot their eyes out. Ranger Ron, whose ancestry is authentically Native American, shows children how to fashion beads into chokers, dresses them in buckskin, lets them handle a mink-skin pouch. The activities all mirror Grey’s love of the outdoors and the West.
This Saturday, during a Night at The Museum, Zane Grey will come to life via a historical interpreter. Participants will spend a couple of after-hours in the Stone Academy, a local history museum, learning about the history of the area and the cleaned-up biography of the man.
We’ve had lectures and demos, and there are more activities to come.
Attendance has been great. It’s very exciting, and all I need to do is get the books read so I can join in the discussion intelligently–have something thoughtful and worthwhile to contribute.
The books are on a shelf. I walk by them daily. I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to open them.
I fall off the shelf-reading wagon and bring three brand new books home from the library. Of course, they are demanding, with their two-week due dates, so I justify plunging into them before approaching Zane Grey. And I have some professional reading to do, a book my supervisor just provided for the leadership in our division. I’d be remiss in not reading that.
Occasionally I blow dust from the topmost Grey book, but otherwise, they are sadly undisturbed until I realize my AAUW book group is discussing the biography on Sunday. It is Thursday when this reality dawns, and I grab the book, a little resentful, and I begin.
I learn, in the preface, that one of our adjunct’s wives was instrumental in helping Mr. Pauly find his source material; seeing Liz’s name creates connective tissue. The first chapter draws me into descriptions of this area, a hundred years past.
Over the next two days, I dip and skim. I enjoy the baseball passages, having grown up in a baseball family; the fishing chapters I allow myself to give no more than a cursory glaze of a read.
On Sunday, I take the book and my thoughts to the AAUW book group, which meets in a cozy conference room at a brand new assisted living facility. We have coffee and cupcakes and we talk.
Brooke says she wonders if Grey was bi-polar; he had surges of creativity and then plunged into deep, debilitating depressions. Were the women part of that, Dorothy wonders, and we speculate on the kind of marriage that sees the wife hand-picking paramours to send off on nature trips with her husband. Often he took two or three ladies with him. The author kept detailed, scurrilous diaries of their antics, and he illustrated them with photographs as proof of his extraordinary prowess.
Those, the family did not allow Mr. Pauly to quote or reproduce.
After those trips–sometimes taking as long as nine months, Grey would go home to his wife and crash. And she would nurture him back to health. Then she’d send him off again.
I am reminded suddenly of the biography I read of Mickey Mantle, whose infidelities were also legend. HIS wife finally divorced him, but he vowed that she would always be Mrs. Mickey Mantle. He had plenty of girlfriends, but only one wife. (Once he told a friend that sleeping with his wife, whom he respected, was kind of like, he imagined, sleeping with his sister.) I wonder out loud if there’s a kind of driven man, one who excels and accomplishes, who cannot incorporate a physical relationship into his concept of marriage.
There are snorts and derisive comments about that kind of man.
If Grey was bi-polar, we wonder, would medication have taken the edge off his creativity?
The discussion is rich and vital, and when I go home afterward, I open the book again, and find things I missed in my first wimpy reading.
As I drift off to sleep that night, I remember some of the shared readings I did as an undergrad, and how I looked forward to graduation and the time to explore some of those authors’ other writing. The discussion in classes ignited me; the author’s work came alive and challenged my thinking.
Graduation finally came, and I went to the library, brought home the books…and knew disappointment. Flat and lifeless, my solitary reading–it was the thought and vitality of the class discussions that brought these works to life. They were not writers I enjoyed on my own. I returned the volumes and returned to, or found, other writers whose works spoke aloud to my individual reading.
There are many ways to read a book, and one is in community, especially a book with roots in the community itself. Among the many ways this community read gladdens my heart, I am glad for this opportunity to read and share with others.
Image retrieved 9/23/15 from www.press.uillinois.edu.