I have, for a number of years, been writing a column for The Ink, a community arts and culture monthly paper here in Las Cruces. It's been one of the more felicitous parts of my job, made more so by becoming friends with Roy Van der Aa, the publisher. The other day I asked him if I could use the columns here and he graciously said I could. So, thanks, my friend, I appreciate it.
What follows is a slightly edited version of that column that appears in the October 2017 edition of The Ink
I have a very dear friend who lived at one time in Las Cruces, but moved last year to Georgetown TX. We write back and forth regularly and recently she asked me what part of my job I loved the most. The answer came to me almost effortlessly: The Branigan BookClub (BBC). So, thanks, L, ever so much, for sparking these lines!
The BBC began in April 2005. As of this month, that’s 127 monthly meetings. We’ve read and discussed more than 150 books, as some months, we read two and sometimes three titles. Many are ones that I’d not have read otherwise. I mostly read mystery/crime fiction, almost all of it dark and sinister. About a quarter of our titles have been non-fiction ranging through such topics as early U.S. frontier history, case studies in the connections between the brain and music, the light that research on autism and animal behavior can shed on each other and more. Our fiction choices also reflect a wide spread of tastes. Mysteries, suspense, "chick-lit", classics (most of us disliked Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov), best-sellers, first novels, and more coming to mind. So you see we read just about anything.
I credit my love of reading to my father, who always was reading something. Some of my best childhood and teen memories are of the bookshelves filling almost every wall of each house in which we lived. Books were everywhere. Science, religion, philosophy, college literature texts, anatomy and physiology texts, texts from his classes in Dental School shared shelf space with my brother’s and my books. I don’t ever remember a time when we weren’t allowed free run through it all. And, he read to us every night before we went to sleep. Sometimes for only a few minutes, but he read. On family vacations, when my brother and I were old enough, we took turns being the designated reader. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything! One standout is a 1980 trip from Maine to Michigan and back featuring The Hobbit and all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.
About six or eight years ago I was back in Maine and saw the family friend, who, at 17, had gone with us. “I still get chills up and down my spine when I remember that ride and those books!” was the very first thing he said when we ran into each other in the local grocery store. I grinned like an idiot!
And so, when a group of bibliophiles meet to talk about the book they’ve just read, to me it seems pretty close to the perfect way to spend an evening. Add to that inevitable digressions (other books read; movies seen; food we love—or despise—and a host of other topics) and well, life just doesn’t very often get much better than this.
This month our book is H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I reviewed it in the December 2015/January2016 issue of The Ink There I said:
“ H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald is one of those books you find once in a while and after reading the library copy, you go out and buy one for yourself. A person could learn so, so much from this book! Part personal memoir of working through grief, part treatise on falconry, part reflections on an awkward childhood, part clear-eyed treatise on T.H. White and his book The Goshawk, part meditation on English academia and the “doing” of science, and all written in masterfully concise, elegant prose that could make even the likes of John McPhee, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Simon Winchester weep in admiration! When Macdonald’s beloved father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, she was devastated. A practicing falconer, she decided to tame a Goshawk, the wildest of all hawks, to help her cope with the grief. This book is the result. For anyone who appreciates the limpid majesty of superbly crafted English sentences, this book is almost orgasmic. If the natural world fascinates you, you’ll find more than enough here to excite you; those whose hearts thrill to the flight of a hawk may want to check with their cardiologist before reading this! I had the added pleasure of listening to the author read the book. If you can…do so as well.”
We meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month (this month, the 18th) at 6:30 pm in the Library’s second floor conference room. So, if you love books and reading, consider dropping in and sharing the enjoyment!
Well, we’re at the end of our monthly get together again. And as ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading my lines even only half as much as I enjoyed writing them, then you’ve had way more fun than is probably legal in 37 states and counting! So, in closing, remember—Never, ever give up! Never, never, ever say “Die”! But above all, KEEP ON READIN’!