The other night as I prepared to make my presentation to the Davidson County Civil War Round Table at Yarborough's Restaurant, one of my friends, Matt O'Bryant, told me he had just finished reading Stephen Crane's classic, "The Red Badge of Courage."
"Have you ever read it?" he asked me.
"Yeah," I said. "Probably 20-25 years ago. I think it was on my high school summer reading list."
I didn't think much about what I had just said until the next day, when the conversation wouldn't go away and rose up in my brain like swamp gas.
Then I stopped my wife, after it all sunk in.
"Kim. I just told a guy that I read 'The Red Badge of Courage' about 20 years ago because it was on my summer reading list in high school. It just hit me. It was more like 45 years ago when I read it. Geez."
"Well," said Kim. "You better not tell him that. He'll think you're old."
I guess so. The point, though, is that I ran straight to the library and checked out a copy of Crane's book, took it to work and finished it in about six hours over three days. I'd forgotten how incredible the book was. Crane, who died of tuberculosis when he was only 28, is often considered to be a progenitor of the modernist literary style. Consequently, I was surprised by how engrossed I became in the book, which was not as difficult to read as I had once remembered.
Somehow, it had gotten better with age.
For some reason I've gone on a reading surge. About nine or 10 months ago, I reread Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" and then quickly followed that with his "Life on the Mississippi," which I had never read. I love Twain. Folksy. Perceptive. Witty.
A few months ago, I was humbled into reading Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," which I had never read and was astonished by its craft.
I'm not quite sure where I find the time to read fiction, or classics, in between writing my own stuff while reading history books, Our State and Sports Illustrated or any other magazine that falls into my lap. But somehow, I seem to manage.
Right now, I'm reading a 400-page alternative history novel, "The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln" by Stephen Carter, which proposes that Lincoln miraculously survives Booth's assassination attempt and then faces postwar impeachment proceedings with a defense team that includes an African American female lawyer as well as Dan Sickles, a rapscallion Union General/lawyer who existed in real life and was the first person to successfully use the temporary insanity defense in America for the murder of his wife's lover. I can't make this stuff up.
OK, Carter's book may be a little cheesy, but I'm hooked. I'm 100 pages into it right now and I can't wait to see how it ends.
In the meantime, I'm waiting for part three of Rick Atkinson's excellent World War II trilogy, for which he's won a Pulitzer Prize. Atkinson is an exceptional writer of history who brings incredible clarity to the dry and mundane.
Sometime soon, I need to read Moby Dick and see what all the excitement is about. Call me crazy...