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June 15, 2001

While watching some people young and old peruse the book shelves for just the right book, and stack up audiobooks for a road trip, and sheepishly check out all the watercolor painting videos, I felt pleased once again at the many ways people enrich their lives through the library.

That’s part of our mission–supporting and promoting life-long learning. It’s hard not to learn, really. It’s what we humans do. The challenge is to find something that engages us deeply. Abiding interests are harder to come by.

The library is one avenue for exploring different worlds, for introducing yourself to some new thing, for gaining new perspectives. The new perspective might well come through fiction, and as I considered recently what novel to recommend to someone, I remembered the GrtAmrcnNvl non-controversy this winter.

I had thought we might garner some response with that column in February. But I came to realize that no wise person would take on the task of correcting me, since the GrtAmrcnNvl is an intractable subject. It is a Holy Grail.

I received no formal comment. Oh, I was accosted on the street. I was berated for bowing to dead, white males. Friends expressed disappointment at the works I’d chosen to cite.

I lost sleep thinking of the authors I’d left out. Perhaps I can assuage my guilt by making a few summer reading suggestions.

John Irving, for one, was left on the cutting room floor. “The World According to Garp” was fun, but I was relieved to be done with it. However, “The Cider House Rules” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany” were outstanding.

I just started “Owen Meany” again, keeping a paperback handy in a basket of bath soap, commodiously placed for those contemplative moments. I’ve found that as much as the story persisted in my memory, I’d forgotten just how rich and funny and satisfying it is.

An equally rich American novel is Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose.” This is another remarkable literary accomplishment, and if you haven’t read it, you absolutely must. First, Stegner is royalty among western writers, and second, the novel finds its way through South Park to Leadville at one point. You have a responsibility as a citizen of Central Colorado to read this book.

Stegner was an influential teacher, as well, and his list of writing students includes Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Ernest Gaines, Larry McMurtry, N. Scott Momaday and Tillie Olsen.

Also edited out of the GrtAmrcnNvl column was “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf, who was interviewed for this newspaper last week as a new citizen of Central Colorado. I think “Plainsong” is another gem of a novel, and perhaps the author will be pleased to find himself here in the continuation of a discussion that included his idol, William Faulkner.

But listen to this: While testing our Internet connection to the Contemporary Authors database, I looked up Kent Haruf. In the narrative, it told how he typed the first draft of “Plainsong” with a stocking cap over his eyes “to achieve freshness and spontaneity without being distracted by the sight of words on the page.”

I thought this was wonderful. I assume it is true and shall spread the story here without further verification. If it’s not true, it should be.

P.S. On display now at the library is a photographic history of the Salida-Aspen Concerts. As you enter the library, the display to your right gives a brief history, telling the tale of how the concerts began in 1977.


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