A Morning Reading Note

Over coffee early this morning I began reading Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Heck I’ve got at least two other books going, so why not I thought. Of course, the introduction of a book is critical, you have to keep the reader going, pulling their desire to know along. So here’s Meacham, in a rather simply way, introducing us to Jackson’s general proclivities:

Jackson was fond of well-cut clothes, racehorses, dueling, newspapers, gambling, whiskey, coffee, a pipe, pretty women, children, and good company.

So hey, what’s not to like about this guy already?…

The Hardcover Book is Holding Its Own

804379812-612x612Now here is some good news. In this age of digital dominance, it’s good to see that printed book sales are holding their own. That’s what PWC Global is reporting.

Initially, books downloaded and read on an Amazon Kindle or some other electronic device, when they became popular, seem to put a dent in printed book sales. This had some sad consequences for bookish store types like me. I think of Borders books. It closed down nationwide in 2011 and that really hurt because, at least in my area, Borders was the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble Booksellers. I actually liked Borders a little better—because it always seemed to have a better selection on hand, and a better coffee shop to boot. Of course now B&N is really the only bookish place, besides maybe a public library, I can go to enjoy browsing and indulging in a little bookish culture and being around my fellow bibilophiliacts.

I don’t currently have an Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook or any other digital book e-reader device (though I do have the Kindle app on my iPhone that I’ve never used). My wife actually bought me a Nook e-reader about 5 years ago but I never used it, so, being the professional ebayer she is, she sold it. Initially, I thought I could use an e-reader, but the allure of a physical book has a strong hold on me. I love the smell of a new hardcover book—preferably with deckled edges—and the tactile feel of the book, of turning the pages, and having the physical book on my bookshelf. For now, I’m an incurable preferrer of printed books. And so I book on, born back ceaselessly upon the bookstore aisles, browsing for another book.

Mark Twain Couldn’t Find it With A Dog

As a collector of Mark Twain books and paraphernalia, I recently came across a load of pictures, some of which I’d never seen before. Here is one of them and the perfect quote to go along with it!

MT with a dog copy

It takes me a long time to lose my temper, but once lost I could not find it with a dog. — Mark Twain

My First Political Memory

Jimmy Carter & Gerald Ford

Jon Meacham recently tweeted about his first “political memory,” which he said was watching Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. An apt memory for the young (5 years old at the time) Meacham who would become a Pulitzer Prize winning Presidential biographer.

For me, my first political memory was from the presidential election of 1976. America’s choice was between Gerald Ford (R) and Jimmy Carter (D). I was 11 years old at the time. My father and mother supported Gerald Ford and so naturally I was a Ford supporter. On the morning of the election, I remember standing at the bus stop at the corner of Preakness Way and Edwin Drive, holding up a makeshift Ford sign, yelling “Vote for Ford!” at the cars passing by. My best friend John, the same age, stood next to me waving an American flag and yelling “Vote for Carter!” at the same cars.

At our age, we really didn’t know much about politics, and our minds certainly hadn’t hardened into any strict partisan positions. We still had, for the most part, open minds. We were just having fun. Politics, policy, and the leadership of our nation was going to happen regardless of who won. We didn’t feel uneasy or disturbed about who won. This sense of permanency, of the fundamental decency and stability of the American way of life, was never something we doubted. Like the stars in their courses, it was the law of our mental cosmos. And this was so, in large part, because our society respected and demanded certain norms from our public officials & leaders.

At 11 years old John and I might not have understood what the issues were, but we saw two gentlemen (Ford & Carter) who comported themselves in a manner that showed dignity and respect for the office they sought. Of course, just 2 years earlier President Nixon had resigned in disgrace because he had violated those norms (and the law) and his own party, putting country over party and politics, told Nixon he needed to resign. It was a sad day for the nation, but a victory for the rule of law and the American way of life.

That Kempsville High School Year

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Kempsville High School, Virginia Beach, VA. (Photo by Jeff Wills, October 27, 2017)

At 24 years old I moved from the Virginia Beach, Virginia, area where I was born and raised, to the Washington D.C. area, where I have lived ever since. Of course over the years my wife and I have traveled back a lot to visit family and friends. I’ve always been a sentimental person, and its gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and had children. Time is a curious thing, and like Thoreau, it’s a stream I like to go fishing in.

I took the above picture in October of 2017. So about 9 months ago now. Surprisingly, this view is basically the same one I had every weekday morning during my 10th grade year as I pulled my car into the Kempsville High School (KHS) parking lot. The school year was 1982/83. What surprised me, and the thing that still fascinates me about this picture, is just how little the view has changed in the 35 years since I left KHS and transferred to F.W. Cox High School.

KHS was already 16 years old, and overcrowded, when I arrived in 1982. But here you have it, exactly—or so it seems—as I left it: The same bleached red brick building, without any noticeable exterior renovations, with its trademark covered walkway in front. The view—the reminder of a bygone world—set off a whole chain of related memories.

At that moment, in my mind, I could hear a female voice making announcements on the PA system, then the final bell ringing (7 throughout the day), and I could see the crowds of kids emerging from school, many boarding one of the parked yellow school buses lined up in two rows, paralleling the covered walkway. And then there were those, like me, who drove to school. I could see them emerging from between the buses and fanning out into the parking lot. As I stood there preparing to take this picture with my iPhone, I could see the ghost of my former self walking between the cars in the filled to capacity parking lot, headed to my car, books in hand, fumbling for my keys. Like my fellow teenagers, I was in an upbeat mode. It was the best time of day, because, of course, I was leaving.

I wasn’t a particularly good student in school; in fact, I was pretty bad, owing to a lack of focus and my social life taking priority over my academic one. A typical teenage male problem it seems. I can’t say I have a lot of great memories from that year attending KHS, only that it was a significant memory—9 months worth—of my teenage years. What really makes this picture and the related memories so wistful is how it reminds me of that unique time in my life. I was a teenage boy who’d recently gotten his learners permit and a new car—a 1982 black Ford EXP. Not exactly a posh set of wheels, but a nice new car that I racked up, much to my dad’s chagrin, a lot of mileage riding around looking for friends and things to do. My dad was shocked at how many miles I could put on a car in a year. It was the pre-cellphone era, so targets had to be hunted not quickly acquired via text message.

A car begins a whole new phase in a teenager’s life. My parents were easy going and forgiving and so naturally, being a self absorbed kid, I took full advantage of that and spent a lot of time on the roads and hanging with friends. My grades suffered. The most significant friendship I made from my year at KHS was with an easy going guy named Joe Smith. Yes…that’s his actual name. From Joe’s friendship, I connected with a whole new group of friends and had my first serious girlfriend. It was the best of times, it could be the worse of times, it was a time of growth, a time maturing and trying to find my way.

Back then my dad would often remind me “these are the best years of your life.” He meant that for now (because of him) I didn’t have to worry about paying bills and keeping a roof over my head, I didn’t have adult cares to contend with, I just needed to focus on “getting an education,” and staying out of trouble. Two things that became even more of a struggle from that point on. But the truth is I’d do it all over again. Those really were great times, some of the best years of my life, and it all worked out…thank God!!