Sometimes it takes a while to find The Book. It’s the one that makes you realize that, while there might be a lot of reads out there that you don’t like, that are boring, that make you roll your eyes, there is nonetheless one story that will rivet you to a chair for as long as it takes to get through it. Even if you’re really busy, it will demand a daily date, if only for a few minutes at a time.
Some people are lucky, and they find The Book when they’re young. Tom Cavanagh found his just as he was entering high school. It was 1931’s Fighting Blood, a story about high school football.
“I really felt transported to heaven in the reading. That was a first for me. Talk about enlarging my experience and enriching my life.
“Fiction can do things like that. Clarify moral values. New possibilities. It doesn’t matter where you may be – Peterborough, Sherbrooke, Montreal, or anywhere in the world. I actually lived and worked in a dozen different countries and societies but it was Fighting Blood that pointed the way.”
And no, author William Heyliger is not the likes of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, or even J.D. Salinger: “But he opens doors, as do all good writers.”
“Fiction builds empathy and teaches us about our lives, ourselves, and others. It can make us smarter too and that is not just a matter of opinion.”
Once he found an author and a genre that he liked, he was able to find more good reads. And Cavanagh became a lifelong reader. He writes, too. Record readers have long benefited from his column (now more irregular in its appearances, given his retirement), in which he has discussed his travels, his work, politics, and more.
Cavanagh loves fiction. (He will, however, read anything: “I love books period. Permit me the following quote from Shay Youngblood: ‘My most favourite dream is the one where I live in a library, and where all the walls and furniture are made of books.’”)
He’s hard-pressed to offer a short list of reading recommendations. Here are “just two from thousands”. The first is Ian McEwan’s The Children Act (published in 2014 and available via the Lennoxville Library’s interlibrary loan service). Respected British judge Fiona Maye has reasoned many, many court decisions. Her own divorce and the child custody cases of others take a lot out of her, however; a work life filled with vindictive adults can do that to you.
This plot is pulled out of the current events headlines: For religious reasons, a child who is a Jehovah’s Witness refuses the blood transfusion that could save his life. At the same time that Maye seeks a thoughtful and considered court response to two complex points of view, her home life is collapsing. The Washington Post writes: “The Children Act doesn’t enact the happy triumph of humanism. Instead, it recognizes how fragile we all are and how cautious we should be about disrupting another’s well-ordered universe. As Emily Dickinson warned,
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.”
The Children Act is Cavanagh’s new and short-ish book recommendation, clocking in at 221 pages. His second reading suggestion is much older and guaranteed to take you much, much longer to get through. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment saw publication in 1866. In it, a desperately poor young man decides to murder for money. Can he really do it?
Crime And Punishment is filled with drama, moral agony and argument (and you can find it, for free, online at Gutenberg.org).
Cavanagh loved both books: “They are gripping tales and both provide that painful beautiful sense that comes when you first notice there are only 50 or 20 pages left: ‘Oh, no. It’s ending too soon!’ ”
All this to say that books, and libraries, have long been important to Cavanagh. The only problem with library books, he grouses, is that they should not be scribbled upon (that’s one reason he buys books, too, so he can write notes on their pages…). The family home, he says, is packed: “Books on the floor. Books on chairs. Books in book cases. Books everywhere.”) Wife Rosemary, he adds, is as much of a book lover as he is, and so are the kids and grandkids.
“Libraries are wonderful and a social essential. So is Rosemary.”
There are many authors and books in this column. William Heyliger did write other books. Detectives, Inc. is at Gutenberg.org, as is Don Strong, Patrol Leader. Heyliger is a bit of a Horatio Alger sort, having written many adventure books “for boys”.
Books by Charles Dickens can be found on Lennoxville Library shelves, via interlibrary loan, and online (free, because they are now out of copyright). The same goes for the plays of William Shakespeare, online and on the shelf (including the Graphic Novel shelf, and many of his plays have been adapted to film and released on DVD; the library has quite a few! This year, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, will see the publication by modern authors such as Margaret Atwood of novels rebooting many of Shakespeare’s classics).
Other Ian McEwan novels can be found in Adult English Fiction and in Audio at the Lennoxville Library.
Poet Emily Dickinson is at 811.14 on Lennoxville shelves. JD Salinger’s famous The Catcher In The Rye (1951) is in Young Adult (as is 1961’s Franny And Zooey).
— Eleanor Brown, June 17, 2016