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Tom West: Have you read any good books lately?

As a child, I had this problem with my mother. In the summer, free from school responsibilities, I liked to play with the neighbor kids. That was fine by my mom, except that she also thought that I should read more.

As a child, I had this problem with my mother. In the summer, free from school responsibilities, I liked to play with the neighbor kids. That was fine by my mom, except that she also thought that I should read more.
Being a librarian, she had a line on all the books that came into the library. She scoured the library trade journals to find out what books would likely appeal to an 8-year-old boy or a 10-year-old, etc. All summer long, she brought new books into the house in the hope that I would stop playing baseball or whatever long enough to read a book. Some I would read at bedtime, and at some I would turn up my nose. Eventually, however, a book would come into the house that I found spellbinding. Instead of going out to play, I would bury myself in the book and read for several days at a time.
As soon as I started doing that, however, my mother would become concerned with my unusual behavior and ask me, "Don't you have any friends?"
Reluctantly, I would put the book down, and go out to play with my friends.
I would play for a few days, and then she would ask me, "When are you going to finish that book? I thought you liked it."
So passed each summer. I either read too much or played too much. I could never seem to hit the right balance.
So it went until I grew up, moved away and got married. My wife is not a librarian, but she is the next best thing. She is a voracious reader -- the kind who goes to the library, chooses a stack of books, takes them home, and tries to read each one. If the book loses her interest, she doesn't struggle. She moves on to the next one.
Meanwhile, although I am usually wrapped up in work instead of play, whenever a free moment comes up, I need only turn to her and ask, "Read any good books lately?"
She always has an answer. She probably reads 100 books a year to my 10 or 15, but I usually get the best 10 or 15 of the lot.
So it was that recently I read a news article about a librarian in Maine who writes to celebrities to ask them what they recommend to others. We have no celebrities at our house, but there is an expert on books.
If you are looking for some good books to read, among her suggestions is one that Kyle Eller reviewed in the Budgeteer just a few weeks ago, "Jailhouse Stories" by former Fillmore County Sheriff Neil Haugerud.
Haugerud's tales of law enforcement in the 1950s and 1960s and the characters with which he had to deal will strike a chord with anyone who grew up in rural Minnesota.
John Grisham's best-selling "The Testament," about the fight over a billionaire's estate, probably ranks as his all-time best book, while his latest book, "The Brethren," probably is his all-time worst. She wondered if he had a ghost writer for his latest effort, it was so weak.
In the same way, she was looking forward to David Guterson's next book after "Snow Falling on Cedars.." "East of the Mountains," however, came across as a book with a huge advance that was written on a tight deadline. It was a disappointment.
For humor, Carl Hiasen's "Sick Puppy" brought a lot of chuckles, although she cautions that the language is obscene. Hiasen, who sets all of his novels in Florida, where he is a newspaper columnist, is as outrageous as Dave Barry, but Hiasen can stick to a plot line better.
For mystery, Elizabeth George's "In Search of the Proper Sinner," drew praise.
And for a techno-thriller, Robin Cook's "Vector" about a plot to kill off several million New Yorkers with biological weapons also will hold your interest.
For people who love the outdoors, I recommend two books that my wife hasn't gotten to yet: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson and "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose.
"A Walk in the Woods" is a first-person account of a walk along almost the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. "Undaunted Courage" is the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Some people like history, some don't. I read it for the history, but came away with a renewed appreciation for what could be called "the ultimate camping trip."
Think of canoeing upstream on the Missouri River from start to finish. (Every member of the expedition must have had arms and shoulders of steel.) Think of drawing your map as you go instead of studying it before you leave. It was an incredible adventure.
It's National Library Week. If none of the books above strike your fancy, the book lovers that work at the Duluth Public Library can help you find something that will.

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