Speaking of comedy, I’ll put in another vote for a historical novel set in prohibition days in southeast Kansas. Topekan Max Yoho spun a good yarn about a boy coming of age during the later years of the prohibition era. The Moon Butter Route follows 12-year-old Wally Gant as he enters his teen years in the 1940’s. His first job was to assist with deliveries for the Strang Dairy, a place that didn’t just deliver milk, but also some of the finest moonshine (Moon Butter) packaged in painted milk bottles.
His adventures amongst the moonshiners and bootleggers—some lovable and some not—follow Wally as he finds love and fortune in a rough part of the state and of history. Told with good humor from Wally’s point-of-view, some of the shenanigans he describes are downright hilarious, which reminds me again how laughter can truly be good medicine for the ills of my soul.
Early in the year, a soft-spoken gentleman in the Wichita author’s group requested volunteers to test-drive a book he’d finished. I signed up, and promptly got distracted by daily life. The year was half over and I was thoroughly disheartened by the accrued crises before I downloaded a Kindle copy and started reading. I admit, I was dubious about a book titled I Rode for the Wigglin’ W. Some kind of western perhaps? Not exactly my cup-o-tea. But I wanted to support my fellow writer.
It wasn’t long before I wondered why I’d waited so long. Wigglin’ is not just a western, it’s a romantic comedy to boot. Loren Harder (as Flynn McGuin) soon had me laughing out loud—just the lift I needed amongst all the sour news and dire predictions of the year.
I Rode for the Wigglin’ W is good, clean fun, a modern tall-tale that you have to read to understand. I’m not going to give away any of its secrets since I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say it’s well-written (not a grammatical hiccup anywhere that I recall) and fast-paced. It’s written for folks of my generation, with sentimental clues from our coming-of-age years, but it’s clean enough to share with youngsters. And, it’s hilarious. Thank you, Loren.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges
A third book recommended by a friend proved even more horrifying. Written more than a decade ago, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges was more than an eye-opener. Hedges described settings and scenes I’d never dare to experience personally, but they illuminated and explained phenomena I’ve noticed in the growing rigidity and prejudice of many conservative friends and family members. Anyone paying the slightest attention to matters of faith can attest to the truth of his detailed observations.
Today’s most recognized “Christian” community, the right-wing conservatives, are often a far cry from living the teachings of Jesus. When matters of faith fail to uplift and support those most vulnerable among us, but instead attack the differences that make us unique, something has gone very wrong. When those who embrace atheism demonstrate greater generosity and compassion to world inhabitants who are powerless, religion has failed its basic purpose.
A Pascal quote used as the introduction for Hedges’ book put it simply, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
None of these wake-up books were written by authors I know personally, nor do they include specific mention of Kansas, but they impacted my personal life and growth in 2017. Each was recommended by vastly different friends and acquaintances. They remain relevant today and I pass them along as worthy books to read.
A comment on an internet article I skimmed recently caught my eye. “For the first time in history, an American president has declared war on the American people.” There are many sides to this complex issue, many concerns. How we respond to the challenge of resisting our leader will determine the course of our future. A logical first step would include defining what America has been in its almost 250 year history, and what America stands for in our own hearts. What would we preserve for the generations to come?
I cherish the beloved words learned in our daily pledge of allegiance when I was a grade school student years ago, a pledge still recited daily in my local schools. The most important thought, and one I think defines what America should be, is its conclusion, “with liberty and justice for all.” We have a long way to go to realize this kind of society, but I cling to the dream these words paint. Liberty and justice for all.
All means “all”.
Not just the 1%. Not white Americans. Not men only. Not only straight people. Not just right-wing Christians.
All means all. And in our diversity, may we find strength.
On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder
Early in 2017, I sat in an examine room waiting for a dermatologist to examine a suspicious spot on my nose. To pass the inevitable wait time I had brought along the book I was currently reading. When the doctor finally breezed into the room, I was writing a memorable point from the book in my travel journal. He noticed and he asked about the book. Then he recommended one he’d found of utmost importance, On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder.
I was intrigued, as much by the recommendation of a physician to his first-time patient as anything else. On my return home, I looked it up and ordered a copy. Before the week passed, I had devoured Snyder’s treatise. “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the 20th century,” Snyder wrote in the introduction. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”
Using examples from historical incidents within the personal recollection of my elders, Snyder listed steps we should take to stave off a descent into chaos. Among these:
Defend institutions. These include the courts, news outlets, and labor unions. Public schools, libraries and book stores could also make the list.
Beware the one-party state. Become informed. Vote. Run for office yourself.
Be courageous. Stand out. Give courage to others. Set a good example of what America should mean for the sake of coming generations. Hang onto the dream of liberty and justice for all.
On friends: Stay in touch with your neighbors. Make new friends and march with them. Make friends abroad. And keep your passport current.
Defend our language. Refuse to talk like everybody else. Separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
Believe in truth. And search for it. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.
As the events of 2017 accrued, it became clear that we are being led by a tyrant. I recommend Snyder’s book. Read it while it’s still allowed.
The Will to Change by bell hooks
Friends recommended other books in my 2017 journey that carried an impact. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks, a black feminist writer, delved deeply into the ills of our society as a paternalistic creation. Traditional roles for women and men thrust upon children at very young ages may have contributed significantly to the simmering rage that fuels white supremism, racism, sexism, and ultimately the climate that leads to mass shootings. Until we can embrace the individual talents of every person, there will be violence in our future. Hooks’ study helped frame much of the tragic headliners of 2017 into a new perspective with increased understanding about how frustrated paternalistic roles have impacted events. We collectively need the will to change our ancient traditions of male dominance into an affirmation of every person’s unique gifts.
Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.
Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.
What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.
We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.
Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.