I subscribe to the old P.E.I. axiom that it’s not hard to carry a bit of knowledge around; after all, it’s not heavy. So while my book choices of late have been good in an intellectual sense, at the same time, they have been a bit hard on the head.
It seems every time I’m free to choose a new book to read, I gravitate towards what turns out to be a tough read.
Five books ago, I soldiered into ‘The Second World War’, from British historian Antony Beavor. I enjoyed the book, but it certainly lived up to its name in that it went into considerable detail about all aspects of the Second World War, which stretched from Asia to Africa to Europe, and other parts in between.
It was exhaustive and long but it enhanced my understanding of that horrible conflict, which was filled with so much brutality, insanity and suffering, especially on the part of innocent civilians.
One of the things that kept me going was a promise I made to myself that my next book would be lighter and more of an easy, breezy page-turner.
So I’m not quite sure how I followed up Beavor’s book by tackling another serious one, ‘How the Scots Invented the Modern World’ by Arthur Herman. Perhaps I was lured by mental images of clan battles, old castles, fine Scotch and fights to the death between the Scots and their great enemy — the English.
But again, I quickly realized I had taken on a serious tome. To be fair, there were colourful accounts of clan battles and David Livingstone’s adventures in Africa, but the book also went into great detail about the philosophy behind the Scottish Enlightenment, and the leading Scottish figures in religion, engineering and civil rights.
Again, as with the Beavor book, I read the last page of Herman’s book with a sense of satisfaction and relief. I definitely was a wiser man, but it wasn’t an easy read.
I had every intention of turning to ‘Marley & Me’ by John Grogan — a fellow book lover had highly recommended it to me as not only a great read, but an easy one, about a dog that charmed its way into the life of a family. But I somehow veered into ‘The Railway Man’ by Eric Lomax. It’s a tale of a young Scottish soldier captured and brutally tortured during the Second World War. He survives the war, but his experiences left him with a life sentence of emotional problems and resentment toward his captors.
In the end, the author journeys back to Asia to reconcile with one of the Japanese soldiers who had a hand in his brutal treatment. It was an interesting book, with the best and worse of humanity on display throughout its pages.
As I was finishing up that book, I happened to read a review of a Newfoundland book, ‘Camp 13: Working in the Lumber Woods’, by Byron White. It intrigued me. ‘Marley & Me’ was shoved to the backburner again.
White’s book offers a very detailed look at the daily lives of the men who put in long, hard days in the lumber camps around Gander Lake in central Newfoundland in the 1950s. Viewed through the prism of today’s working conditions, it was an eye-opener. There were no tales of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Rather, the pages told of temperamental horses, charging bull moose, and rough, but honest, hard-working men from another era.
With ‘Camp 13’ done, I set my sights on ‘Marley & Me’ but stumbled upon Helen Bryan’s ‘War Brides‘, which I am now in the early stages of reading.
But just this week, I had an ‘aha’ moment. I think I have figured out what is happening with me and my reading habits of the past few months.
My father, who has been dead for many years, was a soldier in the Second World War and as a teenager worked in a lumber camp in the Fundy area of New Brunswick. My mother, who has had a rough few months with ill health, is from Scotland and was a war bride.
It seems that on a subconscious level, I am being drawn into the world of their past. That’s probably a good thing in helping me understand them better. And as a bonus I got to read some interesting books.
But I swear, ‘Marley & Me’ is next on the list.
Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at email@example.com; or Twitter.com/GaryGuardian.