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For book lovers, reason to celebrate

Don Rogers

Books yet live! Neither radio, nor TV, nor Internet – not even newspapers or magazines – could kill off the apex form of the literary arts.

This was my thought in refuge while taking in a newspaper designer’s awful assertion during a presentation last week that nobody’s reading nuthin’ these days, complete with an eye-tracking study of “readers” showing they don’t look beyond the headlines, picture captions, graphics and short, short bits of text while also watching TV as they yak on their cellphones and trade e-mails.

Never mind the old debate about whether readers follow continuations of stories that jump from one page to another. They aren’t even reading to the “see page … ,” the presenter said.

This is all very distressing. Makes me really appreciate those folks who apparently missed the focus group and not only read the stories, but reply to them with a degree of nuance in their letters to the editor that betrays actual comprehension.

But what of books? They break all those nifty “rules” about design that dictate how to attract and speed readers through the paper (or at least make all papers look pretty much the same). Book type is still too small, set in columns too wide, with pages that are too gray and there’s way, way, way too much type altogether for anyone to bother looking at, never mind reading.

Still, there they are on bookshelves across America, all presumably read by the millions who buy them – many more, incidentally, than the folks who ski or snowboard.

There’s hope yet for civilization. Actually, more people than ever read books despite all the noise, if you consider population growth and education of the masses through history.

I go by James Michener’s dictum: Read everything. Read the classics and read the crap. Mainly, just read. And so I do. Finished “Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens, late last night. And I’m well into “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror,” by Richard Clarke. Story for the ages, and bestseller of the day. Guess which is the crap. Actually, neither. And both deal with the Terror of their time, in ways you’ll never get from the papers, networks or Web. Of course, the French are implicated either way.

For me, the book authors are the real rock stars. Reporters, columnists, editors – guppies all. We hack away through our work weeks in bits and bytes to keep the daily going, the Web site posted – certainly important, timely work. But the authors step clear of the grind, if only for mere hours at a time, and dare to craft. Some even pull it off. These are the alpha writers, and I admire them completely for their dedication, even it’s really clinical compulsion.

Maybe I’m nuts, too, planning to go sit in a dim ballroom at Beaver Creek to hear some book writers speak next weekend instead of getting in last runs before Vail Mountain closes for the season.

The Festival of Words, this coming Friday evening through Sunday morning, does create a tug of war. Riva, Avanti, Ledges (fall knee surgery still keeps me off more challenging runs) or Maguire, Shelton, Tsukiyama?

Discovering just about the only poet who ever clicked for me last year in Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, returning Friday night for the knockout “Wine and Wit” with Telluride partners Art Goodtimes and Ellen Marie Mattrick, tips me over to the word fest. Besides, Haven Kimmel will be there.

For prose, Kimmel is the stuff. Her wit, deft understatement and the line that captures all – God I wish I could write like her. Reading her “Solace of Leaving Early” last fall reminded me somehow of when I first saw lightning bugs, a moment that made the Midwest worth it. Maybe that’s because she grew up there, her books are set there, and I lived in small towns there just long enough to get some of what she says. My wife, who grew up in Indiana like Kimmel, busted a gut laughing at midnight while reading “A Girl Named Zippy.”

I know I’ve read stories by Peter Shelton in Outside magazine over the years, but I haven’t read anything by the other authors who will speak Saturday. Not yet, anyway. I suspect that for around here, Shelton’s “Climb to Conquer: The Untold Story of WWII’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops” is required reading for the history of Camp Hale and our own ski resorts.

Gregory Maguire is riding a wave with his “Wicked” getting plenty of pub through conversion into a Broadway play. I know less of Gail Tsukiyama and Kent Nelson, other than the superlatives and awards for their books I’ve read about in these pages.

I’m certain I’ll be digging into their work soon enough, though. Just as soon as I can flip through these newspapers while catching that Lakers game and checking my e-mail.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com


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