Summer meant lots of work on the farm, but it also offered time to read, especially if I took my book beyond the sound of my mother’s call and out of sight of my little sister.
When I didn’t have much time, I’d sprawl on an old blanket under a maple tree in our front yard. If I had a couple hours free, I’d sneak away from the house into the pasture and lean against a huge elm tree. Usually the dog would lead my pesky little sister to me.
I found a better hiding place in a cottonwood tree bya clear running stream too small to be called a creek (pronounced crick). I could climb up a few feet and wedge myself between the branches. I wasn’t visible unless someone stood right below me and looked up.
Many of the small library’s books were classics or simply old. Fortunately I loved historical novels. Here are some of the authors and titles I remember.
R. D. Blackmore: Lorna Doone (I reread this 600-page book before a trip to England a few years ago and marveled that I’d read the whole thing at 13 or 14)
Pearl Buck: The Good Earth (on my list to reread)
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompei (good story, ponderous writing)
Willa Cather: O Pioneers, My Antonia, The Song of the Lark (still worth reading)
Winston Churchill: Richard Carvell, The Crisis (huge in his day; forgotten now)
James Fennimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans (clunky writing, intriguing content)
Alfred Leland Crabb: A Mockingbird Sang at Chickamauga (riveting then)
Charles Dana: Two Years Before the Mast (goes well with Moby Dick)
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist (Dickens will live forever)
Lloyd C. Douglas: The Robe, Magnificent Obsession, The Big Fisherman (wildly popular at one time but mostly forgotten)
Edna Ferber: So Big (better for an adult than an adolescent)
Zane Grey: Riders of the Purple Sage (one of many fast-paced tales)
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter (read mostly in lit classes today)
Herman Melville: Moby Dick (everyone knows the whale, few read the classic)
Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind (a category in itself)
Kenneth Roberts: Northwest Passage (strong historical narrative)
Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped, Treasure Island (classics)
William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair (neglected classic)
Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi (I’ve never stopped reading Twain)
Lew Wallace: Ben-Hur (heavy going today; you need to like history a lot)
Owen Wister: The Virginian (period piece but timeless characters)
Harold Bell Wright: The Shepherd of the Hills, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (dated writing but interesting portrait of a time and place—the Ozarks)
I never enjoyed books more than when I read them in the shade of a tree.