Read that again…

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

Literature doesn’t get the just prominence it once did. Instead, you’ll find right-wing politicians calling for the banning and outright burning of books that contain subjects and opinions they would prefer never to see the light of day. When you look to the left for support, you see the idiocy of banning Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as “racist” literature in a futile effort to appease the latest wave of offended malice. They’ll never be appeased.

As usual, both camps are wrong on such an epic scale it doesn’t bear arguing with either of them. The fact that politicians just fan the flames for more votes, and more money just makes the entire process worse.


Classic literature has its place. Less than classic literature has a place as well.

Sadly, I’ve worked with a couple of “professional” journalists who claimed that they never read a book in school, from elementary through college, and they were proud of it.

It’s something I don’t understand.

I’ve been an avid reader since I was eight years old. By the time I hit junior high school, I was reading four books a week.


The trend continued in high school where I read every history book, and most of the classic works of 19th-century literature that the tiny Wind River High School library held. When I turned 16 and became a legal driver, I continued with the Riverton Branch Library in its two original locations on the southeast corner of Rivercity.

In those years I read a mixture of fiction and historical writing. Now it’s strictly factual material, but I find travel writing from a humorous, slightly twisted viewpoint my current favorite.

But those early years of Hemingway, Bradbury, Asimov, Clark, Steinbeck, Heller, Plath, McClain, and Tolkien have remained as a source of stability in a growingly unstable world.


I’ve only read three books more than once. I read The Hobbit in high school, and later as a first-year teacher. I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as a young adult, and then again a few years later, but it was Joseph Heller’s clever revelation of the idiocy of bureaucratic life that gets the award for being read three different times.

If you’re not familiar with Heller’s work, you’ve at least heard of the title that has become a catchphrase for the insanity of modern bureaucracies, “Catch 22.”

Heller’s book is about life at a B-25 bomber base in the Mediterranean in World War II. The Catch in Catch 22 is this little paraphrased gem, “If you’re insane you don’t have to fly on a combat mission, but asking to get out of combat because you’re insane proves you’re sane, and you’ll have to fly.”


It’s the perfect bureaucratic rule. If you’ve ever been a youngster trying to get that first job of your career you’ve encountered it. “We can’t hire you because you don’t have any experience, and you can’t get any experience unless someone hires you.”

It is perfect logic for a very imperfect world, and it has guided me through some truly remarkable situations when dealing with administrators. Some of these people actually believe the stuff they force on their teaching staff, which makes it doubly interesting.

My major in American History only required first and second-semester freshmen English, but I knew from my reading as a kid that literature augmented the study of history.

I took literature of the West, the South, American folklore, and 19th-century American and English literature classes to enhance my understanding of history.

It backfired on me in the fall of my senior year when I took Civil War II, the American West, literature of the American West, and Literature of the South at the same time. That semester my reading list was 42 good-sized volumes ranging from 400 to 800 pages each. It was daunting, but my background as a youngster reading four books a week paid off.

As a teacher, I knew the power of literature when coupled with a history curriculum.

In my second year in Lusk, I approached the literature teacher about scheduling his curriculum to match mine, but he wasn’t interested.

He was an early version of “Captain Video.” He preferred having his students watch entire video series of classic books on those big laser discs of the early 1980s. Nicholas Nickelby took almost four weeks to watch one session at a time in his room, but, he didn’t have to teach, just push play and sit back.

At Shoshoni High School, my friend Tim Ervin and I had the juniors in American History and American Literature. Different periods, but the same students.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark that Tim taught sections of meshed beautifully with the westward expansion, “Manifest Destiny” section of my history curriculum and the kids were the ones to benefit.

In my class, they read the “Red Badge of Courage,” by Stephen Crane, and the “Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.

On a side note, if you want to get 16 and 17-year-old kids interested in something, just increase the gore factor a bit and they’re hooked. The corrupt Chicago packing houses of the late 19th century portrayed in The Jungle was more than enough.

I added the “Grapes of Wrath” later and that classic by Steinbeck has aged well in our current society where the wealthy control everything and the rest of us live on their crumbs.

Along the way, technology has crept in. Teachers face the constant onslaught of cleverly disguised plagiarism in their student’s work, and many have abandoned writing assignments entirely. That’s not a good thing.

In my final teaching years, I wouldn’t accept printed assignments but had the kids write their term papers and essays in long hand. You can still plagiarize, but it takes a lot more effort than cut-and-paste, then printing. There is a connection between writing and learning that is deeper than just reading or watching a video.

What is good literature? J.D. Salinger the author of Catcher in the Rye put it this way, “

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

I read Catcher in the Rye last year, and as an aging adult, I didn’t share the sentiment with the main character, Holden Caulfield, that a 19-year-old would.

As a kid, maybe he would appear exciting, intelligent, and aware, but in my experienced view, he needed backhanded and sent off to the military.

Two views by the same person, just separated by time, and literature had an effect on both. That is power in the word.


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