“And the moral of the story is?”

by chuckofish

“What is it with you white people and morals? Maybe it’s just a story about what happened.” He paused for a moment. “If an Indian points at a tree, you white people are always thinking, What does that mean? What does the tree stand for? What’s the lesson in this for me? Maybe it’s just a tree.” (Virgil White Buffalo in Hell Is Empty)

While waiting for cabs and resting between long walks and Big Events last weekend, I sought solace in the company of Walt Longmire in the Wyoming mountains.  Hell Is Empty is amazingly apropos reading for wiling away hours in LaGuardia Airport! (“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”–Shakespeare, The Tempest)

Anyway, at the beginning of this novel we are told that one of Walt’s deputies, regretting a stint in higher education devoted almost exclusively to criminal justice, is attempting to fill in some of the literary gaps. Walt and his deputies, plus the dispatcher and the lady who runs the diner have all made book lists for him. Dante’s Inferno plays a big part in the rest of the story.

Craig Johnson, understanding that his readers would want to know, thoughtfully includes the different lists in an appendix to the novel.


Of course, Ruby, the dispatcher and my soul sister, includes The Holy Bible (NT), The Pilgrim’s Progress, Inferno, Paradise Lost, My Antonia, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, Poems of Emily Dickinson, My Friend Flicka, and Our Town.

How great is that? I guess I’ll have to read My Friend Flicka!

I love lists.

My list would include: The Holy Bible (NT), The Book of Common Prayer, Moby-Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, O Pioneers!, The Big Sky, The Waters of Kronos, The Big Sleep, Gilead, Lonesome Dove…

I’m sure I’m forgetting something important that I really love. You know how that goes.

Here’s Frederick Buechner on a similar theme:

THE WRITERS WHO get my personal award are the ones who show exceptional promise of looking at their lives in this world as candidly and searchingly and feelingly as they know how and then of telling the rest of us what they have found there most worth finding. We need the eyes of writers like that to see through. We need the blood of writers like that in our veins.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first books I read that did it to me, that started me on the long and God knows far from finished journey on the way to becoming a human being—started making that happen. What I chiefly learned from it was that even the slobs and phonies and morons that Holden Caulfield runs into on his travels are, like Seymour Glass’s Fat Lady, “Christ Himself, buddy,” as Zooey explains it to his sister Franny in the book that bears her name Even the worst among us are precious. Even the most precious among us bear crosses. That was a word that went straight into my bloodstream and has been there ever since. Along similar lines I think also of Robertson Davies’ Deptford trilogy, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, George Garrett’s Death of the Fox, some of the early novels of John Updike like The Poorhouse Fair and The Centaur, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I think of stories like Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger” and Raymond Carver’s “Feathers” and works of non-fiction, to use that odd term (like calling poetry non-prose) such as Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm and Geoffrey Wolff’s The Duke of Deception and Robert Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb or plays like Death of a Salesman or Our Town.

What 10 books would you put on your list of must-reads? Think about it.

But excuse me, I have to get back to Absaroka County…