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Read any good books lately?
(Books #1: September 25, 1998)

    I have, mostly fiction, but this issue I'm reviewing three non-fiction titles. The first is unusual—the protagonists actually find what they're looking for. The second is a little book that's remarkably good company on the trail. The third is an ancient book that's special to me. To find copies, check your local public library or with our associate, online bookseller Amazon.com. Just click the link to our Store at the bottom of the page.

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Cities of Gold
Cities of Gold
Douglas Preston
At last, a book about somebody who actually went looking for a historical treasure and found it! In this book, the author, a close friend, and another man set out to travel Coronado's trail from Mexico to New Mexico—on horseback. Even if they failed, the story would be great.
   I've been hooked on Coronado's trail since I was a boy, when I read an old Donald Duck comic book called "Donald Duck and the Seven Cities of Cibola." In recent months I've been planning my next trip to New Mexico, to the area of Coronado's trail. How could I not be interested in what Preston had to say!
   Several years ago I had a frightening taste of running out of water in the New Mexican wilderness. Naturally this book would be a good one to read to find out how THEY did it right, right? Well yes, and no.
   The book begins with their preparations, and what they expected. Then Preston tells the reality of what happened. And they had the same experiences I had—it's hell in the desert!
   Preston's formula is basically to tell his story—20th century travel on 19th century horseback to discover 16th century truths—alternating his story with the history of the events that he is tracking across the desert. It's a good formula, because it gives the book two paces, one fast, one slower. This prolongs a good read and lets me compare his observations with those of historical writers and tradition.
   Some of Preston's conclusions are pretty cogent—after all, being there on the ground is better than reconstructing Coronado's trip from reference notes. Some of them are probably wrong. But who cares? I've learned that some things remain a mystery if you haven't been there; some remain a mystery even if you have!
   If there's a shortcoming to the book it's the cliché of the author's discovering some sort of religious truth by being in the great outdoors. In this case, it's:
  • the tired plea for the cause of the poor Indian tribes, and
  • the even more tired diatribe against Christianity.
Religion is a matter of faith, not observation. To somehow find religion outdoors, on the trail, but fail to find God everywhere, especially in the company of other believers, is to make God a servant of nature, not nature a servant of God. Anyway, it cheapens this otherwise remarkable book. But, hey; it's his book. He can do anything he wants to do with it.
   What is really excellent is the way he overlays the old trail with the new, naming routes and places then and now. It's a very valuable reference to someone who wishes to trace history today, in a world that has changed a great deal. I also liked his detective work when the trail he was riding diverged from the historical accounts. I've found this on-site assimilation of observation and record to be perhaps the hardest thing to do while exploring. It's a lot of deduction; guesswork for me. For Preston, there was scholarship behind it, and I felt he was right on track.
   Finally, I liked the way he told us the events that pitted him and his friends against nature, against 20th century urbanism, and, ultimately, against each other, at times.
   If I had a list of top adventure books, this would be in the top ten on the list. It's an adventure of the mind and of the seat of the pants. The best kind!

Native American Wisdom
photos by Edward  S.  Curtis
Native American Wisdom

This little (literally: 2-1/4 inches square) book is a collection of quotations of notable native Americans and photos of the speakers and scenes of native American life.
   Many of these sayings are remarkably current and insightful; a few are obtuse and not particularly wise. But the book is very interesting and shows that the thoughts of men and women, though arising from within the context of different cultures, are not bound; they frequently transcend the mean limits of society. They are common experiences of us all. As Examples:
    "When a man does a piece of work which is admired by all we say that it is wonderful; but when we see the change of day and night, the sun, the moon, and the the stars in the sky, and the changing seasons upon the earth, with their ripening fruits, anyone must realize that it is the work of someone more powerful than man."
    —Chased-by-Bears (Santee Yanktonai Sioux)

    "Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, 'thought should come before speech'"
   —Luther Standing Bear (Oglala Sioux chief)

   This is a great book to tuck away into your fanny pack and bring out for a quick read during a trail break, or to leave in your bathroom for an enlightening moment during a potty break.


    No review of books would be complete without a mention of something from the Good Book. This time:

Ecclesiastes
by Solomon, son of David
Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, so when he speaks, I listen. In his later days he spoke in Ecclesiastes of wisdom, folly, events, life, justice, and death. Unlike The Proverbs, a collection of short wise sayings about many things, Ecclesiastes is focused. It is the musings of a man who says, basically, "With all my wisdom, I don't really understand the meaning of life."
   The themes in Ecclesiastes are more fully developed than those in The Proverbs. They deal with the life circumstances of Man on earth. This paramount creature of God is destined to live two lives at the same time: a finite, physical one, which he can see; and an eternal, spiritual one, which he cannot see. They are not, necessarily, parallel.
   Probably the most popular thematic element in Ecclesiastes is "For everything there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven..." (Chapter 3). In this section Solomon wonders about the diverse elements that make up life on earth, and the futility of trying to understand their pattern from beginning to end. To see how current this very ancient puzzle can be, try adding "...a time to buy stocks, and a time to sell them," to the passage.
   My favorite theme in the book is the recurring one of enjoying God's blessings without analyzing them too much. Do a good day's work; get a good night's sleep alongside the wife you love. Enjoy the simple, good things you have; they're blessings from God. He wants you to have them.
   When I was young we didn't study Ecclesiastes in Bible class. It was considered a downer for young people because of its very straightforward treatment of life and death. But I remember the day I discovered it on my own. It was light, not darkness! I'm older now, and I find Ecclesiastes a growing comfort and a strong anchor.

All of these books are available.
    Each of these books is available from our associate online bookseller via our Online Bookstore.
    See you next time for some more interesting book reviews.

-z-

enjoy!

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