Mom’s Day Gift is Free Library

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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This Mother’s Day Gift is for Kids

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” Shakespeare wrote in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and these words seem apropos when describing the curbside street library on the 2700 block of Preble Avenue in midtown Ventura.

Though it is but little, it is fiercely wonderful!

Indeed, “The Little Free Library” (charter #35222) lives up to its name: it is a mere 21 inches wide by 24 inches tall, with only two shelves. Also, its books are free.

That’s right, people are can take – and keep – a book. No library card is required. Patrons can also return a borrowed book or leave a donated book.1TimCindy

The library belongs to Tim and Cindy Hansen. More accurately, it is Cindy’s – she requested it for Mother’s Day two years past.

Tim and the couple’s adult sons Bernie and Franklin, made Cindy’s wish a reality. Perched atop a waist-high post, the “Prairie Two-Story” model they selected from littlefreelibrary.org looks like an elegant birdhouse with a picture window as a front door.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing access to books for readers of all ages. Annually, Little Free Libraries foster the sharing of millions of books worldwide. In the Hansen’s neighborhood alone, there are two more free street libraries within walking distance.

The bottom shelf of the Hansen’s library is devoted to children’s books, and for good reason: “It’s lower and easier for the kids to reach,” Cindy notes.

Adding to the kid-friendliness are two curbside reading chairs.

Meanwhile, Tim enjoys his own nearby watching chair.

“It is a joy to sit on my porch and watch the birds all flutter away as a child comes running up to look for a new book,” Tim says, his voice filled with flight.

Wearing a navy-blue knit watchman’s cap, even on a warm afternoon, combined with his shrub-thick and long gray beard, Tim comes into focus like a Hemingway character of the sea. Cindy, meanwhile, constantly wears a smile that shines like a lighthouse.

Both have an oceanic-deep love for books.

As a child, Cindy says, the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder “opened the world of reading for me.” She has spent her adult life opening up this same world for youth as an educational therapist and school librarian.

“I love to find that one book that lights a kid’s world on fire,” Cindy shares. This included her two sons who, she notes with a laugh, “grew up hearing me tell them to go read a book, not watch TV.”

Visiting Cindy and Tim, it quickly becomes clear that even though their street library has a top shelf of titles for adults among its roughly 50 books, their real focus is young readers. For example, Cindy routinely buys children’s books to ensure the lower shelf remains full.

“During summer, when school was out, the kids’ books really disappeared,” Cindy says, happily.

She adds, also happily: “When I’m gardening here out front, I love to see kids walk by or hop out of a car and get a book. It’s become part of the neighborhood.”

What difference can a mere few dozen books make? I am reminded of the beachcomber tossing a starfish back into the ocean, while hundreds more remained stranded on the sand after a storm, and telling a naysayer: “To this one, I’m making all the difference in the world.”

So it is with this little library, as a journal kept alongside reveals.

“I took a book, I drop a book in the night. Be back, Conrad” reads one entry.

Another: “Thankful to have such thoughtful neighbors. Reading opens our hearts and minds to a world of imagination. I’ll be back. (drawn heart)”

One more: “Thank you for having books. I enjoy it & really appreciate it.”

And, lastly, my favorite, printed in the hand of a young child: “thank you fore this little free labrary this will rilly help : ) Adeline”

I imagine this may be the first library little Adeline has ever visited. I also imagine it will forever remain her favorite.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Act II: Southern Hospitality

STRAW_CoverWoody’s highly anticipated new book “STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” is NOW available! Order your signed copy HERE!

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Going Backstage at Tennessee’s House

During Act One, last week, our foursome made a pilgrimage to legendary playwright Tennessee Williams’ home in New Orleans.

Flicker the lobby lights. Intermission is over. Raise the curtain.

Act Two:

Brobson Lutz, wearing round wire-rimmed glasses and a button-down collar shirt and carrying an armload of papers and folders, came into focus like a university professor.

My daughter, son-in-law, son and I were standing in the middle of Dumaine Street, in the middle of the French Quarter, “star” gazing at The Tennessee Williams House. Despite being an official Literary Landmark, the two-story yellow home with a green ironwork balcony is unimpressive in its ordinariness.

Tennessee Williams' lovely swimming pool in the French Quarter.

Tennessee Williams’ splendorous pool in the French Quarter.

Then something extraordinary happened.

“Would you like to see the swimming pool in back?” Lutz asked.

Beignets from Café du Monde would not have been a more enticing offer.

Lutz, it turns out, was Williams’ next-door neighbor – and, for the last two years of William’s life, his landlord. In 1981, Lutz bought Williams’ house – which was divided into six apartments – with the stipulation the writer could keep Apartment B for $100 a month for the rest of his life.

“I think that’s what sealed the deal,” Lutz told us.

Apartment B, on the second floor in the front, is where Williams had lived – and written – off and on since originally buying the property in 1962.

“He came here three or four times a year,” Lutz recalled of the time he knew Williams. “He’d stay about a week, sometimes just one day, and then he’d be gone again. He spent most of his time in Key West.”

Williams died at age 71 on Feb. 25, 1983, in a Manhattan hotel suite after choking on the cap of a medicine bottle. It was not the final curtain call he wished for, writing in his 1975 autobiography, “Memoirs”: “I hope to die in my sleep . . . in this beautiful big brass bed in my New Orleans apartment.”

He wrote those words in Apartment B at 1014 Dumaine St.

Lutz was unable to show us the inside of The Tennessee Williams House because it has tenants, including in Apartment B. However, he took us around back to see Williams’ swimming pool.

While the front of the house is modest, the courtyard is splendorous. A red brick deck surrounds the kidney-shaped pool and abundant foliage surrounds it all.

“Many people thought Tennessee Williams put in the pool, but it had already been put in,” Brobson explained, further noting: “Legend has it he would swim here every day he was in New Orleans – even in winter.”

On this lovely winter day our host invited us to stay for wine, and more stories, on his patio next door. It was equal parts Southern hospitality and serendipity.

“Is a nice Chardonnay okay?” he asked. Tap water would have been fine; we were thirsty for more Tennessee tales. Lutz was tall to the task, his storytelling made all the more mesmerizing by a New Orleans accent thick as gumbo.

1TennHouse

The Tennessee Williams House, an official Literary Landmark in the French Quarter.

We learned our professorial-looking host is actually a physician, specializing in infectious disease. He also has an infectious charm.

As for Williams’ charm, Lutz answered: “Was he a friendly guy? He was more of a friendly drunk.”

About Williams’ death, Lutz recalled: “Twelve hours later an armed guard arrived here. A week later everything was moved out to the Florida Keys.”

At one point we were joined by Lutz’s dog, Kat, which reminded me of the title of Williams’ famous play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” This, in turn, led me to ask Lutz if he liked Williams’ writing.

“I prefer his short stories to his plays,” he said.

An avid art collector, Lutz surprisingly has only one collectable Tennessee Williams book, a 1954 first-edition of “One Arm,” which was Williams’ first volume of short fiction.

More surprisingly, considering Lutz was Williams’ neighbor and landlord, it is unsigned by the author.

“Do you wish you’d thought to ask him to sign it?” one of us asked.

“Yep,” Dr. Brobson Lutz answered, his wry smile speaking volumes.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Re-reading some old friends in 2016

STRAW_CoverWoody’s highly anticipated new book “STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” is NOW available! Order your signed copy HERE!

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Another Year for the Books

“The worst thing about new books,” said 18th-century French essayist Joseph Joubert, “is that they keep us from reading the old ones.”

Heeding this wisdom, I read quite a few old books in 2016. More accurately, I re-read some old friends. This included “The Known World,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Jones, which tells a powerful story of slavery and freedom, cruelty and courage, family and much more.

1knownworldThis novel of historical fiction was originally, and enthusiastically, recommended to me when I was browsing the “New Releases” at Barnes & Noble back in 2003 – not by a staff worker, but by a perfect stranger.

Remarkably, it proved every bit as terrific as she promised – then and when I re-read it 13 years later. And so it lands a deserving spot in my seventh annual column of books I recommend.

My goal is to read 52 books each calendar year and with three weeks to go in 2016, I am on pace precisely to hit that mark with 49 books under my belt. However, I must admit this figure is inflated with the inclusion of 20 children’s books: specifically, “The Bedtime Story-Books” series written by Thornton W. Burgess beginning in 1910.

After visiting the Burgess Society Museum in East Sandwich, Mass., late last year, I was inspired to re-re-read these books from my childhood that I last re-read to my two children two decades ago. If you have a young child or grandchild, I recommend these adventures for out-loud reading.

Even subtracting the Burgess library, I believe I set a personal record for re-reading books this year. Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” led me to also revisit his collection of hilarious essays “What On Earth Have I Done.”

Similarly, after literally laughing out loud for a second time over Bill Bryon’s “A Walk in the Woods” I was inspired to re-read his comical “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” about growing up in Middle America in the 1950s and “In a Sunburned Country” about his travels in Australia.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Mitch Albom’s memoir “Tuesdays With Morrie” once again tugged on my heartstrings and in turn led me to pick up his newest novel, “The Magic Strings of Frankie Pesto.” Imaginatively narrated by the character Music, these pages are as difficult to describe as they are to set down. Simply put, it is the work of a storytelling maestro.

If I could recommend only one book from my 2016 reading list, however, I believe it would be another new offering that landed in my hands quite similarly to how “The Known World” did: by recommendation.

1glorylandMore precisely, a gift copy of “Gloryland,” a novel by Shelton Johnson, came to me in the mail out of the blue and anonymously. I searched the Barnes & Noble box for a clue as to whom to thank, but there was no name on the receipt nor a gift note.

I even reached out on social media to learn my benefactor, again with no luck.

But what good luck to receive this book of historical fiction about the “Gloryland” of Yosemite, as told by buffalo soldier Elijah Yancy through his own life journey.

Yancy is born to sharecropping parents on January 1, 1863 – the day President Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Freedom, however, is a long time in arriving in the Reconstructed South and this tale of cruelty and courage and family is heartbreaking – and heartwarming.

You may recognize its author, a real-life ranger at Yosemite, from Ken Burns’ documentary film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” where he appears on camera numerous times speaking eloquently and passionately about the treasured valley.

Shelton Johnson is also an eloquent wordsmith whose writing is so beautiful I found myself re-reading sentences and passages, as one might behold Half Dome, savoring them before moving forward.

To my Secret Santa who sent me “Gloryland,” I send you a heartfelt thank you. Similar good cheer to the rest of you and happy reading in 2017.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Catherdrals of Curiosity

STRAW_CoverWoody’s highly anticipated new book “STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” is NOW available! Order your signed copy HERE! 

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Libraries: Cathedrals of Curiosity

Nearly a half-century has passed, yet the memory remains vivid and magical. My fellow first-graders in Miss James’ class went on a field trip to the Center of Science and Industry in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Before we saw the erected dinosaur skeletons and caveman displays and moving constellations inside the planetarium, we were greeted in the cathedral-like entry foyer by a gargantuan pendulum that seemed to hang down from the heavens so high overhead was its anchor pivot.

The bowling ball-sized “massive bob” swung to and fro in slow motion while on the floor around the circumference of its path were wooden pegs. With each swing, the point at the end of silver bob inched closer and closer to the next upright peg in line until the margin it missed by was razor thin. Then, finally, another miniature bowling pin would topple. It was mesmerizing.1librarypic

Another cathedral, similarly so quiet you could have heard a wooden peg drop on its tiled floors, made a lasting impression on me that same year when my mom took me to the Upper Arlington Public Library to get me my very own library card.

Inside this magical place I also could learn about T-Rex, Neanderthals and the Big Digger – and so much more. I even remember the first book I checked out: “Where the Wild Things Are.” This was a case where judging a book by its cover turned out wonderfully.

My enchanted experience is nearly universal. Indeed, it is rare to meet an adult who doesn’t fondly recall getting their library card as a child.

“I discovered me in the library,” the great author Ray Bradbury said. “I went to find me in the library.”

And this from the poet Maya Angelou: “I always felt, in any town, if I can get to a library, I’ll be OK. It really helped me as a child, and that never left me.”

Inventing the public library, in 1731, might have been Benjamin Franklin’s greatest act of genius. The Ventura County Library system is quite venerable itself, proudly celebrating its 100th anniversary this week.

Much has changed since 1916 – even since 2006. Card catalogues are now digitalized; e-books, movies and music are available at our libraries; free WiFi and computer access are also offered.

Sadly, even tragically, too many people see libraries as outdated in this Google era and a waste of taxpayer money. These naysayers are as wrong as a Social Sciences title, which belongs in the Dewey Decimal System’s 300 section, being shelved in the 500s for Science.1libraryquote

Here is what my dear friend, and favorite librarian, Allyson would like you to know:

“In the 21st Century, we’re not your Grandma’s librarian! Librarians have always been the ‘original search engine,’ but in this age of technology librarians are needed more than ever.

“In the 21st century, people are faced with an ocean of information, in an explosion of formats from a huge variety of authors, with a wide range of credibility. We need librarians more than ever to help us learn the skills to navigate this ocean.

“In an age of widening income inequality, libraries remain dedicated to the radical proposition that everyone has a right to access humanity’s knowledge, and the right to read for pleasure.

“In an era where everything from job and college applications to car buying and banking is done online, libraries provide not only free internet access but guidance, insuring that information does not become the domain of the few and the wealthy.

“Libraries are centers for all kinds of events and exchanges of ideas,” Allyson continues passionately. “They are the heart of the community. And the only passport required to enter is curiosity.”

Me again. Curiosity, and a library card, will take you anywhere and everywhere. And while the pendulum may swing towards technology, it always swings back to print books and human librarians.

In truth, I need not have told you Allyson is my friend so long as I mentioned she is a librarian. From Benjamin Franklin’s time to today, every librarian is a friend to all who enter these cathedrals of curiosity.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Top-shelf Books from 2015

STRAW_CoverWoody’s new book STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter is available for Pre-Order HERE NOW! In time for the holidays!

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Turning the Pages Through 2015

Good things, sometimes, must come to an end. After doing an annual column for the past six years recommending some of my favorite books, I was of the mind to end the tradition – or at least take a hiatus.

The short reason was that my reading list was too short on this trip around the sun. My yearly goal is to read 52 books, but I fell far shy of averaging one a week in 2015. My tally to date, in fact, is only 29. Writing a new book, it seems, interferes greatly with reading them.

Catching up with Drew Daywalt, author of "The Day the Crayons Quit" and "The Day the Crayons Came Home."

Catching up with Drew Daywalt, author of “The Day the Crayons Quit” and “The Day the Crayons Came Home.”

But I changed my mind the other day when I was in a bookstore picking up a copy of “The Day the Crayons Came Home” as a gift. A woman recognized me – and also said I was much taller in person than my column picture suggests, although I have no idea how a tiny mug shot can suggest height one way or the other – and asked when I was going to share my annual book recommendations.

When I answered I was passing on the book column this year, she begged me to reconsider. I did. Here goes.

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 I will begin with none other than “The Day the Crayons Came Home” by my friend and Oak Park resident, Drew Daywalt. (Which means I am also recommending Drew’s debut children’s book, “The Day the Crayons Quit.”)

As with the best of children’s literature, one need not be a kid to enjoy these two mega-award winners – the first is even being made into a big-budget movie. So pick up a copy of each for a child you know – but read them yourself first!

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Another surprise recommendation is a YA – Young Adult – novel.

“All the Bright Places” is also written by a friend of mine, Jennifer Niven, and has won a wheelbarrow full of 2015 honors – and is also being made into a movie, starring Elle Flanning.

Despite being YA, “All the Bright Places” is dark and gritty and mysterious enough to captivate OA – Older Adult – readers.

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After reading John L. Parker’s newest novel, “Racing the Rain,” I felt compelled to re-read the other two books in the trilogy about Quenton Cassidy: “Once a Runner” and “Again To Carthage.”

“Racing the Rain” is the prequel to “Once a Runner,” which was originally published in paperback in 1978 in such limited numbers that its cult following caused tattered copies to sell for $200 and higher on eBay until it was finally reprinted in hardcover in 2010.

Reading the entire story in chronological order – “Again to Carthage” was the second to come out, but is the finale – enriched all three.

By the way, one need not be a runner to enjoy Parker’s storytelling because Cassidy’s running quest is a metaphor for the journey of life.

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“The Yosemite” by John Muir. Enough said.

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David McCullough again makes my top shelf, as the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner does pretty much any year he comes out with a new historical gem, this time with “The Wright Brothers.”

The most obvious, accurate and shortest blurb to describe this latest effort is: “ ‘The Wright Brothers’ soars!”

My enjoyment of this text was enriched by seeing McCullough give a talk in Santa Barbara about the Wright Brothers.

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Similarly, I read “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” after seeing the Nobel Peace Prize’s youngest-ever winner – at age 17 – speak at the Arlington Theatre this summer.

Rest assured, her story is equally inspiring on the written page as over a microphone.

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After beginning this column with a couple friends, it seems fitting to end with one more.

Recommended to me by my pal Clint Garman, who as a pastor and owner of Garman’s Restaurant & Irish Pub in Santa Paula is an expert on both topics covered in the pages, “The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World” by Stephen Mansfield was as enjoyably rich in education as a pint of “the good stuff” is rich in flavor.

Cheers! And happy reading in 2016.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Column: My 2013 Reading List

‘So many books, so little time’ in 2013

 

“I guess there are never enough books,” the great author John Steinbeck once said while the late musician Frank Zappa offered this contrary observation: “So many books, so little time.”

 

I think they both hit the mark. Indeed, because I was so busy this past year writing my own contribution for the world’s endlessly expanding bookshelf – “Wooden & Me – I found there was far too little time to reach my annual reading goal of 52 books.CaliforniosCover

 

From the 44 books I have read thus far in 2013, here is a short stack of high recommendations.

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“The Art of Fielding: A Novel” by Chad Harbach. This is not a sports novel, it is simply a terrific novel with a backdrop that happens to be a baseball diamond. Imagine Rocky Balboa as a scrawny shortstop at a tiny college suddenly destined for greatness in the Big Leagues – although underdog Henry Skrimshander’s gift could be music or painting or any other passion. Add in love and death, second chances and friendships, and a series of roller-coaster story lines and you have a one-hit shutout that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final out – or throwing error.

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In 2012, I recommended “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden.” This year I went on a full-out John Steinbeck spree with “Cannery Row”, “Sweet Thursday”, “Tortilla Flat”, “The Winter of Our Discontent” and “Cup of Gold.” I recommend all five, and highly, although I think “Sweet Thursday” is my favorite of the handful.

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Jeff McElroy, a gifted author from Ventura County whose awards include first place in the national Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest, has long admired Steinbeck’s work and the influence is on display in “Californios: A Collection of Stories” that features powerful and gritty, yet elegant, storytelling that the master himself would have surely enjoyed.

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            Were I picking only three books to endorse this year, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” byDaniel James Brown would without question make the podium – and perhaps atop in the gold-medal position. This inspirational true story is the eight-oar crew racing equivalent of the track-and-field standard “Chariots of Fire.”

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            On the topic of battling long odds, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell is a flat-out winner from start to finish.

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“One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson is a historical tapestry weaving together a wide range of people and events, although my favorite piece of yarn is Charles Lindbergh’s quest to become the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald was on my reading list twice this year with “The Great Gatsby” which stands the test of time and “This Side of Paradise” which I wish I had left on the bookshelf to gather dust.

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            Speaking of paradise, Ventura author Ken McAlpine gets my nod of admiration for the third consecutive year. Previously, I enjoyed his nonfiction travel narratives “Islands Apart” and “Off-Season” and then his foray into fiction with “Fog” and “Together We Jump.” Now I recommend his new collection of personal essays titled “West Is Eden: Reflections On This Gift Called Life.” While it is thin on pages at 74, it is deep in emotion and enlightenment. McAlpine says, “Life’s little moments aren’t little at all” – nor is this small book little.

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Another paradise-themed book, though thicker at 440 pages, that beautifully examines the gifts of life – and nature – is “Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir” by Linnie Marsh Wolfe.

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Lastly, the first book I read in 2013 definitely merits mention: “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by Wes Moore. “Our roots help to determine our routes” is a line from this book that features one Wes Moore who had roots trying to grow on cracked pavement and fed by drugs and negative role models while the other Wes Moore – the author and Rhodes Scholar – had a network of strong nurturing roots reaching deep into hearty soil, albeit inner-city soil, that refused to let the gale winds he encountered topple him.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for the Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com. His new memoir WOODEN & ME is available at www.WoodyWoodburn.com and Amazon.com.

Book Review: “The Ghost Runner”

“THE GHOST RUNNER: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop” by Bill Jones (352 paperback.) FLASH REVIEW: I think non-runners will appreciate the tragic life story of John Tarrant, who had a boardinghouse childhood more grim than Dickens would dream up and made all the worse in his teens by the death of his mother shortly after WWII. I KNOW that runners, especially marathoners, will have a hard time putting this book down (though reading while simultaneously shaking one’s head in sympathetic anger can be a challenge). This is the journey of a steel-legged and iron-willed English runner sentenced to fight amateur athletic brass for decades. As a result he must illegally race in the shadows without a bib number all because he earned a few pounds in his hardscrabble youth as a boxer and thus was deemed a “professional” in running. Denied any chance at his Olympic dreams, The Ghost Runner, as he becomes famously known in the newspapers and sporting world, wears disguises before jumping into marathons and 24-hour ultras at the last second last at the starting lines. In the process he becomes an inspiring legend through victory and heartbreaking defeat, the latter often due to his stubbornness and refusal to pace himself rather than always bolting to the lead from the start. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the entire tale is that it has taken so long to be told. RATING: 4 Stars out of 5 for marathoners; 3 Stars for non-runners.