The ODD* Reader

uncovering a gem

"Required reading" were two dreaded words that instantly triggered defiance. With figurative arms across chest, furrowed brow and strong jaw, I questioned, "Exactly what authority does the school have to make certain books required reading?"

"Required reading" seemed more punitive than directive, at least to me. And nothing confirmed this speculation more than a week before summer vacation to be handed a paper entitled "Summer Vacation Reading List."

Read? During vacation? Get serious! Enter more defiance. Vacation was for swimming, fishing, hiking, baseball, and anything not related to school. Exactly what part of the Latin word vacatio didn't they understand?

However, that was then and this is now. As an adult, at least chronologically, the reading list is haphazardly self-directed. There are neither deadline dates nor book reports due. It's about pleasure, not task. The choice of to read or not to read (Sorry, Bill - couldn't resist) is mine, as is what I read. It's not the decision of some school administration drone.

A recent read was Steinbeck's Travels With Charley - in search of America. My only other exposure to Steinbeck was reading Of Mice And Men, so I didn't have any real preconcieved notions about what to expect. I was to be pleasantly surprised.

The path to Travels With Charley was odd. I had been doing some web-based research on towns adjacent to the Adirondack State Park and stumbled across Boonville, NY. Remembering my Uncle Bob frequently mentioning Boonville, I dug deeper. One link that I hit was one with Timothy Briner's reference to the book, in the "In Search of America, Part I" entry.

Briner was on a trek which would take him cross country. A friend of his suggested the Steinbeck book as an interesting parallel to Briner's own travels. Briner's description of the book and my having read Of Mice and Men nudged me to the local library where two copies awaited. Once a copy was checked out, I immediately dug in.

Though intrigued and impressed with the premise on which this book was written, there was the usual period of getting into a comfort zone when first starting a new book. My real appreciation for Steinbeck the character started innocently enough halfway down page 84. Over the next four and a half pages, Steinbeck detailed a contentious encounter he had with both Canadian and American border guards. I was awestruck.

What occurred was an international and jurisdictional Catch-22 situation before that, ahem ... catch phrase became a part of the American lexicon. And as Steinbeck was wont to do, he blamed it all on his canine traveling companion. It was Charley's fault. These four and a half pages were pure genius.

"This must be The Zenith," I thought. "Cannot be topped. It's impossible for anything that follows to be better than what was just read. No need to read any further in this book." However, in pressing ahead there were many more gems to uncover.

Months later now, I just reread that chapter. And it's not only as good as the first read; it's better! Not only did I chuckle through the chapter's final paragraph, I actually laughed out loud after reading the last sentence. Laughed out loud. Then I shook my head side to side, and said out loud, "Oh. My. God. That is so good!"

I said that to an empty room, but now I share it with you.

Be honest: when was the last time you laughed out loud when reading something?

* ODD - oppositional defiant disorder