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Curl Up with a Good Book

When the north winds howl and the temperature drops way too low, both my car and the vehicles of some reading this column simply give up. Being hardy people from North Dakota we dress up as if we were heading for polar regions and start out bravely. When the car refuses to cooperate - we hurry back indoors, maybe call for help, or resign ourselves to postponing errands, hoping we have adequate food on hand and look around for something interesting to do. Both family and friends know I like to read, so the next few people I talk with will generally offer the advice that I curl up with a good book.

For students in Langdon High School years ago, a similar adventure in reading came during a winter of heavy snow when Phyllis Ottem did her student teaching in Langdon. Most of us had grown up knowing Phyllis, who was a tall lively blonde who knew all of us by name and let us know from the beginning that we would be reading some of her favorite books. We began with “Pride and Prejudice” and went on to “A Tale of Two Cities,” “The Brothers Karamazov,” and Phyllis’s version of “Les Miserables”. We only had to read the easier books, but every day she perched on the desk and told us stories of classic books and their authors. Many years later we would share the memories of seeing one or more of those books as a movie, a musical or referred to on television and would remember Phyllis.

Winter reading programs bring back memories of Phyllis and her enthusiasm for reading books that are new or have been enjoyed in the past. Currently the format for Reading Bingo is an opportunity that has been around for several years in its present form. Going back to an earlier winter project, we were asked to read a specific book and then discussed that one or two books at sessions held at the research center each winter. Those sessions were good but had some drawbacks. They had to be held in the evening to accommodate working people, and they fell in winter when weather and temperatures could interfere. That program introduced readers to classic books ranging from “Hamlet” to “Giants in the Earth,” “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” and other diverse titles. When the discussions moved to United Lutheran, we learned kids knew more about Harry Potter than adults, discussed Dracula and then embarked on “Game of Thrones”. That book was most popular with readers who kept up to date with the television presentations.

Reading Bingo allows twenty-five suggestions of genre or format and lets you choose your own books to fit the categories. Each person taking part chooses the books they want to read or re-read from past enjoyment of favorite authors, and you are not judged or tested on your choices so long as they fit one or more of the categories. Last year one of the bingo squares suggested reading a book because of its cover and that led to some interesting contacts. I discovered I did not have the 2005-2006 Miss Hoopster which featured the Langdon girls basketball team in their first state championship. Fortunately, Perry Hanson’s mother found a copy in their garage in Bismarck. While the 2020 team was playing their way to a second state championship, I was happily re-reading all about the earlier players and Katie Lorenz playing for NDSU.

Another year, there was a suggestion to read a book with a color in the title. Phyllis Whitney, who continued writing novels until she was 100 years old, had made a practice of giving her books colorful titles, but she had passed away so many of her books were no longer on the shelves at the library. Most of us passed over “The Color Purple,” “How Green Was My Valley” (both classics) and the library shelves no longer had Barbara Michael’s “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Heart” so I ended up with “Green Eggs and Ham” (not totally adult reading), and later found a mystery about a “Girl In the Red Coat”. Two mysteries with colorful titles read recently are Agatha Christie’s “The Blue Train” and “The Man in the Brown Suit”.

Another popular choice readers like are the books that have been made into a movie. Some movies improve on the books, but sometimes the movies leave out favorite characters. Readers and viewers alike complained about the Harry Potter movie that left out Moaning Myrtle who had to be added to a later movie. If you watched the movie of Dr. Zhivago first and then read the book, there was danger of getting very lost because several of the main characters in the book were combined in the movie storyline.

Winter has always been a favorite time to find a new author or to catch up on an old one passed over when the book in mind was popular. One book has been on my list since the days when I taught forty or more third graders in a large school in Colorado. We had no aides and not enough textbooks, so books traveled in metal milk cartons from class to class each day - had no art, music or physical education teachers and from time-to-time earthquakes shook us all up. Third graders rarely visited the school library, but the school librarian made many trips to our classroom because one of my students loved a book so much he kept stealing it from the library rather than checking it out. The book was called “Born Free” and had been made into a movie. The story is that of a lioness born in Kenya and raised as a cub by a game warden and his wife. The couple, who found Elsa, trained her to be self-sufficient and then released her into the jungle. If we can find a copy of that book; I would read it this winter and learn the whole story of the lioness now credited with changing the world of animals in their natural homes.

Other categories readers might want to choose are reading books in a series. Warning: if you like the book you might want to read the rest of the series. Or the suggestion sheet has categories of reading a teen or young adult book, a mystery, a biography, a fantasy or science fiction. The first Lucy books came out 50 years ago, and the library has all four of these in the North Dakota room. While Lucy wrote the books about growing up in the town of Wales as a way to pass on her heritage to her grandchildren, the books are fun to read at any age and filled with local history.

With sometimes several rural schools in each of the townships of Cavalier County, former teachers have always enjoyed the books by Erling Rolfsrud who began his career as a rural teacher in North Dakota. If you like short stories about people you might have known, Rolfsrud also wrote a volume or two titled “Extraordinary North Dakotans”. Most local readers will find people they know in the more recent book titled “Dakota Attitude” which features something like 670 interviews with pictures of people across the state. The book is divided into county sections, so you might find an interesting neighbor featured in the stories.

The suggestion list is available at the library in the form of a bingo card with small prizes if you complete a row of the suggested topics.

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