Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book TV Breeds Memories

I love Book TV on C-SPAN 2. Every weekend, I get insight into authors I've heard of, the reasons why they pursued their chosen subjects, and I also learn about authors I've never known before. Yesterday alone, I listened to a talk by author Kristie Miller at the 2011 National Book Festival (headed by the Library of Congress) about her book, Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies which spurred me on to take notes and wonder if I can eventually find a workable angle for one of my presidential history books.

Then there was Candice Millard, author of Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, about President Garfield's assassination and the horrid circumstances surrounding it. She was speaking from the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio, where she had undertaken a few research trips for her book. It's a book I can't afford just yet, and am hoping it'll be reduced in price in due time, because I really want to read it, not only to see if I'd need any part of it for my research, but also because she has a low-key, easygoing speaking style that spotlights her vast knowledge on her subjects, which is the same in her writing (I read the sample provided at Amazon).

She had been reading about Alexander Graham Bell, came upon the story about Bell desperately wanting to help the mortally wounded Garfield (also mortally wounded by his doctor who thought he knew everything, but knew nothing about what was necessary to help his patient, and dismissed advice from others that was the correct advice), and was fascinated by it, and decided to research it, and then came the book. In answer to a question about what she was going to write next, she said she couldn't reveal too much since it was in the early stages, but that it was going to be about Winston Churchill.

That's smart, because I also prefer to be vague about my subjects of choice. I've become excited by a potential new project which involves 1930s movie history, but with a different focus. I have also noticed that I have more ideas for non-fiction books than novels. There, I have two dusty ideas, one of which may be viable one day, but even though I read novels, I don't feel the pull to write them as I do with what I want to pursue in non-fiction.

After Millard's talk came a program of Ken Jennings speaking in Seattle at the Elliot Bay Book Company on September 20 about his book Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. Lucky Jennings with his astonishing run on Jeopardy! because it's given him great opportunity to become an author. And it's a lot of fun to watch him talk about his book because he split it into three parts: One was a discussion about his own background as a lover of maps, the people he met while writing the book, second was a geography quiz in which the prizes for the eventual winner was a copy of Maphead and a Ken Jennings bobblehead doll which had been made for promotion of a CD quiz game, and third was a Q&A. I'm not sure, but I don't think the C-SPAN program covered the Q&A portion.

During the talk about his book, Jennings described the map rooms in the Library of Congress, which stretched over two or three football fields, over 900 cabinets full of maps in drawers. He described pulling out one map at random, and it was a map of a plantation....George Washington's plantation.

I'm not a maphead. I don't feel what Jennings and others in his book feel about maps, but I have had that feeling about one map that I saw at a rest stop/convenience store in Primm, Nevada, right at the Nevada/California border. Inside, there is a small space of slot machines right as you walk in, to the left is that convenience store (I first had Vegas Chips there, really good potato chips that had been produced in Vegas, and unfortunately, the company that made them was bought out long ago and the product line disappeared) with many products, including coffee, baked goods, and some sandwiches, and to the right is a long hallway leading right to the restrooms.

As you walk that long hallway, on the left are payphones and on the right is a long wall-length map of the United States. I am always awed and fascinated by that map. I first look at Florida, having been born and raised there, to spot where I had lived and to pick out memories, such as DeLand, where, in 1998, me and my Embry-Riddle summer camp roomate, and a flight instructor, had flown in a Cessna to the small airport there, and had lunch in the tiny diner on the property. I also look for St. Augustine, because of the history there that I love, that I've seen, and I search for towns I'd never heard of, and there are always a few.

Then I look at California to first look for Santa Clarita, and then see what I've never heard of in California and there are many towns for that. The rest of the time I spend looking at all the other states, looking for unique names. This map doesn't spur me on to wish to travel extensively one day (though I will hopefully end up doing so as my only goal in life is to visit all the presidential libraries in the nation), but it makes me wonder about all the people who live in these towns, who they are, what they love about their towns, why they might be moving somewhere else, and I regret that there's no one like Charles Kuralt today. He traveled and reported on such people, and we learned so much about the United States because of his efforts and those of the team that accompanied him on these trips. Maybe it's because of the Internet that there isn't anyone like him anymore, because of YouTube, because of people shooting their own videos, but I think we could use a measured voice like that again, someone who explores those lesser-known places with quiet interest. It takes a great, willing mind for that and Kuralt had it.

What I feel about that map at the rest stop is exactly what will transfer over to my new home. I want to explore every square inch of Henderson and Las Vegas and Summerlin and Boulder City and the Hoover Dam. I know parts of all of these, but not enough. When that happens, it's going to be a consistently great time.