September 20, 2021

Who do you like to read?

It felt like Christmas, even though the leaves on the trees were green and I was wearing summer clothes.

Like advent calendars counting down to Santa’s big day, my anticipation was the arrival of Ian Frazier’s new book last Tuesday, “Cranial Fracture.”

Frazier is my favorite author. Not living with, or relatively near, a bookstore, I ordered a digital copy of the book in advance which showed up on my e-reader last week, the day it was released. I’ve read him for many years and it started out extremely well. It’s been a very good relationship. An uncle of mine, who had taught at Ames High School, first told me about Frazier and his book “Great Plains.”

I was intrigued.

Having grown up in the Great Plains (the area of the country Frazier defined between the Rocky Mountains and the 100th meridian) Frazier spent some time in the 1980s touring the region observing its history, culture, people and personality. I thought he explained it all perfectly and with great respect, which made me have much respect for him.

It also helps how he made references to places I’ve been including when he slept in his vehicle in Last Chance, Colorado, east of Denver, on U.S. Highway 36. Last Chance makes Lorimor look huge.Thirty years ago you could get a burger, fries and a tank of gas at Last Chance. Now, you can’t. My wife and I had our engagement picture taken in front of an abandoned house near Last Chance. Last we heard, years ago a grass fire brought it down.

I started off rather well with Frazier. He still has not disappointed.

He used a similar strategy from “Great Plains” for his book “Travels In Siberia” as he hired a questionable, Uber-like driver to take him across Russia to note the history and culture of the country. His attention to detail and the under-reported are what keeps me reading and buying his stuff.

A spin-off of “Great Plains,” Frazier spent some time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota. Flooded with poverty, addiction and disturbing, family dysfunction, Frazier’s observations of the area were humbling, although he did add some inspirational items.

It’s tough to claim which one of his books is my favorite, but he’s not a book writer in the traditional sense like Hemingway or Mark Twain. Most of his work are considered essays.

Another book theme he used in a different way was his family history in his book called “Family.” Sure, he mentioned names and places of birth, but as he researched his ancestors, he also added what was going on in the world they lived. For example, one his forefathers was in the Civil War and the unit marched many miles from point A to point B. Frazier found Civil War documents so he could attempt to walk the same trail, or legally close to it, as he passed through parking lots and front lawns.

Frazier has a few books that fit the traditional definition of fiction. Leaning more on the side of comedy, those books do have their moments, but I don’t think it’s his strength. “Cranial Fracture” is another attempt at short-story comedy and subtle parody.

I have not been this engaged with an author since high school. A high school teacher suggested I try William Faulkner, one of the American classic writers whose work began about 100 years ago. He was not afraid to include the South’s culture and civil issues at the time within his works although his fictitious places depicted where he actually lived in Mississippi.

Reading has had its moments over the years even though we find more ways to glue our eyes to phone and computer screens. Don’t forget, Amazon’s early days were to sell books and now the online shopping giant has a gigantic online book store and devices to read digital versions of books.

Stephen King has several thrillers, but too many have been converted to movies making me think the book loses popularity. Harry Potter was the same thing as it reached younger kids, but the string of movies based on the books I think shoves the books back into the shadows.

With September as national library card month, I urge people to read something or somebody some time.

I know I did.

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Speaking of reading, the words in Vera Giza’s obituary last week were something we don’t see everyday and will become even more few and far between. Her teenage years were wrecked by Nazi Germany as she was forced out of her Ukraine home and sent to labor camps in German-occupied Austria as a laborer for the rest of World War II. She never knew what happened to her parents or siblings after they were separated.

She was 96.

That generation is fading by the day. Just two years ago, some statisticians estimated more than 300 World War II veterans were dying by the day. I’ll include Vera in that stat, even though she was not an American soldier, but still part of an important time in world history.

I know her granddaughter who lives in Page County and she said Vera wasn’t known to have written any of her family history, especially the war-related stories, but always told the stories to others. I’m sure those people won’t forget. For those from that time who are left, and their families, I hope there are some sort of recorded stories so future generations will always know what happened.


John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.