Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A birthday I missed

I missed a birthday yesterday. It is one I should mention, too, because I've spent some time with this man's work.

James Michener was born on Feb. 3, 1907. He wasn't Dickens.

But he could tell quite a story.

A former colleague once said that "reading Michener is like climbing Everest." His 1,000-page novels can be intimidating. And difficult.

I have tried to read "Centennial," his epic story about the settling of a fictional Colorado town, at least twice. The first time, I became lost in the early passages about the formation of the rocks and the trek of a beaver. The second time, I made it to the saga of Our People. Then I became distracted.

So I gave up and watched the peerless NBC miniseries from 1978-79. It made such an impact that I wanted to move to Colorado. I bought it on DVD for myself last Christmas.

Since I'm not feeling well, and tend not to stir during the colder months, I may try to tackle it again in the coming weeks.

At Thanksgiving dinner, my friend Mike Finn recommended Michener's "The Drifters," a meandering tale about a group of free spirits. It was quite good and may be Michener's most accessible novel. If you have ever been a hippie, or if you've ever loved a hippie, or if the cultural upheaval of the Vietnam War era affected your life, you might enjoy that story. My guess is the Kent State shootings were much on the author's mind.

I also have "Hawaii" and "Alaska" and "Tales of the South Pacific" and "The World is My Home" sitting on my shelf. I will get to them one day.

I have this crazy theory that you read a particular book at the appropriate moment in your life; it speaks to you when you need it. That may sound crazy. I don't know.

Michener died in 1997.

There is no comment here, no grand point, no lesson to learn. No, it is simply a tip of the cap to an author I like, to a man with whom I would have enjoyed drinking a beer.

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