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Kentucky by Heart: Reading selections from 2022 offer some magical trips and a few bitter pills

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Someone has said that books are “a uniquely portable magic.” I concur, and though not all the books I read in 2022 were magical, many had the capacity to send me happily into another little world, at least temporarily. Some were like castor oil, something the old-timers said we needed to ingest for medicinal purposes, though it didn’t taste good.

I’ll take this column to give some thoughts about books I read this year, then will share ones I’ve put on the 2023 agenda, however, fluid that list will likely become as interests and research needs evolve.

I like to include books of a spiritual nature in my literary diet, and this year I tackled the John Bunyan 17th-century English classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, recommended to me by a Christian author. The allegory is divided into two parts, the first chronicling the spiritual path of the protagonist named Christian, an everyman figure. The second part, sometimes overlooked when the book is discussed, looks at Christian’s wife, Christiana, their sons, and the maiden, Mercy, in their spiritual quest.

Written in the vernacular of the period, it’s not an easy read, but it moves quite well and challenges the mind for hidden meanings. So… does it help build my spiritual life? That likely remains to be seen, but in the materialistic world in which we live, Bunyan certainly portrays a different worldview. It’s not a book most would take to the beach for relaxation, but a little extra “hard” reading never hurt anybody.

Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book on the environment, Silent Spring, is one I finally read after years of intending to do so. Though the book is quite outdated, published in 1962, there’s no doubt it was a giant factor in bringing environmental awareness to our general population. It’s inspired me to read more recent works by other environmentalists.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

I’m glad I read EKU emeritus history professor Bill Ellis’s book, The Kentucky River. Along with great geographical information about our state, Ellis provides story after story of the people who live and are so influenced by the river—a book of culture and history, too.

In my youth, how could I have passed over S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders? It’s a young adult classic and speaks of the universal problem of growing up in dysfunctional families and the resulting negative societal influences. After reading it, I’m ready to recommend it to young people, parents, and teachers.

Speaking of youth, another 2022 read was Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. The author makes a compelling case to that our young are sorely missing out on the benefits of spending quality time outdoors, and he offers practical suggestions to turn the deficit into a future positive. I think with wonder of the many resources Kentucky has with its parks, woodlands, and waterways as avenues to help entice our children.

As usual, a big part of my 2022 literary diet was Kentucky history. Besides Ellis’s book, I read three that state historian James Klotter authored or co-authored. The first was an elementary textbook, Faces of Kentucky, co-authored by his wife, Freda. Besides a very readable and informative offering for children, I now claim it as a great adult resource. The next two books covered two distinct periods in the state’s history. Kentucky: Decades in Discord, 1865-1900, co-authored by Hambleton Tapp, took me places I’d never been regarding racism after the Civil War, along with portraying Kentucky’s often contentious statewide political races. Kentucky: Portrait in Paradox, 1900-1950, takes a comprehensive historical look at the period and how the state related to international and national change. Klotter’s ability to take academic study and turn it into interesting reading is amazing, and I look forward to continuing to get my hands on his books. James Klotter is a state treasure!

Elizabeth Madox Roberts and her best-known book, The Time of Man, left me with mixed feelings. It had a poetic rhythm to it, especially the dialogue, but I never found a strong plot to keep my interest. I may well have missed something that others readily found in the story written by this woman raised in Springfield, Kentucky, the area of the story.

Other books I read in 2022 were Clear Springs, Bobbie Ann Mason’s autobiography (my favorite of hers), The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, Profiles in Courage, by JFK, Kentucky Women, co-edited by Tom Appleton and Melissa McEuen, and another dandy history book, The WPA Guide to Kentucky. Several novels by Frankfort author Chris Helvey, all good ones, also enriched and entertained me this past year.

But what’s next on my agenda? At this writing, I’m formulating my 2023 list, subject to change. I want to re-read Thomas Merton’s classic. The Seven Storey Mountain and Elie Wiesel’s Night. Also, there’s Bluegrass Cavalcade, a historical collection of the state’s writers and edited by historian Tom Clark. O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is on the new year docket, and I can’t wait to see the many newer books for 2023 I’ll review for Kentucky Monthly.

With this, I can also say that I actually read more selections than those mentioned for 2022 and I will digest more than the ones mentioned for ’23. Can’t help myself, I guess… and so, what about YOUR literary inclinations? Email me at sflairty2001@yahoo.com to share!

Happy New Year, readers!

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