Essay: Reading Lists

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

Words by Sloane Citron

At the beginning of each summer during my childhood, my dad would drag me to the Amarillo Public Library. Built in 1905, the magnificent building was the former home of Lee Bivins, who was said to be the largest individual cattle rancher in the world when he died in 1929. Had you placed me there in the dark, with my eyes blindfolded, I could have told you where I was, so distinctive was the library’s musty smell of paper.

I had to check out five books, the maximum. I tried to find subjects I liked, but once those books were at my home, I had no interest in opening any of them. I was on vacation, the sun shining, baseball playing and the promise of the summer ahead of me. I had no interest in reading a book of any kind.
It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I discovered the absolute joy of reading, and I have the book Kon Tiki to thank for that. Gripping and exciting, I could not put the real-life adventure down, and in the process, I found a genre that spoke to me. I learned that books take us to places we cannot go.

Over the years, I have read thousands of books, almost all of them in the adventure/travel/survival genre. I have read just about every book written about Alaska (and yet I have never been there). A great read, for me, is a book I simply can’t stop reading, that captures my attention and won’t let go. I have tried my best to read James Joyce and William Faulkner, but my heart’s not in it, and when I make the effort, I’m reminded of the childhood summer days when my dad commanded me to read.

It’s a bit of a challenge to find new titles, but I have my method. I go to Amazon, which has the best site for suggestions based on books I have selected or previously purchased, and then I do my best to buy these books locally. Sometimes, Amazon is my only choice, but mostly I’m able to buy from our local stores.

This past summer, as I mentioned in a previous essay, I was given the book, S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Given that it was a historical tome, I had my reservations about diving in. And truth be told, I almost gave up after the first 20 pages. But I’m glad I didn’t, because once I was invested, the book completely captured my attention. It was truly magical to read—engrossing, entertaining and educational.

Around the time I was finishing that book, my sister Shelley, who lives in Chicago, sent me The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about the incredible World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Again, I could not put this book down and again, I was highly entertained and surprised that I did not know about this extraordinary exposition, truly one of the most spectacular events ever held in the United States.

What was spellbinding, having read these two books in succession, was that in the late 19th century, we were still fighting the Native Americans in turf wars on the Texas Plains and in another area, we were building the most impressive edifices known to mankind.

Perhaps more important to me personally was that—after 30 years—I have discovered a new genre, which is a good thing, since they don’t seem to publish enough adventure books to keep me from reordering ones that I have already read.

I’ve told my family and friends of this reading breakthrough, and now I have been blessed with several new books, including The Aye-Aye and I: A Rescue Journey to Save One of the World’s Most Intriguing Creatures from Extinction, which is a fabulous story about animals in Madagascar, where, unbelievably, some 90% of all plant and animal species are only found on the island nation. And the intriguing The Mosquito Bowl, a great look at brotherhood during World War II.

I have a small wooden table with three drawers next to my bed where I store my books to be read. I’m like a truck driver always in need of gas, most content when his tanks have just been topped off. Except my gas is books, and if my drawers are not overflowing with titles that I am excited to read, I get panicky.

My Dad’s love of literature and books and those mandatory trips to the Amarillo library—done to try to infuse that love within me—showed me that there must be something special in books. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of an especially wonderful read, I pause and take a moment to recall the library’s musty cooridors, grateful to have had a father who cared enough to push.