my favorite things

One of my favorite things in life is reading.

Reading, curled up in a comfy chair. With a blanket round my feet and a cat trying desperately to get between me and the book and a mug of tea somewhere in arms reach. Rainy or cold days are a bonus.

Reading, stretched out on a beach blanket, the warm sun on my back, no shoes on, a luscious breeze blowing and the sound of surf pounding.

But honestly, my favorite way to read involves other people.

I was first introduced to group readings by my Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill was a mathematical genius. He was the type of guy who was always being invited to Denmark for major mathematical theorists meetings (all expenses paid, major guest speaker etc…) and stuff like that. He could walk onto any college campus in the country and instantly get hired by the mathematics department. He would always tell them: I’m just here for a few years then I’ll be going away.   You see he hated normal life.   He wanted to spend his life hiking and thinking.   So he would work for a few years, save up enough money and then quit and go hit the trails again.

Bill Foster was for a long time the only person on record to have hiked the Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine) end to end to end to end to end to end to end to end.  That’s  SEVEN TIMES folks.  With no significant stops in between.  He’d get done, re-provision and start over again.  And it’s over 2000 miles one way.  This is all on FOOT.  No hitch-hiking.   He has also crossed the Continental U.S. a number of times and done the whole Pacific Trail (Mexico to Alaska) once. He wanted to do it the other way (Alaska to Mexico) but his health failed and he is now in a nursing home. (his memoirs, “Journey’s Afoot in North America” are web-published at this link, if you are interested)

Anyway, the point is that we never knew where Uncle Bill was at any given point. So we couldn’t contact him. He would contact us. Sometimes it was a phone call,  but more often than not he would just show up, knocking on the door.  Once it was in the middle of the night.  He always brought ice cream. He loved ice cream and he knew we did too.

and he loved to read.

One summer, when I was between second and third grade, he stayed with us the whole summer. Some time during that first week he pulled out a book and sat the whole family down after dinner and started to read to us.

After a chapter or three he closed the book and said it was time to stop cause he was getting hoarse. My brother and I begged him to keep going, but he couldn’t. So my mom stepped in and she started to read. After she couldn’t go on, my dad picked it up and then, when daddy got tired the adults closed the book and said “okay, that’s it for the night”

“No!” both us kids cried. “WE can read !!!!” so the book was passed to us and we struggled through and each of us proudly read a chapter. Now all this had given Uncle Bill enough of a respite that he could go on, so he read one more chapter and then we all went to bed.

The next night, after dinner my brother and I eagerly made a beeline for the couches and pulled out the book. “Read! come on everybody. let’s READ”  After an appropriate show of reluctance, all three adults were seated and we dove back into the fantastic world of Bilbo Baggins, dragons, elves, trolls etc….

the T.V. never once got turned on that whole summer. After we finished the Hobbit, we moved on to the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy,  then to Mark Twain. It was an amazing summer.

It’s been a long time since that family reading time. But I’ve always recalled it as my favorite way to experience a book.

Now my 14 year old niece has a project that involves her doing some storyboards from the Hobbit and she’s staying with my mom for the week. So I decided that we HAVE to do a group reading session. We had our first one last night. She doesn’t like reading aloud, but it’s a skill I think everyone should have, so this is a great, non-critical environment for her to learn.

So once more in my life, the Hobbit sits on a side table in my living room, waiting for dinner to be over and for the family to gather round.

I love tradition.

4 thoughts on “my favorite things

  1. Sounds like your Uncle Bill has quite a story. We’d love to have him on our records as well; perhaps you could get him to complete and return this:

    If we had some dates, we might also be able to come up with some photos of him at his hiking best. (By now, incidentally, we have had a number of people hike the A.T. seven or more times.

    Unfortunately Bill is so far gone he can’t even sign his name anymore. I’m sorry.
    Also I have updated my post to allow for other people having now completed the “7 times over” thru-hike


  2. Hi,

    My name is Amy Wang. If your uncle Bill is the same person that I knew long time ago, please write back to me asap. Thank you very much.

    Had he taught in the University of Montana, Missoula, MT at least during 1983-1990? If so, I would like to come for a visit, even if he couldn’t recognize me. He has always encouraged me while I was a student at UM.

    Thanks in advance. I am looking at the letters he wrote to me and praying for him that he will finally finish his journey with God one day!


  3. Hi, this is Amy Wang. Wondering if you would contact me of Bill’s latest status? I hope that I will still have a chance to say ‘thank you’ to him face to face even if he couldn’t recognize me any more. I was a graduate student in U of M. A group of students and him became good friends. He was indeed a genius and fun to be with. He would never bore us with his thoughts and wisdom.

    My email address is:

    Thank you in advance.


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