Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dadrat's Celebrate Reading Guest Post: RIFLES FOR WATIE by Harold Keith

Today, we welcome Dadrat for our Celebrate Reading Month Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Dadrat is a rennaissance man who can smoke a buffalo, steam a rug, fix your electrical miswiring, memorize 10-digit numbers, ferment Kool-Aid to get brain-numbing psuedo Vodka, dance the Troika clockwise AND counterclockwise, change his own car's oil, stew a chicken in chickpeas and curry powder, and reprogram over the phone your home wireless certification and access codes from three states away while ordering a coffee at a Barnes & Noble Starbucks. He cannot, however, speak French, knit a sweater, or survive a week without a flavored latte from Starbucks. At least, not to the best of my knowledge.

A book that influenced my life.

Growing up with two school teachers as parents, I had no choice but to read from a young age. It was really not difficult, since we had so many books around the home and I enjoyed reading. We had all the great books, classics, mysteries, Norwegian Folk Tales, children classics including the Arabian Nights, King Arthur, Hardy Boy, Nancy Drew, & Tom Swift. We even had about 10 Oz books. But mostly we had science fiction, and that is what I read.

My parents were members of the Science Fiction book club starting around 1952. By the early 1960’s we sure had a lot of science fiction books. I think more than our local library. And believe it or not, I had read most of them by the time I was in the 6th grade. Many of them several times. I tend to read books I like multiple times. What does that say about me? We had all the classic authors of the genre; Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clark, L., Ursula K. Le Guin, Andre Norton, Robert Silverberg, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Jack Vance, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Roger Zelazny.

I think that these books gave me the wonder of space, and science. It was a time when medicine, science and engineering could solve all the world’s problems. We were racing to the moon. Nuclear Power was going to provide unlimited power for almost no cost. We were hearing about new discoveries everyday. It was before the Vietnam War, before hippies, and the Beatles had just arrived in America. The country was optimistic. We were going to the moon, and I was going to become a pilot and go to Mars.

However, all this being said, the book that changed everything had nothing to do with any of the above. I had to do a book report for school. My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Carruth, would not let me report on any book that I had read, or for that matter was interested in reading. My last many book reports were all science fiction books, and it was time to read something else. She had a list of “proper” books that were allowed for my book report. No science fiction, no stories of Oz, not a Tarzan story of Edgar Rice Burroughs. No stories of grand adventure in space. Not even a book by the great Isaac Asimov was acceptable.

So I went over to the book shelf, and looked over her collection of books. She had a very respectable number, but I had already read most of them. The rest looked boring. Well, except for one. It was about the Civil War, but what self respecting 6th grader wanted to read about history. Well I didn’t. She offered to let me select a book from the library, assuming that it was an acceptable book. She still didn’t like that I was reading so much science fiction. I needed to broaden my horizons. What was wrong with science fiction anyway!?

Well, this was getting to be too much work. So I took the novel about the Civil War, thinking that I would read quickly and then I could get on to more important reads.

Well, the book was very interesting, and about a part of our history I knew very little about. It was about a Kansas farm boy named Jeff, who decides to join the army after their family is bushwhacked. He wanted to hold the Union together and clean up the border trouble in Kansas. And so the grand adventure starts.

The book had everything. There was conflict, determination, kindness, hardship, loss, happiness, even love.

Almost the entire story takes place in the Indian country of Oklahoma. Both the Union and Rebel armies could not seem to hold on to anything. So many people had their homes and shops burned, their live stock and grain taken for food, and their belongings plundered, by both sides.

And the soldiers were always hungry and tired. Nobody came out of the war better off than where they had started, unless the war was somewhere else.

First Jeff is in the infantry. Then he moves to the cavalry since they needed to be more mobile. And finally he becomes a scout. Please note that a scout is just another word for spy. And when you are scouting, you are out of uniform, with no identification or information that would let anybody know you belong to a specific side.

But the book had a twist. Part way through the story, Jeff is captured by the Rebels during one of his scouting missions. The armies were shooting captured scouts, so thinking fast, Jeff claimed that he wanted to join the rebels. Sort of like, better Red than Dead, but I guess it is better gray than dead. Well they signed him up.

Now he was on the other side. He lived beside them, ate with them, fought with them, all the time trying to figure out how he could get back to his own troop. Over time, he slowly realized that he liked these men and their easy going attitudes, and he learned that they had grievances as great as his own. Who was right in this war?

Well the story ends with a discovery, meeting Lucy again, and a chase, and … Who is Lucy? Well you have to read the book to find out.

The book is “Rifles for Watie” by Harold Keith. Some of the language is dated, but it is very well written, the story is great, and the history is accurate. The author even interviewed twenty-two Civil War veterans living in Oklahoma and Arkansas for the background material, or so it says on the back cover.

As for me, after reading this book, I had to buy it, and read it again. I almost stopped reading science fiction for a couple of years, and started reading about history. I read about the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the Revolutionary War. I read about all the great generals, Napoleon, Caesar, Alexander, and Saladin. I read about the great civilizations, the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians. And I read about the great explorers, Magellan, Francis Drake, and the Vikings.

I read history, and I read historical fiction.

Well until I discovered the “Lord or the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, but that is another story.


Bryce said...

Long-time listener, first time caller. I'm absolutely loving these guest posts by your parents, Moonrat!

Thank you Dadrat -- and Momrat -- for some excellent recommendations!

Nathan Bransford said...

I LOVED this book. It was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid.

Bernita said...

"I tend to read books I like multiple times.'
Yes! Me too.
Thank you.

Christy Raedeke said...

Are Momrat and Dadrat accepting any adopted rats? I want to come home for holidays and discuss Trinity and Rifles for Watie. I love these people. And I have a loaded Starbucks card.

JES said...

I love that:

(1) Even though your arm was twisted, stepping out of the SF box (I was there, too) enabled you to move on and to BE moved in totally unexpected ways.

(2) The book so captured you that you just had to have your own copy.

Tell ya: between Mom, Dad, and of course Moon, this must be one heck of a family...

Anonymous said...

You mentioned Sci-fi, but then said Tarzan in reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Did you ever read his John Carter of Mars series? Loved it!

But, you are right about breaking out of your usual mold. Sometimes you discover wild and wonderful new paths to travel.

Thanks for blogging.

WandaV in AL

Colorado Writer said...

Great post! Thank you!

I'm totally into historical fiction right now, so I must add this to my list.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I read this years ago and I remember it as a good book. I sent through a period of reading a lot of these types of books, although a lot of them were about WWII, like Merrill's Marauders and "The Ghost Front."

I was also a huge SF/fantasy fan, particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was a big influence on my current Taleran series.

Anonymous said...

Momanddadrat are characters. I think that guest posts from brotherandsisterrats are in order too. but that's just my two cents.

ChrisEldin said...

I first wondered about the wisdom of being forced out of the category of books you like.... that could've gone two ways. But it seems she knew you!!
What a terrific review!! I love reading about the West, although I haven't read much about the Civil War. I will look for this book!!

Sherri said...

I'm totally jazzed Dadrat mentioned Oklahoma in his post, because that is where I live. (That's pathetic, isn't it.)

I never read that one, but I do love Civil War stories. Good job, Dadrat.

Precie said...

Hurray for dadrat's guest post!

It makes such a difference to have parents who read.

And one thing in particular that I love about all the -rat posts that celebrate reading: the context. Both moonie and dadrat's choices were influenced by teachers. Momrat was influenced by dadrat.

I love the idea of a family of readers...a community of readers...who stretch beyond their comfort zones. This makes me happy.

Conduit said...

I too read some books over and over. There are some I read at least once a year, and I never seem to tire of them.

Ello said...

Dadrat is just as awesome as Momrat! And a history buff!

Great post and I'll have to check this out from the library!