Morning Coffee: The Power of a Good Book

feetThere’s power in a good book, a story that pulls you in so deep you feel like you’re there. You can smell, feel, even taste the rain on your face. You can see the rocky cliffs rising behind you and the racing white river in front of you. You feel his arms reach around as he pulls you beneath the protection of overhanging trees, the kiss on your neck, and you’re both happy for and jealous of the heroine. I’m currently totally immersed in the Outlander series–up to book 3.

One of my favorites, though, is “Giants In The Earth” by O.E. Rölvaag. It’s a story of Norwegian pioneers in South Dakota in the 1870s. Rölvaag published his story in two volumes, 1924 and 1925, in Norway and then assisted in its translation for American publication in 1927. A fisherman in the Lofoten Islands, Rölvaag came to America and tried his hand at farming in South Dakota in 1896. Finding himself better suited to academics, he attended St Olaf College in Minnesota, and then continued his studies at the University of Oslo. He later returned to St Olaf College where he eventually became a professor of Norwegian literature.

Rölvaag’s writing is simple but powerful. Consider the first two paragraphs of the novel:

“Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon…. Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come.

… And sun! And still more sun! It set the heavens afire every morning; it grew with the day to quivering golden light—then softened into all the shades of red and purple as evening fell…. Pure color everywhere. A gust of wind, sweeping across the plain, threw into life waves of yellow and blue and green. Now and then a dead black wave would race over the scene…a cloud’s sliding shadow…now and then…”

You’re there, the great flat plains spread out as far as the eye can see, the horizon melting into the sky. He continues:

“It was late afternoon. A small caravan was pushing its way through the tall grass. The track that it left behind was like the wake of a boat—except that instead of widening out astern it closed in again.”

You can feel the hope and promise of a better tomorrow in the sun, and the forewarning of hardship and tragedy in the “dead black wave” that would occasionally “race over the scene”. This is the kind of writing, the kind of bare emotion all writers strive for in their work. It’s the kind of writing that stands the passing of time. It’s been almost 100 years since Rölvaag first published these words and still they move people.

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