Thursday, February 11, 2021

Reading | Centennial

Centennial | James A. Michener 

Imagine a story that begins three billion, six hundred million years ago, and spins out over the eons until the present day of the mid 1970s. Visualize a plot that weaves together dozens of colorful characters into a rich generational tapestry that spans race, ethnicity, and culture. Dream of a novel that is born in a highly particular location, and an author who has the will and skill to incorporate events from around the world while keeping the story's feet firmly planted in that specific geographical place. 

This is the formula for success derived by one of America's finest writers, James A. Michener, and  Centennial is yet another of his true-to-form mega novels. This time the story is set in fictional Centennial, Colorado and tells the tale of the American West. Remarkably fresh and relevant, Michener's writing is particularly sensitive to the delicate issues of Native Americans, the buffalo, Mexican immigrants, slavery, environmental damage, and mental health. Almost fifty years old, Centennial still stands as a complex and comprehensive analysis of the forces that shaped the West.

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As a young adult, I went from high school to college to - on top of my full-time professional job - six months of evenings and weekends spent feverishly studying for the CPA exam, and I began to wonder if I would ever have time to read for fun. But miracles really do happen, and finally the day came when I enjoyed the luxury of perusing through my roommate's fiction-filled bookcase and reading to my heart's content. Along with extensive collections of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ayn Rand, my roommate leaned heavily into Michener's catalog and I fell in love with his epic style of storytelling. Many a late night I would spend flipping pages while absent-mindedly dreading the morning alarm, too engrossed in the rich adventures at my fingertips to give a hoot about the late hour. I read at least a half-dozen of Michener's books and loved every word. 

Like a good Michener plot, several decades of my life then passed without incident. I stayed up late reading other good books, and Michener faded to the mists of my memory. Then one day about a year ago, searching for a story that would feel comfortingly nostalgic, I picked up a Michener book that I'd read back in the day, and reintroduced myself to him. And it turns out that I'm still in love with every word. 

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