Escondido, CA
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A good book is like a fine wine



When I was asked to write this column, I assume it was because of my affiliation with the former Daily Times-Advocate, from which this weekly took its name. I opted to call it “Escondido Reflections,” and decided at the outset to “reflect” on what it was like at the old Times-Advocate during my 27 years of affiliation. So, most of my columns to date have been just that and about related activities. But it has been 37 years since I left the T-A, and there probably are few readers out there who even remember the T-A – which, by the way, was one darn fine small daily newspaper – or even care about what it was like.

The one disadvantage about writing for a free-distribution weekly, no matter the quality of it, is that there is no guarantee of how many persons might be reading it, as there is little or no feedback. And that is discouraging. So, this is the lead-in to saying that I heretofore will be opining or “reflecting,” if you will, on topics other than the old T-A. This is column 39 and a change of pace.


Have you read any good books lately? Have you read any books? If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t read. I sometimes gaze at the shelves of books in my little home library, wishing I could just absorb all of their content, right now.

I look upon a good book as a fine wine: It is to be savored. it’s like a fine painting: It is to be treasured. It’s like an antique: It’s to be saved. Through reading books, you can do anything, go anywhere, live somebody else’s life or experience somebody else’s feelings. The treasures of the world and the knowledge of the world are to be found in books.

I tend to be a compulsive book buyer. If I see one, I want it; I buy it. It’s like an addiction. I have to tell myself to back off occasionally. I know that we are all selective in our reading habits. We don’t all like the same. While I enjoy novels as do most readers, I also enjoy biographical history. There are many excellent historians, whose writings are like reading a novel. One of my favorites is H.W. Brands. In recent years, my favorite novelists are Daniel Silva and James Lee Burke.

Silva’s novels are about an Israeli spy and the Israeli intelligence agency. His recurring spy character, Gabriel Allon, in private life is an expert art restorer of old masters paintings. Burke, a retired English literature professor from Louisiana State University, is a masterful prose writer. Maybe it’s too much hyperbole, but his novels border on the brilliant ¬¬– beautifully written. Many of his novels are set in the bayou country of Louisiana around New Orleans. His recurring character, Dave Robicheaux, is a deputy sheriff. When reading a Burke novel, you can “hear” the bream (a fish) flopping in the bayou waters; you can “smell” the lilac blooming on a trellis; you are “there” on a sheriff’s raid. Burke is that good.

One of the most fascinating series of books I have ever read are four by Robert Ardrey – “African Genesis,” “Territorial Imperative,” “The Social Contract” and “The Hunting Hypothesis” — all of which are still available in paper back. They explore theories about the origin of the human species, the instinctive drive in humans and animals (and the great similarity) and an investigation into the evolutionary sources of order and disorder. If you want to do some serious thinking and pondering, read Ardrey’s books.

One of the best pieces of fiction I have read is the late Leon Uris’ “Trinity,” an epic novel about the peasant struggle and religious hatred of 19th century Ireland that still resonates occasionally today in the tragic religious and political differences in Northern Ireland.

Through the “magical” properties of books, I have “traveled” to the planet Aurora and its robot society through the fiction of Isaac Asimov. I have been an “observer” at the Constitutional Convention through the eyes of historian Catherine Drinker Bowen. I have been a part of the creation of the state of Israel through the writings of novelist Leon Uris. I have been “with” General George Washington’s army in its fight to win our freedom from Great Britain through the writings of historian James Thomas Flexner. I have experienced the “feelings” of duty and tragedy of police work through novelist Joseph Wambaugh, and I have been “part” of the lives of Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt through the eyes of historians.

I hope I have enticed somebody to dive into a good book –fiction or nonfiction. You’ll be the better for it.

Telephone Answering Service

Is anybody as frustrated as I am with the automated telephone answering service so prevalent today in most businesses? At the very least, it is so impersonal compared with the old system of hearing an actual live person on the other end as soon as the connection was made. Today, we’re greeted with an automated voice – almost always that of a female – that usually opens with, “Please listen carefully as our menu has changed,” and then proceeds with options that sometimes are as many as eight, not one that gives you the option of talking with a live person.

I tried calling Social Security the other day. After punching about eight different option buttons, I was greeted with a cheerless automated voice that said: “There will be a 35-minute wait.” Thirty-five minutes! I hung up. It was if the message intended was: “Please don’t call.”

Technology advances are meant for improvement and increased convenience. Automated telephone answering service has certainly been a benefit for businesses. But it absolutely has been an inconvenience for the consumer – no benefit at all.


Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times- Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.

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