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Radio Readers BookByte: Nostalgia or Forward Thinking?

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Library of Congrses

Hello, Radio Readers! Jane Holwerda here to chat with you about one of the novels in our Fall 2019 book series—Paulette Jiles’  News of the World. This True-Grit type of Western features the wizened veteran of many wars—Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd-- charged with returning a young girl recently ransomed by the Kiowa to her blood kin near San Antonio.

One of the interesting twists that Jiles gives to this narrative is the Captain was, by trade,  a printer, like Benjamin Franklin was a printer. The Captain loses his printing press to the Civil War but his love for the printed word is unabated. He carries newspapers from distant places and selects stories to share with his audiences, stories, or, as the title tells us, News of the World.  He is a reader of news, a newscaster, in saloons, salons, church halls.

There’s something so wonderfully nostalgia-inducing, at least for me, in this narrative-design.  For one, I love being read to, and I love news, especially when it comes all inky in a broadsheet, with sections organized alphabetically, which are best folded into quarter pages for reading, and then later from which things are clipped—obituaries, wedding announcements, recipes, want ads.

Am I alone in recalling the way we used to interrupt each other at the breakfast table with some update from our reading of the news?

Remember bickering over who would read which section first? Arguments over whether one simply abandoned the paper in scattered disarray or tidily reassembled and neatly folded? Of such small matters are many lives made… See? Nostalgia… I do realize that newspapers are falling by the roadside, disappearing more quickly than manual transmissions from passenger cars, and, yes, I miss both….and while sitting together and reading the newspaper sounds much like the way we today sit together tending to our social media, there’s something qualitatively different about sharing the news and traipsing through Twitter.

But in Jiles’ novel, the Captain, the reader of news, isn’t much nostalgic at all.  In fact, he’s quite forward thinking. By the end of the novel, he’s requesting news shops (oh my – remember those?!) “to order papers from England and Canada and Australia and Rhodesia.” His reading about Arctic exploration, the Australian Outback, and Victoria Falls of course broadens the scope of his world well beyond San Antonio.

And while, not at any moment in the book has he been anything other than tolerant, the news, and sharing it with his young charge, makes him aware of his birthright privileges  as a white guy: Jiles writes: “he found himself…ceasing to value…things that seemed so important to the white world.” Instead, he finds himself more and more curious about the world beyond whiteness, more and more thinking of the future, of how the world might yet become.  

Nowadays, we may argue whether social media is beneficial but, clearly, there’s no going back to rotary phones, the heavy heft of a paper phone directory, or waiting beyond a few seconds for news updates. Because you know what? There’s never ever going to be another Walter Cronkite. And that’s the way it is. Right?