HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is an on-air, online community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains. 

The 2018 Fall Read's theme is Let's Talk—Aging, Death, & Dying.  You'll find the thoughts and ideas about books from Radio Readers through a series of BookBytes posted below. If you'd like to contribute a BookByte, simply contact Kathleen Holt at kholt@hppr.org for more information. 

Become an HPPR Radio Reader today! Click here to join the Book Club—and stay informed by liking our Facebook page!

To download materials from previous seasons of the Book Club, please visit our archive.


HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is made possible in part by a generous contribution from Radio Readers:  Lon Frahm of Colby, KS and Lynne Hewes of Cimarron, KS.  HPPR thanks them for their support!


Fifty Years Of Belongings

Oct 8, 2018
Lagunilla Antiques / Wikimedia Commons

Hello, Radio Readers. I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, ruminating on aging, death and dying for our Fall 2018 series.

In her memoir, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast illustrates the things so many of us wrangle as our parents and elders die.  

Chast's Experience Instructive

Oct 5, 2018

A hundred years ago the Sears and Roebuck catalog, in addition to ordinary household goods, carried numerous advertisements for coffins, wreaths, and clothes to wear to funerals. The average life span was short: every family had first-hand exposure to death and dying.

Wikimedia Commons

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little about this month’s Radio Readers Book Club Read, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.

Isn't That The Crux Of It All?

Oct 1, 2018
Kathleen Holt

Hello, Radio Readers! I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, here to talk about our Fall 2018 book series on aging, death and dying. 

And, believe it or not, my task is to talk about these topics from the perspective of a comic book, or, more correctly, of a graphic memoir, of a “real” story conveyed through some narrative and lots of drawings (that’s the “graphic” part).  

Burial Practices And The Warrior Way

Sep 30, 2018

North American Indian burial practices varied widely across the continent.  In some of these cultures, the recently deceased’s name was never spoken again so as to avoid angering the spirit. 

The spirit world, in general, was revered and respected among American Indian groups yet may have been met with some trepidation and even anxiety. 

A Cabin in the Woods

Sep 26, 2018

This is Tom Weso, and this is High Plains Public Radio’s book club. In the featured novel for this program, Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk, the deep forests of British Columbia provide the setting. In those forests are cabins.

Earth Is A Mother Who Never Dies

Sep 24, 2018
Atalanta Fugiens / Wikipedia

This is Denise Low, High Plains Public Radio Book Club discussion leader for Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese.

“The Earth is a mother who never dies” is a saying from the Diné (or Navajo) people. How true that is in this story. Throughout the book, the bounty of the land is a reliable source of food, especially game and fish.

Native Women On Death's Cycle Of Life

Sep 21, 2018
Denise Low

My mother once told me that women who garden can reconcile themselves to the cycle of life and death more peacefully. I have kept up gardening, perhaps because of that advice. Here are poems by Native-heritage women, including myself, that draw on nature to reconcile death’s paradox.

Last Words

Sep 19, 2018
Hudson River School / Wikipedia

Hello, Radio Readers. I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, here to talk about death and dying, for our Fall 2018 book series. 

In reading and talking about the books in our series, I’ve found myself thinking about that moment when we cease to be one kind of thing and become another kind of thing.

Music in His Prose

Sep 17, 2018
Richard Wagamese / Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations

In the novel Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese writes a love song to the natural world. Wagamese published one book of poetry and a  lot of journalism.

It is poetry, and its music, though, that colors the narration in this book. Wagamese describes his teenage hero Franklin Starlight this way: “Out here where he spent the bulk of his free time there was no need for elevated ideas or theories or talk, and if he was taciturn he was content in it, hearing symphonies in wind across a ridge and arias in the screech of hawks and eagles, the huff of grizzlies and the pierce of a wolf call against the unblinking eye of the moon.”

I Learned To Hunt As A Boy

Sep 14, 2018
Marcia Epstein

In the novel Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, hunting is a major theme. Perhaps some readers are surprised by how young Franklin Starlight is when he learns to clean a rifle, age five, and by age seven, he is learning to shoot. He shoots targets and learns how to track. At the age of nine, he gets his first deer.

Stories That Must Be Told

Sep 12, 2018

Maya Angelou once wrote that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Stories can be a source of entertainment as well as enlightenment. They have the power to hurt and to heal. 

Our stories, our families’ stories, our people’s stories. These are the stones that form the foundation of our lives.  Sometimes, though, a story is a window into the heart of the teller.  A magic thread that pulls the soul of the speaker into the compassion of the listener.


Sep 10, 2018
Posted November 24, 2016

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese presents many lessons, and one of them is how it feels to be an outsider. All of us have this experience sometime, and for some of Wagamese’s characters, it was their permanent state.

The father-figure Bunky lives isolated in the rough backcountry of British Columbia. He is a classic loner as he raises the hero Franklin.

Redemption Never Expected

Sep 7, 2018
Leslie VonHolten

This is bold, but I’m gonna say it: Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese should be in the literary pantheon of great father and son epics.

Eldon and Frank Starlight—damaged father, strange son—travel deep into the wilderness, confronting bears and existential demons, and they even meet an oracle, the mountain woman Becka, who tells them what lies ahead. Sure, there are no loud, heroic moments. Instead, we see the grace and honor of Frank as the hero in this elegiac, quiet book.  

We Are Our Stories

Sep 5, 2018
Phillip Periman / Used with permission

“Medicine Walk,” a novel by the indigenous Canadian writer Richard Wagamese, tells the story of Frank Starlight, a 16-year-old Indian boy without a mother and who has an absent, alcoholic, Native American father, Eldon Starlight. 

Frank was raised from birth by a farmer, an older man who lives in isolation near the wilderness in British Columbia. Even though he is not an Indian, the farmer raises the boy in the Indian way, teaching him to hunt and fish, to live off the land, and to practice the Indian way, what we might call mindfulness.

Sweet Remains Of Last Days

Sep 3, 2018
The Metropolitan Museum

The novel Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese is about a boy, Franklin Starlight, whose ne’er do well father shows up in his life not to help him as a mentor, but to demand help with his death process.

Eldon Starlight has not earned the right to request anything of this abandoned teenager, yet he does. End of life issues also may bring many of us face to face with relatives who make unearned demands. The grueling passage of death may cause difficult moments in even the best relationships.

Death as Birth - Nothing to Fear

Aug 31, 2018
Diane Goble

My name is Diane Goble from Sisters, OR:

I read Dr Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, when it first came out in 2014. I really appreciated reading end-of-life stories from a medical point of view. I was a hospice volunteer off and on for over 25 years and had a very different perspective on how healthcare decisions are made within families when no doctors, nurses or social workers are around. The one thing he and I, and Tolstoy, agree upon is that fear of death and dying seems to be nearly universal.

The Hard Questions

Aug 29, 2018
Wikimedia Commons / New York Public Library

Hi, Radio Readers – I’m Melany Wilks talking to you from my home in Colby, KS.

I had been told by a friend to read the book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. So, on a long drive 16 - hour drive with my husband, we popped the CD’s into the stereo and began listening. The book held our attention, and then we purchased the book.

It's A Meaningful Discussion

Aug 27, 2018
Rembrandt (1632) / Wikimedia Commons

In the last part of his book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande addresses the events following his father’s being diagnosed with a rare caner, astrocytoma of the spinal cord. Questions of surgery now or later, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, assisted living or hospice created emotions that swirled through the family like a tornado.

Facing the Ultimate Fact of Life

Aug 24, 2018
Joe Lovell - Amarillo, Texas

“Aging.”  That used to be just a word, one not often considered, that I reflexively associated with gaining access to things and experiences previously unavailable to me. 

Now, as I begin my sixth decade, “aging” is a word that reveals itself to me daily – in the aches and stiffness that greet my every morning; in the faces of my siblings, colleagues, and, of course, that sagging, grizzled image in the mirror; in the daily physical challenges of my parents and my wife’s; in the constantly declining memory of my mother-in-law.

Putting Death to Rest

Aug 22, 2018

Hello from Quinter, Kansas.  This is Valerie Brown-Kuchera, helping to pass on (no pun intended) some of the ideas generated by Being Mortal, the first book in our Fall Read theme: “Let’s Talk – Aging, Death, and Dying.”

The author, Boston surgeon Atul Gawande, discusses our culture’s approach to death and makes the case that we may have “medicalized” mortality to a psychologically unhealthy level. 

Aging - The Challenges And The Costs

Aug 20, 2018
Phillip Periman / Amarillo, Texas

I’m Dr Phillip Periman from Amarillo TX. 

In Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, I found the second chapter the most sobering. In “Things Fall Apart,” previously published as an essay in The New Yorker, Gawande discusses the inevitability of the biological decline of old age.

In fact, this chapter influenced my own decision to retire from the active practice of medicine at age 78. I know of no one who can do at 88 what they did at 78.

What's the Problem?

Aug 17, 2018
The Green House Project

Our Radio Readers Book Club is talking about aging, death, and dying and I have something I want to get off my chest.  I’m a person of many projects and over the past few years, I’ve spent time helping some of the finest people I’ve ever known raise money to build a new kind of nursing home – neighborhoods or Green Houses like the ones Atul Gawande describes in Being Mortal.

We Do Have Choices

Aug 15, 2018

Hello, Radio Readers! I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, here to talk about aging, death and dying for our Fall 2018 book series.  

If you haven’t yet been given scary news about your health, it’s probably just a matter of time.  Dr. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End could be a step in preparing for conversations about treatments and procedures.

Maintaining the Integrity of One's Life

Aug 13, 2018

In his book Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande discusses nursing homes and why 50% of us will spend a year or more of our lives in one. The other 50%, especially if we are in the very old category, will live alone. Unfortunately, Gawande observes,  “We give virtually no thought to how we will live out our later years alone.”

Preparation Required

Aug 10, 2018

My name is Valerie Mendoza and I’m Director of Programs for Humanities Kansas based in Topeka. 

My grandmother was an advocate for the elderly. She and others in our community noticed that those who were Spanish-speaking lacked services as they aged and in the early 1970s she helped to found a senior center for them where they could gather, socialize, and have something to look forward to.

Medical Problems Or The Meaning of Life?

Aug 8, 2018
Wyatt McSpadden

This is Dr. Phillip Periman. I am a retired hematologist/oncologist in Amarillo, Texas. I have been asked to review Dr. Atul Gawande’s  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End published in 2014 and now available in paperback.   Two chapters, “Things Fall Apart” and “Letting Go,” first appeared as articles in The New Yorker for which Gawande regularly writes. He is a surgeon in the Harvard system in Boston.

Let's Talk - Aging, Death and Dying

Aug 6, 2018

Elizabeth Kubler Ross once called America a “death-denying society,” a description not necessarily shared across cultures. In Bhutan – one of the happiest countries on the globe -- talking about death at least once a day is considered a necessity. Hyolmo Buddhists in Nepal regard dying as an intricate art to be learned throughout life. And in Papua, New Guinea, older people often describe themselves as “being the process of dying.”

The 2018 Fall Read's theme is Let’s Talk – Aging, Death & Dying.  You'll find thoughts and ideas about books from Radio Readers through a series of BookBytes posted below. If you'd like to contribute a BookByte, simply contact Kathleen Holt for more information. 

Book lovers, mark your calendars! On Sunday, May 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. CST, HPPR Radio Readers invites you to a live, on-air, book discussion for the 2018 Spring Read: "WWI-Perspectives."

Don’t miss a spirited discussion of our four books with panelists from Panhandle-Plains Historical MuseumBethel College, & High Plains Public Radio + educators from across our region! The panelists will explore themes raised in the discussion of the book through contributed Radio Reader BookBytes. Plus, it will stream live on HPPR's Facebook page!