Whitesburg KY
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Points East

Unexpected find


On Sunday morning just before 2 a.m., I re-read, with a touch of melancholy, the last page of a novel entitled Out to Canaan.

I wasn’t looking for any special revelation or pondering some mysterious circumstance. I had finished the book moments earlier and I simply did not want the read to be over.

I was also under the mistaken impression that the book was the fourth and last of a series of titles that have kept me enormously entertained while hijacking far more attention than I could really afford to give them over the last 10 nights or so.

I was thinking to myself that I could have postponed the last three or four chapters and gotten to sleep at a decent hour on both Saturday and Sunday nights and that I could also have gotten one more joyful reading session out of author Jan Karon’s tales of life in fictional Mitford, North Carolina.

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through a pile of books at a yard sale and came across these four. The seller had put a rubber band around them to keep them together because, she told me, “If you read the first one, you won’t be able to sleep until you find the other three and you have to read them in order.”

“If you like Andy Griffith and Mayberry then you will absolutely love Father Tim and Mitford,” she added before going on to tell me that this selection was among her all time favorites. She said she is a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver and that she reads because there is never anything worth watching on television.

So I shelled out a dollar because I have found that sweet little old ladies who make reading recommendations with a high level of passion, who don’t watch TV and who love Kingsolver generally have literary tastes pretty much parallel to mine.

Unwilling to accept the notion that the author would have written four absolute jewels and then stopped, I Googled “Jan Karon” just before bedtime that night and discovered there are nine books in the series.

That loud commotion you may have heard coming from the direction of Paint Lick about 11:35 last Sunday night was actually me whooping so loudly that I disturbed the dogs while Loretta was yelling for me to shut up so she could go to sleep.

By 11:40 p.m., I had been to half.com where I placed orders for the next three titles in Ms. Karon’s “Mitford Series”.

I was not at all surprised to learn that several of her books have been No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List even though I stopped using that source as a gauge of quality several decades back because 90 percent of the stuff that makes that list is so trashy that I wouldn’t use it for wiping purposes in an outdoor toilet.

Nor was I surprised to discover that the Mitford books have earned Jan Sparrow a long list of literary awards too numerous to detail in this column. I was, however, somewhat amazed that I had not previously heard about her.

A native of rural, western North Carolina, Jan Karon completed a very successful career as a big city advertising executive that had her working for well over 30 years in New York, San Francisco and points between until she retired in the late 1990’s and moved back home thinking that she might write a book.

And did she ever.

Mitford, population about 1,000, could be any small town in southern Appalachia. The central character of the books is an Episcopalian rector who interacts with a host of eccentric residents of Mitford. In the process, the books deal with myriad social problems, political issues and small town life in general.

The character development is beyond superb. Don’t be reading these books in bed if you sleep with someone else because you will laugh so loudly you will wake them. Ask my wife.

The four titles I have finished are, in order, At Home in Mitford, A Light in The Window, These High Green Hills, and Out to Canaan. I have ordered the fifth and sixth titles, A New Song and A Common Life, fully expecting them to be as well written and entertaining as the first four.

While the books might possibly stand alone as independent reads, I believe that it is important, if not absolutely critical, to stick with the chronology and read them in order.

This is good clean reading, folks. If sexual exploits, graphic violence and filthy language are required to entertain you, don’t bother buying or checking these out of the library. There’s not a single word in the ones I’ve read thus far that couldn’t be used in a kindergarten class.

But if you like to laugh as you peruse exceptionally good literature, you will be hard pressed to find a better way to do that than Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

I didn’t get the lady’s name who turned me on to these wonderful books, but I do recall the subdivision. and I believe I would recognize her home. Later on this week I have to be in Lexington. I plan to leave a thank you note on her door – along with the titles of the five additional books she doesn’t know about.


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