Curt Swarm – Summer books and nasty colds

Curt Swarm - Empty Nest

I made it all through winter and spring without my token cold, and was feeling pretty confident, like maybe, along with old age comes an immunity to the gift that keeps on giving. Then this insufferable heat hit. I noticed a burning in the back of my throat that didn’t amount to much. “It’ll be gone tomorrow,” I told myself.
Wham! It was like I was hit by a Mack Truck.
Summer colds are the worst. They hang on and won’t go away, like a little kid brother on your first date. In the winter, the low outside temps, I think, help kill the cold, like the first hard frost kills off diseased rabbits. But in summer, the heat brews you in your own stew. Yuck.
Alas, if there’s any good news about a summer cold (and there is), it’s that it gives you a good excuse to pull the shades in an air-conditioned house, sit back in the recliner with a cup of mint tea, and open a good book. I’m just going to throw out a gob of books here, and you can pick and choose as you like.
Frank Conroy There seems to be a renewed interest in Frank Conroy, not Pat Conroy, Frank Conroy. Frank Conroy is the author/musician who became director of the writers workshop at the University of Iowa. He is now deceased, but his legacy as an author/musician and teacher lives on. Frank Conroy reminds me a lot of Garrison Keillor, both story-telling-and-looks wise. Some of his newer writing has been published, which is a treat, and his older, established works, if you haven’t read them already, are well worth rereading—the ultimate compliment for any author. His newer stuff: “Time & Tides” and “Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Rolls On” (catchy title) are essays and short stories on topics such as music, writing and authors, like F. Scott Fitzgerald. The older stuff: “Body & Soul” and “Stop-Time” are autobiographical in nature but describe two different boys growing up in dysfunctional, semi-caring, musical, worlds. Don’t try to make sense out of the two different boys. Remember, Frank Conroy is a writer, and writers will lead you down back alleys and dirt roads where you would never go alone.
I actually talked to Frank Conroy one day on the telephone. I had been reading “Body & Soul” and toying with the idea of applying for acceptance in the writers workshop at the University of Iowa, mainly because Frank Conroy was its director. Conroy has a wide vocabulary. I ran across a word in “Body & Soul” that I didn’t know the meaning of. I looked it up in my “American Heritage Dictionary” and, lo-and-behold, if it didn’t list the exact passage from “Body & Soul” as an example for usage of the word. I called the writers workshop and I’ll be danged if Frank Conroy didn’t answer the phone. I was flabbergasted. I told Frank Conroy about finding his passage from “Body & Soul” in the “American Heritage Dictionary” and he was humble and friendly, with a nice grandfatherly voice. He sent me an application for the writer’s workshop, but I never filled it out. Something like several thousand writers apply for admission, with only a few accepted. Was I a wuss? Yep.
If Frank Conroy doesn’t keep you from heat stroke, try Elizabeth Strout’s new book, “Anything is Possible,” or Fredrik Backman’s (author of “A Man Called Ove”) new book, “Bear Town.” For the man’s man, Richard Russo’s “Trajectory” will cure a cold. Anything by David Guterson will fit in great with fever hallucinations, and for pure motivation, something we all need during the doldrums of summer, the old stand-by, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert may open clogged air passages.
I’ve been rereading “Body & Soul,” looking for that word that the “American Heritage Dictionary” uses to quote Frank Conroy. To no avail. But it sure helps alleviate the misery of a summer cold, sorta like those Vicks-treated nose tissues. Ah-ah, choo!

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 107.3 FM in Farmington.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: