Bill Moeller commentary: Rediscovered pleasure from old writing


I was just thinking that I may have accidentally come across a new pleasure. 

Not really new, just new to me. 

I've gone back to a couple of books that I've read in the past and read them for a second time. It's a delightful way to spend a few hours during our dreary winter evenings or superheated summer days here in the Pacific Northwest. 

It's something that I'll wager hardly any one ever does, though. 

When most of us read a book — particularly a novel and, more particularly, an action novel —  we're concerned with the storyline and not the way it's presented. We overlook the fact that the words the author uses to set the scene and describe the characters are equally important. 

Those are the words we tend to gloss over on any first reading. And yet, those are the words that do the most to define any author's style. Those are the words that cause us to prefer that author over others in the first place. 

Two of the books I read in the past are by one of my favorite Pacific Northwest mystery writers, John Straley, of Sitka, Alaska. I've mentioned him before. His first novel was "The Woman Who Married a Bear,” the title being based on a Native history, and the second one was "The Curious Eat Themselves," with the title being borrowed from a line written by the University of Washington poet, Theodore Roethke. 

Straley's prose in those first two books is as smooth and concise as the best poetry, and it well rewarded me for the small effort involved in reading them again. 

Another book that is just as rewarding is Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Each time I pick it up, I find something new, some subtlety that escaped me when I was reading it solely for the story. 

It's probably the best example of a book that deserves to be read more  than once. I've seriously maintained for years it should be required reading, and not for children. It should only be read by someone at least 45 years old. Anyone who has been forced to read it as a school chore will likely never look at it again and the reader will miss so much of what the author put into it. 

It's not a children's book. 

Twain himself admitted such on numerous occasions. It's primarily an adult commentary on the hypocrisies of mankind. It's only when someone has reached maturity for a number of years will those words jump out of the page at you. Let me add that it becomes a different book from the one you might have read in your youth.

In spite of the years I spent researching the works and words of Twain, I never considered myself to be a Mark Twain scholar. Years ago, though, when I first began to write columns, just such a person was an English teacher at Centralia College. Dr. Suzanne Weil asked me one day what my favorite Twain work was. I think I was expected to answer the obvious but the smile on her face when I answered "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" led me to believe I had given the right answer. 

The point I'm trying to make is this: If you have enjoyed a well known book by any author in your youth, some of his or her last famous works may surprise you as well, reflecting your life experience and  — hopefully — acquired wisdom. 

Stay cool.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at