Saturday, January 26, 2008

Railroad Nostalgia

One of the reasons I love working in libraries is that I get to see what other people are reading. Don't ask me to tell you all about the latest novel by a best-selling author, because I never seem to remember to get my name on the waiting list before publication. (I think I'm number 947 on the list to get a copy of Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass.) But I've learned to let other people do the legwork for me, and I come across the most interesting books just by chance.

I picked up a copy of Gary Krist's White Cascade when I noticed its binding was broken. Right in the center of the book, where the photographic pages were inserted, it was coming apart. Since I had the book open, the photos caught my eye, and I had to see what it was about. Turns out, this fiction writer from Maryland stumbled across news accounts of a train disaster in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest in 1910, and he was hooked. There was a tremendous snowfall that winter that ended up blocking the track and stranding a trainload of travelers high in the Cascades. They begged to be moved to a safer spot, but there didn't appear to be anyplace to go. Besides, what were the chances of an avalanche coming down on that particular spot? This was a great read, and the suspense of waiting for the storm to subside gave me chills for many nights.

A couple of weeks after I finished that book, I saw a wonderful collection of photos taken by former Northern Pacific telegrapher and dispatcher Jim Fredrickson. Railroad Shutterbug contains not only photos, but the stories behind them. Looking through the book will make you want to pull out an old map, unless your old Washington geography skills are very sharp.

The dogs don't care much for books, by the way, but they're happy that I'm willing to sit with them and read for a few hours on a cold Saturday.

No comments: