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  • Writer's pictureKurt J. Kolka


By Kurt J. Kolka

(Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013)

I love the journeys of winter!

I recently came back from a trip to Abbottabad, Pakistan, with Mark Owen and SEAL Team Six, experiencing the raid on the compound of Osama bin Laden. I even went through the helicopter crash with him! His words on 316 printed pages kept me warm, but riveted.

Just prior to this, I took a trip with my daughter to the 1930s South, visiting with Atticus Finch, his children Jem and Scout, and housekeeper, Calipurnia, where we observed the trial of poor Tom Robinson with horror.

Before that, I was on my maiden voyage with Prof. Aronnax, Conseil, Ned Land and Captain Nemo aboard the Nautilus, courtesy of Jules Verne. What an adventure!

I haven’t always loved reading books, however. I remember back in elementary school I hated reading. Today I feel sorry for my parents who bought various books that most boys probably would have loved, in order to get me reading them. Nothing would hold my attention long enough — not “Treasure Island,” not “Sherlock Holmes,” not even “Gentle Ben” (although I longed to have my own pet bear!).

Then, in the summer of 1974, just before the start of high school, I bought a novel at Mac’s Drugs in downtown Grayling which changed everything. It was titled “The Hydra Monster” and featured the masked jungle hero, The Phantom, whose adventures I had read in newspapers and in comic books. Immediately, my feet followed my hands into the book.

I traveled with the Phantom from the Bangalla jungle to a secret base inside a plateau in Arizona, to the streets of San Francisco, and on to a citadel in South America, tracking down a secret, international crime syndicate called the Hydra. We followed the clues to finally infiltrate Hydra headquarters and bring down the mysterious leader known as V.

Previous trips with the purple-clad hero in comics made the transition to a tale of all words virtually seamless. Yet, best of all that book served as my bridge to a whole new world.

Within the next few months, I started reading other books. Usually they had some type of fantastic element to them, but they also taught me something. I learned that “Frankenstein” was really about beauty and ugliness, bullying, father-son relationships and responsibility. “Dracula” was about friendship, honor and standing tall against an evil more powerful than you are. Eventually, I learned to see heroic natures in characters like Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn and even Atticus Finch.

I came to love reading so much, I earned a bachelor’s degree in English/literature in college.

Now, here I am, deep into another series of winter journeys in 2013, a long way from that summer of ‘74.

Today I’m on a journey with Phileas Fogg and his servant Passepartout, who have taken a challenge to travel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” I was excited at the prospect of this journey, considering all the stops we’ll be making along the way, and then I learned Fogg is the prime suspect in a major criminal investigation! What have I gotten myself into? But I suppose I’ll have to see this through, despite my misgivings about my traveling companion.

When I return from that, I may go on a second archaeological dig with Dr. Jonathan Weber. This time we’ll be investigating something mysteriously “More than a Skeleton,” a trip arranged by Paul L. Maier.

I hoping to do some correspondence with a little devil named Screwtape. His writings have come highly recommended by my former high school English teacher, Mr. Woodland, in Grayling, for many years. And it was on sale at Saturn Booksellers this summer.

Then, along with all this respectable literature, I’m saving time for one more book to appease that young teen still somewhere inside of me — “The Phantom: The Complete Series, Volume Two.”

There’s sure going to be good times ahead!

What about you? What’s on your winter reading list? And what book was it that inspired you to become a lifelong reader?

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