Excerpt from A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Strong West Wind

by Gail Caldwell

A Strong West Wind
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Poised at the heart of so much open land, Amarillo, too, sprawled in a sort of languid disregard, as though territorial hegemony might make up for all that loneliness. Route 66 cut through the center of town as a streamlined reminder of what was out there to the west, and the trucks roared through town day and night, slaves to hope and white-line fever, heading for California or just somewhere else. The steak houses and truck stops at either end of the city confirmed these great distances, offering twenty-four-ounce T-bones along with the diesel fuel, and the neon from the all-night signs must have looked from the sky like paths of light—bright flashes of pink and green and white as the town grew sparser, flanked on the highway to the east and west alike by miles of open country.

Downtown in the 1950s was only a few blocks long, and the two banks, the two movie theaters, the Silver Grill Cafeteria, and the Amarillo Grain Exchange were all within shooting distance of one another. The Mary E. Bivins Memorial Library stood on the outskirts of these necessities, on Tenth and Polk, a generous old Georgian mansion with two sets of stone steps up to its wide verandas. The place had been built as a private home at the turn of the century, and its interiors still held traces of domestic calm— the foyer smelled wonderfully of floor wax and printer's ink and no doubt years' worth of muted librarians' cologne. The books were spread luxuriantly over four floors, with the aisles between shelves feeling as wide as city streets. It was here that an entire generation of kids enjoyed a certain benign neglect in the scorching Texas summers: Scores of mothers deposited their children at the library each day to snatch a few hours of freedom in between the swimming pool and the grocery store. The place was safe, it was cool (in the days before air-conditioning, we had only swamp coolers), and, with its gruff librarians posted like marines between Adult Fiction and the checkout desk, it offered a semblance of day-care-cum-self-improvement. In a city five hundred miles from the Texas Gulf Coast and a day's car ride from the mountains of neighboring New Mexico, the town pools and the library were the closest thing a lot of people had to getting away. Our idea of escape was an order of fries at the snack bar of the Western Riviera—a cross-shaped turquoise swimming pool slapped across the prairie like an SOS sign to God—and then the insouciant promise of the library, where you could lose yourself for hours in sanctioned daydreams.

Maybe such repositories of childhood are always graced by memory, each of them archives of that wider world to come. But for me those rooms were my Elysian fields, possessing a grandeur and reach that would blur over time but scarcely diminish after I had taken flight. My mother drove us to the library in an old Ford station wagon, two-tone Palomino Pink, and I can see it still, idling on the street below, as I half staggered down the stone steps with my weekly haul. There was a limit to the number of books, probably ten or twelve, that children were allowed, and the librarian at first admonished me that my appetites were likely to prove grander than my capabilities. But I was bored beyond measure without a book in my hand, and each week I surprised her by showing up for more.

This doggedness had revealed itself early on, an adaptive trait for a would-be toddler who had struggled to walk until well past the age of two. By the time I finally got to my feet, I stayed there— a victory that must have assured me, on some profound and preverbal level, that determination was a mighty ally. Certainly it proved useful in the library's summer reading contests, where, one sweltering July, our literary progress was tracked by tiny flags ascending a papier-mâché mountain. Each Friday the young explorers would report to base camp to summarize the books we had finished; once the librarian had determined we were telling the truth, she would move our flags closer to the summit. I remember this textual expedition with pain and pleasure both: the giddy journey into higher altitudes, as I left the pack behind, the weekly anticipation of receiving our sentry's seal of approval.  And finally, the misery of coming in second to a boy in my age group—I was probably nine—who had dared to outread me. The realms of athletics and other hand-eye endeavors had found me thus far undistinguished. When she was five, my sister had drawn a horse of such promise that the picture won a local contest; I promptly got out the tracing paper and copied her masterpiece, an act that suggested the visual pursuits be left to her.

Excerpted from A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell Copyright © 2006 by Gail Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.