Whatever a person studies, and whatever a person learns, there is no more important study than his own history. If we don't know where we've been and how we got there and whether we are better off or not for having been there, we can't possibly plan intelligently for the future.
Local historian Helen G. Ebersole, a resident of Lakewood, has recently published a history of the Jamestownn Post-Journal -or at least one line of this newspaper's heritage.
There was a time when there was a morning newspaper in Jamestown called The Post, and an evening newspaper called the Journal. The newspaper you're holding was formed by the union of the two, which happened on Oct. 1, 1941.
Ms. Ebersole calls her book ''An ImPRESSive Record,'' and it focuses on the older parent, the Jamestown Journal. It printed its first issue in 1826.
If you know and love our community, you will delight to read her examination of the newspaper's featured stories, and her analysis of its style and structure. As industries grew and then were surpassed by other industries, as the very first train pulled into the station, as fires destroyed historic edifices and committees raised funds to build different ones, the book gives a concise and very interesting look at the community, and of the record the community kept of what was happening.
The Journal printed its first issue from its original office on the site of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, on the north east corner of Fourth and Main Sts. The paper was to be printed weekly, and was the product of a press which could turn out an astonishing 500 copies of the four-page newspaper in two days of constant printing. The first editor, A.B. Fletcher, promised the community that the new publication would always present the news without any preferred point of view.
It wasn't long, though, before the paper developed a strong preference for the policies of the Whig Party, which continued when the Whigs ran out of gas, to be replaced by the Republican Party.
My favorite anecdote from a full volume of them, is the story about a young man who grew to be one of the most famous American newspapermen in all of history: Horace Greeley. Ms. Ebersole has turned up evidence that Greeley worked for the Journal for a few days in its earliest years, until he learned that the paper greatly appreciated his fine work, but had no plans to pay him for it.
Despite his famous advice that young men should ''Go West,'' he promptly left Jamestown, heading toward New York City, where he rose to fame and power as editor of the New York Tribune. It's good to know we live in a community where such traditions are so very alive and well.
The book demonstrates years of reading in past issues of the newspaper and in histories of the community, the culture, and the industry. It's easy to read, logical, and it flows easily. From farm prices to local politics to arguments which risked splitting the community in two, the author includes a broad selection from all areas of life. There's even a good chance that you'll learn where the name of your street originated.
''An ImPRESSive Record'' has 98 pages in paperback, and was printed by the Post-Journal. It costs $15, and can be purchased at the newspaper's offices. It has the ISBN number 978-0-9658955-8-3.
While we're discussing books by local authors, I'd like to call your attention to a book for children: ''Still Water,'' by Jamestown resident Anthony Ricotta.
Ricotta has written the lovely text on the subject of water, and of life, and assembled relevant quotations from authors such as William Butler Yeats, Jack Kerouac, and Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu. He also has illustrated it lavishly with bright water color paints in mostly abstract style, which inspire thought on the subject of water, its nature, and its almost limitless potential. It's not just a few minutes' entertainment for a child, it's a work of art.
There are children who respond to linear stories. Goldilocks enters the bears' house and tries to eat their porridge.
Other children like books which suggest an idea, which can cause them to think and ponder for a long while. These children are the ones who will especially love this book, and it might inspire lengthy discussions on important subjects. It's ideal for the adult who reads to children and who isn't on a strict time schedule, so the child or children can pause on each page for as long as they wish. The illustrations may inspire any number of ideas related to the text and the quotations.
''Still Water'' was published by X-Libris. It has 42 pages in hard cover edition. It sells for $21.99 in soft cover and $31.99 in hard cover. Find it through the X-Libris bookstore, on your computer, among other sites. Find it in hard cover with ISBN number 978-1-4363-2532-5.
The title of the next book for this week's consideration is ''Buffalo Lockjaw.'' It's a novel by Buffalo native Greg Ames. The title refers to the facial expression assumed by someone walking directly into a brisk, icy wind, in the depths of winter, in our neighboring community of Buffalo.
Chances are good you've been wearing the Jamestown version of exactly that expression, yourself.
''Buffalo Lockjaw'' is a well-written and thought-provoking analysis of a number of very important subjects. These include nursing homes, medical ethics, the cultural evolution of the American Rust Belt, and the values which should be encouraged or discouraged in one's children, among many others.
The protagonist of the book is a young man named James Fitzroy. James was born, raised and educated in Buffalo, but has moved to New York City, where he has found a job writing greetings for a successful company which prints greeting cards. He specializes in funny ones.
We first meet James as he drives into a wintery Buffalo in his rented car, prepared and determined to meet up with friends from the old days, eat some favorite foods, come to terms with his youth and his values, and kill his mother.
The social conditions for the younger generation in Buffalo are not much different from those in our own community. Those who will get the most out of this book are those who remember with affection the conditions of growing up and living in our region, yet who have a different perspective: those who have lived elsewhere long enough to understand that not everyone in the world has the lifestyle which is lived by Buffalo's young.
James quickly hooks up with buddies who shared his formative years. He sees them sit at home evenings, drinking beer until it's late enough to go out to the bars. He joins them for beer-lubricated barbecues in which the driving snow makes it even more difficult than usual to get the charcoal grill ready for the burgers and the chicken. Now he understands that they should make some different choices, yet he does have a pretty good time.
The women who once drove his behavior, his manner of dress, his choice of hangouts, and much of his life, now look different. Some look better. Some don't. The economic hardships of a town with consistently shriveling industries gives a new understanding of the life choices of the guys who stayed in town.
Most important of all, James feels it imperative that he take personal responsibility for his mother.
Ellen Fitzroy was an outstanding nurse, who not only cared brilliantly for her patients, but who wrote textbooks which are commonly used in nursing schools, to guide future professionals in the constant jousting among the patients' needs, their families' needs, and the innumerable rules, policies, customs and power trips of various levels of government, insurance companies, hospital boards of directors, and the other agencies which become so very powerful when someone needs medical care, and lacks a bottomless bank account.
Ellen is in a nursing home, which strikes her son as being as nice as such a facility can possibly be. She is only in her 50s, but Alzheimer's has reduced her to a living shell. The cost of keeping her in the home is gradually draining James' father into a different kind of shell.
When Ellen was diagnosed, she knew as well as anyone what lay in her future. She determined on suicide, but James was horrified and insisted that she abandon her plan. Seeing her now, he believes that in doing so, he betrayed both her and his father.
Considering the grimness of the subject, Ames succeeds in introducing a great deal of humor. Ironic recognitions of the Buffalo lifestyle can make us re-evaluate our own situation, yet realize the humor in the situation at the same time.
Readers will like James, whether or not they agree with his decisions. The book reads quickly and I often found myself wanting to read just another page or two, well into the night.
''Buffalo Lockjaw'' was read in an advanced reading copy, preparatory for an April, 2009 publication. It will be published by Hyperion, with a suggested selling price of $14.95, in paper bound editions. It has 286 pages, and will have ISBN number 978-1-4013-0980-0.
If the description of the novel strikes a chord with you, you might want to plan a drive to Buffalo in April, when the author will be speaking at three different locations, in connection with the book's publication.
Catch him April 4 at Barnes & Noble, 1515 Niagara Falls Blvd. That's at 2 p.m. April 8 at 7 p.m., you can meet him at Talking Leaves Book Store, 3158 Main St., near the South campus of the University of Buffalo.
Or, if you prefer, hear him at Border's, on Walden Ave., directly across the street from the Galleria Mall. That will be April 9 at 7 p.m. I suspect it would be an interesting encounter and I know it would make for a wonderful reading.
The Last Knight
Most of our readers have probably never heard of John of Gaunt. Historian Norman F. Cantor has written a book which could make you understand how much a man could teach you about the ways of the world, despite having lived 600 years ago.
Cantor calls his subject ''Gaunt'' throughout the book, although he clearly understands that the man's name was John Plantagenet, and he was born in Gaunt, which was how they spelled the name of the Belgian city of Ghent, in those days. Even though it would be similar to calling me ''Pittsburgh,'' we'll do the same.
In the fifth century, the Romans pulled their troops out of the provinces of their empire, within a matter of a few days, one country at a time. Since the Romans provided all the law enforcement and judicial activity in their empire, each abandoned province fell into a period of lawlessness, where the strong and the ruthless killed, robbed, raped and rampaged over anyone who wasn't strong enough to defend himself.
Gradually, they formed a society in which people's survival depended on a complex series of individual deals, called feuds. For nearly a thousand years, we describe the subsequent period of very little cultural progress as the feudal era, or the middle ages.
Eventually, people found a way to establish countries, build lasting armies who could defend those who couldn't defend themselves, and to live in cities. This biography takes place exactly at that point of demarcation. John of Gaunt was a medieval man. His son was no such thing.
Although we cannot really pinpoint such a major change of life within one lifetime, Gaunt's life certainly illustrates the change.
Cantor is a historian, not a historical novelist. His writing is an examination of a man's life choices and their effects. It doesn't have rising and falling action. You have to like analysis to enjoy the book.
The approach is topical, rather than linear. It doesn't start with Gaunt's birth and progress through to his death. It talks about military changes, cultural changes, sociological changes, economic changes, etc.
John of Gaunt was the son of King Edward III of England. He wasn't the oldest son, so he never became king himself. A youthful marriage to a woman of enormous wealth made him the equivalent of a billionaire.
The death of his older brother left England's throne occupied by a young child. A more modern man might have seized the government's reins, ''for the country's own good.'' Perhaps the young king should be put out of the way, a sad sacrifice to the needs of a whole nation. Gaunt didn't do it. He didn't think he should.
Kantor's most interesting chapter deals with the subsequent bloodlines which grew out from John of Gaunt and his three wives. Most of us learned about Henry the Navigator, for example, the younger son of a Portuguese king who funded the explorers who rounded Africa and found a profitable way for Europe to trade with Asia.
Henry was Gaunt's grandson, born to Gaunt's daughter Phillipa. Gaunt had married her into the Portuguese royal family to buy their support in his attempt to seize the throne of Castille, in Spain, which he claimed through his second wife.
They taught us in school that Henry enriched his country and brought untold wealth and culture to Europe. They didn't mention that he grew up being taught by his mother that he was blonde, like his mother and his English grandfather, and that made him racially superior to anyone of darker coloration. That belief caused him to begin the purchase of prisoners of war from African rulers, to be made slaves throughout the world, to anyone with the money to buy them.
The book isn't light reading. It certainly isn't divinely inspired, and you might well agree or disagree with its values on a regular basis.
If you love history and you enjoy well-documented analysis, you should consider it.
The book is published by Harper Perennial, and has 241 pages in paper bound edition. It's suggested selling price is $13.95. Find it with ISN number 978-0-06-075403-7.