Adams County Reads One Book has returned! Join us in January of 2006 when we read "Peace Like a River" by Leif Enger.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Newsletter #5

Hello Readers:

Our wonderful journey is drawing to a close. This newsletter spans from the final chapters "Boy Ready" to "The Curious Music That I Hear." Reuben realizes that Andreeson is in danger from the sinister Waltzer and decides to reveal Davy’s hideout. While leading the search party there, he learns they have no interest in the real criminal, Waltzer, only Davy. He leads them astray, which causes Lonnie Ford to be injured. The cabin is found, but it is deserted. All that remains of Andreeson is his hat.

With Davy gone and Reuben’s health deteriorating, the family returns to Roofing. Reuben‘s betrayal of Davy has cost him Swede’s affection. He calls it a period of waiting – waiting for news of Davy, waiting for Swede’s forgiveness, waiting for his lungs to succumb.

Jeremiah marries Roxanna, and Davy does return briefly, delivering Sara for safe keeping. But Waltzer has followed and both Jeremiah and Reuben are shot. Reuben finds himself transported to a very special place, but before he can make that final journey into the light his father appears and takes his place. Reuben not only survives, but is cured of his asthma. Later, he will marry Sara and have a family. Jeremiah, who was not fatally wounded, dies. The doctors are mystified.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The title Peace Like a River comes from a hymn called “It is Well With My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford. Spafford, his wife, Anna, and their four young daughters were to sail to Europe on vacation. At the last minute, Spafford had to delay his departure but sent his family ahead. Their ship was lost at sea and although Anna was rescued, all the children died. Spafford later wrote the hymn as he sailed over their watery grave. The chapter title "When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll" is also from the hymn.

The Gettysburg College Camerata will sing "Peace Like a River" before Leif Enger’s lecture on March 2 at 11:30 a.m. Full lyrics to the hymn can be found here.

The Curious Music that I Hear

“The Curious Music that I Hear" is from another Stevenson poem, "The Land of Nod" and certainly sounds like Reuben’s afterlife experience. Here are two stanzas of the poem:

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do—
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams...Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.

Other chapters also are rooted in verse:

"Late in the Night When the Fires are Out" comes from Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "Windy Nights" about a lone horseback rider.

(Special thanks to Jay Sappington for helping compile these. A teacher at Dakar Academy in Senegal, West Africa; Jay’s 10 th grade class has been reading along with us.)

Searching for the Snow Goose

The imagery of the lone snow goose that breaks from the pack appears early in the book when Reuben describes shooting his first goose. The family is together and happy, but there is a glimpse of Davy’s future. While waiting in the bitter North Dakota cold, Davy tells Reuben “I could live out here, couldn’t you?” (7) Later, as Davy is poised to shoot, Reuben realizes: “The odd thought came to me that Davy was hunting alone – that Dad and Swede and I weren’t even there, really; that we existed with him as memories, or fond ghosts watching his progress.” (14)

We return to the imagery of the goose at the end of the book when Reuben is shot. “I suppose Jape led me like a flaring goose.” (299) Then, in the book’s final pages, Reuben goes north in search of that lone creature once more. “The glory of a single Canada goose gliding in, trimming its angles this way and that, so close you can feel the pressure of its wingbeats…” (309) Here he finds another lone figure. “You hunting alone Rube?” says Davy… What do you think the snow goose symbolizes?

Tell Davy

At the end of the book, just as in the beginning, Jeremiah summons Reuben back from the dead. Before Jeremiah leaves Reuben, he asks him to take care of Swede, work for Roxanna, and “Tell Davy.” This is not an unfinished sentence, but a pledge that Reuben keeps when he tells Davy about his trip to “heaven” and his father’s gift of life. Davy (and we readers) may be skeptical, but Reuben has done what he promised. He also fulfills the pledge to himself to be the witness of his father’s miracles.

Is there any single person on whom I can press belief?
No sir.
All I can do is say, Here’s how it went.
Here’s what I saw.
I’ve been there and am going back. Make of it what you will. (311)

Photograph of Leif Enger Mark Your Calendars!

Please join us for these wonderful free events and the chance to meet Leif Enger!

Thank you for sharing this Adams County Reads One Book experiences. See you soon,
The One Book Collective

Sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Adams County Library System.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Newsletter #4

Hello Readers:

This newsletter covers the chapters: " The Skin Bag" through "Winning Her Hand." In these chapters, the Lands get to know Roxanna, and she immediately wins the hearts of Reuben and Swede. She is the maternal figure they didn’t realize they were longing for. Soon Jeremiah is smitten as well.

One morning, Reuben spots a lone rider on horseback and bravely pursues him. It is Davy. He agrees to take Reuben to his hideaway. Reuben meets Jape Waltzer and Sara, and soon learns how Waltzer is raising young Sara to be his wife. Reuben equates Waltzer with the Little Man of his nightmares. Reuben continues to visit Davy; but tells no one about these trips, although they start to take a toll on his health.

Andreeson continues the pursuit of Davy, and Reuben is alarmed that Jeremiah appears to be helping the “putrid fed.”

Family Relationships

What is your reaction to the interpersonal dynamics of the Land family? As a child, what would it be like to be abandoned by your mother; as a father, would you feel guilty? When Peace Like a River opens, it is made clear that Davy and his father are often at odds (5). Does Davy blame his father for his mother leaving? Or is it more than that?

Children want to feel that their father is a strong protector and that they are safe. Each of the Land children sees their father differently. Davy views him as weak and ineffective, leading Davy to usurp the role of protector. Swede seems to accept her father as he is without judging him. He is somewhat distant from her; her real bond is to Reuben.

Reuben, however, can not accept his father as being weak, even when Jeremiah fails to cure him of asthma, is non-confrontational when challenged, or seems to be helping Andreeson. To Reuben, Jeremiah is the greatest hero of all…a miracle worker, a savior, someone who is directed by a higher power and is not bound by earthly flaws.


We’ve talked a lot about cowboys, but the cowboy outlaw is a special breed. The B Western heroes like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy were incredibly popular. They were the good guys in white hats; they were pure; they got the girl; heck, they could even sing! But then there were the lone wolves; the cowboys who blurred the lines of right and wrong; who were destined to seek revenge for injustice and take the law into their own hands when society failed them. We grew to love the outlaws even more than the good guys. Why do you think that is true? What is the difference between an outlaw and a criminal?

Roxanna delights Reuben and Swede with the story of her great-uncle Henry's relationship with the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy. Are her stories meant to parallel Davy's predicament?

In the recent One Book lecture by Film Studies Professor Jim Udden, he recommended the book Cowboy Metaphysics: Ethics and Death in Westerns to help us understand the appeal of the outlaw. We are especially delighted that this book was written by a Gettysburg College alumnus (’63), Professor Peter A. French, a noted scholar of philosophy. This is just one of many books related to cowboys and outlaws that we list on our web site and are available at Musselman Library.

You can also check out some of the classic outlaw films at the county and college libraries. Here are just a few recommended by Udden: Shane, Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

Best of all, we have an upcoming lecture “Desperados of the American West” that you won’t want to miss. See the details below.

Mark Your Calendars!

We have a lot of wonderful free events for you this week and hope you will join us!

Keep Reading! By Friday, February 24 you should have finished the book!

Thank you for subscribing to the Adams County Reads One Book email newsletter. See you next week!

The One Book Collective*
*A local group of enthusiastic readers.
Sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Adams County Library System. For more information visit: or call 337-6600.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Newsletter #3

Hello Readers:

This newsletter covers the chapters: " By the Grace of Lurvy" through "Something Warm." Jeremiah is taken ill and Reuben and Swede must pitch in. Reuben takes a job while Swede cares for her father. On Christmas Eve, just as Jeremiah’s health is returning, a stranger arrives. It is an FBI investigator, Mr. Andreeson, announcing his intention to go in search of Davy. Later that day the DeCuellars arrive with a miraculous gift; Tin Lurvy has died and left his Airstream trailer to Jeremiah. They can now go in search of Davy and set out for the Badlands of North Dakota.

Swede romanticizes their journey by writing more adventures for Sunny Sundown. The Lands inexplicably are able to elude Andreeson and the state police that lay in wait at every gas station along the way. Swede compares her father’s feat to Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. Reuben tells her about their father’s powers and is amazed this has never been evident to Swede.

The family drives from town to town in the bitter cold, managing not to run out of gas. At last they stop at a gas station in the small town of Grassy Butte and meet Roxanna Cawley, to whom Swede takes an immediate liking.

The Badlands

As we read this book in the gently rolling hills and lush green landscape of South Central Pennsylvania, it is hard to imagine the rocky, dry, desolation of The Badlands. It seems otherworldly, a place where all the typical rules of civilization are suspended…itself an outlaw. No wonder it has been the backdrop for many a tale. Teddy Roosevelt said of his years in the Badlands that it was “the romance of my life” and that it helped shape him into a president. How do you think this setting affects this novel?

If you’d like to read more books set in the Badlands, check out the list of favorite books by the Badlands Conservation Alliance including: Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow.

Sunny Sundown

The importance of the old West and the cowboy hero play a major role in this book, particularly for Swede, who sifts all that is happening to her through her writing about the adventures of Sunny Sundown. Through Sunny, Swede is free to explore her own feelings about Davy and his actions. Does she partly blame herself for his killing the two boys who abducted her? Does she feel he was right in his actions? She certainly seems to want him to escape, and uses Sunny to test her bravado. We have compiled the entire Sunny Sundown story on our web site. It is interesting to read it all at once and reflect on these questions.

Sunny and Davy are the stereotypical cowboy outlaw…the loner, the one who breaks societal rules in order to “save” that same society. But once he has saved society, he must leave. His destiny is a life adrift with the only constants being his horse and the untamed wilderness.

Other Ponderables

As the Lands drive to the Shultz farm in North Dakota; they come upon two dead crows along the road. Jeremiah remarks in a somewhat awestruck manner that these are the first crows he has ever seen hit along a road – as crows are such smart birds. (133) According to Wikipedia: “Crows often feature in legends or mythology as portents or harbingers of doom or death.” What do you think these crows symbolize, are they a sign of things passed or things to come?

In finding Davy and bringing him home, Reuben realizes that they might sacrifice his freedom. Why do you think it is so important for the Land family to find Davy? What are the risks?

At the end of “At War with This Whole World,” Reuben is convinced the world is out to get them and Davy. Is this true, or is it Reuben’s perception of reality coupled with Swede’s romantic vision of the old West?Why has Swede never noticed the “miracles” that have been so evident to Reuben? Why do they suddenly become evident at this time?

Cowboy Poetry

Even though the hey days of western genre films and television have faded, cowboy poetry and western literature are hotter than ever. To learn more check out some of our great web site links and book suggestions on our additional resources page, including

and books by National Public Radio’s cowboy poet, Baxter Black. And don’t forget to come to our lecture by Western literature specialist David Stanley on Feb. 16 th (see below).

Mark Your Calendars!

Please join us for these upcoming fun events; all are free and open to the public. The two lectures are in Joseph Theater, 201 Breidenbaugh Hall, Gettysburg College. Refreshments will follow both lectures.

Keep Reading! By Friday, February 17th you should have read chapters 14: "Something Warm" through 18 "Winning Her Hand."

Thank you for subscribing to the Adams County Reads One Book email newsletter. See you next week!

The One Book Collective*

*A local group of enthusiastic readers.

Sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Adams County Library System. For more information visit: or call 337-6600.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Newsletter #2

Hello Readers:

This newsletter covers the chapters: " When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll," “Late in the Night When the Fires are Out,” and "A Boy on a Horse." The newspapers, and public opinion, have turned against Davy just as his trial begins. Things don’t go well in the courtroom and Reuben’s testimony ends up hurting, not helping, Davy’s case.

In the midst of this, Jeremiah is fired from his job and seems to retreat into his own thoughts as he copes with Davy’s ordeal. He feverishly reads his Bible and Reuben mentions that his father’s head hurts (hmm…is this a sign Jeremiah is performing a miracle?). Meanwhile Swede and Reuben have their own coping strategy – they plot to break Davy out of jail. But Davy surprises them all when he escapes late at night and disappears on horseback.

Bullies come in all ages

The bullies in this novel are obvious, but sometimes the heroes are not. Tommy Basca and Israel Finch terrorize the school and we see their violence escalating. How far would they have gone? Was Davy a hero saving their victims? How do you think Davy’s actions compare with the school shootings we have seen in recent years that claim to be a response to bullying gone too far?

It seems being victimized by a bully is part of everyone’s childhood memory. But bullying doesn’t stop in adolescence. Just look at Chester Holgren’s tormenting of his employee, Jeremiah. While most see Jeremiah’s acquiescence as weakness, Jeremiah is, in fact, the one who never loses control. Holgren can not break him, which only angers him more. Jeremiah goes one step further and not only “turns the other cheek,” but heals the physical manifestation of Holgren’s bitterness.

Who is the stronger, Davy or Jeremiah? Is either a hero? How does Davy perceive the difference between his father’s response to bullying and his own? Why does Jeremiah’s response to Holgren anger Reuben?

They ride like men

Frank O’Rourke (1916-1989) published hundreds of short stories and more than sixty works of fiction. Although he wrote sports stories, mysteries, and more, he is best known for his westerns. Swede says she loves O’Rourke’s tales because of the women: “They don’t talk all the time, and when they ride, they ride like men.”(105)

It is hard to imagine in these days of tough talking, kick-boxing, pistol-packing heroines like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Garner, that women were rarely portrayed as being emotionally strong, much less physically strong. Young girls watching the big or small screens in the 1950s and 60s could count on the female character to scream, faint, or twist an ankle when the going got tough. When stories began to include women like Annie Oakley, or when the flying TV cowboy Sky King let his niece Penny pilot the Songbird, it was shocking and exciting. Finally, there were some strong and brave female heroes.

Swede sifts the events in her life through stories that she both reads and writes. During the trial, Swede reads Reuben the story of the ghostly rider in the night? Why?

What’s news?

In a free press society, the media always walks the line between reporting the news and creating the news, between the factual and the sensational. Sensational sells and the media is a profit making business. In the late 1800s, this sensationalistic style was dubbed “yellow journalism” when publishing giant William Randolph Hurst was accused of using his paper to lead the U.S. into the Spanish American War. (Yellow comes from a cartoon the paper carried.) While that term has faded, the debate still rages on today…just look at the flap over the televised coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial!

In Peace Like a River, the press portrays Davy first as a family protector, then as a murderer of innocents, which appears to have a negative effect on the fairness of his trial. Once he escapes, the press makes him an outlaw hero. Public opinion seems to ride this journalist wave, does it affect the justice system? Who is at fault, the press or the audience? How is this similar to the present day debate over media in the courtroom? Do you think television coverage is different from the print media?

To learn more about these ethical debates, check out these titles at Musselman Library. There are more listed on our web site.

Mark Your Calendars!

Please join us for these upcoming fun events, all are free and open to the public:

Keep Reading! By Friday, February 10th you should have read chapters 9-13: "By the Grace of Lurvy" through "Something Warm."

Thank you for subscribing to the Adams County Reads One Book email newsletter!

See you next week!

The One Book Collective*

*A local group of enthusiastic readers.

Sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Adams County Library System. For more information visit: or call 337-6600.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Newsletter #1: Hello Adams County One Book Readers!

How exciting to be sharing another wonderful book together. By now you should have read the first five chapters (“Clay” through “Peeking at Eternity”) of our book Peace Like a River . If you haven’t don’t worry there’s time to catch up! This novel contains themes of family relationships, miracles, heroes, justice and the Old West. So partners, let’s head on out for our next adventure.

It’s a Miracle

The novel opens with the story of a miracle, and it will be the first of many to come. It is 1951 and Helen Land has just given birth to her son, Reuben. But Reuben’s lungs do not function and the doctor declares him dead. Reuben’s father, Jeremiah, refuses to believe this and commands the child to breathe…and Reuben obeys.

“I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing but more like the swing of a sword.” And so our story begins.

A Rocky Road

It is now 11 years later, and Reuben is the narrator of our tale. He lives in North Dakota in the 1960s with Jeremiah, his older brother, Davy, and younger sister, Swede. You are immediately pulled into their lives and the opening chapters can leave you reeling…bullying, parental abandonment, abduction, and then, murder. It is a good place to take a break and think through some of what you’ve read.

Make of it What You Will

As Reuben tells of his father’s miracles, he often repeats “make of it what you will.” He describes what he sees and leaves the reader to decide whether we believe it happened. You don’t have to be religious to understand the nature of myths and miracles. In this book, however, these events are rooted in the characters’ Christian faith and you can readily identify the Biblical references to miracles such as the resurrection of Lazarus and the dividing of the loaves and fishes.

We will be examining that aspect of the book in one of our upcoming lectures: “Miracles, Myth, and Religion in Peace Like a River” by Gettysburg College professor Charles "Buz" Myers. The lecture will be at 7 p.m., Monday, February 13 in Joseph Theater, 201 Breidenbaugh Hall, Gettysburg College. For a complete listing of our events and book discussions, please visit or pick up a schedule at Musselman Library, any branch of the Adams County Library System or Gallery 30.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about miracles? Check out some of these web sites:

Mark Your Calendars!

The following events are free and open to the public:

Keep Reading! By Friday, February 3rd you should have read chapters 6-8: " When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll" through "A Boy on a Horse."

Thank you for subscribing to the Adams County Reads One Book email newsletter!

See you next week!

The One Book Collective*

*A local group of enthusiastic readers.

Sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Adams County Library System. For more information visit: http:/ or call 337-6600.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Free books released in Gettysburg

14 free copies of Peace Like a River have been "released" in Gettysburg - some on the Gettysburg College campus and some in town. If you find one, please pick it up and read it, or give it to someone you know will read it!

Log into the website listed on the book cover to record where you found it, what you thought, and where you left it when you finished reading it.

One reader left this comment about a copy found at the Ragged Edge Coffeehouse in Gettysburg:

I attended an open mike night last week at The Ragged Edge Coffee House in Gettysburg PA. I was there with my husband and our baby - the baby was fussy and so I wandered around the upstairs rooms of the coffee house. I was very pleased to find this book which I had read about. I started it right away and had a hard time putting it down! A great book. I am going to pass it on to my sister-in-law and hope she will continue the journey.

hepaticas, if you enjoy this book half as much as I did, you're in for a great ride. Congratulations on finding the book!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Did you know that Warner Brothers is making a movie of "Peace Like a River" starring Billy Bob Thornton as the father? Brad Pitt is also helping to produce it. Kind of odd pairing considering Angelina Jolie is divorced from Billy Bob and is now tight with Brad. Wonder if she'll end up playing Roxanna!

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