Editor's note: This week's Page Turner reader interview is with Steve Penhollow, a freelance writer and a home-school parent.
"I'm working on a very odd project this summer. I've always been a fan of columnists, and in 1995 a book featuring American newspaper columnists was published. It contains short biographies, and I am ordering books about the people cited in these columns. I'm learning how important those persons were. Some were humorous, some were interested in regional happenings and each had his own style. Some write out of the box, some tell how the person got the job and served his community. Some are quirky. This project is bizarre, and I'm loving it.
"I grew up in Buffalo and have done some research on my family there. There's quite a file of obscure columnists who wrote about what life was like back then, including what the scandals were. The book that started this is "The Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists.' A Houston writer collected the columns into many books and, though they are quirky, they are very enjoyable for me.
"Jim Harrison, who lived in Michigan, wrote a lot of Native-American fiction. I tried for years to interview him. 'A Really Big Lunch' is one of his books, and he wrote others about food, too. His fiction was based on the American West — on people who hadn't had very good luck and are coming to grips with their failures. He was a wonderful writer.
"About favorites: I was greatly moved by Holden Caulfield; 'The Catcher in the Rye' was an enormous book for me. And I'm a huge fan of Mark Twain. Someone gathered his speeches and published them; he needed money and turned to public speaking to make money. You read them and want to go back to watch him talk.
"I've done some research on my family and found a relative who was the founding editor of a magazine in Boston. Samuel Clemens brought him an article when he (Clemens) was just 16. The editor bought the story. So my relative knew Samuel Clemens before be became Mark Twain!"