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Read 1,001 books? Ranger Doug did it on a tour bus

By Tony Gonzalez

The Tennessean

Published: Monday, Sept. 1 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The group Riders In The Sky arrives at the at the 45th annual Grammy Awards, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003, in New York.

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — The songs Ranger Doug writes often take on a certain literary quality.

That's not by chance. The yodeling frontman for Riders in the Sky, a local Grammy-winning western band, has had more than enough inspiration lately.

In the past year, "Ranger" Doug Green finished reading all of the 1,001 books that "you must read before you die," an ambitious — and somewhat arbitrary — list that 100 scholars created and packaged into a book first published in 2006.

For Green the endeavor — at times a delight, and sometimes a slog — took about five years. He hit on more than a few life lessons as he got to peek into cultures from around the world.

"That was the greatest thing about reading all these books," he said.

The lifestyle of a traveling musician made it possible — along with a jump-start by bandmate Fred "Too Slim" LaBour, who gave Green the master list.

"He knows I read all the time," Green said. "It's just something you do on the road. You get in that bunk and you've got nothing to do until it's your turn to drive."

By the time Green, 68, took up the challenge, he had already read 249 titles. Those included selections by James Joyce, John Updike and Anthony Burgess, the author Green wrote about for his master's thesis in literature while at Vanderbilt University.

But he hadn't read some of the other big names, such as Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, and hadn't even heard of some of the obscure scribes on the list.

If discovering other cultures was his favorite part of the undertaking, the thrill of hunting down elusive titles was his biggest surprise.

Although he found many at the nearby Green Hills branch library, and at used bookstores, he had to look abroad for others.

The toughest find was "Adjunct: An Undigest," an experimental pamphlet by Scottish poet Peter Manson. Unable to find it anywhere, Green wound up emailing the writer.

Manson didn't have any copies, either.

"That's kind of the adventure of it," Green said.

He eventually found a copy of the "bizarre" little book through a shop in England, got it, read it and added a check mark beside the title. For all that effort, it wasn't one of Green's favorites. But certainly not the worst.

Green gives that dishonor to "The Making of Americans," by Gertrude Stein.

"For 30 pages it's interesting in an academic sort of way, and over 900 pages it's like Chinese water torture," Green said of Stein's repetitive style. "That's the most unreadable one."

There weren't many that could slow him down. He read while riding the elliptical at the gym, dabbled in audio books and always had the next title in hand when boarding the band's touring mobile home.

"I was amazed," said wife Carolyn. "Sometimes he'd have one on the bus, one at home and one on tape."

Green saved one of the biggest for last: "A Man Without Qualities," a 750-page World War I story by Robert Musil.

To get through the full list as fast as he did, Green clipped through about three books per week, or 150 each year — plus all the reading he did outside of the big list.

"If I had only done those books, I'd probably have gone insane," he said. "Although some of them were a real revelation, a real joy."

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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