Book-Review

Donald Barthelme’s Snow White and the Postmodern Moment…

Reading Barthelme’s Snow White reminds us that PoMo is about uncertainty as much as it is about anything…

Snow White by Donald Barthelme (image courtesy Goodreads)

Donald Barthelme is a name closely associated with two of postmodern literary fiction’s most important structural/stylistic innovations: flash fiction and collage. While his reputation was built on his short stories - and Barthelme is celebrated for his innovations to that form – he also wrote novels (really, anti-novels) which, in Barthelme’s case, are constructed pretty much the same way as his stories: resistant to anything as bourgeois as a narrative structure, Snow White is composed of dozens of brief vignettes designed to force the reader to engage the text as a text. Thus, Snow White becomes not simply a retelling of the classic fairy tale, it also serves as a commentary on the fairy tale and its structuralist elements.

Barthelme’s characters have more in common with the Disney version of Snow White than with the original fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The dwarfs do not have names related to their predominant characteristics such as Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful; they have ordinary names – Bill, Dan, Clem. Continue reading

Arts & Literature

Jim Morrison’s Wilderness Volume 1: The Lost Writings

This is where The Lizard King parted ways with us.

Graffiti_Rosario_-_Jim_MorrisonI always hated Jim Morrison. He was what I wanted to be and I assumed he couldn’t possibly deserve it. When I started reading his poetry, I brought my negative attitude with me. I felt vindicated with every cliché. I wanted to destroy the myth of Jim Morrison, the myth he lived, a wild fiery sprint from ordinary, a screaming tear through the night woods of youth, a lingering flash blindness and whispered stories.

He was a consummate borrower. Another way to say this is his poetry is pregnant with reverent homage to great writers. I wish this was a fault, but it’s not. We can never reach farther than when standing on the shoulders of giants. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Nature in Focus: Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson

Once upon a time readers actually wanted to learn from books…

Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson (image courtesy Goodreads)

After a spate of book reviews for new found writer friends, this essay takes a look at a book from the 2014 reading list Sharp Eyes: A Rambler’s Calendar of Fifty-two Weeks Among Insects, Birds, and Flowers  is a series of descriptions and discussions of weekly nature walks. It’s one of those wonderful late 19th century “educational” works that does its best to disguise itself as entertainment.

The book is an interesting relic of the late 19th century’s “naturalist” movement inspired, in part at least, by Henry David Thoreau. Naturalist, illustrator, and writer William Hamilton Gibson offers his observations of the New England woods around his Connecticut home. Sharp Eyes is heavy with mini-lectures in botany and entomology (one wishes for more about birds since those are for this reader the most interesting chapters) but Gibson writes in the literary journalist style of late 19th century American magazine work, so even the most tedious science lessons are larded with references to poetry and philosophy that leaven the scientific descriptions and explanations…. Continue reading

Poetry

NaPoWriMo 2014: the importance of influence

Our own poetic voices are the product of the voices of our heroes. Guess who mine are.

Here in NaPoWriMo 2014, we’re encouraging everyone to write poetry every freakin’ day. As I said last week, write like nobody’s reading. In my case, I’m not doing new writing so much as I am reflecting on writing and thinking about the times when I was writing, not only every day for a month, but pretty much every day period. And I’m thinking about the writing process – why we write, and how. Continue reading

Tokyo Panic Stories: a city of the dead

Touring a Japanese graveyard…

The surreality of it was astounding. In Minami-senju, Tokyo, while I was looking for the barely- and roughly-living, through a haze of my own cigarette smoke I found a city of the dead. I savored the irony of that.

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Book-Review

Book Review: Alligator Stew by C.D. Mitchell

C.D. Mitchell understands the “Dirty South” better than many who trumpet their knowledge of it…

Alligator Stew by C.D. Mitchell (image courtesy Goodreads)

In my recent essay on Richard Ford as an influence on my own writing I wrote about  dirty realism, a style associated with a group of authors, several of them Southern. Besides Ford, I mentioned Ann Beattie and Tobias Wolff. (One might also include Jayne Anne Phillips, though her West Virginia roots might lead some to question her Southern bonafides.) The characteristics that distinguish writers who work this side of the literary street (including this guy, though his interest seems to incline to turning the style of dirty realism on rather different sorts of characters) are also characteristics of C.D. Mitchell’s work. In Alligator Stew, however, Mitchell, like any good artist, takes the dirty realistic style and runs with it, making it his own and linking it to classic Southern storytelling.

Mitchell’s collection of stories focuses on the small town of Delbert, Arkansas, a town very near one of the major North American fault lines, the New Madrid. Continue reading

Book-Review

Richard Ford’s Rock Springs and the Light it Provides…

“We have to keep civilization alive somehow.” – Richard Ford, “Communist”

Rock Springs by Richard Ford (image courtesy Goodreads)

Aspiring writers choose role models for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, as with those who’d emulate Byron or Baudelaire, it’s the attraction of the daring or Bohemian (or both) lifestyle as much as (in most cases, more than) the work. Sometimes, as with Hemingway or Salinger or Vonnegut, it’s the self-delusion that one can write (stylistically) as they do easily. If an aspiring writer sticks with it and develops a personal voice, the role model takes on another role: that of fondly remembered (and, perhaps, regularly returned to) mentor.

That is how it is for me with Richard Ford. I first encountered his work shortly after I’d completed my doctoral studies in writing. That was through his “breakout” work (as Wikipedia terms it) The Sportswriter. While that book was wonderful and led me to seek out more of Ford’s work, its most important function in my life was that it led me to the Ford book that I treasure most, his collection of stories called Rock Springs. Continue reading

He scared me: a ‘Tokyo Panic Story’

An excerpt from a photographic diary in which I encounter an angry Tokyo drunk…

Down in Sanya, he was calm at first. But he shot me this look that put me on edge. There were empty Ozeki One Cup jars near him, and I’m pretty sure he was drunk as a bastard.

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NaPoWriMo 2014: write like nobody’s reading

National Poetry Writing Month begins today. Will you write 30 poems in 30 days?

Well, no. I won’t, not me personally. I retired from writing poetry a couple years ago. But before I did I wrote four books and am currently looking to publish them, so I definitely salute the annual celebration of the art.

Here at S&R we have a deep and abiding respect for verse, and we encourage you to break out the quill and parchment (if you don’t have a quill and parchment pen and paper, or even a word processing package such as Microsoft Word will do) and get your poetry on. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: Dismal Key by Mitch Doxsee

A thriller with a serious message that is also a model of what YA fiction can be…

Dismal Key by Mitch Doxsee (image courtesy Goodreads)

Mitch Doxsee’s thriller Dismal Key walks an interesting line.It certainly can meet the criteria for Young Adult (YA) literature; its protagonist, McCluskey Harvey, is 16 and in the course of the novel develops his first serious romantic relationship. And, as in any good coming-of-age story, the protagonist learns powerful life lessons about himself and what he will/will not do, no matter how evil the opponent he faces.

But Dismal Key is also a powerful tale about a sinister and under-reported crime; the kidnapping of adolescent girls for the sex slave trade. How Doxsee manages to weave together a story about a teenager’s annual summer visit with his grandparents with a riveting (and frightening) thriller about human trafficking and a serial killer that doesn’t feel contrived (unlike some popular YA works) is a credit to the author’s seriousness of purpose.

Doxsee chose the subject of human trafficking because of his first hand experience working with some of its victims while doing mission work in Amsterdam during his college years. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtSunday

ArtSunday: S— Rock Stars Say…

“I was always wondering did they like me or did they like my songs.” – Neil Young

The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Quote Book by Merrit Molloy (image courtesy Goodreads)

Had some errands this week that took me close – too close – to my favorite used bookstore. My wife had a doctor’s appointment later that day and since I had come away without anything to read, I, of course, bought a couple more books.

Hi, My name is Jim and I have a problem with books….

Anyway, I ran across the marvelous waste of time, The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Quote Book by Merrit Molloy. This slight volume (you can finish it in a couple of hours tops with breaks for whatever you need to take breaks for) is larded with quotes ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. And as you read you can guess which musicians will say which types of things. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

“Stuck dead”; the adventures of Ben, DDD: Developmentally Disabled Detective

Ben was nobody’s fool.

KnifeI’m a detectuv. I know what that is ‘cause I saw it on TV. I don’t have my own TV but I do have a tape recorder. I’m talkin’ into it right now. I have to be careful ‘cause Tonia gave it to me and if it breaks she can’t give me another one. See, she’s dead. Stuck dead. By the hand of God, Carmel said. Sumbody stabbed Tonia with a knife — a little knife like the one she used to cut up apples.

Tonia liked me. She used to tell me I have up syndrome, though I know I have Down syndrome. I hardly ever feel down but when my mom died I learned that dead is sumthin’ that makes me sad. Continue reading

Book Review: The View from Inside the Mirror by Louis L. Gibbs

To be a good writer, be a good student of your genre…this is especially true for poets….

The View from Inside the Mirror by Louis L. Gibbs (image courtesy Goodreads)

Louis L. Gibbs’s book of poetry, The View from Inside the Mirror, surprised me. I never know what to expect from a poet whose work I do not know, especially a “newbie” to the genre. This is Gibbs’s second book, but his first was a novel so I was not sure what to expect. Often when self-taught writers move from, say, prose to poetry, their early work suffers from what one might call the “curse of the learning curve”: even if they have developed a solid level of proficiency in one genre that does not guarantee that they have done the spade work necessary to move to another genre successfully.

Luckily for readers, Gibbs has done his homework. The poems in this book show us a writer who has not only taught himself about poetic technique (he plays with both poetic forms and with typography), we discover a still developing poet who has immersed himself in reading poetry that technically, thematically, and philosophically gives him the sorts of influences and models that he needs to grow as an artist. That in itself is refreshing.

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CATEGORY: WordsDay

WordsDay: Thomas Jefferson – Benign Anarchist

“I am an Anti-Christ/I am an Anarchist…” – John Lydon 

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Joseph J. Ellis’s excellent study of the character of perhaps the most beloved and certainly the most enigmatic member of that group that we think of as the Founding Fathers, is called, aptly, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Ellis’s work is not a biography of Jefferson (he readily admits that there are thorough multi-volume treatments of  Jefferson’s life that are, for all intents and purposes, definitive). Ellis tries – and in large part succeeds – in pursing another, certainly elusive, goal: an explication of Jefferson’s character.

Like any human, Jefferson was a person of contradictions and inconsistencies – as Ellis illuminates in this work. What originally attracted Ellis to this project, it seems, was not the desire to point out Jefferson’s flaws but instead a sincere desire to understand how, in spite those inconsistencies and contradictions, Jefferson has long been and remains (with the possible exception of Lincoln) the most popular icon of American political thought.

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Book-Review

Book Review: The Honduran Plot by Horton Prather

Sometimes heroism is an act of faith…

The Honduran Plot by Horton Prather

Horton Prather’s The Honduran Plot is a political thriller that violates many of the conventions of the genre. The hero, Jake Grayson, is a college kid, a computer geek who has none of the usual “tough guy/superhuman killing machine” characteristics of the typical protagonist of this kind of thriller. The motivations for the plot’s action are those that one might associate more with a work such as the classic Costa-Gavras film Missing: idealistic young man disappears in a Latin American country and friend tries to find him. And the elements of the story that are reminiscent of political thrillers – corrupt politicians and military leaders in a Central American country attempting a coup designed to allow them to enrich themselves by using their country’s geography and facilities as a conduit for powerful drug cartels – lead not only to fast paced action and thrills, but to insights into self and belief for several of the characters.

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