I have been asked many times in my life whether I “believe that Jesus died for your sins?” Well, yes I do.
But I also believe that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. died for our sins. Hey, I’m a Unitarian-Universalist.
And I believe that people continue to die every day for our sins. For the sins of greed, and
Cleveland’s homicide rate just topped 100 for the year. Up 80% from 2011—although the numbers have been rising every year.
In the past month that number includes 5 year-old Ramon Burnett, 3 year-old Major Howard, and 5 month-old Aaivelle Wakefield who was shot while strapped into her car seat. Five. Month. Old. Continue reading →
Americans are writing and publishing more than ever; meanwhile, arguments rage about the inability of Americans to write and what educators should do to address this perceived inability.
Ursula Le Guin (image courtesy Wikimedia)
In a recent interview with Salon, author Ursula Le Guin bemoans the lack of skill she sees in aspiring writers. Le Guin blames the problems she sees in writers – serious, well educated people – on a lack of two sets of skills. First, she notes that she sees many people trying to write who don’t have solid language management skills: they lack solid backgrounds in syntax (sentence structure) knowledge and they have weak vocabularies so that they do not easily see possibilities in sentence construction or word choice that would give their writing imagination and vigor. The other problem Le Guin observes is that the way in which many people attempt to become writers – through creative writing programs – does many nascent writers harm by forcing them to submit to a form of group think.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, writer Natalie Wexler attempts to explain “Why Americans can’t write.” Wexler’s thesis, that Americans do not get adequate writing instruction, meshes nicely with Le Guin’s observation. One can easily conclude that, if Wexler is correct in her claim that Americans get too little writing instruction, it is only natural that their creative writing efforts would suffer from the sort of grammar and syntax deficiencies that Le Guin mentions.
As with most easy explanations, this one leaves some questions unanswered. Continue reading →
20,000,000+ reasons why separation of church and state remains a good idea
Sometimes I mull and navelgaze and don’t have the decency to refrain from posting. This may be one of those times. Indulge me if you will, or not, but if these musings strike you in some way, one way or another, I hope you’ll share where those musings lead you.
Before our most recent tragedy, Planned Parenthood and efforts to defund it were all the rage in GOP quarters, replete with Fiorina trying desperately to overtake Hillary as America’s most notable serial liar. So while we struggle through this unfortunate hiatus until the next government shutdown showdown, I got to mulling and gazing.
I caught a cold last week. So I missed several days of scrolling endlessly and mostly fruitlessly on Facebook.
My world, sans Facebook, did not end. The sky did not collapse upon me. Chicken Little became, for a few days, merely chicken soup.
I did not suffer from FOMO — that Millenial-dreaded “Fear Of Missing Out.” I don’t care that I missed so many things that so many others felt so important they had to be shared. I read books instead.
I probably missed birthdays and Facebook invitations to “send a message” to the honorees. Maybe I missed my brother reaching his biking mileage goal. (So I called him and asked. He’s close.) Surely numerous friends and former students posted more kid pictures. I missed, no doubt, hours of scrolling through auto-play videos, listicles, quizzes, cute (to someone) YouTube kittens and puppies, what (to someone) is newsworthy, screeds about morality and politics, and the “ten things you need to know now.” I didn’t learn what Shakespearean character I am or what my favorite color says about me or whether I can successfully identify hit songs of the ‘70s. My bout with a virus deprived me of screen loads of time-wasting crap. Continue reading →
I was disheartened, to say the least by yesterday’s headlines regarding Pope Francis’ meeting with Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis. And yet this meeting did not cause me to lose hope in his ability and intention to bring about significant changes in the Roman Catholic Church.
“Kim Davis, Kentucky Clerk, Is Said to Have Met Pope,” New York Times
“Pope Francis met privately with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, Vatican confirms,” Washington Post
The first was posted on Facebook, the second sent to me in an email. The Facebook post came from Connie Schultz, author and columnist from Cleveland. She responded, “Kim Davis has now managed to poison the joy of so many who saw the Pope’s visit as a sign of hope. God’s work, you understand.” Her post was followed by an outpouring of disappointment, sadness, and some anger. Continue reading →
An 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series champion as a player, Berra had a career batting average of .285, while compiling 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is one of only five players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
He probably became an even greater figure after he retired. In sum, Yogi Berra was as American as apple pie. Continue reading →
The government is deliberating redesigning the $10 and putting a woman on it. Should we select a politician? A Civil Rights figure? An icon of environmentalism? How about an artist? The Scholars & Rogues staff offers some ideas.
Apparently this is a question now. It came up during the recent GOP debate and apparently the best anybody could come up with was “Margaret Thatcher” or “my mom.”
So we put the question to the S&R staff, hoping maybe we could come up with something a tad more credible. Here are our answers, and you can feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
There’s a range of great, semi-obvious answers here, including Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt. Continue reading →
Wilma Dykeman’s The Tall Woman is a masterpiece of straight forward story telling that deserves to be better known – Dykeman presents a quietly powerful depiction of the life of an Appalachian heroine that rings true in every respect…
The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman (image courtesy Goodreads)
Finally, a return to the 2015 reading list after some side trips to cover in once case a current literary flap and some musings on the disappearance of protest music from American cultural experience – and what a return it is. Wilma Dykeman’s The Tall Woman is an example of the sort of rich storytelling that once populated American fiction publishing. This unpretentious but exquisitely literate – and literary in the best sense of that word – novel is an example of regional fiction that rises far above its author’s primary aim to make profound statements about human character.
Lydia Moore McQueen is a character who moves readers in the way that, say, a more celebrated (and controversial) character, Atticus Finch does: she is an example quiet courage and dignity, a brave soul who does what she feels she must and faces the challenges her life presents not without flinching, but instead with strength gathered from within. Dykeman does a fine job of taking us through the events of Lydia’s life and showing us that heroism is sometimes standing up for what is right. Continue reading →
A white male American poet pretends to be an Asian poet and gets work accepted that has been rejected when submitted under his American identity. This behavior says something about culture that is painfully clear despite well meaning attempts to deconstruct it.
Yi-Fen Chou, a.k.a. Michael Derrick Hudson (image courtesy Poetry Foundation)
As I have done before, I will begin with an anecdote:
In the middle of the last decade of the last century I applied for a number of college and university teaching jobs. I kept getting to “semi- finalist” or “finalist” status without getting offers. Finally one department chair agreed to talk to me OTR. The problem, he explained in a series of private emails, was that the push for diversity made a white male candidate like me, even though well qualified, Plan C (usually, for college teaching posts, there are three finalists). If the other candidates who met diversity needs for the department/university turned the post down, I might get an offer. Continue reading →
They learn she’s pregnant with her first child. Joy consumes them. The announcement hits Twitter with abdominal photo or sonogram: “I’m preggers! #thefirst #babybump #joyful”
The author, ever analog …
Husband and wife create an email account for the unborn child. They send a book’s worth of loving messages for her to read years from now. Husband or wife (usually wife) creates a WordPress blog to chronicle the family journey.
Delivery room photos of happy husband and sweat-soaked wife holding the minutes-old child hit Facebook. Baby clothes choices choke Instagram.
The predictable follows, mostly with photos. Cute baby eating in high chair, face smeared with mushed peas. Cute baby’s bare butt. Cute baby sleeping blissfully. Cute baby in cute baby holder. Selfies (usually by mom) holding cute baby smiling, regurgitating, sleeping, crying (don’t bother to pick one; you’ll eventually see them all). Cute baby with family puppy or kitten.
Then it’s toddler toddling. Kid taking her first steps. First play date. First day of pre-school. Pre-school graduation. First day of kindergarten. Kindergarten graduation. Various religious functions (baptism, bris, first communion, bar mitzvah, aqiqah, etc.)
I don’t think Dr. Palmer understands the issue. He doesn’t grasp why people are so upset. He thinks we’re all mad because we mistakenly believe that he broke the law.
No, Walter, we know you acted legally. We live in a country where it’s legal for rich people to buy Congressmen. Most places it’s called “bribery” or “graft” or “corruption,” but here it’s called “lobbying” or “free speech.” Continue reading →
Ron Rash’s Saints at the River has at its center a powerful story about the struggle of Southern mountain subculture to reconcile itself with the “greater” culture….
Saints at the River by Ron Rash (image courtesy Goodreads)
Ron Rash’s novel Saints at the River has been widely acclaimed as a novel of power and insight in its depiction of Southern mountain culture. It is certainly that. Rash’s tale of a child drowned in a wild mountain river and the struggle over the rights of parents to retrieve the child’s body from the river while protecting the river’s environmental (and historical) significance has moments of resonance for any reader aware of the struggle between homogenization and cultural diversity.
But the novel has, alas, some real limitations, too. The ancillary plot lines (mountain reared news photographer daughter alienated from father, newspaper reporter struggling to write story about drowned girl due to reminders of his own daughter’s death, budding romance between reporter and photographer complicated by both characters’ pasts) are, despite Rash’s efforts to give them more than average depth, average and predictable.
Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina is a compelling read, a powerful look at life among working class Southerners, and what is known in the vernacular as a “hot mess” – a beautiful work in spite of its flaws….
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (image courtesy Goodreads)
One of the blurbs for Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina likens its narration to that of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Don’t be fooled. There is little about Ruth Ann Boatwright, known within her family as Bone, that will remind readers of Scout Finch only in a certain feistiness at given moments. Both characters possess a certain headlong quality that can seem endearing. But Bone Boatwright and Scout Finch have so little in common in terms of their life experiences that any likeness between them as characters or as narrators is superficial at best.
Astute readers will also note that, like Mockingbird, Bastard Out of Carolina has structural flaws that have been glossed over rather than solved. The novel rambles, often needlessly, and smacks of having been pieced together from previous drafts, a short story (or perhaps a group of stories) – and not always smoothly. Finally, there are, by various accounts, semi-autobiographical elements in this work. As one reads Bastard Out of Carolina, frequently one runs into passages that have more the raw feel of the author’s journals rather than the polished feel of fictionalized experience. Continue reading →
I am a proud Democrat. I think the Democratic Party started with a Virginia planter and Renaissance man named Thomas Jefferson. I am not proud of TJ for owning slaves. Slavery is an abomination, the antithesis of everything for which the Democratic Party stands. Jefferson himself was an abolitionist, describing slavery as holding “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” He also believed that emancipation would result in a large scale race war which would destroy America, his beloved experiment in liberty.
I believe otherwise. I believe that if one allows a man to stop being a wolf and become a fellow Renaissance man, he will do exactly that. I believe this has been proven time and again during the intervening centuries. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. I have read Max Weber. I understand that every moment is valuable, not only in the present, but also for the fruits it may bear, properly invested, in the future. Continue reading →
My grandfather was a union-buster at Hanes Dye and Finishing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He got his degree on the GI bill after World War Two and worked his way up through the company, all the way to executive vice-president. He was one promotion away from the presidency. He could have made Hanes Dye the best chemical company in the world. Instead they made him the straw boss. Continue reading →
Murder and Bombs is the sort of thrill ride that any reader would be glad to add their collection of what we know fondly as “beach reads.”
Murder and Bombs by Greg Stene (image courtesy Amazon)
Greg Stene’s latest crime novel, Murder and Bombs, covers lots of ground despite taking place exclusively in and around Tucson, Arizona. It takes in Mexican drug cartels, the Tucson police, mad bombers, covert government operations, love and marriage, and the meaning of brotherhood. It does all this at a not-quite-breakneck pace, one that rolls along fast enough to keep the pages turning, slow enough to allow Stene to develop his characters, build suspense, and give all this craziness enough context and background to make it plausible.
V. L. Brunskill’s Waving Backwards is a bildungsroman with a twist; the heroine must find her way forward by finding her way backwards….
Waving Backwards: A Savannah Novel by V. L. Brunskill
I wrote last week about Lee Smith’s excellent bildungsroman Black Mountain Breakdown. In that essay I defended Smith’s work, which falls clearly in the realm of what is sometimes unfairly dismissed as “lifestyle fiction” as a work of considerable power and a bildungsroman with a true twist: its protagonist collapses when she encounters her existential moment.
V. L. Brunskill’s Waving Backwards is similar to Smith’s novel in that its young female protagonist is trying to reach her existential moment, to come to terms with who she is as a person and what being who she is means. It’s also similar to Smith’s novel in that Waving Backwards might be dismissed as “lifestyle fiction,” as another example of what is often described as that peculiarly Southern form of lifestyle fiction called the “Mama and them” book. Such works are invariably coming-of-age tales, usually with female protagonists, that look at the eccentricities of growing up in a Southern family.
Brunskill’s novel is certainly about “Mama and them,” but in Waving Backwards the theme of “Mama and them” gets taken places that readers have likely never considered. Continue reading →