The moral movement is out in force. ALEC is whining about “church activists” countering their money machine with common sense and the free exchange of ideas. Moral Mondays in North Carolina begin with prayers by a Baptist Minister, a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, and whoever else happens to be there. It’s a no-brainer for the social justice front that the Tea Party must be stopped. Their anarcho-capitalist methods have already bled Kansas dry and we might be next. Cuts to health care, food security, and education cannot be ignored by the vast majority who rely upon them. Continue reading →
Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.
I had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.
We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.
In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white]. Continue reading →
Irwin Mainway would be proud. Even he would have a hard time topping this headline: “Toys R Us pulls meth-toting ‘Breaking Bad’ action figures from shelves after Florida mom’s protest.”
The dolls, based on the recently concluded AMC series, featured characters based on White, a meth-cooking high school science teacher, and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Along with the action figures, the toys came with fake bags of meth, sacks of cash and gas masks.
For those of you not old enough to remember, Irwin Mainway was a sleazy toy salesman who was perennially grilled about his dangerous toys (such as “Bag of Glass”) by Jane Curtin on the “Consumer Probe” skit. The toys were over-the-top ridiculous. Continue reading →
The conservative political Goliath known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) may have met its David in the guise of Unitarian-Universalists and other progressives. ALEC has been wounded not with a sling and stone, but knowledge and organized financial pressure on its corporate backers.
On October 17, ALEC sent a fundraising email to its members and supporters that starts off:
“Professional activists ranging from Common Cause to the Unitarian Universalist Church just won’t stop. As part of their misleading smear campaign, these activist groups demand members stop working with ALEC.”
It sounds, almost, unfair. “Professional activists” picking on poor ALEC.
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde
This is a stack of books. There are lots of these at my house. (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)
(For previous posts in this series look here, here, and here.)
After several threats to do so, I finally take a bit of time to update the 2014 reading list. Several elements have played into the list expanding well beyond its original limits: new friendships with publishers who asked me to review books, interesting finds at used book stores, decisions to read books so I’d know a little better what I was talking about when I castigated their authors.
So here we go. This, I hope, will catch up the 2014 reading list. Anything else that swims into view will go on the 2015 reading list. (I offer links for books that I have already written essays about.) Continue reading →
An old friend, Jon Epstein, is involved with Greensboro College’s Healing Blues Project, which aims to to raise $30,000 for the Interactive Resource Center, a tax-exempt, nonprofit day center in downtown Greensboro for people experiencing homelessness. I’m not even going to bother explaining why this is a worthy cause, and honestly, I’m not sure what I could say that makes the point any better than track 14 on the CD, “I Die a Little,” which reunites Jon and his Haymarket Riot collaborator Pat Lichty on a track co-written by Jon’s wife, Kim Thoré, and voxed by Charlotte Whitted.
As you can see on the project’s IndieGoGo page, they have a ways to go to meet their goal. I encourage you to give it a listen and contribute if you can.
In the case of a writer like Nicholas Sparks, perhaps it’s that he gives readers a familiar story arc time after time that explains his success…
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (image courtesy Goodreads)
After reading a couple of superb pieces of literary fiction by J.F. Powers and Shelby Foote, I detoured from the 2014 reading list to take a look at the work of a writer whose success I’ve wondered about for some time.
Yep. That’s right. Literary fiction snob and crusty old professor Jim read him some Nicholas Sparks.
It happened accidentally. Lea and I were doing some book rearranging a few days ago and, as we shifted books from one bookcase to another, we came across a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s third novel, A Walk to Remember, a book Lea received from an aunt several years ago that had languished on our shelves. She moved to toss it into our donation box for the local library, but I stopped her. My words were something to the effect of “I’ve abused this guy’s work without having read it. I am going to read this novel and write about it.”
Shelby Foote’s tale of upper class Southerners behaving badly is redolent with that peculiarly disturbing characteristic called “Southernness…”
Love in a Dry Season by Shelby Foote (image courtesy Goodreads)
Let me me do what any good Southerner would do when asked for an explanation – tell you a story…
When I was writing the original draft of my novel The New Southern Gentleman, I had the ear (and the somewhat bemused interest) of a New York editor who was, I remember, working at that time for Henry Holt. He read a good chunk of the manuscript and recommended that I contact a writer friend of his, a fellow by the name of Walker Percy, even going so far as to send me Percy’s home address. I wrote to that estimable personage, author of a work I found influential, The Last Gentleman, and therefrom ensued a somewhat brief but memorable correspondence. One suggestion that Percy made I ignored – not out of disdain for the advice, which was excellent I now know, but out of what we might call “the anxiety of influence.” After reading several chapters of my manuscript, he recommended that I read “my friend Shelby’s book Love in a Dry Season.” (For those of you who don’t know, Walker Percy and Shelby Foote were best friends for 60 years.)
It was a sin of omission I have now corrected. My apologies, Mr. Percy, for delaying so long in taking your insightful advice. Love in a Dry Season is a marvelous novel, not just for its ability to compel you to read a novel about people you don’t much like, but, too, for its inherent grasp of how to convey what being Southern means.
Catholicism is darkly comic in J.F. Powers’s Morte D’Urban – would that it were more comic, less dark, in the real world…
Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers (image courtesy Goodreads)
Well, this goes back yet again to Wufnik. He and I seem to bandy about the names of writers that we want the other to look into (often further into) on a regular basis. I did a piece a few weeks back abusing some schmuck who proclaimed “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” the greatest short story of all time. In his comment on that piece, Wufnik mentioned a couple of stories: Shirley Jackson’s widely anthologized masterpiece “The Lottery” and “Prince of Darkness” by another unjustly neglected American master of literary fiction, J. F. Powers.
I’d read Powers’s story sometime ago (in fact, I’d read his first collection of stories, of which “Prince of Darkness” was the title work). So, thinking I should read it again given Wufnik’s high opinion of it, I promptly went out to one of my favorite used book sellers and looked for a copy of that collection. In doing so I came across, in addition to the story collection, Powers’s first novel, a National Book Award winner, Morte D’Urban. So I got both books. When I came to them in my always increasing reading list, I had to make a choice. Since my own first book, a “novel-in-stories,” is called Morte D’Eden, I decided to give the Powers novel a go.
Justice Antonin Scalia believes that “religious beliefs aren’t reasonable.” He is not saying that religious beliefs are not appropriate or not fair–that would be a shock, coming from him. Rather he goes on to say that “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical.” In other words, religious beliefs are unequivocal or unconditional.
Scalia made that statement yesterday during oral arguments for the case Holt v. Hobbs. The case involves a prisoner in Arkansas, Gregory Holt, who is a convert to Islam. He wishes to wear a beard in accordance with his new-found religious beliefs. The state of Arkansas is insisting on enforcing its state-law which prohibits prisoners from wearing religiously-motivated beards for security reasons (namely the threat of prisoners hiding contraband in their beards). Holt tried to be “reasonable” about his request and agreed to limit the growth to a half-inch. Scalia’s response to Holt’s request, reported in The Washington Post, is telling:
“Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable,” Scalia said. “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s ‘God tells you.’ It’s not a matter of being reasonable. God be reasonable? He’s supposed to have a full beard.”
A friend of mine has been using Facebook to solicit contributions for his son’s school fundraiser. He’s not alone – I’ve seen more and more of this lately, and perhaps you have, too. Last night he exploded – apparently despite all his pleas, he got no response. As in, zero. He went off on his FB friends in ways that are certain to offend a lot of them.
A few moments ago I posted this to the thread.
I understand your frustration, and if I had kids I’d probably stay mad. But I think you’re upset at the wrong people. Continue reading →
Almost forgotten as a writer now, Ben Ames Williams’s novels and stories represent the most interesting of American literary legacies – market driven art….
The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams (image courtesy Goodreads)
This essay concerns one of the novels of Ben Ames Williams. If you’re asking yourself “Who?” be assured that you’re not alone. A very successful “popular fiction” writer of the first half of the 20th century, Williams is almost forgotten now. The novel we’ll be discussing shortly is called The Strange Woman and was published when Williams was at the height of his popularity. The novel itself is…okay. The writer who produced it is fascinating as an example of a writer who made his creative decisions with a watchful eye to the market and whose oeuvre, as a result reflects that watchfulness – and whose literary reputation also reflects that watchfulness.
This, the last in this series of essays on the state of literary fiction at the end of the last century, will be a final look back to that halcyon time when an author thought he knew what the literary landscape was and felt comfortable making projections about whose literary reputations might last. Joe David Bellamy’s Literary Luxuries seems almost quaint now in its belief that the literary horizon was visible and that which authors might have lasting reputations would be a predictable thing.
Ah, the quaint mid- nineties. You know, when we thought Yahoo would be the search engine of choice and that the Internet would be primarily a supplement to make library use easier.
This last essay will look at two sections of his book. The first is a “teaching writing” issue that Bellamy talks about in a section called “Literary Vices.” Here Bellamy is on pretty solid ground. He gives solid, if unexceptional advice (beware of being too autobiographical), though he still feels the need to defend the “super fictions” of such Postmodernists such as Barthelme and DeLillo against the criticism of John Gardner (a debate I discuss in this essay). He also revisits the struggles he participated in against the attacks on the NEA (disguised, as pretty much all the Right’s attacks on anything that shows interest in public support for anything but military adventuring and their attendant crony capitalism, as moral outrage) by the Right while he was there. This is pretty straightforward stuff and Bellamy’s positions are probably in sync with most serious literary (or arts) types. Continue reading →
An interesting olio of tales, vignettes, and short stories with poetry used as a gloss…Kelley’s collection offers nods to Faulkner, Capote, O’Connor, and other Southern legends….
The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley (image courtesy Goodreads)
Saundra Kelley’s new book The Day the Mirror Cried reflects a couple of facets of her professional life. Kelley is a professional storyteller, a member of the Storytellers’ Guild, based in one of the capitals of that oral art form, Jonesborough, Tennessee. But Kelley also has a student of literature, and this work, a rambling collection of what she calls “reflections,” “odd memories,” and “ruminations,” shows that while she has a deep understanding of the folkloric character of storytelling, she also has a deep appreciation of great writing. The Day the Mirror Cried is laced with allusions to the work of great Southern writers even as it offers its own fascinating insights into the culture of native Floridians.
Unlike the typical story collection which often progresses towards a key centerpiece work that gives the collection its name, Kelley begins with the piece that gives her work its title. “The Day the Mirror Cried” will remind readers of one of Faulkner’s most widely known stories, “A Rose for Emily,” and Kelley does a fine job of nodding to the great Mississippian while keeping true to her own tale. This story, which opens the first section of The Day the Mirror Cried, sets up some of the other nods to Southern Gothic tale telling that appear with it such as “The Ship’s Lantern” and “Laugh at the Moon No More.” One other story, “Emerald Forest,” is affecting in the same way as a Truman Capote tale: what begins as curiosity ends up in a sinister situation, changed in Kelley’s story by the intercession of a protective relative (and here the story echoes the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with the main character’s brother acting the role of the woodsman). Continue reading →