Like other Southern writers of his generation (Walker Percy and Shelby Foote come immediately to mind), Peter Taylor explores the lives of upper class Southerners searching for some clue to unlock the terrible allegiances Southerners of a certain background feel to family, home, and tradition – and for what it costs to free oneself of those allegiances.
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (image courtesy Goodreads)
After the sort of manic energy I encountered in Daniel Forbes’s Derail This Train Wreck, I decided that I wanted something more – at least seemingly – sedate. I found it in the first of my Southern authors from the 2015 reading list, Peter Taylor. Best known for his short fiction (every short story writer should study The Old Forest and Other Stories for examples of how the short story is done well), Taylor is a Tennessean from exactly that sort of upper class background I mention above – and he explores the pain associated with breaking free of such a background with all its attendant traditions and constraints – as brilliantly as do those contemporaries, Walker Percy and Shelby Foote. A Summons to Memphis is in a very real way the story of a trial: the trial of being a scion of privilege in a place where such a plummy birth carries within it the seeds of destruction for all lucky enough to be such fruit. Continue reading →
Honoring those who died in service doesn’t mean forgiving those who put them in harm’s way.
Today America honors its war dead, those who gave their lives in the service of freedom – not only ours, but in many cases they died to save innocent people in far-flung corners of the globe. This isn’t idle rhetoric, either. Ponder what the world might have been like had the Allies lost World War II.
Unfortunately, in recent years I have grown more cynical about “freedom” and those who died for it. Continue reading →
What Forbes is after is not easily achieved: he seeks to portray both a society in crisis and the life of a person who, in crisis himself, still strives to draw public attention to the social crisis in hopes of saving, if not himself, at least that society. Derail This Train Wreck is a ray of light in a world going dark.
Derail This Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes (image courtesy derailthistrainwreck.com)
Derail This Train Wreck is a book of our times. It has elements of the near future dystopian tale so popular in our times. Its political satire veers between the somberly apocalyptic vision of a Truthout piece and the tongue in cheek irony dripping humor of an article from The Onion. And its domestic/romantic plot line (a failed relationship and the struggle of the parties to reorient their lives) is the stuff of which our lives and those of many we know is made. That Daniel Forbes has been able to weave these disparate elements into a narrative that is not simply cohesive but compelling is to his great credit – and the reader’s delight. Continue reading →
Here’s how it feels at the end of the spring semester for a longtime-journalist-turned-college-writing instructor:
I love working with college students, and I hope the feeling is mutual, for at least some of them, anyway. There’s no workplace I’ve ever found that’s more invigorating than the classroom.
But I work with freshmen only, and anymore, they communicate by liking, by following, by tweeting, by texting, and by slinging words and/or photographs and/or video on communications platforms I’ve never heard of. Most of the students I work with don’t understand—or, at best, dimly grasp—the value of what I encourage them to learn. Subject-verb disagreement? Fused sentences? Comma splices? Sentence fragments? The parts of speech? I’ve always (perhaps naively) believed these and related topics are the bedrock of good writing. Continue reading →
Several weeks ago, I was asked to provide a biographical entry on myself for a staff profile on S&R. I put some thought into it, wrote it, submitted it.
It just so happened that at the same time, I was deeply into rereading Carol Gilligan’s “In a Different Voice,” which is an important work about which I will eventually write much more here. Bio written, I picked up Gilligan and was immediately struck by something. Expressed in various ways throughout the book, a primary theme was that women tend to define themselves primarily in terms of relationships they are in. Continue reading →
Even the most avid reader, and the most dedicated writer, and I think I qualify as both, occasionally hits the doldrums – whether from a slow book, personal distractions, or the impositions of silly stuff like work…
The author, much younger, engrossed in a favorite pastime.
I am still making my way through Jose Saramago’s Baltasar and Blimunda, a book I began about a week ago and which I’m only two-thirds through. Saramago is a Nobelist and a brilliant writer,but reading him is a slow business. Whether that is due to his leisurely pacing or to the density of his writing (Baltasar and Blimunda is a novel of ideas as well as a historical work), I’ve found myself slogging through a very fine and engrossing novel.
So maybe it’s not my fault that I’m not writing a book essay yet again. Maybe I’ve just run into one of those writers whose work one simply can’t race through.
Scholarly inquiry is often like panning for gold: patient tedium yielding the occasional nugget. Then again, sometimes it yields to the temper of the times and decides to hype the discovery of iron pyrite.
Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s laboratory (image courtesy Wikimedia)
That fount of all that is worth knowing in life, Facebook®, provided me with a couple of interesting items yesterday that were a step above the usual “look at what I’m having for dinner” and “here I am at (insert event name here)” fare. One was provided by a FB pal and fellow Scrogue who thought I’d find interesting a news item from Cal-Berkeley reporting that scholars have located a number of Mark Twain’s early newspaper pieces. A second item came to my attention via one of those pages one “likes/follows”: in this case, the FB page of a certain early 19th century British novelist with whom I have a nodding acquaintance. This item concerns a new book by a scholar who claims she has positively identified (which puts her in a queue with several other scholars) the historical figure upon whom that writer based one of her most famous literary creations, a rather proud sort of fellow named Fitzwilliam Darcy. Each of these stories is treated in a breathless sort of reportorial “wow, cool” tone. Continue reading →
In Huckabee’s America, all who fail to believe as he does are morally bankrupt
From Mike Huckabee’s announcement of his 2016 presidential campaign: “But we’ve lost our way morally. We have witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice, and are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity in demanding that we abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage. Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law and enforce it-upending the equality of our three branches of government and the separation of powers so very central to our Constitution. The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”
Wherein I “prove” logic can be fun, for me at least.
Welcome to Day 1 of Logic 101. Don’t worry. It’s a one-day class. Actually, the “class” is only as long as it takes you to read this post. Homework may take anywhere from 0 seconds to a lifetime, depending on one’s tolerance for such exercises. Continue reading →
So a woman on Fox said a dumb thing. Raw Story wrote about it. And, as usual, a “liberal” site’s otherwise enlightened readers didn’t hesitate to respond with misogynist asshatery.
Women and men alike called the women of Fox News “blond bimbos.” A “bimbo” is defined as “an attractive but stupid young woman, especially one with loose morals.” Did these commenters not know the meaning of the word they used? I find it more likely that they damn well did know precisely what they were signifying – I know from my feminist training that one of the oldest tricks up patriarchy’s sleeve is to try to silence a woman by questioning her morals. Also, notice the emphasis on blondness in the comments. We all know about the stereotype that women with blond hair lack intelligence (but just as there is no male equivalent to “bimbo,” there is no equal belief that men with blond hair lack intelligence.) One commenter even posted a cartoon of a woman being whipped across her face with a large penis, the caption reading “DICK-SLAPPED!” (exclamation point from the original). Nineteen “liberals” “liked” that comment – of a woman’s face being whipped by a penis… Continue reading →
1: Mayweather won a unanimous decision. Just like everyone who has been paying at least a little attention knew he would. Yawn.
2: I keep hearing people calling this the “fight of the century.” And by people, I mean beefwitted sports talk assclowns. Listen, douchenozzles, nothing involving two guys ten years past their primes who have combined to knock out zero opponents in the last six or seven years is a fight of the anything, let alone century. Unless that century is very, very sad. There was a pull-apart rager last week down at the assisted care facility over which is better, tapioca pudding or chocolate, that was at least as compelling. Continue reading →
“Muddy Waters was born near Rolling Fork, Mississippi. And to me he’s a Mississippi person that went to Chicago and play[ed]. John Lee Hooker was born in Mississippi and went to Detroit. B.B. King was born in Mississippi and went to Memphis.” – B. B. King
B.B. King and Lucille (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The news announced on B.B. King’s web site that the great guitarist and singer is in home hospice care means that soon another of the great blues musicians produced by the Mississippi Delta will soon no longer whinny with us, as Dylan Thomas would say. The loss of a figure like King is greater than the loss of a brilliant musician; with his passing another link to the long, storied history of one of America’s great original musical forms will be lost. In our current cultural malaise, with musicians unable to get paid for their creative efforts, King is also one of the last reminders that talent and perseverance could once lead to musical success, cultural respect, and recognized influence. Continue reading →
I took a bunch of rich kids to Baltimore in July of last year. We stayed at The Center, a fortified compound on the property of First & Franklin Presbyterian Church. My primary job was to keep the kids safe. I learned the access codes and the panic buttons. I learned which doors not to open, should anyone knock on them. I learned about the gates, a containment cage designed to prevent my empathy from endangering my fellow Christians.
I also learned about food deserts. Basically, a food desert is an urban environment in which the food is far away and the people have no reliable transport. Forget cars, the buses don’t circulate in the poor sections of Baltimore. We waited for two hours. Some empathetic locals emerged from their possibly condemned town house to warn us that the bus wasn’t coming and that we, positive vibes be damned, should be long gone before the sun went down. There is a metro station less than a mile away, downhill. Get going, children. Continue reading →
Scott Archer Jones’s The Big Wheel is part cyberpunk dystopian thriller, part corporate espionage thriller. It’s also an interesting study of the search for identity.
The Big Wheel by Scott Archer Jones (image courtesy Goodreads)
Last year I reviewed Scott Archer Jones’s first novel Jupiter and Gilgamesh. A key theme I noted that made that novel of particular interest was its main character’s quest for his identity and the struggles he goes through to complete his quest.
Interestingly, that same theme pervades his second novel, The Big Wheel. That in itself might not be that noteworthy except that while Jupiter and Gilgamesh was clearly a work of literary fiction, The Big Wheel is a genre work, a techno-thriller with cyberpunk elements. But as with his previous novel, Jones explores issues of identity and understanding of the self, albeit in this latter case via a convoluted, almost Freudian version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. What makes The Big Wheel notable is not its well structured caper/chase narrative; what makes this novel notable is that theme of quest for identity. Continue reading →
Some San Francisco street reality for your happy brunchy Sunday…
The fellow was clearly homeless, or pretty close to it. But it was a relief to see that at least in this one passing moment he had some food. It looked like a tamale of some kind. And he was really enjoying it. Devouring it, to the exclusion of his consideration of everything else around him as he walked the curb and gutter down Valencia Street.
William Mark’s novel is a complex, sometimes convoluted, mix of abductions (both child and adult), sexual perversions, and rogue crusading that makes for a Mulligan stew of equal parts truth and lies, good and evil, and right and justice.
Another break from the 2015 reading list (next up, Sartre’s autobiography, The Wordswhich I’m sure will be a fun romp) for a review of a new book sent me by my friends at Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. This one is a mixture of genres, mystery, thriller, and crime fiction. It features the classic rogue cop, a beautiful, wealthy and slightly mysterious benefactress, an “A Team” motley crew of secretive, extra-legal crusading do-gooders (funded by that benefactress) whose mission is to find missing children and restore them to their parents, a nosy reporter whose ambition and unscrupulousness might expose the operation and wreck the lives of the crusaders and their benefactress, and, at the heart of the story, a missing child – the son of that rogue cop mentioned above – and a despicable sleazeball pervert of a politician.
As you might guess, unraveling this complicated skein of a yarn takes some time. Continue reading →