Well, as Sir Francis Bacon tells us, reading maketh a full person..
Even more books (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)
In spite of my avowal to finish my latest book and against the better judgment of my optometrist, yet again I’ve added to the 2014 reading list and the updated 2014 reading list. Some of these selections have come to me through meeting other writers at book festivals. Others have come through speaking to writers’ groups – and meeting other writers there. And then, of course, there’s my evidently incurable penchant for stopping by bookstores “just to look.”
As always, all of these new additions to the reading list will get their 15 minutes of fame/infamy/nonsense via essay. Sometimes I’ll write about the book; other times I may write about the culture that encourages such a book to exist. Always, I’ll try to offer, like the intro to my hometown radio station WLOE’s broadcast services for the Early Avenue Baptist Church used to say, “enlightenment and edification.” So, on to the additions: Continue reading →
America’s permanent war policy is a reflection of WWII movies, which offered an unrealistic vision of war’s motivations, consequences
My Depression-born parents raised me in a rural idyll during the Eisenhower years. As a child, I snuck into the Garden Theater to watch war movies. They enthralled me: Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, Away All Boats, D-Day the Sixth of June, The Wings of Eagles, Battle of the Coral Sea, and my favorites, the submarine movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Enemy Below, and Up Periscope. I revered Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and John Wayne in Operation Pacific and The Flying Leathernecks. Later, I learned mediated definitions of traitorous betrayal in Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Continue reading →
Dear Parents: if your son goes to college, joins a fraternity and screws up, you could lose your home.
Do I have your attention yet?
How many times in my adult life have I heard this?
YOU were in a fraternity?
Doc Sammy, in another life.
Yes I was. Theta Chi, Gamma Omicron chapter, Wake Forest University. I know, I don’t fit the stereotype. Neither did my chapter. Sure, we had parties. We drank, sometimes more than was strictly healthy. We were appropriately hormonal for a pack of 18-22 year-old guys. We were noisy and obnoxious and occasionally rude, especially when singing a rousing round of “Roll Out Your Mother” during Parents Weekend football games.
But consider this. Theta Chi, during Spring Rush of 1980, was the first place in my life I ever heard anyone talk about diversity. Today, of course, diversity is a critical concept in corporations, in schools, in government, everywhere. We are becoming a more diverse nation that promotes equal rights and standing for people of all races, for women, and finally for the LGBT community.
I’ve been paid by large corporations to develop diversity training, in fact, and what a wonderful irony that my first introduction to the importance of the concept came in a fraternity. Continue reading →
Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’
Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?
Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.
Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”
Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading →
American businesses are anti-intellectual. American universities are anti-relevance. The gods help the overeducated schmuck stuck in the middle.
Hi. I’m Sam, and I’m a PhD.
For those of you who don’t know me, I have a doctorate. Communication, University of Colorado, 1999. Some days it’s the thing I have done in life that I’m most proud of. Other days I think it’s the worst mistake I ever made in my life. There are days where I think both things more or less at the same time.
Our culture of spectacle is awful, terrible, no-good, very bad – how’s that for a newsflash…?
Bear v. Shark by Chris Bachelder (image courtesy Goodreads)
Chris Bachelder’s Bear v. Shark is one of those books that does what one of my teachers used to admonish his students to do: it articulates the obvious. In many cases that is a good thing, not a bad one, and this book is one of those cases.
The subject of Bear v. Shark is the devolution of American culture, and Bachelder does a decent job of articulating the horror that is our descent into trivialized celebration of the meaningless with his overriding meme – a sensationalized “battle of the ages” between a bear (type never denoted) and a shark (type never denoted). Part of the charm of wading through Bachelder’s book is his constant evasion of answering this question: What kind of bear is going to fight what kind of shark – and why should I care? That he gets us to wonder about this instead of immediately responding “What a load of crap this is” says good things about his talent as a writer. But it doesn’t help this book, published in 2001, from feeling dated. Continue reading →
Do something smart in America and we’ll never put you on a piece of money…
The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh (image courtesy Goodreads)
The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum is likely to cause many a thoughtful American to spend some time wondering what in the hell America has ever been about, besides money and politics. This concise and highly readable book about the founding of the Smithsonian Institution takes on a puzzling and remarkable little piece of American history: why did the illegitimate son of an English duke who never married and whose career was spent as a “gentleman scientist” exploring obscure mineralogical questions, decide to donate his entire fortune (some $50 million in current money) to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men.”
The truth is, he didn’t, exactly. Smithson’s bequest came to America because of “a series of unfortunate events” that included the unexpected and premature death of his sole heir, a nephew who was the illegitimate son of his brother, another illegitimate son of that same English duke and both James Smithson’s and his brother Henry Dickinson’s mother, one of the duke’s mistresses. Continue reading →
Teachers are underpaid, undersupported and unrespected. As a result, our educational system is in the tank. If there were a simple way of increasing everybody’s respect for teachers and boosting their pay to a level commensurate with their value, American education would very quickly be number one in the world again.
Shakespeare, Shakespeare, and Shakespeare, LTD (image courtesy Wikipedia)
Laura Miller’s recent piece at Salon on how new reader “services” (I use the term loosely since it’s pretty frickin’ obvious that readers are the ones who will end up being used, as Miller’s article demonstrates) such as Oyster and Scrib’d can be used to gather data on reader habits and preferences so that this information can be sold to “writers” (another term I may possibly be using loosely since Miller’s piece suggests the “new direction” will be “art” created by artist/audience interactions – you know, through beta tests and focus groups) so that they can tailor their works to “the marketplace” (a term now being applied to the relationship between artist and audience that means just what you think it means) is just as depressing as you’d want it to be – if you’re an old fogy like me and like your art “artistic.” Continue reading →
Here’s what I do know. CU has been a constant source of embarrassment over the past several years and this grad is getting about sick and tired of it. Do I believe the university? Not so much. See, it’s spent a long time cultivating a credibility problem. Continue reading →
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — A former professor at the center of an academic scandal involving athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been charged with a felony, accused of receiving $12,000 in payment for a lecture course in which he held no classes. Continue reading →
Yes, I know precisely where I was when someone murdered John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No, I do not want to hear where the hell you were. Nor do I want to read or watch any “retrospectives” on his assassination. Nor do I want to read or watch orations on what might have been had the shot or shots missed. I’m only concerned with what the hell actually happened in and to America since Kennedy died.
A half century has passed since my infatuation with Camelot. Fifty years have passed since the naïveté of my youth promised me wars will end, peace will reign, and society will be equitable. Even after the brutality of Daley’s thugs disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Camelot sang as my siren. Even after gunfire from the National Guard killed four students at Kent State, I still believed in what the precisely cultivated mass mediations of JFK presented to me while he lived. Even after Nixon and his protect-me politics of Watergate, I had faith in process, politics, and people — even some politicians. Continue reading →
John F. Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade moments before his assassination (image courtesy Wikimedia)
I’ll start by quoting myself – a typically Boomer act of self-absorbed self-reference. First, from an email discussion among S&R writers about whether or not we should write about the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination:
JFK is the story of the Boomers – so many advantages, so much potential, so little realized. That we ended as we did may be a psychological reaction to seeing a guy seemingly about to do big things get his brains blown out. And never, ever getting an explanation that didn’t have logic holes, political meddling, and scary implications about the lie we want most fervently to believe about life – that we can know anything for sure. Continue reading →
For years my career has revolved around solving communication problems. One of my specific charges has been to “make the complex simple.” I’ve played along because many of the companies I’ve dealt with (not all, but a majority) think this way. When they do, boat rocking and cage rattling is rarely a winning strategy for advancement.
Rudyard Kipling, old fashioned storyteller (image courtesy Wikimedia)
This starts with a conversation I had in graduate school. I was trying to decide which author I would focus on for my master’s thesis. I knew it wouldn’t be a poet (I adore poetry and have a large number of poets whose work I admire and love to read and discuss, but I’m a prose writer myself and I felt I’d be more simpatico working with someone who did what I do), and I knew I wanted to choose someone who hadn’t been, in the words of my adviser, “done to death.” This was the early 1980′s and my school’s English department was actively discouraging students from writing any more theses on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any Beats – and you couldn’t even whisper that you wanted to write about a Romantic. We Boomers had worn out professors’ patience writing – and writing – and writing about these same authors. Continue reading →
Since I’ve been skylarking, having left the original 2013 reading list in the dust long ago (except for the Christmas selections) and now having left the extended reading list behind, too, it seemed like a good idea, given that Halloween was approaching, to choose a book that fit the holiday. So I pulled my copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the book shelf. Couldn’t go wrong with the antecedent of all mad scientist stories as a choice for the spooky holiday, right?
As is the case with some other books on this list (Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the Austen novels Mansfield Park and Emma), I have read Frankenstein before – at least twice that I remember – and I think more times. I read the novel while in undergraduate school just because I wanted to and then read it in graduate school as part of a course on the Romantics. I believe I even taught it once in a freshman intro to lit sort of class – pretty sure I did, in fact. So there’s another time….
So I came to this reading with rather a healthy fund of knowledge about both the book and about its critical interpretations. To paraphrase my beloved Twain, however, I didn’t let my education get in the way of my learning this reading. So, on to the book… Continue reading →
The age of Matthew Arnold is dead: “elitism” vs. popular culture…
Educator, Poet, and Big Time, Professional Literary Critic Matthew Arnold (photo courtesy Wikimedia)
In Part 1 of this discussion of contemporary reading habits, I sought to find some rationale for the domination of “fiction bestseller lists” (flawed as measurement of anything though those lists might be) by works that are, in one form or another, escapism. I discussed the decline of what the old “high culture/low culture” model called “literary experience” – the introduction, chiefly via the education system, of works/authors that could arguably be called classic to both those in elite private institutions and to those of us better classified as the hoi polloi through our public schools.
The genesis of this entire essay, as I mentioned earlier, was my anecdotal experience as a regular visitor (both as author and reader) to the popular social media site, Goodreads. The democratization of culture that the power of the Internet, and especially its most powerful weapon, social media, has been in some ways liberating, in some ways unfortunate. Continue reading →
This is a picture of a dog reading – Cujo, likely, perhaps The Call of the Wild. One might wish it were Travels with Charlie, but let’s be reasonable…
This started mainly as an idle exercise. Each time I go to Goodreads, I am apprised of someone’s latest book which is, I am assured, a triumph of – well, some sort. Many of the books are #’s 3-4-5 in a “series” of books about – this or that currently popular genre. If you are a reader, or play at being one as many seem to do, you know the drill by now: the most successful books are those which appeal to current reading interests. In the second decade of the 21st century, that means one should write something in at least one of the following veins: science fiction (or one of its variations like cyberpunk or steam punk); paranormal thrillers – or romances (zombies and vampires have been quite successful, and wizards have made billions); or apocalyptic/dystopian adventures/romances/thrillers. Preferably any/all of these should be aimed at a “young adult” audience – though the range of that age group seems to be a matter of concern both to those who would censor any thing that doesn’t meet their narrow minded world views as well as to some writers who, silly creatures they are, think adults should read adult books on adult topics – you know, stories that might not end with “something magical” happening.
Cover, Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (courtesy, Good reads)
At the same time that my wife Lea Booth picked up the copy of Nan which I reviewed earlier, I stumbled upon a copy of a book that had special memories for me. I first read Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates during the summer after my high school graduation. Though it had long sat on the bookshelf in my room, I’d ignored it throughout a childhood spent voraciously reading in favor of stuff like those those highly fictionalized hagiographic biographies such as Ben Franklin: Boy Printer by the prolific and long-lived Augusta Stevenson; series such as those featuring the Bobbsey Twins (about which I will write someday having experienced the books in their original versions rather than in some of Bobbs-Merrill’s later updated forms), the Hardy Boys, and Tom Swift, Jr.; and, of course, classics such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; Treasure Island and Kidnapped; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Even Fenimore Cooper was not beyond my ambition – prodded by a literary grandmother, I got through The Deerslayer, The Pathfinder, and The Last of the Mohicans. Don’t ask me how. Youth is a powerful thing – and less judgmental about matters such as writing style.
So Hans Brinker languished until my 18th summer.
I remember picking up Hans Brinker a couple of times at around 11 or 12 but not being able to get started with it. The previously mentioned books, baseball, and most importantly, an obsession with playing the guitar and trying to become a Beatle had become too important to me.
The summer of my 18th year was a hot and miserable one for more than meteorological reasons. My graduation from high school was, because of my refusal to consider a delayed appointment to West Point my father had arranged through a politician friend (hello, 1970 and Vietnam on the news in my den every evening), and my father’s near apoplectic fury at me over that decision, a dreary prelude to forced enrollment at the local community college – a prospect I dreaded. A couple of lost summer jobs were punctuated by the worst blow of all – being booted from my band, the most popular band in my hometown. Goodbye Beatles, goodbye college of my choice, goodbye childhood. Hello adult world – you suck. Continue reading →