The age of politics

A gorgeous old fellow I encountered at the Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Refrigeration Fitters Local 467 hall in Burlingame, California during a political rally for a Democratic Party candidate in the upcoming 2016 primary election for San Mateo County supervisor.

(Picture taken on January 27th, 2015)

ArtSunday: LIterature

Books that sneak into our hearts…

Those who read know what I am speaking of when I say a book has sneaked into my heart…those who do not read…have my sympathies….

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

I read -rather, I reread – a book over the holiday break. It is a book that I mentioned in conjunction with an essay on a much more successful book, a book that I found a combination of pretentiousness and mediocre writing. As a contrast to that book, the much ballyhooed dreck Cold Mountain, I used the book, a historical novel about colonial New Hampshire called Rivers Parting as an example of a historical novel that is both well written and that does not pretend to false grandeur.

I first read the novel about 40 years ago ( I have shared the background about how I came to possess a copy of this work in the Cold Mountain essay linked above) and I have read it a half dozen times since. What brings me back to this novel, that even I would grudgingly admit is a typical example of the middle-brow literature that enjoyed great popularity through the middle third of the last century? The same things that attract me so often to the highest brow literature: engrossing characterization and memorable writing. Continue reading


A Sweetness to the Soul: which matters – the novel or the history?

Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical novel A Sweetness to the Soul does a fine job of giving the reader historical information about Oregon pioneers in the second half of the 20th century; it struggles, however, with whether it wants to be a novel or history….

A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick (image courtesy Goodreads)

The first book from the 2016 reading list is a historical novel from one of our many bookshelves, a book that my Carol asked me to read. A Sweetness to the Soul details the lives of an Oregon pioneer couple during the latter half of the 19th century. As with most historical novels it is long (though it covers only the lifetime of one generation) and it offers a mix of historical fact and fiction. As one would expect with a novel set in the 19th century West, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Hispanics play significant roles in the narrative. Interestingly, since this novel relies on historical accuracy, there is almost none of the “traditional” sort of violence one associates with Westerns. There are, however, the sorts of natural disasters one expects for  pioneers living in a wilderness: forest fires, floods, and blizzards.

This is a novel of pioneer life, accurate and eventful, that nonetheless readers will find echoes the frontier life of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work more than that of Zane Grey. Continue reading


The 2016 reading list – finally…

An old PSA from the sixties told us that reading was “fun!-damental” – for me, despite whatever other demands tug at my time, reading is absolute necessity….

Most dogs do not wear glasses when they read (image courtesy Reading Stock Photos and Images)

As I have written recently, my reading time has been somewhat curtailed. I have some new administrative responsibilities with the university where I teach (and my latest book to finish) and so have made the decision to shorten my reading list. I suspect I have cut the list too drastically, but better to be cautious than to overreach, I think. I also want to leave plenty of space for books I am asked to review. Then, too, I hope that I’ll be asked to review some books. :-)

So here in all its glorious brevity is a kinda sorta eclectic list of books I’ll be reading this year. As you’d expect and despite my best intentions, it’s literary fiction heavy. But it has some variety – and as the year goes on, there’ll likely be some additions. Stay tuned… Continue reading

Dr. Sammy’s top 15 CDs of 2015

Nathaniel Rateliff and the NightSweats

Nathaniel Rateliff and the NightSweats

UPDATE: A couple things. First, while we saw videos and single releases in December, David Bowie’s Blackstar wasn’t released until January, which is why it isn’t here. Check back a year from now – odds are decent he’ll make the cut.

Second, I pulled together a Spotify playlist for those of you who want a bit more. A couple tunes from the bands noted below (save Fiction 8, which isn’t on Spotify) plus a track here and there from some other albums I listened to and enjoyed during the course of the year.

Listen to Dr. Sammy’s Best CDs of 2015 on Spotify Continue reading


Rivers run through it…North Carolina’s Rivers: Facts, Legends and Lore…

John Hairr’s North Carolina Rivers is part reference book, part history, part guidebook. What it is not is particularly engaging….

North Carolina Rivers by John Hairr (image courtesy Goodreads)

While I haven’t completed my book list for 2016, I will say a couple of things about it for those who have any interest in such things: it will be considerably shorter (12 books – to allow room for the numerous reviews I am asked to do and to allow me some writing time for completing my latest book), and it will focus on no particular area as the 2015 reading list did.

That said, we begin 2016 with a book I picked randomly from one of our many groaning bookshelves. In an effort to get away from my penchant for reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, I chose what I thought would be an interesting read for a dedicated fly angler: North Carolina Rivers: Facts, Legends, and Lore by John Hairr.

Hairr’s book might be thought of as part reference book, as part guide book, as part informal history of the rivers – and the river systems in North Carolina. It is trying to be all these things, perhaps, that causes North Carolina Rivers to be problematic for readers. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Persuasion: Jane Austen looking to the future…

In Persuasion Jane Austen looks forward to where the novel must go – and suggests a path for her successors to follow….

Persuasion by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

My last Austen essay – on my favorite Austen novel.

My laptop died about ten days ago. Luckily this came at the end of the academic term so I had finished my classes. Unluckily, this occurred at the beginning of my holiday vacation time. In the holiday rush of shopping, cooking, gatherings, etc., I lost the thread on writing of all sorts as is wont to happen this time of year. Coming as this did on the heels of the busyness of the end of the academic term, I now find myself
woefully behind on writing that I have meant to do this month.

Thus it is that I find myself far nearer the end of the year as I begin this last round of essays on works I have read (or in this case re-read for perhaps the, oh, I don’t know, 15th time?). This does not reduce my pleasure in writing about Persuasion: indeed, it probably enhances it.

Yes, I am one of those people who saves the cherry on the sundae until last. Continue reading


Today I am bathed in purple fire

‘Literary-photojournalism’ from a recent trip to Tokyo, Japan…

I have been down Tokyo’s darkest streets for you.

I have lived in those streets for you.

Now I require your presence.

Continue reading


Book Review: When Giraffes Flew by Jeff Weddle

Jeff Weddle’s stories explore that interesting turf where life’s sweet ordinariness meets the sometimes sinister, sometimes scary, always striking truth: life is strange and inexplicable.

When Giraffes Flew by Jeff Weddle (image courtesy Goodreads)

Jeff Weddle’s new collection of stories, When Giraffes Flew, is one of those short story collections that is hard to describe. The stories hang together thematically and stylistically even as they range from children witnessing horrific accidents to – well, giraffes attaining the ability to fly.

The stories range in length from longish short stories (“Dog Day,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Showdown at the 7-Eleven”) to flash pieces (“The Night Before,” “Test Day”). Through all these stories Weddle explores how the ordinary and the strange co-exist in life and how the one can veer into the other with surprising ease. One will be reminded at times of Harry Crews, at times of Richard Ford, at times of David Lynch. Pretty good company for any writer to find himself in.

Continue reading


Book Review: Paisley Memories by Zelle Andrews

Love and loss and making decisions – Zelle Andrews’ Paisley Memories is the epitome of the noble genre we know as  bildungsroman….

Paisley Memories by Zelle Andrews (image courtesy Goodreads)

When we meet Tess Cooper, she is a young woman in trouble. Her father has just died, and she is left to fend for herself as the single mother of a two year old with Down’s Syndrome. The little Alabama town she hails from is like most little towns: gossipy, judgmental, and uncomfortable for a young person who carries visible proof of an unfortunate life decision. Faced with the choice between rearing her daughter in the social ignominy her home town provides or striking out on he road with her child and her father’s old car (a 1957 Thunderbird in need of restoration), Tess chooses the road.

Her year of wandering is passed over quickly, though Andrews’ description of a typical day (that eventually turns out to be unusual) gives the reader a glimpse into what that life has been like – struggling from small town to small town, working menial jobs to supplement her small inheritance, trying, though she hasn’t realized it yet, to find a place where she and her daughter, the Paisley of the novel’s title, fit in.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: Religion

Women at wells have problems, evidently…

In which we learn that Buddha and Jesus met the same sorts of people…

4th Century statue of Buddha (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Each morning my wife Lea and I read together, a delightful habit which we have been practicing for a number of years. Our readings consist of a religious/spiritual works (we are eclectic, though our readings tend to rotate between the Christian and Buddhist, particularly Zen Buddhist, traditions primarily), works about art (we’re fond of both art history and criticism), and poetry.  We recently finished the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and we are currently working our way through a work called Teachings of the Buddha. This work is a compendium of various lessons and stories – one might use the word parables safely – attributed to Siddhartha Gautama.

Of particular interest to us have been remarkable similarities between stories of the Buddha’s experiences and stories of those of a later teacher, one well known (at least by name) to Western culture – Jesus Christ. One of these “shared stories,” the woman at the well, is worth a look because it gives us insight into the traditions of two major religions and of how we understand their teachings. Continue reading