Writing to Remember, Writing being Forgotten…

“There’s only one thing more important… and that is, after you’ve done what you set out to do, to feel that it’s been worth doing.” – James Hilton

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

This about being a writer.

The motives for someone wanting to do more than write, to become that person that others refer to as a writer, may be so individual as to be specific to very single person who aspires to that moniker.  But I doubt it.

My suspicion is that there are two motives that drive writers, one fairly – shall we say pure? One, not so much. The first, purer, motive is that writers are blessed (or cursed, I can never decide) with the desire to preserve that which they have known or known about or would have liked to know. That act of preservation is part of the title of this essay: one might call it writing to remember. When done really, really, really well, it gives us lines like this:

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Then there’s that other motive, the – less than pure one, shall we say. That’s the desire for recognition: fame, money, respect in one form or another, either because of critical success or financial reward (I have met famous writers who were humble and I have met famous writers who were smug enough to deserve a boot up their asses). It may be of interest only to me that the humble famous ones were far less rich than the smug famous ones. Maybe Ms. Lauper pegged it when she intoned, “…money changes everything….” Continue reading

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John Ehle’s The Widow’s Trial: A Pure Woman…

“I was tired now, the weight of the memories was heavy as lead.” – John Ehle, The Widow’s Trial

The Widow's Trial by John Ehle (image courtesy Amazon)

The Widow’s Trial by John Ehle (image courtesy Amazon)

Reading a John Ehle novel is one of those rich experiences like eating Belgian chocolate or drinking fine cognac.  It’s an experience to be savored, enjoyed in a leisurely fashion.

That said, I raced through this Ehle novel in a couple of days.

For readers who think of Ehle in terms of the finest of his work, The Land Breakers or The Road, this novel from much later in his distinguished career may seem – slight is not exactly the word, such a word could probably never apply to Ehle’s work – but it is, one might say, a work of its time.

Its time of publication, the late 1980’s, was the height of a period known in serious literature as the era of Dirty Realism. Ehle is certainly a contemporary of (and probably knew) an originator of this style of fiction, the great Carson McCullers, so he certainly could justify a foray into this type of fiction. And because John Ehle is such a great writer, he certainly owes me, you, nor anyone else any explanation for a damned thing he does artistically. Continue reading

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Book Review: Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett

“History written by men reveals no cowards except those of the enemy, tells of great deeds of worth and cause, but shows only one face, and fails to distinguish the testimony of those consumed by its passing.” – Michael Kinnett

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Michael Kinnett’s Apalachicola Pearl is clearly a work of a lover of history. This tale of one Florida city’s role in the Civil War is based on Kinnett’s  research into the annals of the city. In his preface, Kinnett claims that his novel is based upon “journals I found hidden beneath a floorboard in the attic of the Orman House Museum.” Whether this is true or the author’s invention is a matter for reader conjecture. If true, Kinnett is indeed fortunate to have found such a trove of material; if it is a literary invention, it is a wonderfully clever one.

The novel is a melange of two forms: while it purports to be the journal of the main character, one Michael Brandon Kohler, it eventually evolves into a historical adventure. Further – the character who gives her name to the title to the novel, LaRaela Retsyo Agnusdei, known to both characters and readers as Pearl, appears only briefly in the novel near its beginning and at its end.

Either of these choices on the part of the author might seem to jar the reader enough to make the novel an unsatisfying read, but the narrative is packed with so much action and historical information that one is carried along by the quick pace and the wealth of detail about 19th century Florida life that Kinnett offers.  Continue reading

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Jose Saramago: Our Doppelgangers, Our Selves…

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered”
                                                 ― José Saramago, The Double

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The use of doppelgangers in literature is a common enough  device. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” explore the idea of a double who shares an intimate relationship with the protagonist.  In novel form Dickens treats the idea in A Tale of Two Cities and Dostoevsky explores it in The Double. Of course the device has been given permutations, the most famous of which is likely Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wherein the doppelganger idea is blended with an exploration of chemically induced multiple personality disorder.

The Portuguese Nobelist Jose Saramago (whose Baltasar and Blimunda I wrote about last year) offers a postmodern spin on the doppelganger. Saramago’s The Double is both a story of a man who accidentally encounters his human duplicate while watching a video and a meditation on identity, self-hood, and the power of language. Continue reading

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Book Review: Unsafe on Any Campus by Samuel R. Staley

“Rape is a violation of personal sovereignty and the basic principles and values of a free society.” – Samuel R, Staley

Unsafe on Any Campus by Samuel R. Staley (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

Unsafe on Any Campus by Samuel R. Staley (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

One of the sad truths about life on college campuses over the last several years has been the rise of what is sometimes called “rape culture.” Professor Samuel Staley of Florida State University has a new book that tries, humbly and intelligently, to address this sad and terrible cultural phenomenon.

Professor Staley became interested in the subject because of his involvement in working with students at Florida State University in self-defense classes. His work led to his becoming a confidant to a number of female students who had experienced sexual assault of one form or another and who grew trustful enough of him to share their stories. Moved by their pain and their search for self-esteem and ways to move beyond their trauma, Sately began researching the topic. An economics professor specializing in public policy, Staley approached the topic in scholarly fashion, conducting both primary and secondary research on campus sexual assault, and Unsafe on Any Campus is larded with direct quotes from leading scholars in the field as well as tables, graphs, and other  representations of the data he gathered on the topic. Continue reading

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Leiber and Stoller: Behind the Music

“…we were… part of the rhythm and blues and rock and roll revolution…. we found ourselves by sheer coincidence or exceptionally good fortune, smack dab in the middle of the action.” – Mike Stoller

Hound Dog: the Leiber and Stoller Autobiography [with David Ritz] (image courtesy Wikimedia)

My Aunt Mary Ann, my mother’s youngest sister, was only eight years older than me. What that meant was that she was a teenager in the later 1950’s. Like any teenager of the period, she had a portable record player and a huge stack of 45’s. I spent every visit to my grandmother’s house when I was six-seven-eight listening to those records. I heard Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Duane Eddy, The Drifters, The Coasters, and, of course, Elvis.

I don’t know how many other kids my age were falling madly in love with rock and roll and rhythm and blues, But I did, and I’ve never fallen out.

So when a friend of mine surprised me with Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography as a birthday present, it was like being that second grader all over again.  Continue reading

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The Love of Beach Music and the Heart of Darkness

“I didn’t like ‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie….'” – Jay Proctor, Jay and the Techniques

So my sister gave me this book for my birthday….

Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave by Rick Simmons (image courtesy Goodreads)

Somehow, my sister has the impression that I might like the fusion of R&B, soul, rock, and dance pop that is known in the Southeast as “Beach Music.” Well, I love music, so she was half right. For anyone who grew up in the Carolinas over the last 60 years or so (both North and South, though perhaps SC has the greater claim to the genre since they have all the relevant beaches name checked in beach music songs [chiefly Ocean Drive and Myrtle Beach]), Beach Music (and it really should be capitalized, I suppose), is a regional genre that, while well past its peak, persists even now. Its roots lie in classic R&B, though it has incorporated elements of rock, soul, and dance pop in its long history.

Rick Simmons, a historian at Louisiana Tech (and a native South Carolinian) has written two books on the genre, Carolina Beach Music: The Classic Years and Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave. My sister’s birthday gift this year was a copy of the latter, so I’m going to talk about that here. But first, as I am wont to do, I’ll share an anecdote…. Continue reading

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