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

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James Street’s The High Calling: Perhaps Peace Demands Understanding

James Street’s The High Calling is the rare sort of sequel that continues a story without giving in to the typical reader’s desire for neatly tied up plot lines.

The High Calling by James Street (image courtesy “From Among the Books of…”)

As I have written on a couple of occasions now, work and the need to complete my latest book have slowed my reading. As a bit of indulgent diversion for myself, I have just completed the sequel to James Street’s novel about the life of a Baptist minister, The Gauntlet. This later work, The High Calling, picks up Baptist minister London Wingo’s story some 20 years after the ending of that earlier novel. While The High Calling is a sequel, however, it is a sequel that cares less about tying up previous plot lines than about exploring how time and change (that elusive quality we know as mutability) affect the lives of Wingo, his daughter Paige, and their friends.

Street’s novel finds London Wingo returned to Linden, MO, where he began his career as a minister to accept a call to a church. That church, Plymouth Baptist, is a new church founded by members of Wingo’s earlier church, First Baptist. Street seems to be setting the stage for a battle between churches, between ministers (the current First Baptist minister, Harry Ward, seems to be the sort of minister cum entrepreneur one sees much of in contemporary American religion), between visions of what the Baptist church should be. This expectation is whetted by a scene early in the novel when Wingo defeats an attempt to turn the new church’s covenant into a racist screed (the time setting of The High Calling is the early 1950’s).

But whether by design or by whim, Street takes the novel in unexpected directions. Continue reading

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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

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Shelley Got Expelled from Oxford…Now We Know Why….

A little over two hundred years ago a college student named P.B. Shelley got himself expelled from Oxford. Now, at last, we know exactly why.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, war protester (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Bodleian Library at Oxford has made available a recently discovered copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Poetical Essay on the State of Things.” Long thought lost, the poem, along with his essay “The Necessity of Atheism,” got the most intellectual of the Romantic poets expelled from Oxford.

The story of Shelley’s expulsion from university and his subsequent life as poet, free thinker, friend of both Keats and Byron, and political activist are well known and do not need further rehearsal. At this moment, given the horror of the recent attacks in Paris that we’re trying to comprehend, it seems particularly fitting to ponder Shelley’s arguments.  Continue reading

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Wheel Spinning…

If Blake is right and “without contraries is no progression,” I should make a real breakthrough soon. Or something…

The Wolfman because – well, because I like the Wolfman (image courtesy Mountain XPress – and likely Universal Pictures)

Another week, another book not finished. This one , though, I am close to breaking one of strongest rules and simply leaving behind. Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home simply does not move me in any significant way – I keep picking it up and putting it down. Snake handling fundamentalists and un-Christian preachers acting badly simply do not hold my interest. Seen too many of them in real life to give a shit, frankly.

The other book I’ve been piddling with is called The Sacred Fire: The Story of Sex in Religion by Professor B.Z. Goldberg. Allow me to say two things about Professor Goldberg’s work. First, it is a splendid example of academic writing and fuel for the Center for Plain Writing’s crusade against unnecessary obtuseness. It is also proof that it is possible to make the subject of sex into a soporific. I am perhaps a little unkind to the professor. His work is well researched and scholarly. As a piece of reading it’s the equivalent of watching paint dry. Continue reading

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The Best Halloween Movie You’ve Perhaps Never Seen

Herk Harvey’s cult classic Carnival of Souls is full of creepy, atmospheric goodness – just right for a Halloween movie fest….

Press book cover art for Carnival of Souls (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Given that it’s Halloween, time to take note of a cult classic that in its atmospheric creepiness ranks as high as Romero’s original Zombie classic or anything dreamed up by David Lynch, Brian de Palma, or any of the other more  recent masters of what Count Floyd would call “scary stuff.”  In fact, this is a film that both Lynch and Romero have cited repeatedly as influential on their work.

The film is Carnival of Souls, and it was made by a highly successful industrial/educational film director. Harold “Herk”Harvey spent most of his career making films for Lawrence, Kansas, based Centron Films (later subsumed under Coronet Films, an even more well known ed/industry film company) with titles such as Health: Your Posture, Shake Hands With Danger, and Manners in Public. On the road driving back to Kansas after having worked on a film in California, he passed an abandoned amusement park outside Salt Lake City that creeped him out – and which inspired Carnival of Souls.

The film concerns a young woman who is involved in a horrific car accident (the car she’s riding in plunges off a bridge into a swollen river). As rescuers are dragging the river trying to recover the car, she emerges from the water, having somehow survived the catastrophe. Perhaps. Continue reading

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Writing About Writing is not Writing…

Giving attention to what others write – and what they say about writing – is very enjoyable…but it does keep one from doing what a writer is supposed to do…write….

Thomas Wolfe with a crate of his writing…(image courtesy NY Times)

I’ve been off the radar for a couple of weeks now. Part of this is due to an increase in some of my duties in my job (for those who somehow don’t know, I am a professor of writing as well as a writer – though my professing seems to be becoming more and more eaten up by administrative tasks – not something that makes me happy – these days), part of it is due to some conflicts I’ve been feeling about spending so much of whatever writing time I do have writing about other people’s writing.

Don’t get me wrong. As anyone who reads my pieces knows, I love reading as much as writing. (Sometimes I am tempted to think that I love it more than writing, but that is only the lazy side of me trying to convince me that the hard, painful, rewarding work that is writing can be avoided,  when every writer who is a writer knows that only two things cannot be avoided: writing and death.)

And that leads me to what I want to write about here. Continue reading

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