I stared long and hard at the title of this letter to you. I have been writing it for eight years, and I have said almost anything I wanted to say.
America still exists because it is first, so new and young and still has so much great room to move around in, and is especially blessed with the fact that we don’t have a bunch of crazy next-door neighbors out to cut off our heads.
Just as important, at some point ancient people who come here to escape from their own creations, must mix with new world people that don’t always carry the same baggage as they, like it or not.
And most do like it. That’s the magic of the place.
But you must be careful not to say so too loudly. You can be accused of being a Pollyanna, and most damning, trying to destroy ancient cultures.
Then there is the fact that America still has, as I pointed out in my last letter, private enterprise, which can produce a great international product like the Neworld Review.
No grants. No PC types. No think tanks. No busybody academics telling us writers what we can and cannot write. Academia almost destroyed creative life in America, so who need those folks anyway. Good riddance!
But lets not cheer to loudly for that. No point in upsetting folks who know with absolute certainty that private enterprise is only for the greedy.
Hummmm. What else is there to talk about? These endless wars in the Mideast are beginning to bore the holy hell out of me, so I don’t want to talk about that.
And, there are far better spokespersons than I, someone who was once even accused of being one of those hated closet integrationist-- to talk about race, which is all the rage in American media these days.
And I certainly don’t want to talk about Hillary!
I think I will just shut my big mouth up for a change, and let my smart writers address some of these pressing issues and just say, enjoy this issue of Neworld Review.
Some excellent news about 2015: in late April we will see the release of Early Warning, Volume II in Jane Smiley’s saga of the Langdons, an Iowa farm family, through a century of monumental changes in America, collectively titled The Last Hundred Years, and by the end of the year Volume III will be out.
The first volume, Some Luck, left Walter and Rosanna Langdon’s children on a cliffhanger—a psychological cliffhanger, that is, in the sense that their lives as adults were just beginning, and as a reader you come to understand the complications of their lives better than they do themselves.
Will Frank Langdon, the oldest and a handsome daredevil last seen stuck in suburbia circa 1953, find a place for himself as America grows fat and complacent?
How will neglected Claire, the youngest, get through the loss of her beloved father? The surviving children between Frank and Claire, chronologically, are Joe, who is staying in Iowa and becoming a scientifically inclined farmer; Lillian, who has married the half-sinister, half-doofus Arthur and hasn’t fully figured out that he’s embroiled with the cold-war-era CIA; and Henry, the literary scholar who has just fallen in love with his first cousin, a half-Jewish girl brought up as a Communist.
The drama, in spite of all that happens as the 20th century unfolds, is mostly a matter of drama from the interior, a testimony to Smiley’s intricate portraits of her cast of personalities. Some Luck flings the oldsters right out of a world of plowhorses to the age of the automobile, each chapter encompassing one year, starting with 1920.
As the first chapter begins, 25-year-old Walter Langdon has come home from the Great War and married the beautiful Rosanna Vogel, who comes from a farm about a mile down the road, but a different world seeing as how her people are Catholic and speak German.
Each volume of the trilogy is to cover 33 years. I’m not the first to note that the structure, like The Divine Comedy, is a trilogy of 33 cantos each (for Dante, one extra in the form of the introduction). But for the Langdons, if there is a heaven, a hell and a purgatory they’re all interwoven, a matter of bountiful harvests, brand new Fords, ....Read More
Recently I read two books about an American truth—the early deaths of African American men. One book, Men We Reap, was written by National Book Award author Jesmyn Ward; the other book called The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League was written by Jeff Hobbs.
The books both delve deeply into this horrific phenomenon, but their approaches couldn’t be more different. Whereas Ward writes about the early death of five African American men whom she grew up with, including her brother, Hobbs writes about the African American roommate he had at Yale for four years.
Both books try to avoid stereotyping and sociological explanations. Both are careful to assert that there are no reasons, no answers, and the deaths are horrible, perplexing, and heart wrenching, yet because Ward writes from the “inside” rather than the “outside” her book begins with more advantages.
Ward’s book is by no means perfect, and perhaps being an insider has disadvantages as well, but because she grew up with these boys, because she writes about brother/blood, she never has to apologize. She does not have to write carefully as does Hobbs, whose book has an underlying note of Maybe I’m not the one who should write this, but that’s the subtext of Hobbs’ carefully detailed story. But I get ahead of myself.
In Men We Reaped, Ward writes about her own experiences, intertwining them with the lives of the men who die; this is one of the strengths of the book. Ward, who grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi, was one of the few children in her circle to “escape” one of the poorest counties in the countries—she goes to Stanford for college and then to Michigan for graduate school
Yet the pull of Mississippi is always with her (the broad trees, the sky itself, her family) and she surprisingly returns to the place that kills so many of her male acquaintances, friends, and family. She reacts to these untimely deaths with horror and insight and yet she is a part of their lives, as she parties with these boys/men in the heavy nights of summer:
“Some of my relatives on my mother’s side and my father’s, have abused crack, on and off, for years. I can’t fault them for it, Charine always says when we talk about it, that’s just the high they like. Fuck it. It helps them cope. And then: They’re grown. I understand her now, but I did not understand her point in the summer of 2004. Did not see the way liquor had been my drug for years. Was not connecting the relief I felt when I drank with the drugs others were using, or even thinking that it could be the same for my relatives, the same for my siblings, or the same for Rog. I knew that I lived in a place where hope and a sense of possibility were as ephemeral as morning fog, but I did not see the despair at the heart of our drug use.”
This is in the chapter about the death of Roger Eric Daniels III who dies of a drug overdose at age 23. She also writes about the untimely death of Demond Cook, Charles Joseph Martin, and Joshua Adam Dedeaux, her brother. All of them died unexpectedly, early, and violently.
Unlike dying by a gun or an overdose, Ward’s brother dies because of a hit and run accident. In this case, he is driving home from work on a summer night after his shift as a valet. (The white drunk driver pays little for killing her brother.) The death of her brother seems especially without explanation to Ward and remains horrific, a raw wound, all these years later.
Because Ward writes from the inner rather than the outsider perspective, what she says is stated in a matter-of-fact way; for example, her father has ten children with four different women. This might seem like “statistical evidence” about the “disintegration” of the black family, but because Ward relays this information with no bitterness, but rather factually, the reader also takes this at face value. (But sometimes I would wonder How can you stand a father who could leave you and have so many different women?). But because of Ward’s stance, the men in the story are not characters, but come across as real flesh-and-blood men
If Ward displays any bitterness in the book, it’s towards the white people who have....Read More
I am sometimes truly amazed at the direction reading books can take my mind. As I read this highly interesting science book, all I could think of was Theology; and especially Monotheism.
I should add, in fairness to Evolving Ourselves, that the authors in no way dealt with religion, although, in many ways, the book is all about religion—it is only a quirk in my own mind that that led to this essay.
In Monotheism, this all knowing, all seeing, personal God revealed itself some 5,000 years ago in the burning deserts of the Mideast.
Our two authors point out that “About 7,500 generations ago, our type, Homo sapiens, began to build, create, and pillage small villages. What we refer to as “civilization” began about 500 generations ago, with the advent of agriculture.”
In other words, when this God was first conceived we were a wild “all natural” species, surrounded by other “all natural” species, who wanted nothing more than to have us for lunch. That was before we started creating unnatural environments.
“Unnatural environments have been very good for humans;” the authors of Evolving Ourselves points out, “as we domesticated ourselves and our environments, we gradually removed the obstacles to a long life span. For most of our history, for most people, days were filled with malnutrition, disease, and violence. A major concern was not to get eaten. Predators of all kinds were far more common until our massive and deliberate kill-off modified our environment to such an extent....Read More
"When I look at the people I photograph, I see that they have a larger vision of life, a vision that transcends monetary wealth. It is about their relationship with their god, with their land, neighbors, and family. It is the power of those relationships that I want to communicate.”
... Fredric Roberts
As we cross paths with our needs of the moment and what we need suddenly appears, I smile and wonder, why? In searching for answers I know I’ll never find, I think, “the wizard did it!” Well, perhaps it was “the wizard” who guided me towards a photograph by Fredric Roberts hanging on the wall in my friend’s home.
So powerful was this photograph that I stood, unmoving, feeling driven by that unknown force, wanting to see and know more. Who is Fredric Roberts? The man, the artist, the philanthropist? To answer the question properly, Neworldreview would have to give me the entire issue…there would be no room for even a word about anything or anyone else. Of course, this could never be, and i am hoping that our readers will embark on their own quest to learn more of this amazing man who is changing lives as he travels the world.
After a successful career in finance for 30 years, Fred Roberts retired from a life he didn’t love. He did love to travel, and after buying a new camera he embarked on a journey that was to change the direction of his accomplished life. He knew nothing about photography, not even how to insert the battery. While flying, manual in hand, he studied how to use his unblemished new camera. It was on this trip he was able to capture images so magnificent they caught the attention of some friends, who were members of the National Geographic team.
For the next 14 years the camera rested in his closet until something (perhaps the wizard) compelled him to begin a serious study of photography at The Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Fortunately for the world, he was given enough encouragement for his extraordinary work to go on and become a man who is literally changing lives with the camera.
From his past, we can see how he became who he is today. A graduate of Yale University and The Hill School, he has learned how to get things done and he does not allow obstacles to clutter his path. He is an active member of the business and cultural communities in Los Angeles. He is an Emeritus Member of the Board of Directors, and former member of the Executive and Finance Committees of the Los Angeles Music Center, past President of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Also, he is Chairman Emeritus of the Music Center’s Fraternity of Friends and Founding Chairman of the Spotlight Awards Scholarship Program.
Mr. Roberts was a frequent lecturer for the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California Los Angeles and for the Young President’s Organization. He has also written several articles on corporate ....Read More
Here’s the set-up: A hotshot Manhattan book editor with a winning track record of bestsellers and fine writers thrives in the limelight of New York publishing. Until, that is, the Internet and Amazon and self-publishing collude to bring traditional publishing to its knees. Downsized and tossed out of his job, our man opts to return home to Paris. Not bad, eh? Except, in this case, it’s Paris, Missouri (population zip).
Add to that the fact that our man—author and narrator George Hodgman—decides to stay put in the tiny town of his conflicted Midwestern upbringing (being gay in a small town in the Heartland is no one’s idea of an easy fate) largely in order to care for his aging, ailing mother, Betty, and the world of Bettyville is thus inaugurated.
In a market glutted with memoirs, Bettyville is unique. In fact, it’s just as one-of-a-kind in its integrity and authentic wit and grief as Hodgman and his mother are. In no way does the author veer into sentimental slop or sit-com clichés. Instead, the magic to be found in this important memoir derives from the author’s compassion for his mother’s battles with dementia and all the infirmities preceding her descent into such a....Read More
The Oscars - what a show this year. The only thing that could have made me happier would have been for the movie, Selma, to receive more recognition.
It is times like these when I wonder what it will take for a movie like this to be recognized. The creative talent was there in every category of movie making and yet here we are. All right, I won’t belabor the point.
After all, I did enjoy the other movies up for consideration and having the opportunity to have a press credential for a weeklong pass for the preparation of the 87th The Academy Award Show, was fantastic. I have met Michael Keaton, here in Santa Monica, a few times. Frankly, I thought his performance in Birdman was absolutely incredible, as was the rest of the cast. I could not say enough about The Theory of Everything, with amazing performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and Still Alice, showcased an amazing performance by Julianne Moore. John Legend and Common performance of the amazing song, "Glory,” from the Selma soundtrack gave me goose bumps and brought me to near tears.
February was also Black History Month and many....Read More
Crazy Love You is a fantastically fast read—one sitting—that quickly pulls us into the story of Ian and his two loves: Priss whom he’s known since childhood, redheaded, wild, over-the-top sexy Priss and sedate, white bread, private school-bred Megan, an overeducated, underemployed nanny, whom he hopes to marry.
From the get-go, we’re primed to expect trouble from the ex-girlfriend. We know it’s not going to be pretty. Not only did Priss come to his rescue repeatedly when they were kids and he was a tailor made victim for classroom bullies, but she continues to be a force in his life, both positive and negative. She’s handed him the storyline for his acclaimed comic book series, Fatboy and Priss; he’s now, by most measures, rich and successful. And she has not given up her habit of dropping in to his apartment uninvited for wild nights of boozing, drugging and sex.
We think we know what to expect until author Unger drops a bomb: no one has ever seen Priss. Huh? Suddenly we get a Stephen King vibe coming in from left field. Oh, it’s that kind of story?
Like Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of Seven Gables, Unger gives us two scenarios, the rational and the supernatural, and leaves it up to us to decide. Ian grows up in a trauma zone, he’s given to violent displays and acts of anger of which he has no memory, his mother ships off to the local mental hospital, his father withdraws. So maybe Ian has burnt down houses, beat up and killed off enemies? He insists it’s all Priss’s doing, that she acts to protect him, that she’s the superhero in his story. In truth, he seems rather passive and nerdy, though the evidence mounts up against him and the police, by the end, are circling....Read More
It was 11:43, October 3, 2037. That day proved to be the major turning point for my century, our defining moment, so to speak. I remember that day also because it was so glorious.
I had walked the beach for hours, the first time I had done so in months. Those days, just as now, it was impossible to predict the weather. It could be hot. It could be cold. It could snow in June, or be 100 in October! There was chaos all over the globe.
In America, a seemly permanent shift in the jet stream had parked a cloud over all of the West Coast, and Southern California, where you and Mother first met, and where I was born, was now one of the coolest, wettest places on earth. The Southeast, on the other hand, was slowly turning into a desert. The ice caps had increased, which dismayed many, and there were now big, unmending, scary holes all over the ozone.
Everyone knew why. We had long known what we were doing to the earth. Even you, my own father, was one of those “warners” I was so disdainful of. I read your books of essays; I knew what you were warning us about.
But America had beaten the Russians, and brought you and mother together; and beat the living shit out of the Radical Muslins—those sneaky bastards. We were the mightiest power ever, and this had brought us prosperity. Who the hell needed warners, Father?
I first saw the bright light, Father, followed by an awesome explosion. Then my DYE suddenly went dead. I didn’t panic. I knew instantly what had happened. But why here? Why now? Was it isolated? Was the sky all at once going to be filled with bright lights and awesome explosions?
I ran to the DYE hanging on my white walls and tried everything, but nothing. I suddenly felt a wave of warm energy sweep over me. Not a heavy wave, but a small, gentle, caressing, barely noticeable one.
The blast that caused it was either very small, or so far away that it had little affect on where I was living in Brighton Beach.
That surprise you, don’t it, Father?
No, not the blast. That shouldn’t have surprised you. You knew that was coming.
No, the fact that I was living in Brighton Beach, a young man in the last years of his thirties, still unmarried, still without children. This was Mother’s apartment. But she had died three years before the Big Bang, so it was my apartment.
Excuse me for a few moments, Father. Your youngest grandson, Nicholas, just let himself in. He will be 22 in a few weeks, a born Scorpio. You should see him! What a fine specimen of a human being! He is 6’4 and has a charismatic, towering presence, and an adorable baby face. I just love him!
I didn’t do to bad for an old man, did I! All is not bad in this Century. If you got the right stuff, you can....Read More
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