I now have to be very careful about what I write. That last Letter to the Reader that I thought was about the mentally ill, and homelessness. so far it has turned out that the witty asides about old girl friends has caused the sales of my books to skyrocket (well, at least for me three in one day is my idea of skyrocket), constant emails from folks I haven’t spoken to in years, with some folks congratulating me to just being alive, and still dashing.
But this is such a strange time. Being in crowds these days causes brief moments of when, where, gun or bomb.
Most of this could stop if the world demanded powerful, multi-billion corporations to stop flooding the world with weapons of destruction.
This could calm things down. After all, during most wars the major objective is to destroy the enemy’s ability to produce arms. So here are the top ten countries keeping the unending stream of arms to conflict zones all over the earth, including right here in the U.S. Write your congressperson and ask him or her to make them stop.
Meanwhile, this is a highly interesting issue. Thank you for being a part of us.
At an out-of-control medical center in NYC, HR manager, Melie, pleads feverishly with buttock-groping doctors and their flaky staff to just get along. But then there's a little murder, a cancer, a handsome devil and his evil parrot, a knife-wielding cook. She's not quitting until she has it all sorted out —the hunk, the macaw, her life work—and neither will you!
Amy J, Garvey, an obscure figure for most Americans, was the second wife of the famous Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Garvey, an immigrant from Jamaica, “created the most significant black mass movement in history. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (UNIA) was first established in Jamaica in 1914.”
As Parascandola also notes in his introduction, after Garvey came to the United States in 1916, “by the early 1920s, he had created more than 900 branches in some 40 countries with about 6 million members. UNIA was a pro-capitalist, masculine movement that promoted race pride, Pan African unity, economic self-sufficiency, and the redemption of Africa from European imperial power.’”
Amy Jacques Garvey shared this vision with the same passion as her husband. However, soon after they married, Marcus Garvey started freefalling from grace. First, he came under attack from establishment blacks. Some, like the august W.E.B. DuBois, thought that he had little understanding of American blacks, and worse, that he was crude. With little class.
Others, like A. Philip Randolph, loved Marxism with the same, blinding passion that the Garveys loved Capitalism. This is what Amy Garvey wrote in the Negro World, as she and Marcus made a cross-country train trip, stopping at big and small cities where they had branches of their organization:
“A town or city exists on nothing. Its backbone is either the minerals of the earth or the vegetation of the fields. Either manufacturing or farming, and in both cases handling and distribution play an important part. In cases of seaport towns and big railroad centers, distribution of goods of all kinds is an industry in itself, Where are our big thinkers who are laying an industrial foundation to save us from economic starvation? We have none.”
In addition to the black Socialists, who....Read More
Timothy stood at the fountain, his hand inside his coat pocket rubbing two quarters against one another. He’d walked past this fountain on his way to work at the library hundreds and hundreds of times, and had never thrown his money in, but today he did think about it. Although what would he wish for? There wasn’t anything to wish for exactly.
He had gotten up in the middle of the night, as usual, getting a bleary-eyed drink of water in the dark and visiting the bathroom, and realized only in the morning that he had not heard the sound of his cat Bipsy’s paws trotting behind him. She was old, but still she followed him everywhere. How had he not noticed the absence of that particular sound? It was as though he had failed to notice the stopping of his own heart beat.
He’d felt all strangled inside when he figured things out. Now what, he’d kept thinking as he made the coffee and packed his lunch for work in silence. Now what?
Timothy looked up at the branches of the London plane trees overhead in the park, and could see birds everywhere, busy busy busy. April was the right time for them to be swooping between treetops and lampposts, hopping on the ground for muffin crumbs. He mourned never learning their names. His mother and brother had known the names of birds, but he’d never latched on. They could tell one song from another, could look up at the under-wing of a bird lofting up like a kite against the blue sky and say, “peregrine falcon” or “turkey buzzard” in hushed and intimate tones to one another. He was never part of their circle, but had watched from the side, a tiny little circle of his own, intersecting nothing.
Timothy could tell a seagull (white) from a crow (black) from a cardinal (red). He’d studied an illustration of a stork in a Hans Christian Anderson story, but his knowledge wasn’t advanced enough for him to be certain whether or not there was a difference, say, between a crow and a raven, or between a stork and an ibis, a heron or an egret. Heron and egret and ibis and stork might all be different names for the same thing, as far as he knew.
It was too late now to wish for the intimacy of family. His mother was decades gone, and his brother had gone off to Kuwait a long time past, and had come home essentially gone years before he’d died. Something had shaken....Read More
First and foremost, it’s a fine debut novel by a greatly talented young author.
Second: It is a cutting-edge novel that presents a Prodigal Son Returns motif that’s derived from the conflicts, tensions, and dangers between small-town Midwestern social norms and the protagonist’s efforts to navigate that milieu.
Third: Some Go Hungry is a literary novel that’s rooted in the traditions of naturalism and realism, and from its title to its content it harkens back to two other novels with Midwestern settings and bold narrative explorations,Some Must Watch by Edwin Daly and Some Came Running by James Jones. Before highlighting the superb qualities that make J. Patrick Redmond’s debut novel as good as it is, it’s important to highlight some back-story about the third main point. There’s some marvelous connective tissue here.
Quickly: a brief digression:In downstate Illinois throughout the 1950s, legendary novelist James “From Here to Eternity” Jones and his mentor, Lowney Handy (a childless, older, married woman, whose sponsorship and support of Jones from about1944 to1950, allowed him to write his exceedingly ambitious, National Book Award-winning From Here to Eternity.) She ran a countercultural writers’ group, locally known as The Colony. It was incorporated as the Handy Writers’ Colony. At its peak, it harbored more than twenty aspiring authors.0The Colony was a short-lived yet trailblazing experiment (a truly countercultural realm before Haight-Ashbury and infinitely more serious than any Beat-related shenanigans). What does any of that have to do with Redmond’s Some Go Hungry?
Plenty. Because the hallmark of the bulk of the writing done at the Handy Writers’ Colony in the 1950s was serious fiction (the novel being the Holy Grail), with a strong emphasis on truth-telling in relation to sex, all types of relationships, and most of all the struggle of individuals to prevail against mainstream prejudices.
Example: When Edwin “Sonny” Daly’s novel Some Must Watch was completed at The Colony and then published by Scribner’s in New York in 1957 (the same prestigious publishing house that published Hemingway, Fitzgerald, James Jones and so many others), it was noted by critics to be a startling debut for ....Read More
A space where fire meets ice, where the summer’s midnight sun offsets darkness of winter, Iceland is a country filled with sharp contrasts. Words barely serve to adequately define this hauntingly beautiful island. In Iceland the irony of violent volcanic eruptions serves to create pure visual poetry.
More than 2,000 roaring waterfalls, blue icebergs, pristine glaciers, expansive beaches of black sand, bubbling geothermal hot springs, geysers spewing steam into the crystal blue sky filled our days as my daughter, Jenifer, grandson, Riley, and I hiked across miles....Read More
Rock critic Joel Selvin says he didn’t go to Altamont in 1969—the denouement of the Rolling Stones’ month-long tour of America that has been mythologized as a generational milestone.
I was there, and I’m not sure if it was a milestone.
Does Selvin’s depiction of the frenzied day and night of rock music match my memory of it? No, it doesn’t.
The question is: does Selvin get the story right in his Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day?
I think he mostly does, but the very title augurs the grandiosity with which so many baby-boomers regard their teenage years. Those of us who were born after World War II and roughly before the affable yet now nearly forgotten hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, were beneficiaries of the greatest period of general prosperity the country has ever known.
One could argue that period led directly to the carefree counterculture that was just around the corner. If you can remember the beloved Ike puttering around a golf course or christening a battleship, you might also remember the decade that followed—although the mantra goes: if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there.
Selvin covered the rock scene for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1970 into the new millennium and he can throw together a character sketch of Bobby Weir, Tom Donahue, Grace Slick or Bill Graham without batting an eye. Maybe more important he cannot only tell you the history of LSD (at one time mass produced by the grandson of a U.S. Senator, chemistry wizard Owsley Stanley), STP, speed, peyote and mescaline, but can give you a Google-map view of where they were first manufactured and spread out from the Bay, beyond the Golden State, and into the greater population of the people now nervously monitoring their IRA accounts and assessing the viability of reverse mortgages. My contemporaries.
This is all-important because Selvin weaves into his story snippets of philosophy about such things as “evolution of consciousness” and pronouncements like “the dream never died” that I’ll get back to later.
By elevating Altamont to epochal status he sets a formidable task for himself. For him, the botched free concert changed the game in the already tail-spinning world of the 1960s. It shut the door on whatever dreams there were of love, peace and understanding—if that was, in fact, what the era was all about. But he may have extended his metaphor too far. In fact, in a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, he already made it clear that when the fabled Summer of Love flowered in San Francisco in 1967 “the party was already over.”
So what was Altamont? In the fall of ....Read More
“Aren’t you Sasha Litvinova’s son?” the young woman asked me. She looked me directly in my face, and did not seem at all put off by my unshaven, withdrawn look.
Father, talk about a shock to my system! Who the hell was this person? And how did she know Mother? And why was she speaking to me? I was just sitting on this bench minding my own damn business!
But can you believe it, Father, those five little words changed the course of my life forever, and lifted me out of seventeen long, lonely years of despair and desperation,
It was April 17, 2054, a little after one in the afternoon. I am not quite sure about the time, just the date; still, I thought it was a little after one, mainly because I did the same thing, at the same time, every day that the weather allowed—which was to sit and stare at the ocean, and occasionally take one of my walks to Coney Island and back.
The so-called Manhattan Syndrome still had me firmly in its deadly grip. I didn’t own a DYE. I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper, or anything. I was plugged into nothing! Absolutely nothing.
Except one thing. Listen to this Father, remember that old rack set you had, with CD, radio, tape and vinyl all combined. I still have it! Can you believe that shit! Nothing on it works anymore, but of all things, the turntable. That old turntable works just fine.
That’s my only passion. I search everywhere, looking for those old vinyl records. I will trek anywhere if I hear about how I could get my hands on these precious treasures.
Recently, I even took a boat trip to the Bronx because a dealer told me about a place that still sold vinyl. But I shouldn’t have taken that trip, Father.
As we slowly churned our way up the East River, I didn’t want to go there, but something drew me, some ghost whispered to me, Father, and I couldn’t help myself.
I walked outside and felt the cool air hit me. I turned and looked at that huge pile of hot rubble and the ghostly shells of burned out buildings. I knew all my friends would remain buried forever underneath all that crap.
As strange as it may seem, Father, I had avoided this scene all of these years. This was the very first time I was viewing it in person. I had only seen it on screen, or whenever I flew over it, when I was in the military, or in print. But I never went up to look for myself, until this trip to the Bronx.
I stared long and hard as we slowly passed the once grand island of Manhattan. It was unbelievable! I mean, unbelievable, Father!
I soon noticed an older white couple staring with the same disbelief. Most of the younger people on deck had grown up with it and were paying that still smoldering big junk heap little mind. They just kissed, hugged and laughed with each other, reminding me of another time.
Just as I knew little about Sept. 11th, these young people knew nothing of all the grand buildings that once stood so proudly, that once helped define who we were as a country, grand buildings that once reached so high to the sky, so mighty, so world conquering, that all the world wondered in jealous awe!
Now it was gone!
The older couple started holding each other tightly, with the woman burying her head in his shoulder, as the old man gently patted her on her back. I could see her elderly body shaking. I watched as they led each other back inside, and I could see the despair in their bent bodies.
And I understood, Father, unlike those young people on desk, who probably didn’t even notice the grief that the old couple was experiencing. They just continued to laugh, kiss and have fun. Yes, I understood. It was funny, Father. I haven’t cried in years. I mean, ever since that day on that cold, wind swept pier on Coney Island, when death called, and I did not answer, I have not shed a tear.
Now, I felt the tears coming. I fought them. I fought them hard, Father, with everything I had inside me. And I won! I kept them under control, Father. I kept them ....Read More
Sometime something, maybe something someone said a long time ago, so sticks in your mind that years later, when given the proper stimuli, it returns. So it with me whenever I see the colors green and purple together, and I remember how much a fashion design instructor I had at the University of Washington so hated them together that I too wince when I see them.
And now, so, it will probably be whenever I encounter an adverb: I’ll remember Stephen King disdain for them. He writes that “The adverb is not your friend. Most of them are unnecessary and awkward.”
Actually, I don’t dislike them as much as Mr. King, as I think they have their place and sometime a well-placed adverb is a mot juste, as, for instance in this sentence: It would be a blessedly busy day.
The prolific Stephen King has written one of the most entertaining books on writing ever written. My favorite parts of his 2001 book are the memoir sections, like when he tells of his wife retrieving the manuscript for his novel Carrie (also made into a well-received movie) from the waste paper basket where he had chucked it. Less favorite were his writing instructions, perhaps because the idea that one must write a least 1000 words every day I now find exhausting.
Perhaps I want to write my own book on writing. During the years that I taught English grammar in New York City I put together a little booklet on grammar, which I called Dr. Jones Bare Bones of Good English Grammar. Sometime I would suggest to students, if they wanted to find out just how ignorant the common man is of the mechanics of English grammar, that they turn to someone sitting next to them on the subway and ask cheerily (now there’s a well-placed adverb), “Do you know what a participle (or gerund) is?”
Having said that, I admit that I still have trouble remembering that the subject of direct object phrase is nominative. (I bet I got you there.J)
Yes, it’s generally good advice to writer to tell them to avoid the passive case, is in, “The corpse was carried out of the room.”
Without a doubt the best book ever written on style is the famously succinct The Elements of Style by William Shrunk and E.B. White, both writers for The New Yorker. (E. B. White is the author of the wonderful children’s story, Charlotte’s Web.) No writer should be without this little book on his or her bookshelves.
Another of my adages is, “Editing is half of writing.”
Students do not underwrite. They overwrite copiously (another well-placed adverb), so much that their text become heavy with unnecessary phrases, repetitions, and poorly organized thought sequences. Editing is like pruning a bush so that it will bear more fruit or cutting away the access so that the text can sing. Once something is properly edited it usually shrinks to two-thirds its....Read More
If you’ve ever received a shut-off notice or rearranged your finances to pay your rent (desperately calculating how you can pay for food, electricity, garbage, Internet, etc. over the next month) then this book is for you. If you’ve gone to a foodbank, as a client or as a volunteer, this book is for you. If you’re following the election this year and interested in the minimum wage being raised or how race will play out with regards to the proposal of “building a wall,” well then, this book is also for you. This book is simply remarkable.
Matthew Desmond, a sociologist, spent over a year living in the poorest areas of Milwaukee, tracking eight families. Part of the time, he spent in a mostly black area of town known for violence and poor housing; the rest of the time he spent in one of the worst trailer parks in the city.
His work extends to looking at landlords and the crews set up to get rid of renters’ stuff after they have left. The housing situation he describes is beyond deplorable. In the mostly-black neighborhood, renters hardly get what they pay for.
Desmond describes houses that are literally falling apart, decrepit, and sometimes not up to code. In spite of these conditions, people seem pleased to have apartments at all. Even the shabbiest apartments get treated with care and excitement when the renters first move in. He describes the feeling of hope and possibility inherent in moving into a new place. However, Desmond proves that if loving even the worst housing is not hard, then staying in housing can be extremely difficult, hence the name of the book: Eviction.
Take the case of Arleen. A single mom, she has two boys to care for, a fiercely loyal older son and a special-needs younger boy. She moved so many times that I lost track. Her evictions are caused by horseplay from her son and by not having enough money to pay rent.
Sometimes it just seems that getting kicked out falls under the category of bad luck. She actually is somewhat friendly with her landlady, Sherrena, a black woman, who is also portrayed as a decent, though tough, person.
Desmond follows some of the renters to court, where the rules are confusing and seem rigged to benefit landlords. Arleen eventually ends up in a shelter. In spite of her troubles, Arleen is a positive woman, always looking forward, with an ability to laugh at herself. Yes, she could get angry, but she’s also portrayed as a woman of generosity. For part of the time, she becomes friends with a woman who after years of abuse seems so fragile and is constantly moving from foster home to foster home. Although at first it seems like a match made in heaven, eventually the two women explode under the weight of their heavy conditions.
Violence is a constant in the lives of Desmond’s portrayals. Domestic abuse is certainly a reason why the women get evicted. Similarly, landlords sometimes evict tenants because of minor infractions caused by their children. Discrimination is also a constant. Two black women are rejected from housing for no apparent reason, whereas, when he—a white male—pretends to seek....Read More
Detroit in 1830 was a city in flux, primarily troubled by a wave of recent arrivals from the South, “blues people” seeking freedom from bondage. But, in many respects, the refuge they sought only turned out to be relatively better than what they left. The slave chasers and the bounty hunters were never more than a tap on the shoulder away. The black community, comprised of indigenous blacks and fugitive slaves, was just beginning to take shape and represented such a small percentage of the city’s total population on the streets that they were easy prey, with or without “free papers.”
The remarkable story of Thornton and Lucie (Rutha) Blackburn resonates between two historical markers—one in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, from which they escaped and the other in Toronto, Canada, their final destination. Each marker bears witness to their miraculous flight from slavery—without the help of the Underground Railroad and its conductors—and their eventual migration to Canada, they briefly resided in Detroit.
Exhausted from a harrowing four-day trip by boat and stagecoach from Louisville, the couple was invited to the home of James Slaughter, a local black businessman. It was a warm summer night when they arrived in Detroit on July 6, 1831.
Their dream of freedom at last was a reality. No more auction blocks, no more threats of being sold from one owner to the next, or being sold “down the river” like so many other slaves in Kentucky. Now the young mulatto couple—Thornton, 19, and Ruthie or Lucie, as she was later called, a few years older—could exhale and work on making their new marriage something in total defiance to a system determined to dehumanize them. They refused to have their love denied, and their lives relegated to lifelong bondage.
At the time of their escape Lucie had already been sold for $300 and was to be sent down the river for sale in New Orleans or Natchez where her fair skin made her much more valuable than she would be in Louisville. Thornton knew time was not on their side, and with the nation in the midst of July 4th celebrations perhaps among the celebrants they could move less conspicuously toward....Read More
Genius is a film about Maxwell Perkins editing Thomas Wolfe at Scribner when Wolfe wrote Look Homeward, Angel, a novel I read in college under the influence of first love. I recall liking and hating it in equal measure.
Wolfe died at 38 and like Perkin’s other authors, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, was a prodigious drinker. He also wrote everything long hand in pencil and was rumored to write standing up sometimes using the top of a refrigerator as a desk. The unedited manuscript ran to one thousand plus pages. One thousand penciled pages. No wonder everyone drank so much back then.
I liked the movie although many critics found Colin Firth unconvincing and Jude Law dull. Ironically, a film about American writers and editors starred British actors and an Australian portraying a depressed F. Scott Fitzgerald. Still, it was better than most movies depicting writers, which tend towards ridiculous gestures such as Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman in Julia flinging a perfectly good typewriter out a window. I found that gesture not only irritating but, also, infuriating given the value of said typewriter and the fact someone on the sidewalk below could have been killed.
But this column isn’t about the movies but something that struck me halfway through which was the understanding that I had to stop trying to write something an agent would accept and a publisher would publish. Also, that people who marry writers and expect them to be happy and....Read More
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