A sea journey well-told

I’m on page 289 of a 308-page book by Brian Doyle called The Plover and am having fun. The book takes place in present time on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean by an author who has been compared to Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London and even Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A young man sets out in a small craft in order to get away from humanity and modern civilization and to make his life and his “country” the sea. Talk about conflict! If the natural forces of the oceanic landscape aren’t enough, there are plenty more human-related conflicts to come. 

Exuberant English and forgotten riches

What kind of a nut writes a play about antiquity using blank verse, sentences as convoluted as any in Shakespeare, and words which, outside of Elizabethan theater, have sounded in no human ear in hundreds of years?

The great and fallen artists

A New York Times Op-Ed recently asked, “Is It Time Gauguin Got Canceled?” It raised this question of banishing Gauguin because the artist slept with young girls in Tahiti and called the natives “savages.”

Let’s look at a few more artists and writers before looking for an answer.

Keep calm, stay quiet and carry on

Stillness. Silence. For many people, stillness and silence are as unfamiliar — and terrifying — as zombies or Martians. 

When I used to teach composition classes to homeschoolers in Asheville, we met in a Presbyterian church near the Asheville Mall. Once a year, in good weather, I would have the students carry their folding chairs to the large parking lot behind the church. Here I would place them in a circle facing away from one another, 20 feet or more between students, and have them sit for half an hour. They were forbidden to speak, to read, to write, to use a cell phone. 

Rich rewards: a review of The Enchanted Hour

Though I read aloud with my children and do so now with my grandchildren, I have rarely done so with adults. Two recent experiences made me realize what I was missing.

Beating back the January Blues


The skies are gray, the wind’s a knife, the dank cold crawls into your very bones, and spring seems a thousand years away. You’re bored with watching television, you never want to hear the word “Impeachment” again in your life, your New Year’s Resolutions — to exercise more, lose weight, do some volunteer work — were given graveside services a few days after January started, you get depressed arriving home from work in darkness by 5 p.m., and you find yourself wanting to do nothing but sleep.

Memoir of illness full of gallantry and wit

“It was crazy. The surgeon told me the tumor was the size of a pear, which is scary but also confusing. I was like, ‘Did he go to med school or farmer’s market?’”

That’s part of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s bit on YouTube about his wife Jeannie’s brain tumor. 

The story of a Beat original

Once upon a time there was a poet named Bob Kaufman. He hadn’t spoken in anything resembling normal language in almost 12 years. Having taken a vow of silence as his own personal protest against American hyprocrisy and racial injustice, Bob Kaufman is probably the most important and unheralded of all the Beat generation literary luminaries. He was the true original. In the streets. On target. Under the radar. Yet at the forefront, breaking all the barriers. 

Last-minute holiday ideas for the literary

You’re down to the wire. It’s only a few days until Christmas, and you have yet to get that book lover in your life a gift. Maybe it’s your husband who nightly reads military history. Maybe your 9-year-old can’t get enough of the Hardy Boys. Maybe your teenage niece is reading anything she can get her hands on.

Walking ancient pathways with a gifted writer

Growing up, one of my favorite books was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways, instead of taking us into the distant future, he takes us into the ancient past. He sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the British landscape and beyond — to the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest (and the ‘fells’ where he calls home), from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas that were traveled by people who only traveled on foot or in crude sailing vessels. 

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