A troubled talent

I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone by Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991. $22.00 — 196 pages

Back in the 1930s, the inhabitants of the little town of Tryon, N.C., gossiped a great deal about “the little colored girl who appears to be a musical prodigy.” They were talking about Eunice Waymon, who had been playing the piano before she was 4 years old. She played at her mother’s church (Mary Kate Waymon was a Methodist minister), and as her reputation grew, many of the white residents began attending services to hear Eunice play. In view of the poverty of the Waymon family, a white friend of Rev. Waymon offered to pay for the child’s music lessons. Eventually, a fund was established to send Eunice to a classical pianist, Muriel Massinovitch, who trained the child to play Bach — an experience that would have a profound influence on the young pianist. After further training in Asheville, Eunice went to Julliard.

A proper burial: The story of a wife who finds purpose transforming her Tennessee plantation into a hospital and cemetery during the Civil War

Franklin, Tennessee. It is November 1864, and many of us (Civil War buffs) have been here before.

We recognize this gentle slope that rises to the Carnton plantation and the terraced mansion surrounded by great trees. Nearby are a neglected garden and a spacious backyard where 1,500 Confederate soldiers will be buried (eventually). Historians call the Battle of Franklin “five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War” –— a place where 9,200 men died on a single day in an encounter that Robert Hicks calls “horrible, beautiful and sudden.”

Ishiguro’s novel raises troubling questions for modern humanity

“And so we stood together like that, at the top of that field for what seemed ages, not saying anything, just holding each other, while the wind kept blowing and blowing at us, tugging our clothes, and for a moment it seemed like we were holding onto each other because that was the only way to stop us from being swept away into the night.”

— Never Let Me Go, page 274

Count on me to lead the Grinch Fan Club

About this time each year, when the days and tempers get short and the traffic lines get long — when I begin to see people trudging wearily in and out of stores and shopping malls — I think about the Grinch Club. I start fantasizing about an imaginary organization founded in honor of that nasty, green fellow who stole Xmas — which is not a bad idea. For thousands of people like me who exist in the lower economic strata of this country, Mr. Grinch could become a folk hero — a creep that had the moxie to speak for us all.

Exploring Shakespeare

Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Random House, 2005. 572 pages.

Yikes! Saints and guardian angels defend us! It is yet another biography of Shakespeare! Is it possible that Peter Ackroyd, the venerable biographer of Chaucer, Blake, Dickens, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, has unearthed some tantalizing and/or unknown facts about the Bard? Was Shakespeare in reality Christopher Marlowe? Francis Bacon? Thomas Kyd? Two spinster sisters with the pen name of Shakspur? Was he gay and/or a closet Catholic?

Hemp and the rule of law

It looks like the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” may bear fruit (or gas) when it is applied to our current energy crisis. In fact, one “alternate energy” source is already generating considerable interest in Canada, North Dakota and North Carolina. “It could end our dependence on fossil fuel,” said Jack Herer, author of the book, The Emperor Has No Clothes. “It could be enough to run America virtually without oil.”

In search of Will: One book falls short while another succeeds

Shortly after completing Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier discussed the possible subject of his next novel. Frazier said that he wanted to write about the life of a white man who was made an Indian chief, served in the government in Washington, D.C., fought on the side of the South in the Civil War by leading a band of guerrilla warriors and eventually wound up dying in a mental institution. That man was William Holland Thomas.

We are amusing ourselves to death

When I am at home, the TV is usually on. I like the company, and since I am almost deaf, I don’t hear the constant yammer, clang and whistle, complete with musical interludes and the smarmy good will of the CNN staff ... all I hear is a low murmur like the surf at the beach. I’m only aware of the images which appear (for me) without an accompanying “message.” If anything shows up that looks interesting, I can read the captions that rush across the screen like teletype. Otherwise, I only glance occasionally at the visual flicker and flash. (This may be one of the few blessings of being hearing impaired.)

Harvey turns a supernatural eye to modern technology

Something is out of joint in the little fishing village of Bareneed on the coast of Newfoundland. The rules that govern reality (natural laws) appear to have been suspended. It began with the flying fish. Of course, no one actually saw them fly, but they were found in roads, barn lofts and fields, still struggling fitfully as though the sea had rejected them. Their color was unnatural, too, ranging from red sculpin to blue cod and finally, an albino shark — all stuffed with roses and marvelous fragrances. At first, such abnormalities were treated with humor by the media, but then, the mood changed when the people of Bareneed begin to die for no discernable reason.

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