Books helps us understand our own history

“We need to know what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on. In spite of changing conditions of life they were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts, they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it.”

— John Dos Passos, cited in the epigraph for Wilfred M. McClay’s Land Of Hope

Loving every word of it, all 630,000

Let’s start with some basic mathematics.

For 20 years, I have reviewed books for The Smoky Mountain News. For some of those years, I shared the position of reviewer with that fine storyteller and playwright, Gary Carden. Occasionally, too, others like writer and poet Thomas Rain Crowe have published reviews in this space.

Sense of place is crucial to Hewson’s novels

Some novelists display a real talent for capturing a place in words and then bringing that “little postage stamp of native soil,” as William Faulkner called it, to their readers.

Pat Conroy’s Charleston novels evoked that historic city’s streets and buildings, the odor of its tidewater marshes and estuaries, the sounds of the city’s church bells, the ferocious heat of its summers, the taste of oysters and shrimp. In his Dave Robicheaux suspense novels, James Lee Burke takes us into the heart of Louisiana, its bayous and cotton fields, its music, its mix of Catholicism and age-old superstitions, its cool dawns and blazing noondays, the mingled smells of brackish water, boiled crawfish and wild flowers. In The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings writes of the backwoods of Florida in its pre-tourism days, of green pastures, of scruffy pines and magnolia, of fetter-bush and sparkleberry, of sunrise “like a vast copper skillet being drawn to hang among the branches.”

A story of people becoming real

“Only connect.”

Though that line from E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End refers to human love and passion, his words also seem to describe the vital link between author and reader. “Only connect” is the goal of any novelist seeking an audience.

Deserving books that may pique your interest

On the red wooden chair near my desk, 14 inches high, is a mound of books waiting for review. Three or four of them have taken up residence on that red chair for months, clamoring for attention. Others are more newly arrived. 

A trip to the beach without leaving home

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

So Ishmael opens Moby Dick. 

Author treats death and grief with realism

Some will understand more fully than others.

On a Wednesday you arrive home to find the one you love collapsed on the bedroom floor. The rescue squad brings her to the hospital. Now she is in neurological intensive care with a brain aneurysm, her skull shaven, kept alive with breathing and feeding tubes, monitored for heartbeat and brain activity. Surrounding her are other patients, many of them unconscious from blood clots in the brain, blows to the head, or some other trauma. 

Something satisfying in a good mystery

Jack Reacher is back.

In Past Tense (Delacorte Press, 2018, 382 pages), Lee Child, author of 21 novels about Jack Reacher, plus a collection of short stories, drops the wandering hero into the town where Reacher’s father was born and raised. Reacher has never visited Laconia, New Hampshire, and hopes to see where his deceased father came of age, believing some familiarity with the town might allow him insights into his family’s history. 

The art of writing can certainly be learned

“What we have here is failure to communicate.”

So says The Captain, the warden of a prison, in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” after he knocks Luke down a hill for smart-mouthing him.

Apollo missions were propelled by a bold vision

July 20, 1969.

This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped to the moon’s surface while Michael Collins flew above them in lunar orbit. About 650 million people worldwide watched the live event on television. Millions of others listened to it on their radios or followed the progress of the astronauts in their newspapers. Those of us who watched will never forget where we were when those grainy images of human beings on the moon’s surface flickered on our television screens.

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