Back to the future

If it’s true that timing is everything, then Ben Okri’s new novel The Freedom Artist is right on time. 

As we, here, in Western North Carolina are going through an unparalleled time of trauma and uncertainty, Okri’s most recent novel opens up like a mirror for how at the present moment our country is organized for inequality and ineffectiveness in terms of proper governance and freedom of the individual. In a country that claims to be “the land of the free,” the United States of America is rapidly moving in the direction of “the land of the prisoner.” And Okri uses the word “prison” in his new novel to emphasize how his fictional system of governance is set up to keep people in line and asleep when it comes to self-realization and equanimity. 

Fire, fire burning bright … the notebooks of Leonard Cohen

In some literary and music circles the debate continues as to whom is the best songwriter of the 20th and current 21st centuries. In circles I travel in, this debate usually comes down to either Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. 

A legend re-told: the story of Crazy Horse

On Feb. 8, William B. Matson and members of the Clown/Crazy Horse family were scheduled to give a talk at the Jackson County Library in Sylva. I planned to attend, but unfortunately that was the day of the only snow and ice storm we’ve had all winter. So, as soon as I could get out I went to the library and checked out a copy of the as-told-to biography of the Crazy Horse/Clown family Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life & Legacy written by William Matson. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

A saint among us: a new Thomas Berry biography

I was one of the lucky ones. I met and befriended Thomas Berry on Earth Day in the late 1980s during his youthful middle age and at the beginnings of his meteoric rise to prominence as an author of books on spiritual ecology. These were books that raised the bar on the beginnings and what would become the awareness and movement regarding what was then being labeled “Global Warming” and what is now a full-blown “Climate Change Movement” that is global in scope and scale.

Which way is the wilderness?

The theme of Brent Martin’s new book of essays — The Changing Blue Ridge Mountains — is “It’s a good country — hold on to it.” Written in large bold type on the back cover of the book, this quote lays the groundwork and is the foundation for what we find on the inside of the book’s enticing covers. 

Still jazzy after all these years

I first discovered Lawrence Ferlinghetti in high school and his book Starting From San Francisco and have read everything he’s ever published. I wrote my junior thesis paper for my English major in college on the light and dark imagery in his poetry. 

In his new book, Litte Boy, practically the whole narrative is concerned with light and dark imagery — in all their guises. Apparently he is still working all that out. I also had the good fortune to be his neighbor in the North Beach community of San Francisco in the 1970s and to spend valuable time with him, first as a member of my generational entourage, then as a friend and collaborator on protest and benefit events and publishing projects during that decade. So, I know Lawrence Ferlinghetti and much of his life story. And his memoiristic “novel” Little Boy, which was just published on his 100th birthday in March, is a stream of consciousness portrayal of those 100 years. 

When love is illuminated

Sarah Hall, born in the Lake District of the Cumbria region of northwestern England in 1974, began to take writing seriously at the age of 20. First as a poet, then as a fiction writer. She studied and earned English and Creative Writing degrees at both Aberystwyth University in Wales and at St. Andrews University in Scotland before moving to North Carolina where she lived for several years before moving back to Norwich, England, where she now makes her home. 

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