Jeff Minick

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So why take a look here at two books by a philosopher and polymath, neither of which may appeal to a broad audience?

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Some men pick up a copy of Ellery Adams’ “The Book of Candlelight: A Secret, Book, and Scone Society Novel” (Kensington Publishing Corp., 2020, 320 pages) might read the blurb, flip through a few pages, and return the novel to its shelf, judging it a chick-lit book and unworthy of their attention. 

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“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy….” So begins one of the George Gershwin’s greatest songs, an aria in “Porgy and Bess” reproduced by scores of musicians ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Willie Nelson to Norah Jones.

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Sucker-punched. That’s how I felt when I finished reading Johann Hari’s “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — and How to Think Deeply Again” (Crown Publishers, 2022, 368 pages).

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What month other than April could possibly be designated National Poetry Month?

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Time for the book review machine to travel back a few years.

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Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that the graphic books on the shelves of my public library are multiplying faster than a battalion of rabbits. 

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A friend who was a fan of the Lee Child’s novels used to wear a T-shirt reading, “What would Jack Reacher do?”

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What’s up with me?

In my old age, am I regressing backwards to my teenage days? Or is Jay Hardwig’s novel “Just Maria” (Fitzroy Books, 2021, 133 pages) aimed at an adult audience as well as adolescents?

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Several years ago, when my children and grandchildren were gathering for a week at the beach in a house I’d rented, a good friend gave me a pre-vacation tip that put me in the winner’s circle with the grandkids. “Make them an ice cream breakfast,” she suggested.

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It’s late Saturday afternoon, February, that hour before supper when the little ones go bananas, and the 5-year-old and his sister are driving you bonkers, to the point where you want to plop them down in front of the television watching “Arthur” while you slosh some red wine into a glass and smoke a cigarette, though you only drink wine with supper or in the evenings, and you gave up the cigs years ago in college. 

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Many readers of The Smoky Mountain News, particularly younger adults, are probably familiar with Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL officer who is now renowned as a podcaster, speaker, and author. My sons and some other young men I know — and women too, for that matter — listen to his podcasts, and are inspired and learn from them.

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Sometimes the right book just comes along.

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Good grief!

Let me say that again: Good grief!

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Let’s kick off 2022 with a bunch of books.

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In the years after the Civil War, train travel in America exploded. Rail lines soon crisscrossed the country, bringing travelers from San Francisco to New York, from Savannah to Boston. 

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Popcorn has little nutritional value, but it’s great when you have the munchies (and no, I don’t puff dope or ganja or whatever name it goes by these days). Maybe you add salt and butter, or some other spice, but you just keep nibbling away giving little thought to how much you consume or whether it’s good for you. It’s a pleasure, pure and simple.

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Time to head off to Santa’s workshop and see what Christmas books he and the elves have in mind for the kids.

Sometimes the world seems pretty crazy, especially for those of us who follow the daily news and commentaries online.

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With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I raided my public library, brought home an armload of books having to do with Turkey Day, and am delighted to share them with you here.

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As of this year, around 19 million Americans are veterans, which is less than 10% of our population. Currently, 1.4 million Americans are serving in the military. 

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Recently I posted another first to my list of lifetime accomplishments: I managed to hit myself in the head with a lawn mower.

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Ever had one of those times when every day brought bad news?

In addition to our boatload of national catastrophes these last two months, the last two weeks brought me one report after the other of the struggles of friends and family members.

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There are at least three reasons why Nicholas Sparks has sold over 100 million copies of his books and seen 11 of them made into movies.

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“The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.”

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It’s late summer, but the song lyrics still work: living is supposed to be easy. So I’m looking for some light reading. No politics, no massive histories or biographies, no novels with tangled plots and emotions, no suspense stories where the protagonist leaves behind a trail of dead bodies thicker than Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs. 

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Years ago, a friend and I were watching some news show like 60 Minutes about juvenile murderers. The point of the report was that these young criminals showed little or no remorse for their shootings and stabbings, and in fact seemed to lack any sort of moral compass that most of us take as a given. When I wondered aloud about a solution, what might be done to change these stonehearted murderers, my friend looked at me and said, “Some people just need killing.”

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Readers generally look for a special place to sink into their books, to escape the noise and hubbub of the household, to find that sanctuary where they can give themselves over to the reverie and escapism of stories.

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So it’s a late Thursday afternoon, and I’m sitting on the front porch finishing up a novel when my eyes prickled, and then blurred, and the old saltwater ran down my age-raddled cheeks. 

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I’ve long been a fan of Stephen Hunter’s novels, particularly his series about Bob Lee Swagger. Swagger is a sniper, reflecting Hunter’s interest in firearms, and I’ve reviewed several Swagger novels for The Smoky Mountain News. I’ve also recommended the movie “Shooter,” a fine film where Mark Wahlberg plays the part of Swagger. 

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The last four months of 1862 brought blood and slaughter to the armies of the South and the North. Earlier that year, a series of battles led to the September battle of Sharpsburg, also known as Antietam, in Maryland, where in the bloodiest single day of fighting during the war George McClellan’s Union forces turned back Lee’s attempted invasion of that state.

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On April 15, 2019, Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the world’s most beloved architectural landmarks, caught fire. The blaze started in the roof, incinerating the enormous ancient wooden beams located there and causing the collapse of the central spire, which “leaned sideways, snapped like a matchstick, and crashed through the flaming roof of the nave.”

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Recently I realized I needed to laugh more often. 

I do laugh when I’m on the phone with one of my children or a friend, and occasionally if I watch some YouTube video.

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On the shelves around the room where I write and work a visitor would find all sorts of books, including a few “self-help” guides and manuals on writing and composition. My theory on spending money on such books is this: If they contain even one piece of advice, however small, that might improve my life or my writing, then the money I paid for that book is more than worth that expense. 

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Sometimes a book can overwhelm us with its energy and its wisdom.

Like most readers, I love when a writer, especially one completely unknown to me, reaches out from the pages, grabs me by the shoulders, and says, “Listen to me!”

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In 2018, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos became an international bestseller, and Peterson himself became a celebrity, speaking to packed auditoriums and lecture halls around the United States and other countries. He then fell ill, in large part from various legal drugs he was taking, almost died, recovered, and has now written and published a sequel to 12 Rules For Life.

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Have you ever engaged in a political argument where instead of listening to your opponent your mind is furiously creating counterpoints to your adversary?

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Thirty years ago or so, perhaps in Time Magazine where he was a long-time essayist, I read a Lance Morrow article on the subject of honor. His piece so impressed me that I read it multiple times, and later photocopied it and passed it on to the students in my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition class as an example of stellar writing. 

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Jack Reacher must own the toughest set of knuckles on planet Earth.

About halfway through the latest Reacher saga, The Sentinel (Random House, 2020, 353 pages), I lost track of the number of times Reacher threw a punch into some bad guy’s face. Long ago, when boxing was done without gloves, some of the fighters soaked their hands in salt water to make them tougher. Though Reacher is never shown practicing that technique, we must assume he spent his youth and his years as a military policeman for hours a day with his fingers in a bowl of water that would put the salt content of the Dead Sea to shame.

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Books, books, books, and more books.

After a long hiatus, in the last month books have again become my daily companions. I set aside at least an hour every day, put on my glasses, and take up a book. 

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Time to party, everyone!

April is here, and along with warmer weather, blossoms and flowers, and grass grown green, April is National Poetry Month, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of this celebration.

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Historically, and presently, the women at Masanjia experienced worse torture and degradation than men. The guards would jam and twist toothbrushes up women’s vaginas, pour chili powder onto their genitals, and shock their breasts with electric batons. Then they gang-raped their victims, who often vomited blood afterwards.

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February and early March were a little rough on your reviewer. We got slammed with some bad weather — snow I like, but long, gray winter days wear on me — and I suffered some health problems, one of which put me in a dismal emergency room cubicle for five hours. A week of fighting a severe chest cold has also taken its toll.

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My sister, her husband, and a friend recently visited me for several days. Though I don’t own a television, there’s a DVD player downstairs along with a modest collection of movies, and I offered several times to bring it to the living room for their entertainment. Each time they waved me away, explaining they were content just to read.

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“What happens to people who live inside their phones?”

In his short novel The Silence (Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2020, 117 pages), Don DeLillo raises this question, and then shows us some possibilities when an unexplained break in the power grid shuts down phones, computers, and televisions.

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Having recently read and reviewed for the Smoky Mountain Living magazine Vicki Lane’s And The Crows Took Their Eyes, a fine novel set in Madison County during the Civil War and focused on the Shelton Laurel Massacre, this week I returned to that era with J.L. Askew’s War In The Mountains: The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, N.C. 1864-1865 (Covenant Books, Inc., 2020, 535 pages).

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Sometimes I feel waist deep not in flood waters, troubles, quandaries, or even grandchildren, but in books, literature, literary classics, movies based on books, questions about authors, and friends and family members either recommending titles I should read or asking me what books they should read.

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About 10 years ago, I was standing in the checkout line at my local Ingles. The clerk, age 19 or 20, tattooed and pierced, was telling a customer, clearly an acquaintance, that she couldn’t wait until society fell apart and we’d all be forced to survive by our wits and resources.

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Many of us who read novels find ourselves in awe of authors who create a landscape and a place so well that we can see the fields and forests, hear the birds, and feel the sunshine and rain on our faces. 

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