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. 

Children’s books and thoughts for the holidays

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

First up is Carol Matney’s St. Nick’s Clique (Page Publishing, Inc. 2019, 25 pages). Matney, a North Carolinian I’ve known for nearly 30 years, whisks us off to the North Pole for a look at how Santa Claus teaches his reindeer to fly and how he names them for their personalities. Cupid, for example, receives his name because “I am happy when we all get along and are kind to each other, and we help one another.” The largest and strongest reindeer is “lightning fast” and so named Blitzen, from the German word for “fast.” At the end of this charming tale, we meet a little reindeer with a glowing red nose, and Santa wonders “if … somehow, someday, there might be some way to include him in St. Nick’s clique.” Watch for the sequel.

Learning to listen: A review of Chris Arnade’s Dignity

Back in the mid-1970s, I was working as a receiving clerk at the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston. I was making $90 a week, maybe a little less, $40 of which went to the room I rented on Joy Street on the backside of Beacon Hill. Though I had a degree and two years of graduate school under my belt, I also had no car, no insurance, and no savings. I was living that way because I wanted to become a writer, and the job afforded me that time, and because I wanted to live in Boston for a year, which I did.

Passionate about print: a review of A Literate South

For many years, most of us who read histories and biographies about America between 1800 and 1865 assumed the seat of literacy and learning was in New England. The plantation and professional classes of the Antebellum South were of course readers, and in some cases writers, relatively wealthy men and women who enjoyed the luxury of newspapers or the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Few would have thought the yeoman farmers and townspeople of that age and place might be equally passionate about print and literature. 

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