Book examines alcohol and the writer’s life

bookLet’s begin by noting the continuing biographical interest in writers and drinking. In my own collection are Tom Dardis’s The Thirsty Muse; Kelly Boler’s A Drinking Companion: Alcohol & The Lives of Writers; physician Donald W. Goodwin’s Alcohol and the Writer; Kaylie Jones’s Lies My Mother Told Me; Donald Newlove’s Those Drinking Days and Kingsley Amis’s Everyday Drinking, with its introduction by another renowned boozer, Christopher Hitchens. I also own various biographies of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wolfe, Millay and others, all devotees of the cult of Bacchus. 

Old West comes alive in Enger novel

bookIf you love epic tales that celebrate the American West; if you treasure novels like Trail of the Lonesome Dove, Edna Ferber’s So Big (Giant) and McCarthy’s Cities on the Plain, you might want to saddle up for Peace Like a River. Everything that quickens your heartbeat is here: manhunts, vicious killers, snowstorms, relentless law men, lovable outlaws, tall tales, all wrapped in a bit of Mark Twain’s “heading for the territories.”

Trio of quality books explore facets of faith

bookBack in the day when the “culture wars” focused more on literature, music and movies — Tipper Gore, for example, then the wife of Al Gore, in 1985 led a crusade advocating age-appropriate labels on popular music — Christians often criticized the arts for their neglect of faith and their secular morality. Many churchgoers rejected mainstream culture altogether, turning instead to “Christian” books, films, and songs, nearly all of which were second-rate, didactic works lacking in real artistry.

Dark story explores love, retribution

bookI have always been drawn to authors who can seize your attention in the first paragraph and like a pit bull, refuse to let you go. Ron Rash can do that (Serena). So can Philipp Meyer (The Son). These guys are so good, they can set the hook and play you the way a seasoned fisherman handles a trout, (Whoa, that is a mixed metaphor, I guess!) for 40 pages, forcing you to abandon chores and your social life, intent on riding out what the critics call “a riveting narrative.” Well, here is another one. Let me summarize the beginning of The Kept by James Scott.

A frank look at monogamy through the ages

bookIn our tell-all age of talk shows and reality television, of Facebook and Twitter, the idea that restraint and repression might contain some worth seems as antiquated a concept as arranged marriages. We revel in revelation: our bookstores are jammed with accounts by the famous and the not-so-famous regarding their sexual histories, their conquests and their defeats. Talk shows have for so long featured the weird and the bizarre that producers these days seem hard-pressed to fill airtime.

Social media gone awry in this compelling novel

bookIn recent years, I have developed a growing discomfort with the Internet. Services like Facebook, Amazon, Linked-in have become increasingly ... well, personal. They want to know how I am doing, mentally and physically (at times they sound like a nosy, well-meaning relative), and I am constantly being asked to take “quickie” surveys or to rate everything from Netflix movies to Amazon products. I am beginning to wonder at what point does their concern become intrusive.

The excitement in a bag full of books

bookRecently I returned from a trip to the library with a bagful of books. When handling these books in the library, flipping through the pages and reading the blurbs, I experienced a familiar excitement, that thrill felt by all booklovers when they find a book promising enjoyment and worth.

Later that evening, however, as I unpacked the bag along with some groceries, my earlier enthusiasm gave way to puzzlement. As I looked over the books this time, I wondered why I had selected them. What was I thinking?

The Jane Goodall of sea turtles

bookAs I write this, I am wondering if I should disqualify myself from writing a review about a book written by someone I know. But in this case I must write, and trying to be objective, let you know that something special has been born among us here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Alongside a rising tide of great books written by the likes of Charles Frazier, Ron Rash, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash … there’s a new kid on the block. His name is Will Harlan and he lives in Barnardsville. 

A story in which nothing is as it seems

bookEarly in this novel, an old retired teacher with Alzheimer’s, mistaking a visitor for his son, gives the young man a copy of a novel by Charles Brockton Brown and suggests that he read it. The novel is Wieland (1798,) a peculiar concoction of bizarre events that is considered the first “American gothic novel.” (I remember that it contains an account of human spontaneous combustion, murders, violent storms and inexplicable voices, insanity and mistaken identities).

Curmudgeon offers words of wisdom

bookMay is fast approaching, and with May comes the season of graduations.

Daughters and sons, nephews and nieces, young people we’ve cherished for one reason or another: they’re about to embark on the next journey in their life, and we want to speed them along their way with a meaningful gift. Cash is always handy, of course, to the young — and I might add, to some of us who are old — but cash is a cold gift, the sort of boon and gratuity given by most of us out of desperation, ignorant of what those just graduating from high school or college might need or want.

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