Movies, book explore travails of Memphis Three

bookThey were known as the West Memphis Three: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., three teenagers who were accused of murdering three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1993. Their trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony and public hysteria. It is small wonder that it became an event so bizarre, it attracted the national media.

To bee or not to be

bookWith its title Colony Collapse Disorder taken from a recent mysterious collapse of honeybee populations in North America, Keith Flynn’s new collection of poems, while being entirely prescient in terms of the current social-political-economic situation here in the U.S., is anything but only local or nationalistic.

The unforgettable life of Nancy Silver

bookRecently, when I was surfing through a depressing collection of nighttime TV programs — religious rants, psychics, cooking shows and weight loss commercials — I stopped on a “true crime” channel with a provocative title: “Dangerous Women.” Before I could punch the remote, a solemn voice announced: “Tonight, a horrifying story from a remote cove in Appalachia, we bring you the story of Frankie Silver, a woman who not only murdered her husband but burned his body in the fireplace.”

An insightful look at guerilla warfare

bookSince the Second World War, Americans have lived by the old dictum that only the dead have seen the end of war. For almost 70 years we have served as the world’s policeman, opposing the Soviet Union in a cold war, communism in Korea and Vietnam in hot wars, and a variety of fanatics, terrorists, and dictators in wars hot and cold. We fought to a stalemate in Korea, lost in Vietnam, won the Cold War, and won — at least militarily — the battles of the Middle East. Our armed services remain the most battle-tested in the world, and we spend far more on these services than any other country. (A good part of this spending, incidentally, is for veterans’ entitlements). 

Rash’s Appalachia is both rich and flawed

bookRon Rash’s latest collection of short stories echos a theme that runs through all of his works: an awareness that Appalachia is in transition, that it is becoming something else. Of course, this is a quality that is shared by all things — what the poets call “mutability” — but in this instance, the author is mindful of what our world is becoming in contrast to what it once was. Like the drowned girl in his short story by the same title, Appalachia may be undergoing a “sea change” and will emerge as “something rich and strange.” The substance may be alien, repugnant and/or fascinating.

Final volume of Churchill biography a long-awaited gem

bookWilliam Manchester, author of a number of best-selling books, including The Death of A President, American Caesar, and Goodbye, Darkness, spent nearly 30 years writing a three-volume biography of Winston Churchill. Still a young man when I read the first volume, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, in 1984, I was entranced by his account not only of Churchill but also of the Victorian Age into which he had been born and the Edwardian Era in which he won his first real measure of fame. Manchester gave me and thousands of other readers more than the man: he recreated the world in which Winston Churchill had so exuberantly lived.

1967 novel sheds light on obscure mass drowning

bookIn recent years, I have become interested in an obscure incident that occurred in Jackson County in 1882 — the accidental drowning of 19 chain gang convicts who were working on Cowee Tunnel near Dillsboro. Who were they? Where did they come from? Where are they buried? The details are sketchy, and outside of a few basic facts, most of the stories have been passed down by oral tradition.

To be (born) or not to be

bookSince reading Ben Wattenberg’s The Birth Dearth 25 years ago, the subject of demography has fascinated me. This past week I finished Jonathan Last’s What To Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (ISBN 978-1-59403-641-5, $23.99), a look at declining fertility rates in the United States and around the world. As libertarian humorist P.J. O’Rourke quipped, Jonathan Last’s book is “a powerful argument that the only thing worse than having children is not having them.”

Zombie lore, one bite at a time

bookIf you are literate and moderately aware of what passes for entertainment in film, popular novels and comics, then you are acquainted with of the strange “zombie” craze that is currently dominating much of the popular arts. In recent years, the popularity of “The Walking Dead” has grown to epic proportions.

Novel explores the woes of rich white trash

bookLet me take a deep breath and see if I can get this out in one long ugly sentence: 

A man has some sort of mental fugue while driving, slams into a another car, and kills two people; his married brother moves into the man’s house while the man is in prison and a mental evaluation unit; the brother sleeps with the man’s wife; the man sneaks out of the institution, returns home, finds his brother in bed with said wife, and bashes in the wife’s head with a table lamp; the authorities send the man away for treatment which includes living in a wilderness prison where he befriends an Israeli terrorist; the brother, whose wife kicks him out of the house, moves into the man’s house and assumes responsibility for his nephew, a 12-year-old who has a village in Africa named after him for work he did there when he was 10, and for his niece, a 10-year-old who is in a sexual relationship with a female teacher in the private school she attends, a relationship which ends when the brother takes some money to keep the affair quiet rather than reporting it to the authorities; the brother himself engages in internet sex, sleeps with a homemaker whose husband knows everything and then with a much younger woman who later abandons her aged parents to the brother’s care; the brother suffers a stroke, but continues to engage in sex. 

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