Captives and Captivations

Narratives of confinement have long held a fascination for readers. From Saint Paul’s account of his imprisonment to modern stories of Turkish prisons, Alcatraz, and the Hanoi Hilton, we find ourselves roused by stories of courage and tenacity shown in the face of punishment and prison.

Three dark gems

Almost a decade ago, I wrote an unabashed rave review of Howard Bahr’s The Black Flower (1997), a darkly beautiful novel based on one of the Civil War’s most tragic events, the Battle of Franklin.

Hope in a rude world

In the last 40 years, the living waters of American law and politics have flattened into a bog of faction and dissent, of lawsuits and grievance groups, of hatreds both petty and grand.

Chick check

The word “ubiquitous” is an apt adjective for Chick comics. They show up in motel rooms, garages, pool halls, laundromats, telephone booths, homeless shelters and Christian bookstores. The small format (about the size of an index card) with 24 to 36 pages and their raw, vivid colors make them instantly recognizable. Chick comics have been around for more than 40 years and they are literally all over the world. Popular titles like “This is Your Life” and “Somebody Loves You” have African, French, Hebrew, Dutch and Japanese versions (the comics are available in 70 languages!) with each “adaptation” subtly edited to reflect cultural differences. More than 400 million of them have been published now.

An open eye

Let’s imagine for a moment that it is Election Day in some unspecified city, and the proper government officials have gathered in the local polls to record and count the votes. However, when the doors open, no voters appear (it is raining). Noon arrives, the rain stops, but still there are no voters. The officials become uneasy and resort to cajoling a few relatives over the phone to perform their civic duty. Then, one hour before the polls are supposed to close, thousands of voters appear, requiring the officials to extend the voting time.

In need of help

Steve Salerno’s SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless (ISBN 1-40005409-5, $24.95) is not only an attack on the self-help movement — SHAM is the acronym for Self-Help and Actualization Movement — but also a very amusing book.

Real Mountain dialect

Like hundreds of other mountain folk who grew up listening to “the old folks talking,” I always wanted to be a storyteller. Sitting on the dark end of my granny’s porch on a windy October night, I listened to her tell about the woman who drowned her baby in our spring. “Nights like this, you can hear it cry,” she said. Later, she told me about the night my daddy brought his new bride home.

Money verses morals

During my senior year of high school, my brother, some friends, and I went to a James Bond film festival. If I remember correctly, we entered the theater around seven in the evening and staggered out about one the next morning. It was an interesting experience. With the exception of “Goldfinger,” which I‘d seen in the seventh grade while away at school (and yes, I lied at that time to get into the theater), all of the movies I saw that night ran together in my head. I literally couldn’t separate one plot from another.

Amazing language found in a lost novel

Recently, the New York Times set off a hotly contested literary skirmish by naming what their literary staff considered to be the greatest novels of the past 25 years. A platoon of critics entered the fray, and after a bit of sniping, there was something resembling a consensus. All finally agreed that our five greatest writers (at the present) were Toni Morrison (Beloved), Don Delillo (Underworld) John Updike (Rabbit Angstrom), Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), and Philip Roth (American Pastoral).

Spill the beans

Confession is good for the soul.

As any practicing Catholic will tell you, that old tune still plays true. You may dread going to confession — I don’t know anyone who enjoys spilling out his faults and sins before a priest, who quite literally speaks for Christ in granting forgiveness, but the feeling on leaving the confessional is frequently one of mild ecstasy, of actually feeling forgiven, of being clean.

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