Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 100

Can it be that I have written one hundred of these posts! Seems impossible--that's nearly two years' worth. Time's not flying; it's flirting with the speed of light ...

1. AOTW--At the health club Saturday, the AOTW had a locker right next to mine. When I emerged from the shower, I saw he had his stuff spread out along the entire length of the bench that's supposed to service a half-dozen lockers. He made not the slightest move to give me some room. Oh ... and there was even more bench space beyond our bench--another 20 feet or so. I handled it maturely (on the outside),and homicidally (on the inside).

2. Joyce and I had a great time on Wednesday night at the Hudson Library listening to Joanna Connors, there to read from and talk about her new book, I Will Find You (Atlantic Monthly Press), about her journalistic (and personal) investigation into the man who raped her in 1984. Joanna was also the final books editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was the finest editor I've ever worked with. We got to meet her husband; they got to meet Joyce; and Joyce took a cool picture of us together during the signing afterwards (and, yes, I was the first in line!).

3. Last night (Saturday) we sat through one of the worst films I've ever seen in my life--Mother's Day, Gary Marshall's latest multiple-story film about a holiday (Valentine's Day, 2010; New Year's Eve, 2011). I kind of liked the first one, but they have gotten progressively worse, and Mother's Day is a noisome, noxious mix of cliche and racism (yes, a token black friend!), ageism, tone-deafness (do we really care what a bunch of rich white people--oh, such problems they have!--are doing on/for Mother's Day?), and featuring no real surprise whatsoever. The "older" parents were right out of the Hollywood Cliche Book: clueless about the Internet, naughty, riding around in a mobile home, fatuous smiles on the Old Guy's face, racist and homophobic (oh, but they come around--sort of). The only fairly "wise" people in the film, of course, are the teens. It's the adults who are screwed up, not the kids (an increasingly unbearable Hollywood cliche). I sat there in disbelief at the artlessness and cultural cluelessness of the whole thing--and, of course, at my willingness to sit there and watch it all. Enjoyed Timothy Olyphant's snarky smile--that was about it. Oh, and the handful of outtakes we saw during the credits at the end--the best thing of all. The film itself? Sucked. Big Time. (Link to film trailer.)

4. Finished three books this week--well, two and a play.

  • I finally got around to reading a book by a friend I made a couple of decades ago when I was more or less a full-time resident of Jack London World. Jeanne Campbell Reesman is a fine
    scholar (Univ. of Tex., San Antonio) and has published a disquisition on Jack London's racial issues--Jack London's Racial Lives: A Critical Biography (U of Georgia P, 2009).
    • I should add that I read the book because I was going to be in Michigan doing some JL presentations and wanted to make sure I was up-to-date. I'd been meaning to read it--just hadn't gotten around to it.
    • Reesman argues that London's racial issues were more nuanced and complicated that many have believed. Yes, he has some vile books (Adventure, 1911)--and Jeanne acknowledges this bluntly (though she does not talk much about his two posthumous books, Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry, both 1917, both with some disgusting racist language and stereotypes).
    • Much she says is very, very convincing. London, pretty much an autodidact, was continually changing his attitudes based on what he'd happened to read, on where he'd happened to travel (she convincingly shows that his later South Sea tales often featured the whites as the Bad Guys, the islanders as the better human beings). Jeanne also invites us to distinguish between "racialism" and "racism"; the latter is what you think it is; the former, as she says, is "The belief that one's race is superior but not necessarily implying hatred for other races (though of course hatred could be the result) ..." (35). She believes this distinction "clarifies London's beliefs"--though I can't help feeling it's principally a scholarly distinction, one that those suffering from racial discrimination might consider a nicety (Ibid.). Or barely relevant.
    • Anyway, I enjoyed her book, learned a lot from it, softened my attitude a bit about his racial beliefs, and reinforced my great admiration for Jeanne's scholarship and thoroughness.
  • Reading that fine work recently (Lord Byron's Daughters), I came across a reference to a play by Tom Stoppard--Arcadia, a play that features Lord Byron throughout (he does not appear, but
    he is very much on the characters' minds), a play I'd not heard of before. But I ordered it, got it, read it this past week. And loved it. It premiered in London in 1993, but its relevance remains.
    • It takes place in an English summer house--in two distinct time periods: the present, the Regency era when Byron was around and was, in fact, once a house guest at this particular place, where he did (or did not?) transgress with a woman and kill another man in a duel. The action, scene by scene, shifts from one time period to the other, but by the end they're all prancing around in front of us.
    • Issues of reality, and computers, and the nature of the physical world, of literary scholarship, of sex and attraction and celebrity.
    • I thought when I began it that it might be a cool play to do with high school kids--but changed my mind. It became increasingly more esoteric as it proceeds (though funny, as well), and Stoppard requires that his audience know a bit of literary history (Byron's story, especially), and I certainly don't think we can assume that any longer ...
  • Finally, I finished yet another book by the John A. Williams, the writer who died last summer (and whom I'd never heard of until I saw his obit in the Times). He wrote a lot of nonfiction to support himself and his family between novels (which never sold well--to our shame as a reading public, I'm coming to believe), and he collects much of it here in Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing (Doubleday 1973).
    • He's divided his pieces chronologically and thematically, going back to some of his
      earliest pieces (the 1950s) to his most recent (see pub date above). He is so good. To each section and each piece he's attached a little introduction (sometimes no more than a paragraph long) telling us about the genesis of the piece, the fate of the piece (some were rejected, never printed), and I love how he, well, "tells it like it is." He rips editors, publications, the publishing industry and writes passionately about how difficult it is for him and his fellow African American writers to break through the white ceiling. One piece guaranteed to ignite your fires of frustration is his account of how he won a prestigious fellowship, then had it withdrawn (within days) when some Rich White Guys got nervous about him (Rage, rage, against the lying of the White).
    • My favorite section is the last--personal essays--to which he's appended a tight little essay about what personal writing is and how he approaches it. Love this:
      • "It's easy enough to tell how I write a Personal Essay, generally, but the specific points remain even to me a mysterious mix of individual chemistry. I do two things. I climb inside myself and check how I feel, what I see and what I think, given certain defined situations. And second, I climb out and watch myself from at distance as it were, as objectively as I can Finally, I edit the two views into alternating tight and long shots. In the end I have what I've called the Personal Essay" (355).
5. Stumbled across a term this week--contronym, a word to describe how one word (e.g., sanction) can mean two quite opposite things (in this case--to approve, to disapprove); context is all. It turns out there are quite a few of these, and they are going to be the unwilling "stars" of my next Daily Doggerel series (as soon as I finish the current one later on this Lusty Month of May.

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