Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 112

1. AOTW--This week I'm giving a collective award to an unknown (though large) number of you who seem to have formed a pact--or an organization: Let's Make Dyer Brake Hard This Week (LMDBHTW). It seemed to be once a day--or even more--that a member of LMDBHTW pulled out in front of me from a driveway or side street, turned left right in front of my face--often with no one behind me as far as the rear-view mirror could see. So, you unknown members of LMDBHTW, congratulations on being the first group AOTW (I think).

2. Last night, Joyce and went to Kent to see Star Trek Beyond, a film we both enjoyed (mostly). (Link to film trailer.) Both of us have become ever-more bored with the explosions, the Enterprise breaking apart, the endless battles and shooting and killing, but we like the interplay among a really engaging group of characters. I noticed that the script was co-written by Simon Pegg, whose films we've always loved (and laughed at). Pegg, who plays Scotty in these recent Trek reboots, is known for his Hot Fuzz and other wacko films that we love watching.

3. This week I finished the final novel published by John A. Williams (1925-2015), whose obituary last year in the New York Times alerted me to this very fine writer, of whom, I'm ashamed to admit, I'd never heard until that death notice. Anyway, I set out to remedy this by reading some of his work--ended up reading almost all of it. I did read all of his novels--as well as a couple of his nonfiction works. I may read more of the latter in the coming weeks/months, but now I'm hooked on Richard Russo and am plowing through his considerable pastures.

Here's a list of the ones I read (edited from his Wikipedia entry):

The Angry Ones (1960)
Night Song (1961)
Sissie (1963)
The Man Who Cried I Am (1967)
Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969)
Captain Blackman (1975)
Mothersill and the Foxes (1975)
The Junior Bachelor Society (1976)
!Click Song (1982)
The Berhama Account (1985)
Jacob's Ladder (1987)
Clifford's Blues (1998)

This Is My Country Too (1965)

Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing (1973)

There are also some TV show and movies based on his work (I've got copies), and when I watch them, I'll write about them here.

Meanwhile, his final novel (Clifford's Blues), takes place almost entirely in the Nazi camp at Dachau, where the eponymous Clifford Pepperidge, a gifted black jazz pianist (Williams loved jazz, wrote about it often), is confined in 1933 because of homosexuality. While he's there, Clifford keeps a secret journal, whose entries compose virtually the entire text. There is a frame story: The journal has been found, and in two letters (one at the beginning, one at the end) a character named "Bounce" writes to a friend, telling him (and us) about the journal, which "Bounce" has enclosed.

The entries begin on May 28, 1933, and end on April 28, 1945 (Dachau was liberated about that time).

While Clifford is there, a bi-sexual Nazi officer takes him into his household. Clifford plays piano for the Nazis (and provides other required services for his horror of a host). But he is able to avoid the far greater horrors suffered by the general camp population.

We learn about survival, race, sexuality, jazz, hope and hopelessness.

I won't tell you the end.

By the way, I visited and toured the site of Dachau, now a memorial and museum, during a trip through Germany in the spring of 1999. There's a McDonald's across the street.

I loved reading Williams' works, loved discovering the wide dimensions of his talent and interests. There's an NPR story about this (after his death) that says he "might be one of the most prolific writers most people have never heard of." This was certainly true for me. But no longer. (Link to NPR story.)

As far as I know, there is no full-length biography of Williams--a couple of short scholarly ones (I have them both--and will read later and report)--but I trust someone is at work on a fuller treatment of the life and writing of this most remarkable writer and man.

4. We're nearly finished (thanks to Netflix DVD) with the six episodes of The Brain, which ran on PBS in 2015. Episode 5, which we watched last night, deals with a disturbing capacity of our brain: to categorize and hate. David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist and writer and host, takes us to Nazi Germany and to Yugoslavia to see the disastrous results of this neurological phenomenon. He shows us studies that reveal how people (we!) categorize and condemn and consider less than human so many others--and we do it, often, below our awareness. Prof. Eagleman says it's "propaganda" that can solidify this capacity, can make us join together with others to ostracize and/or slaughter those who are not like us--something we've done throughout our existence on the planet. Genocide shows no signs of abating. Eagleman says that psychology and politics and history and philosophy and sociology are very helpful ways to look at the issue--but we need to look at the neuroscience, too. We can do something about it. The answer lies within.

5. A couple of words/expressions:

a. In the Sunday newspaper, Joyce read the expression on the lam, and that got us both scratching our heads--and picking up our smart phones. Turns out: lam is based on a word from Old Norse that meant beat (think: Let's beat it!--meaning get out of here).  The OED says it entered US slang about 1896 (on the lam). Now, I think, it seems confined to old gangster novels and movies!

b. Propaedeutic was on one of my tear-off word-a-day calendars this week, and I love the word, but I'd never seen it before (as far as I can remember). Not sure how I'll find a way to work it into my own writing ... but I'm a-gonna try! But I'm so slow I may never get past the propaedeutic of reading the calendar?

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