1. AOTW: No one, really--though I can always confer the award upon myself. I can be a jerk. But perhaps I'll give it this week to a class of people--the inveterate, impatient, habitual honkers on our highways and roads, those AOTWs who simply cannot permit the tiniest portion of a second to pass if it somehow delays their progress by the tiniest amount. These AOTWs are the geese of humanity.
2. We saw a great film last night (via Netflix DVD): I Am Not Your Negro, the recent documentary about writer James Baldwin (1924-87), whose works I first started reading in the mid-60s. (Another Country blew me away!)
Anyway, we didn't know until we saw the opening credits that the film was "written" by Baldwin--viz., his published and recorded words compose virtually the whole of the screenplay. At times it's his actual voice (appearing, for example, on the Dick Cavett Show); at other times, actor Samuel L. Jackson recites his words (most effectively, I would say). Much archival footage--and much from our own recent, sad racial days, as well. There's a touching moment or two when Baldwin talks about the possibility of our ever having a black president; then we see the Obamas on his first Inauguration Day.
Powerful stuff. Those of us who came of age in the early days of the Civil Rights era can recall so much--Birmingham, Selma, Little Rock ... but younger folks, if they watch the film, will no doubt be amazed at the virulent hostility of many whites, who spat upon and cursed a black girl entering a previously all-white school.
Film is also available to stream on Amazon. Link to official trailer for the film.
3. I finished several books this week ...
- The first was The Far Music (2016), a memoir by Earle Labor, the principal Jack London scholar in the world, a gentle soul I met in in the summer of 1990 out in Rohnert Park, Calif., where he was leading a six-week summer seminar for teachers (on London) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was a life-changer for me. It was there that I began working on an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild, which I later (1995) published with the University of Oklahoma Press. Anyway, Earle and I have stayed in touch over the years, and I was happy to read and respond to a draft of Far Music a few years ago.
It's the story of Earle and his friend Pink, undergrads at Southern Methodist, who decide to take some time off (just after WW II), to work the harvests in the Central Plains, then head to the Canadian wilderness. Earle writes about helping to build grain elevators, about doing other very rough manual labor during the grain harvest season, about having some other gigs--including working at a burlesque show!
We also learn about the origins of his interest in Jack London and his emerging realizations about who he is--and what he needs to do on this earth.
It was a pleasure to hear his voice on his pages ...
- I also finished a very fine book by Michael Sims--Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes (2017). Sims interweaves several stories in this--the biography of Doyle, the emergence of the detective story (and the word detective itself, which did not appear in general English usage until the mid-19th century), and, of course, Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes, a character still cavorting around in our movies and TV shows, our novels, our plays. (See, of course, Sherlock on PBS and Elementary on CBS.)
It was an uncle who urged young Doyle to read Edgar Poe, who, of course, wrote those three tales of ratiocination featuring Dupin, the Sherlock-forefather("The Murders in the Rue Morgue," 1841; "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," 1842-43; and "The Purloined Letter," 1844). Arthur Conan Doyle was always frank and appreciative about Poe--and never claimed to have invented the genre which he perfected and which remains resolutely with us today.
Sims also tells us about the creation of the early Holmes stories, speculates about the origins of the characters' names (including, as I posted on FB last week, that Oliver Wendell Holmes, a favorite of the Doyle family, supplied the hero's surname), talks about the critical and public reaction to each of the stories, and shows us how the financially struggling young Dr. Doyle found wealth and security and celebrity through this most stunning character.
- Finally, I continued with my journey through the books of Michael Chabon with his 2002 YA novel, Summerland, a novel I wrote a bit about yesterday. I loved this book. Near the end, a couple of times, reading in the coffee shop, I wept openly--tears flowing from me as if I were a little boy who'd lost his puppy--and then the puppy raced home and leaped into his arms. (I know: a bit much. Deal with it.)
It just resonated with me in so many ways. It was about an eleven-year-old kid who became a baseball catcher (as I did), about his close friends, about his dad, whom he nearly loses (don't get me started on that), about a series of adventures in other dimensions, where time is not the same and where baseball is the way to settle disputes (!!), about the contributions made by all kinds of other creatures--like a were-fox, a Sasquatch (a female, with a heart), about the struggle with darkness and evil, about the imminent end of the world (unless our heroes win the game), about believing in yourself, about loving your friends, etc. And on and on and on.
There are direct connections to mythology and legend (including King Arthur, Thor, and others), to Tolkien's novels, to the Narnia books, to the boyhood baseball books I consumed like Cracker Jacks, to the history of the Negro Leagues, to ... about everything else I ever cared about. Including love.
As I wrote yesterday, I was wondering if my baseball-and-Tolkien-loving grandsons (8 and 12) could read the book (it's a bit sophisticated in language for the usual YA audience--but ... I'll give a copy to my son, see what he thinks).
Every now and then in my long reading life, I've come across a book that makes me believe This guy wrote this book for me. And so I felt as I wept through the closing pages of Summerland.
4. Final Word--One I liked from my various online word-of-the-day providers.
- from wordsmith.org
noun: A heavy flatiron pointed at both ends and having a detachable handle.
From sad (obsolete senses of the word: heavy, solid) + iron. Earliest documented use: 1759.
“The next day, everything was ironed with a sadiron.”
Jean Baggott; The Drama of a Very Ordinary Life; Daily Mail (London, UK); Feb 27, 2010.