Come join me Monday (October 2) at 6:30 p.m. at the Acton Public Library in Old Saybrook. The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame traveling exhibit will be on display. My lecture will pay tribute to my mother and the women (and men) who shaped her. That list includes her mother, her grandmother, two aunts. Also her father, uncles, and people who encouraged the family.
You’ll be the first to learn about new publications in the Ann Petry canon. And you’ll see a video sample from the documentary in progress.
On the most recent of my frequent trips to the dentist, Dr. Z. mentioned about the podcast of David Blight’s Yale lectures. Dr. Z is a Civil War fanatic (“buff” doesn’t half describe him). Besides serving as a re-enactor, he collects letters, photographs, weapons, uniforms, etc. He and Dione Longley poured all that and more into the magnificent Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories. On Monday, Dr. Z. said he goes to hear Professor Blight speak at every opportunity.
I had heard the professor and had read Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory but had no idea that I could revisit its genius and expand my horizons with the podcast – and the works mentioned in the syllabus. So instead of working, I listened to the introductory ’cast.
The rewards are immediate. Blight casts a wide net with the overview – broad perspectives, the voices of politicians and poets and novelists. I’m anticipating a revisit to Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry and a new acquaintance with Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches about her time as a nurse.
Like all good teachers, he’s funny – and reminded me that his main audience was undergraduates who have to be told not to be obvious if they choose to read The Yale Daily News instead of paying attention in class.
He also raised a dismaying point. He had mentioned Appomattox several times during an earlier lecture. He asked for questions at the end. The first one: “What’s Appomattox?” He did not feel the need to explain to the Yale history class.
He eased in to the subject matter with a quote from Herodotus, author of History, the first written historical narrative. It covered the wars between the ancient Greeks and the Persians. After one of his colleagues mentioned it in a talk, he received a call from a journalist at a weekly magazine. She asked about the book and the author. Then she asked, “Do you have his phone number?”
The only down side of The Civil War and Reconstruction is that it has already interfered with work projects. At least I can justify the time by saying that it’s important research for the film.
Here’s the Bannedbooks.org list for 2016. Far from being worthy of suppression, It looks like they reflect varied aspects of contemporary life.
Earlier lists included books that the ban seekers almost certainly never read. (Grapes of Wrath, Joyce’s Ulysses). One can only hope based on the number of illustrated books, that the censors actually read them. I doubt it. That “disgusting and all around offensive” comment for Make Something Up could apply to White House pronouncements and news conferences. Also, I really hope that the challenges were not based on the non-Anglo names of the authors and illustrators.
The only one that maybe shouldn’t have seen print was Little Bill, but we can’t judge books on the moral stature of the author. In that case we’d ban Mein Kampf. Other people may choose not to read these works, but don’t interfere with my right to do so.
This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.
Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
George written by Alex Gino Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
Looking for Alaska written by John Green Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell Reason: challenged for offensive language
It looks like the company that makes my contacts wants me to go blind. I picked up a new pair of lenses yesterday. That endless blah blah blah of uses, side effects, contra-indications, etc. known as the package insert caught my eye. Maybe I should say it distressed my eyes. One glance and I became convinced that Paragon Vision Sciences wants me to lose what little eyesight I have. The type was so small that I couldn’t read beyond the FP or PFP, the words “package insert,” the name of the company, and some weird looking graph. That’s with or without lenses. All that type was much larger than the rest of the content. In the address line, the “P” in “Paragon” measured less than four points on the line gauge, so the rest must be two or maybe one. I can’t replicate the type here because the point size option on the computer only goes down to eight.
An online search only produced endless promotion of curing the epidemic of myopia.
A little thought might suggest that putting an obstacle in the way of my reading would be a terrible plan since they could lose a customer who earns them $600 per pair.
Google “Ruin a Book in One Letter” and a number of options surface from the Facebook beginnings. Christy brought the fun to the veterans’ writing group tonight. A lot of laughs and break from the serious business of writing memoirs. Here is my list, more or less in order with an expansion to magazines, TV, and movies:
Another in the series. And one I read and wrote about months ago but never posted.
The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures bears no relationship to what it promised. The publishers tout Christine Kenneally’s work as a study of DNA, but the early pages contain a history of genealogy, full of anecdotes about the author’s family. The big issue it avoids because no one has answered is why? Why do people find digging into their past so intriguing, addictive even?
Kenneally does answer her question about how DNA and history shape us. As the descendant of a man deported to Australia from Ireland for stealing a handkerchief, she delves into the mystery about her ancestor. Who wouldn’t want to know more?
My personal answer to the larger question is because my ancestors are there, and they’re a mystery that needs solving to round out who I am. My mother wrote some excellent fiction around both sides of her family. We have the Lanes arriving in Hartford by boat from “Jersey” and the patriarch jumping to the dock, yelling, “Throw the baby down to me” when he thinks the boat is about to head back down river; there’s Bill Hod (Willis Howard James) who smuggled Chinese immigrants from Canada and ensured his own safety by wrapping them up and tying rocks to their feet in the event his boat was stopped. Who wouldn’t want to know more? So I dug in. Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters was the result.
On the other hand, my father’s story remains a mystery. Like Kenneally, he didn’t know who his grandfather was – well, he claimed not to know. I think he did but wasn’t allowed to speak of it. The mystery has yet to be solved. In the meantime, read Invisible History.
As regular readers know, John McPhee remains one of my favorite authors. He combines the best of subject matter and exploration of how he structures his work.
The descriptions in The Pine Barrens rival the best fiction while leading the reader on an edifying journey with the indomitable Fred Brown at the center of the constellation of friends and relatives. “A Roomful of Hovings” interlaces the story of the man who ran the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a stroll through the places where he lived and worked.
Now Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process combines earlier work with some excellent additions. The explanation for how he constructed Encounters with the Archdruid bears re-reading, if only to enjoy seeing the archdruid (the high priest of the Sierra Club) announce, “I’m chicken.”
The new material appears immediately, and it is worth the price of the book to read of McPhee’s experience working in an office next door to a massage parlor.
As solace to any writer struggling just the title Draft No. 4 offers hope. If the great Mr. McPhee has to go (at least) that long, why should the rest of us complain?
Please forgive errors. My eyes still have traces of dilation drops from today’s visit to the eye doc.
The mail brought an enlightening piece of history over the weekend. To raise funds, the Connecticut Historical Society included an image of a sampler made by an eight-year-old African American girl. I recognized it immediately.
Miranda Robinson of Saybrook sewed it in 1839. She gave it to my grandmother, Bertha James Lane. It eventually landed in my mother’s collection of antiques.
CHS name-checked both Anna Louise James and Ann Petry in discussing the provenance of the work. Mother and CHS genealogist Judith Johnson unearthed more history.
CHS acquired the sampler in 1990, and I wrote a story for the Middletown Press about it. I remember searching for her grave in hip-deep weeds at the Upper Cemetery with photographer Cathy Avalone. She took a stellar picture of Miranda R. Anderson’s grave, surrounded by weeds. The story ran, and a week or so later I paid a return visit. The entire area had been mowed and tidied. Wish all photos produced such quick results.
CHS says, “This sampler is not just an example of a young girl’s needlework skills. It is a lens through which we can better understand our fascinating past.”
In digging around for more information, I found a note in Mother’s journal that my grandmother’s autograph collection included a signature from “Aunt Rannie.” Sure enough, it was the first one in the blue velveteen book.
The image falls short as a reproduction but looks good for age 132.