I have always been something of a fanatic about graphic novels and my collection includes Maus (which depicts the holocaust — with cats as Nazis and mice as Jews — and the two-volume set of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which is a memoir of the author’s childhood growing up during the Islamic Revolution. I also have a badly-worn copy of Alan Moore’s In Hell which is one of the most remarkable books I have ever encountered. I also have several boxes full of “undergrounds,” which are the true forerunners of the modern graphic novel. Many of them are graphic American “histories” by artists like Jack Jackson (Jaxon) and R. Crumb. Admittedly, I rarely run into people who share my appreciation for these guys.
This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More, For Young and Old Alike (Picador, 2013 reprint, $15) has minor flaws to irritate every reader. For me, the title on the dust-jacket of the original hardback was almost impossible to read, and certain sections of this “self-help” book — the chapter “How To Let A Child Die” was arrogant, sentimental, and condescending — were as annoying as a stink bug circling a light bulb.
Since I happen to love folklore and storytelling, I have always felt blessed to be a resident of Jackson County. Sitting on my front porch, I can see Black Rock, where a local law officer vanished 80 years ago while on a fox hunt. He has not been found to this day. I can see the Pinnacle, which in my childhood was supposed to be Judaculla, the slant-eyed giant of Cherokee folklore who is sleeping now. You can still make out his profile from the parking lot of the new library.
Let’s begin by noting the continuing biographical interest in writers and drinking. In my own collection are Tom Dardis’s The Thirsty Muse; Kelly Boler’s A Drinking Companion: Alcohol & The Lives of Writers; physician Donald W. Goodwin’s Alcohol and the Writer; Kaylie Jones’s Lies My Mother Told Me; Donald Newlove’s Those Drinking Days and Kingsley Amis’s Everyday Drinking, with its introduction by another renowned boozer, Christopher Hitchens. I also own various biographies of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wolfe, Millay and others, all devotees of the cult of Bacchus.
If you love epic tales that celebrate the American West; if you treasure novels like Trail of the Lonesome Dove, Edna Ferber’s So Big (Giant) and McCarthy’s Cities on the Plain, you might want to saddle up for Peace Like a River. Everything that quickens your heartbeat is here: manhunts, vicious killers, snowstorms, relentless law men, lovable outlaws, tall tales, all wrapped in a bit of Mark Twain’s “heading for the territories.”
Back in the day when the “culture wars” focused more on literature, music and movies — Tipper Gore, for example, then the wife of Al Gore, in 1985 led a crusade advocating age-appropriate labels on popular music — Christians often criticized the arts for their neglect of faith and their secular morality. Many churchgoers rejected mainstream culture altogether, turning instead to “Christian” books, films, and songs, nearly all of which were second-rate, didactic works lacking in real artistry.
I have always been drawn to authors who can seize your attention in the first paragraph and like a pit bull, refuse to let you go. Ron Rash can do that (Serena). So can Philipp Meyer (The Son). These guys are so good, they can set the hook and play you the way a seasoned fisherman handles a trout, (Whoa, that is a mixed metaphor, I guess!) for 40 pages, forcing you to abandon chores and your social life, intent on riding out what the critics call “a riveting narrative.” Well, here is another one. Let me summarize the beginning of The Kept by James Scott.
In our tell-all age of talk shows and reality television, of Facebook and Twitter, the idea that restraint and repression might contain some worth seems as antiquated a concept as arranged marriages. We revel in revelation: our bookstores are jammed with accounts by the famous and the not-so-famous regarding their sexual histories, their conquests and their defeats. Talk shows have for so long featured the weird and the bizarre that producers these days seem hard-pressed to fill airtime.
In recent years, I have developed a growing discomfort with the Internet. Services like Facebook, Amazon, Linked-in have become increasingly ... well, personal. They want to know how I am doing, mentally and physically (at times they sound like a nosy, well-meaning relative), and I am constantly being asked to take “quickie” surveys or to rate everything from Netflix movies to Amazon products. I am beginning to wonder at what point does their concern become intrusive.
Recently I returned from a trip to the library with a bagful of books. When handling these books in the library, flipping through the pages and reading the blurbs, I experienced a familiar excitement, that thrill felt by all booklovers when they find a book promising enjoyment and worth.
Later that evening, however, as I unpacked the bag along with some groceries, my earlier enthusiasm gave way to puzzlement. As I looked over the books this time, I wondered why I had selected them. What was I thinking?