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Number of posts: 43
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By Robert Lamb:
In 1991, when my first novel, Striking Out, was published, I had been gone from The Atlanta Constitution newsroom for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, the book editor then, a man whose name I do not know, recruited author Terry Kay to review my novel. Kay wrote a very perceptive review and the Sunday paper gave it prominent play. In those days, any self-respecting newspaper would have done the same for one of their own. It was sound journalism: Local boy makes good.
Move ahead to 2004, when Atlanta Blues was published. Boy, had times changed! The book editor at that time, a woman, told me she wasn’t going to review my novel. “We get 200 books a week and we simply can’t review them all,” she told me on the phone.
I asked, “How many of that 200 are set in Atlanta, are about Atlanta, have Atlanta’s name in the title, and were written by a former Atlanta resident who used to work for the Atlanta papers?”
The South is known for its unusual characters, right? They populate the novels of Southern writers like Erskine Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers. But we Southerners know, don’t we, that you don’t have to crack one of their books to find such a character’s prototype? Often they live right next door, or just down the street, or they show up at the other end of a conversation. To wit:
In sending email, I routinely include a favorite saying or famous quotation in the message’s personal signature section, at the bottom of the page. Recipients often comment on the quotations, which I change from time to time, albeit irregularly because I tend to forget they need refreshing.
When I tell people that I served in the Navy, their eyebrows go up when they hear that I was stationed in Oklahoma. For the geography-challenged, Oklahoma is landlocked. For the vocabulary challenged, “landlocked” means “cut off from the sea.” For the connections challenged, think “sailors,” then “ships,” then “oceans,” and then “Oklahoma.”
It did to me, too.
And I grew even more suspicious when my next duty station was in Jacksonville, Florida – and I still hadn’t seen a ship.
Long story short, I was in the Navy for two years – and never saw a ship!
“It was a ghost, I tell you. I seen it with my own eyes.” Glenn crossed his heart and looked from face to face around the kitchen table as Gerry shuffled the cards for the next hand.
“Saw,” Gerry said. “You saw it with your own eyes.” To the rest of us, he said, still shuffling, “Honor-roll student and can’t speak good English.” He shook his head.
News item from the Boston Globe:
“…Universities are full of trendy English professors who don’t read Shakespeare for the beauty of the poetry or its peerless insights into human nature. The point is to uncover the oppression that’s supposed to define Western culture: the racism, ‘patriarchy,’ and imperialism that must lurk beneath the surface of everything written by those ‘dead white males’ … “
I don’t believe for an instant that the Western literary canon should be changed to accommodate social and political agendas. Aesthetics shaped the canon in the beginning and should continue to shape it. Besides, art pressed into the service of a cause becomes propaganda, the aims of which are very different from those of art.
When I was about ten years old, a black woman named Claudia Thompson kept me during the day while my parents worked in the Seminole Cotton Mill in Clearwater, South Carolina. This was summertime; no school. I grew very fond of Claudia, and in concert with my mother’s disapproval of bigotry (without her even knowing what the word meant), Claudia’s love and kindness immunized me forever against racial hatred, though in that place, in that time, prejudice against blacks was part of the white child’s cultural legacy. I still remember my shock and disgust upon hearing a man, white of course, proclaim in earnest, ignorant fervor that “Niggers are just like dogs; they don’t have souls.” Poor, benighted son-of-a-bitch. I swear, I’ve come to suspect that truth is in inverse proportion to the certitude of the declaimer. But I’m straying from the subject.
We all knew the old man was dying. I say “we,” but I was too young, five or six years old, to grasp fully what dying meant. Grandpa would go and not come back — I knew that much. My pet rabbit had died, and so had Scuttle, my dog. But I knew my grandfather was dying because I heard the grownups say so again and again. They were gathered in a deathwatch there at the house in Clearwater on Highway 1 (which was always called “Grandma’s house,” never “Grandpa’s house”) and from time to time would say, nodding gravely, that the end was near. Hours, some said. A matter of days, said others. Some of them cried; all of them looked stricken. But I doubt that they knew, not then at least, that the old man also knew that he was dying. Mary Grace told me so. “He will […]
I know only sketchily what brought my father, John Lamb, from Greenville, S0uth Carolina, to Horse Creek Valley. He never talked much about his past. Only in his last year of life did he speak to me of his father, and then only two or three times. He never mentioned his mother at all. “He has never mentioned her to me, either,” my mother once told me, “but his relatives say she died when he was about nine years old. She sewed a lot, they said, and had a habit of carrying her needles stuck in her dress.” Mother poked at her chest a couple of times, as if sticking pins in her blouse. “They say the constant pricking caused a cancer of the breast and it killed her.” Dad’s father died young, too, or relatively young, 57, of pleurisy, leaving Dad an orphan at 15. Dad’s next home was […]
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