Tuesday, October 21, 2014

FEELING CHEATED

A short review of George Saunders' Congratulations, By The Way:

"George," his publisher asked, "We need something for the pipeline. Got anything?" Came the reply, "Well, I did a little convocation speech that has been getting attention online, what about that?" "Hmmmm, I bet we could produce it cheaply and sell it for fourteen dollars, and your name alone would compel people to buy it. At least the libraries." And so, there you are. . . a new book. Does it really contribute anything groundbreaking, uniquely delivered, worthy of the expenditure? No. But it is a nice, quick read and the message is worthwhile. I have enjoyed his work and am likely to read anything that he puts forth---kind of like when I picked up Pat Conroy's cookbook and was pleasantly surprised---so I say, "Go ahead, spend a few minutes with this," even if I feel somewhat offended that it is a bit of a sham that put a few bucks in Saunders' pocket and a lot more in Random House's. Kind of like hearing your favorite musician is coming to town and you scrape up the money and even though their set was wonderful, they only stayed on the stage for fifteen minutes and three old standards. I even felt a little cheated by the illustrations.

Friday, October 17, 2014

RON RASH

Short-story writer, novelist, and poet Ron Rash came down to speak at the University of South Carolina at Thomas Cooper last night, and I was happily in attendance. I have much enjoyed his stories, especially Serena and Saints by the River, as well as his story collections, and it was nice to see and listen to him in person. He seemed like a professor of writing that I would enjoy taking, someone who would likely instruct firmly but kindly, encouragingly. He decried his image as a "downer" writer, though in truth there is a lot of sadness in his tales. He read two of his stories, “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out” from Nothing Gold Can Last. It covers the meeting of old friends, one a veterinarian and the other a rancher, as they try to save a breached calf. Both men served in Korea at the same time and each have dealt with loss, but they have a long-lasting friendship that is the kind that allows long silences and few words. He started his talk with sections from his funny "Waiting for the End of the World" from Burning Bright. I had read and enjoyed both stories before last night, but it is a wholly different experience listening to the author read it in person. Wonderful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

KRAKEN

Four members of the occasional Kraken crew (there are others too) who meet at the pub on third Fridays. This taken from group BCL shot.

Phil Dematteis, George Anderson, myself, and Dickson Monk

THE FAIR

It may just be me, getting old and crotchety, but I feel the South Carolina State Fair, especially its entertainment value, has fallen off immensely over the past few years. As I sat with a group of workers on a row of rocking chairs, we chatted. One had worked the fair for 52 years and had also been a school teacher. I noted that it seemed awfully quiet for a fair, and she agreed: quietest ever. There were very few music groups. Couldn't the fair managers bring in local talent and pay them a little to play at various corners of the grounds? The tented entertainment was not much better last night, although the illusionist was pretty good. Even the company displays seemed stripped down and less interesting. I did have a nice chat with the woman watching the ETV booth, hawking an oral history collection on dvd of participants in World War II. Even the political booths seemed quiet. No one visited the Haley/REP booth while I was standing nearby. The sand sculpture had moved from its normal sport, but there was nothing pretty around it, and the presentation was not as spectacular as in the past. Food, as always, was expensive. So I avoided it. The boys got their wrist bands and attacked the rides, but even they did not seem as enthralled as in years past. Luckily they met up with some schoolmates and walked around unsupervised for most of the time we were there, so I am sure they enjoyed that. Me, well, I watched people. One of my favorite things. I did enjoy the art, though only one painting this year really blew me away. I perused the student art. Watched pigs run. I didn't even ride the ferris wheel this year. The crowd was moderate, but seemed to be enjoying themselves. I love watching the little kids, some perhaps experiencing their first midway rides. That is what the fair is really all about. I kind of miss watching my boys on those rides. I was impressed by how clean it was this year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

EMPTY (haiku)

One unnerving sight,
bare and uninviting, is
an empty bookshelf.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

GONE

They live on like ghosts,
like memories of favorite things,
their last message months, even years
in the past, yet still tethered;
you wish they’d respond to a note,
or a tweet, or a vanished email,
and you wonder what has happened
to make your blog follower
disappear.

Friday, October 3, 2014

FIRST THURSDAY (OCTOBER 2014)

What a really pleasant evening for the arts in downtown Columbia last night, temperate breezes under clear skies. Accompanied by my youngest, I wandered about Main Street in search of beauty and fun. Popped in to a poetry reading/musical performances ala Mind Gravy at Free Times. Chilled with two different djs at their respective posts. Enjoyed a little sorbet (although I thought the mango flavor a bit week, almost wondering if they hadn't scooped some sort of melon). Really liked the young rock band performing near COWBOY. Saw lots of friends and others I know, and that is always nice. My son looked up at me and asked, "You know all these people?" Had a lovely chat with one of the Flannigan twins, Pat. Got to meet Imp's brother (owned by Desirae). Several coworkers were in attendance. It seemed like there was a good crowd, and the restaurants seemed full for the most part, while many folks I talked to said they went to nearby places and walked over.

Gripes? Yeah, I got those too. I really did not like anything about the Tapps art show this night. I kept thinking. . ."Are they celebrating homeless eight-year-old artists this week?" Very underwhelmed was I. Even Chimo said he hated it. But hey, different tastes, right? I also was a little bummed by the close proximity of musical performers, their sounds bleeding into one another, in some cases becoming almost co0mpeting duets. I often had to maneuver so I could block out one group so I could concentrate on another. They really need to spread them out; I felt crowded. Maybe move the jewelry and other items venders to the middle of the street, or shut off the street and push people to walk more down the center of the street. And prettier lighting would be nice.