The Rush is On

Looking for Alaska
Peter Jenkins

alaskaGasoline. I couldn’t shake the thought that this entire book, if not the entire state of Alaska, existed only because of the availability of gasoline.

It was not what I’d expected when I set forth.

For decades now Alaska has loomed large in my imagination. In an earlier lifetime, when I had reconciled myself to existence as one half of a couple, I planned to travel there for my 40th birthday. Instead I got divorced.

Yet the fascination remains. At this point I’m certain my eventual Alaskan encounter will quite probably be from the deck of a cruise ship holding on to a walker. Until then, there’s always books.

Travel writing is not really a genre I seek out. When things cross my path, though, I read them. Bruce Chatwin‘s In Patagonia.  Cela‘s Journey to the Alcarria. Bill Bryson‘s A Walk in the Woods(Walking the Appalachian Trail is another long-time obsession, though one I’ve indulged in parts here and there.) It’s always been random.

Denali, the iconic Alaskan mountain (formerly Mt. McKinley).For such a big rock it's tangential to this tale.

Denali, the iconic Alaskan mountain
(formerly Mt. McKinley).
For such a big rock it’s tangential to this tale.

That randomness is long-lived. As a library-working teen I was able to preemptively grab any book that caught my eye before it went back on the shelf. That’s how I discovered Peter Jenkins. Sometime in 1979 a book entitled A Walk Across America showed up and I tore through it.

It was the right book at the right time. Like many another high school senior I felt trapped, clawing at my skin and psyche,  seeking relief anywhere but where I was. Jenkins, almost a local hailing, as he did, from Greenwich, Connecticut, showed a way out. All it took was shoe leather, a backpack and a dog.

The book was one of those pieces of post-hippie writing that searched out the good in a country where so much had gone so wrong. Jenkins focused on ordinary people and just talked, his dog Cooper walking along beside him. The book stuck with me if only because in this tale of people and promise doom struck. Cooper didn’t even make it to the end of the book. As I recall, the caption under the photo of Cooper’s burial was “Goodbye Cooper, my forever friend.” Just like Old Yeller, I cried.

Even the less snowy parts of Alaska suggest to me things that may only be seen once in a lifetime.

Even the less snowy parts of Alaska suggest to me things that may only be seen once in a lifetime.

I read the sequel, A Walk West and, except for that caption which occasionally surfaced in memory, stopped thinking about the book and its author. Then the Alaska book showed up priced at a buck. I had to grab it.

So what do you get for a buck? What I didn’t get was some jolt of recognition. How can I politely say this? Jenkins isn’t a stylist. Some writers you can identify from a random passage, some pen lines that stick in your memory like a vine or burr. Jenkins mode is more conversational, focused on telling you about the people he encounters.

This time he’s brought an entourage. No longer a young man (hey, I can say that, it applies here, too), Jenkins is divorced, remarried and has children from both marriages. He now lives in Tennessee which I think is where Cooper also rests.

The Jenkin's home base: Seward, Alaska, pop. 3000. Mountains, sea, dark, cold, midnight sun. As good a place as any to get the full Alaska experience.

The Jenkins’ home base: Seward, Alaska, pop. 3000. Mountains, sea, dark, cold, midnight sun. As good a place as any to get the full Alaska experience.

It’s not easy to walk away from such infrastructure and so at the outset the Jenkins family–all  6 of them–head north to live for a year. As the book progresses that slims down to a nuclear unit of three but there’s a constant coming and going that almost makes you forget it’s a hike from anywhere to Alaska.

Yet it is and, as in other Alaska tomes, once you get  there every place you want to go is another hike from where you are. The Jenkinses plant themselves in Seward, on Resurrection Bay about two hours south of Anchorage.  Jenkins, though, is still a roamer, and so he’s often driving very long distances or sitting in a small plane wondering about landing. Alaska’s bush pilots are infamous for handling an environment unsupported by, and inhospitable to, the sort of technological support small plane pilots enjoy in the lower 48.

Jenkins is also no longer a random kid with a backpack. NPR, at least the local branch, saw him coming and, although it’s offered as an aside, he also evidently took on a side gig as a visiting writing prof. The point is, Alaska, despite being nearly three times bigger than Texas and 4 times California, is so sparsely populated that it’s a small town. The locals know he’s coming.

A child's rattle made by the Haida people of southeastern Alaska. The anthropologist in me wants to experience this Alaska.

A child’s rattle made by the Haida people of southeastern Alaska. The anthropologist in me wants to experience this Alaska.

So Jenkins has entrée that you and I will never have. We see him on a fishing expedition in the southeastern portion of the state with a gang of legislators who are native Americans. That enables a side trip to Haida with a personal guide few of us would just chance to meet. He even spends a week deep in the back country–in March–with a family that has built a life 60 miles from the nearest town and road.

Jenkins is at his best with these people when he largely lets them speak for themselves. Everyone has a story and he lets them tell theirs to weave a tapestry of Alaskan life. The land, vast, unyielding, even dangerous, is always there. And while there’s plenty of time spent on the landscape it somehow feels secondary.

In other books about Alaska, say John McPhee‘s Coming Into the Country,  I got a much stronger sense of the interplay between humans and nature. In this book, nature is always there but it’s something to be considered or taken as a given or so awesome we ought to pay more attention. This might not be his intention but I felt like I was in cathedral meeting the congregants rather than experiencing the unity of building and community.

There's a sign you won't see every day.

There’s a sign you won’t see every day.

That brings me back to the gasoline. Planes. Boats. SUVs. Snow machines (snowmobiles to us tenderfeet) and 4-wheelers (ATVs in these parts) abound. No matter who we encounter, no matter how close they live to the land, they   burn a lot of gasoline. I feel downright responsible in my fossil fuel consumption after this read.

I could pick nits about padding and picking on the helpless which might raise objections. In the end those are not major issues. If Cooper saved the first books for me, the loss of Jenkins mother–which predates the move to Alaska but figures in the telling–sits prominently in this one.

It’s a place we all come to eventually, unlike Alaska. Or maybe that vast emptiness is the same thing,



In Walked Bud

Too Soon to Tell
Calvin Trill

too_soonI’ve visited with Calvin Trillin before and it’s usually a reliably enjoyable sojourn. The man is one of the more amusing fellows to peck at a typewriter, especially when the subject is food and/or travel.

Trillin is also one of those guys who is too versatile to be believable. Just when you think you’ve got him pigeon-holed as a humorist, you pick up his Civil Rights era Continue reading

Back in the Garage

Little pink houses have been known to come with built-in bullshit detectors.

Little pink houses have been known to come with built-in bullshit detectors.

We come from garageland….

Roget, were he alive, might be persuaded to list authentic as a synonym of garage.

That thought occurred to me this week as I crisscrossed the back roads of LSD. Prompted, as I often am, by a particular song I realized that there is one genre that Continue reading

The Living is Easy

DE_Beach_codeEndless Summer

Comes the middle of August, when the days are noticeably shorter and the light is longer and yellower, I yearn for the beach.  With the water at its warmest and the crowds beginning to thin there’s no better place to be.

Maybe next year I’ll kick  summer off with music. This year, I was set to thinking by a Mark Spitz post on Salon. Spitz has a late summer ritual built around a Continue reading

The Values that we had Once Upon a Time

Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties
Murray Kempton

time_kemptonIf print media are dinosaurs then newspapers are  apatosauruses .

But I grew up with these now-lumbering beasts. We were a two-paper a day household and my first job was delivering the now long-defunct Long Island Press, a broadsheet like the Times. Our competitor was Newsday.

I don’t know why we were a Press household. We also took the Daily News and that was the paper I preferred–it had better (and more) comics, including Bill Gallo in the sports section. Like Newsday, it was Continue reading

Fruit of Sweating Golden Inca

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion
Charles F. Walker

TupacWhat do a dead rapper, a failed group of urban guerillas and colonial era insurrectionists have in common? Stick around, you’ll find out.

History grabbed hold of my imagination more strongly than fantasy ever did. And if it happened in the western hemisphere I was on top of it. I honestly can’t keep all the dynastic nonsense and interminable warring of Europe Continue reading

Upside Down

Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images no infringement intended

Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
no infringement intended

When I was trying to get into the  ad business I quickly learned to be shameless. Wallflowers and polite young people taught to say Mr. and Ms. were at a distinct disadvantage.

So I changed my ways in order to get someone, anyone, with a job in advertising to hire me. A friend of a friend worked for legendary copywriter Tom Messner, pictured at right, who was part of an attempt to reconstitute the Tuesday Team, that group of top shelf ad guys who created Continue reading

When Your Bird is Broken

That Girl from Arizona

LRWhen it comes to writing about music I seem to find myself stuck in the 70s. Maybe it’s easier to make sense of the songs I’ve been listening to  for most of a lifetime.

Or maybe I just can’t stand today’s Swedish-produced pop music.

In any case, no female performer from my teen years stands out more than Linda Ronstadt. More than once I’ve referred to her as the first Mexican-American girl I ever had a crush on. That ethnic bit is true. The Ronstadts were immigrant farmers from Continue reading

From Diego to tha Bay

Where I Was From
Joan Didion

Didion-WhereOver the course of my life I have, on more than one occasion, had the opportunity to meet a ‘native’ Californian, a rare breed that harkens back to covered wagons and geographic touchstones in the middle of nowhere in a way that certain New England families, even those of what might be termed a lesser station, trace their origins to the Winthrop Fleet or the Mayflower.  So aligned are the tales that one wonders whether the proper way into either is through a frame labelled immigration, flight or protest.

There’s a reason that paragraph reads the way it does that I’ll come back to. For the moment let us turn to this early 21st century work by Joan Didion, formally Joan Didion Dunne,  which she published in the year of her husband’s death. That event led Continue reading

It’s a Gas Gas Gas

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Michael Lewis


In a perfect storm of coincidence the subject of this book was legitimized the week I finished reading it. Legitimacy is welcome since this is a tale, in part, about selling the immeasurable as the irreplaceable even though what it may really be about is behavior that is irredeemable.

That’s a lot of  words starting with im- and ir-. If I were you I’d be wondering just what had gotten  ahold of me.

The subject, once again, is Wall Street. Most of the time I Continue reading

I Must be Rhythm Bound

The Anthologist
Nicholson Baker

AnthologistI had novel-reading days. Great heaps of literary fiction inhaled at a ferocious rate. Then I stopped and I’m still not sure why.

Maybe I got to a point where the thrill of the first encounter was gone.  Maybe I was dismayed, having burned through all the writers I’d discovered whose work resonated with me. Maybe feeling I was always missing something finally caught up with me and I gave up.

So I stopped almost cold turkey. There were a few false starts, moments when I hoped I’d encountered a new voice–maybe one more Continue reading

Running into the Sun

The  Best American Sports Writing 2015
Wright Thompson, Guest Editor; Glenn Stout Series Editor

Best_Sports_15Cutting corners. It’s what we do to survive.

And yet I have a suspicion that doing so doesn’t sit easily with many of us. In my own case, blessed with the near-eidetic ability to recall every flub and deliberate act of incompleteness, it’s a glued-on hairshirt. Others, I  hope, have saner ways of coping.

Perhaps that explains the general  fascination with sports. I have said before that I have a complete inability Continue reading

My Grammar Ain’t So Good

grammarTrue confession: most of what I know about grammar starts with ABC. That’s why this post about language will devolve into math.

I’m certain that would be unwelcome news to the Sisters of St. Joseph who did everything in their power to make the prescriptive case for language. Their chosen texts, as I recall, were arranged in numbered sections, like a technical Continue reading

It’s Memorial Day: A Six Pack and Playlist

Park_Ridge_Memorial_Day_Parade,_May_2012On Monday morning, like many Americans in many towns, I’ll wander down the block with my son to watch the Memorial Day parade. For him it will be about the candy the paraders throw at the crowd (and it is a crowd). For me, though. it’s always about something more profound.

War is an ugly word. It draws out the worst in us and Continue reading

An Old Man Kind and Wise with Age

Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author
Herman Wouk

Wouk_SailorAfter my mom died my dad took on more charitable activities. Already involved in Parish Outreach, he adopted, seriatim, a string of what he sometimes referred to as his “old ladies.”  The first of these was Ida.

Ida lived about 5 blocks from my dad, in a tiny house on a neat lot that I remembered from my childhood because my grandparents lived across the street. I have no childhood Continue reading

Amber Waves of Grain

The Pit
Frank Norris

the_pitOpen outcry. It may be the romance in finance, to turn the old Tiny Grimes lyric on its head,

Readers of a certain age may not even recognize the term. But from the earliest days at the buttonwood tree until about 10 years ago open outcry was a way, and for a very long time the only way, traders communicated with each other. A trading floor in full roar may be the ultimate Continue reading

And Men Plunder

Plunder and Deceit: Big Government’s Exploitation of Young People and the Future
Mark R. Levin

plunderEver since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed getting a package in the mail. Paradoxically, the mystery contained in the big envelope or box remains even when I’ve place the order myself.

So when I found a Jiffy bag on my doorstep one day last fall I was intrigued. I hadn’t ordered anything. What could Continue reading

Science is Mankind’s Brother

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012
Dan Ariely, Guest Editor; Tim Folger, Series Editor

Best_science_12Human beings love patterns. We seek them even when they don’t exist. So I’m not in alien territory when I wonder whether the pattern I’m stuck in with these science annuals is reading them at 12- to 18-month  intervals or picking volumes from  years divisible by two.

More likely there’s no pattern at all although I do have a common reaction which is that I cheat myself by not Continue reading

Turning Rebellion Into Money

Has it Come to This?
Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time


The streetscape that defined an era. You can’t go back again. East 14th Street at 3rd Avenue, I think.
Photo (c) Ann Sanfedele and borrowed from Jeremiah Moss’s inspired blog ‘Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York’ with apologies. Click the shot to visit this fabulous site.

The first kid I knew who listened to punk rock was Danny Perlowitz. I have a distinct memory of him in 1978 bouncing on the balls of his feet, clad in a leather jacket that never came off and blue jeans, making his way through a crowded high school Continue reading

There is a Road

Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu
Trans. by Stephen Addis & Stanley Lombardo

taoThere are three books I reread in more or less constant rotation. While you’ll never see them written about here they mean the world to me and keep me sane.

This is not one of those books.

It is however the basis for one of those books. More importantly, it is one of those books lying at the core of human civilization that we really ought to read. Think of the Continue reading

Social Structure Seemed a Simple Thing

Selected Works of Herbert Blumer: A Public Philosophy for Mass Society
Herbert Blumer, Stanford M. Lyman and Arthur J. Vidich, Eds.


If you wait long enough, everything comes around again.

At least that’s how it seems to me. Those long gaps between acquiring a book and actually reading it are just me waiting for the zeitgeist to align with the author at hand and my interest of the moment.

So as soon as I picked up Blumer there he was in The New Yorker. Well not him, of course–Herbert George Blumer’s Continue reading

The Ghost of a Romance

Indian Summer
William Dean Howells

Indian_SummerI was raised on classic romantic comedies. True, you couldn’t escape the endless stream of WWII movies in constant rerun, but if there was a choice Mom always picked the chick flick. Which is why I have a weakness for the form.

William Dean Howells has convinced me that before we Continue reading

I’ve Got the Fever

Fever Pitch
Nick Hornby

fever_pitchI hate to say this, but I think my mom was wrong.

Growing up my mom was the reader in the house even though the demands on her time had reduced that to mostly newspapers and magazines with the occasional book borrowed from the local library.  The hard evidence was locked away in an antique oak bookcase with a glass door that lived in the basement. There stood several Continue reading

Ready to Tear Up the World

Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

Wolf_HallI grew up lost in historical fiction. Johnny Tremain,  was big. So was The Link Boys, set in London a bit earlier than 1700.  I can’t explain the fascination. I only know it faded sometime after I read Ragtime. Too many coincidences for one family, I thought.

And so, when I read a profile of Hilary Mantel I wondered what the fuss was about. In part it was the Continue reading

Oh Mickey You’re So Fine

The Reversal
Michael Connelly

reversalHere’s my crime fiction trifecta: Los Angeles, murder and an Irish Catholic writer. There’s something about the City of Angels and writers raised in such self-identified ethnic homes that makes for an entertaining read.

At least for me and at least when the writer is James M. Cain.

Or Michael Connelly. Continue reading

History Never Repeats

This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff

this_timeLong ago I took a class in economic history. It was taught in the history department, by visiting faculty not terribly well versed in economics.

Let me qualify that last  bit. Not terribly well versed in the quantitative, equation-driven neo-classical post-Samuleson economics most often taught in the Econ Continue reading

Could Spark Up Nostalgia

FramptonFrampton Comes Alive 
Peter Frampton
Originally Released: 1976

More than a few decades back it seemed like every high school-aged white kid in America was issued the same five albums. On Long Island, there was a bonus sixth record.

I owned most of them but even if you didn’t you couldn’t escape. None of us could and in certain precincts of the FM dial you still Continue reading

A Man With A Calling

The Charm School
Nelson DeMille

Charm_SchoolReturn with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. No, not the wild west, or even The Wild, Wild West, but to the days of East versus West.  Around these parts vacation means light reading and nowadays Cold War thrillers seems downright quaint.

This time Mr. DeMille takes us a little farther afield than Long Island, the site of the last Cold War tale we read from him. If you’ve been here before you know that one  of my Continue reading

Cos’ it Runs in the Family

The Politics of the Family and Other Essays
R. D. Laing

polticsI first encountered the title of this book’s central essay in college where it was used to label one of the courses in the nascent Women’s Studies curriculum. I sat in on a session, and opted not to take the class, but I did pick up a useful phrase and concept.

Eventually a First Edition of the original fell into my hands and I dove in. I already knew who R.D. Laing was. At a formative stage–actually I think I’m eternally in a Continue reading

I Ran So Far Away

Readling Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi

Reading“There ain’t no such thing as a coinky-dinky.” I’m pretty sure Tennessee Ernie Ford, playing Cousin Ernie on “I Love Lucy,” said that. And whether or not I scrambled the facts in my Cuisinart of a memory, I think I’ve always sort of taken it as received wisdom.

So much so that I went to graduate school to get a degree in why that shouldn’t be so. Yet I remain the superstitious Continue reading

By Night Beware

Night Vision
Randy Wayne White

12v6_Night-VisionThere are probably worse jobs than professional fishing guide. Sun, sea, fish, fun.

I suppose, though, if the fish aren’t biting the customers might get unhappy. And bad weather probably directly affects your income. But all in all it’s like the bumper Continue reading

Another Year Over

The Year in Music: A Titular PlaylistLP

Earlier this year I started using song lyrics to title my posts. The first time was a fluke. But since I drive people crazy with lyrics I kept it up as a challenge to myself.

I’ve taken some time off to repair and enjoy my family. So the writing has diminished but the listening never does. So here’s a year-end present for you: a play list (on Spotify and Continue reading

A Walk on the Slippery Rocks

Memoirs of Socrates & The Symposium
Xenophon (trans. by Hugh Tredennick)

xenophonI feel sorry for philosophy majors.

Because somehow, somewhere along the line, philosophers came to be the whipping boys and girls of higher education. Who’d have thought it would ever come to that?

Quite some time ago, as a freshman, I had to take a year- Continue reading

There’s a Rat in Mi Kitchen

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
John le Carré

tinker tailorEspionage. It’s probably one of the cooler words we English speakers borrowed from the French even if we’ve had a word with a similar sounding root bouncing around since 1200 or so. (For the curious, that word is espy.)

A great word ought to serve a great purpose and so it does. At least when it comes to the 20th century version of the craft. You could be forgiven for thinking that the practice somehow emerged full-blown from the foreheads of the US and Soviet governments after Continue reading

The Music Goes ‘Round and Around

MusicophiliaMusicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Oliver Sacks

Earlier this year, at the age of 82, Oliver Sacks passed away.  Along with Lewis Thomas (and, arguably, Benjamin Spock) he broke down the doors between the high priesthood of medicine and the poor supplicants who require medical help.

Sacks was a neurologist  whose notoriety grew over the last 4 decades or so as he published case studies of his most interesting patients. If the old saw is that medicine is as much an art as a science, Sacks did his best to live up to that. His writing was never fussy and while he never Continue reading

Soft be Her Tears

Le-TricoloreParis grieves and I do with her.

It seems pointless to stick to a normal schedule in the wake of such madness. Those of us who were in Manhattan on a September morn fourteen years ago know too well the shock, sadness and anger Paris is experiencing.

Paris is the world city I know best after New York. I’ve rambled all over its streets, ridden the Metro to points more distant, relaxed in its cafes and ambience. It is difficult to remember that the City of Light has often seen, as it is seeing now, war.

War is a harsh word, one Mssr. Hollande, I am sure, chose carefully.  But it is the apt word. The grand strategists, the students of von Claussewitz and von Metternich, like to say war is diplomacy by other means. But what if diplomacy is not the desired end?

Because before there was grand strategy there was harsh reality: war imposes a cost in blood and treasure so high that at some point it forces a change.  That is the goal that terror seeks, expending lives to take lives in the quest of who knows what end. The logic of war–the lesson of the century just past–is that halfway measures don’t even achieve halfway results.

I fear for the children, my own included. The world seems unlikely to cooperate in delivering security.  I hope for the best but the madness of this moment seems too deep.

For now, I mourn with Paris.



Food for the Thinkers

Young_A-TECHNIQUEA Technique for Producing Ideas
James Webb Young

Like everyone, okay, like many people I know, there are days when I doubt the choices I’ve made. I’m talking about the big choices and among the biggest is what I’ve chosen to do to earn my bread.

On the best of days–and oh how I wish there were more of those–I’m pretty certain I could have made another choice. But I’m also pretty certain that the Continue reading

Sugar and Stress

The Trouble with Testosterone
And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament
Robert M. Sapolsky


Last I looked,  Mighty Mouse had little to do with science.

Yet an editor agreed to use his image on a book cover–and a science, no, not just a science, a biology book cover at that–for a reason. And it wasn’t just to crack me up.

(It probably was intended to draw my attention to the book on the shelf. Alas for the bean-counters and the Continue reading

La Mer

The Outlaw Sea: A  World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime
William Langewiesche


Who remembers this favorite grade school question: Which direction do all rivers run? The answer: to the sea.

Strictly speaking that’s wrong. It’s the word all that messes everything up. But in a more general sense it’s true because no matter how you slice it, this big, blue ball is blue because there’s more water on it than land.

William Langewische wants us to know just how much water that is. While he’s at it, he’d also like us to Continue reading

Change is Hard

The Ordeal of Change
Eric Hoffer

The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer

Imagine this if you can.

Suppose you were a fan of Sunday-morning talking-head shows. Or maybe its easier to picture yourself as the type who prefers a weeknight alternative, say Charlie Rose or the PBS News Hour.

Whichever, I’m sure you have some sense of who you’d expect to see. There’s a great leveling force at work on those shows such that  academicians, experts and everyone Continue reading

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted

H_is_for_Hawk_coverH is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

The Pope was in town while I was reading this book.  So I had plenty of opportunity to contemplate just how inventive human beings can be when they set their mind to it. How otherwise to account for so many disparate viewpoints finding a common advocate in Francis?

It’s the same with books, as any honest English professor would tell you.  It’s just that sometimes the blank slate the book offers is more apparent than others. In the present case you might say that the Continue reading

Don’t Go Back to Rockville

Nelson DeMille

Let me state the obvious: there is no song lyric about Spencerville, at least that I’m aware of. And so I find myself stretching to make a completely unrelated burg serve as a stand-in so I can maintain a conceit about post titles.

Well, I had to fail sometime. And since none of this has Continue reading

Everybody Eats (When They Come to My House)

McWilliams_RevolutionA Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food
Shaped America
James E. McWilliams

New England Boiled Dinner. Can there be four more fearsome words in the English language? I grew up in a boiling household and the idea of enshrining that flavor-destroying technique  in the name of the meal strikes terror in my tummy.

So you can imagine my confusion when confronting a litany of the typical New England kitchen garden circa 1700 or so. This is just a patial list of things I didn’t expect to see: leeks, currants. mint, asparagus. artichokes, basil, garlic, Continue reading

The Things That We’ve Learnt

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004pinker_best Steven Pinker, Guest Editor; Tim Folger, Series Editor

Birds. I can’t help it, they irk me even though I love birdsong. But as creatures, unh unh. Count me out. What with their unblinking eyes and ability to poop on me from above. I just know they’re waiting to take the planet back.

Which is why I’m shamefaced to point out that the most enjoyable piece of writing in this decade-or-so old Continue reading

A Walk-on Part in the War

the-end-of-the-battleThe End of the Battle
Evelyn Waugh

My tombstone was going to read, “Never Tweeted. Never Texted. Never Wrote a Blog. He was a Human Being.” Having failed  on all three fronts there’s no alternative but the former front-runner: “Never Saw Star Wars.

That didn’t keep me from seeing the rest of the original trilogy. I’m just not a lunatic completist, even if that means Continue reading

(Ain’t but) One Way Out

Wendell_HolmesWendell Holmes

In my current suburban dad existence the things I used to be on  top of take longer to find me. So it was almost two months before word of Wendell Holmes‘ passing made its way onto  my radar screen. He was only 71.

Wendell was the guitar player in The Holmes Brothers, a blues trio–sometimes a Continue reading

Rocket Man

It's always best to begin at the beginning. Sun Ra and co in 1955.

It’s always best to begin at the beginning.
Sun Ra and co in 1955.

What did rebels do before Elvis? And what happened to them once he arrived? Some, I think, reconnected with their home planet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The place to start is Birmingham, Alabama in the second decade of the 20th century. In the year that Europe began its descent into madness, the Blount family welcomed their Continue reading

Come on in my Kitchen

LoomisIn a French Kitchen:
Tales and Traditions of Everyday Cooking in France

Susan Hermann Loomis

A modest proposal : let’s make a simple one-word tweak to the national motto of France. Henceforth let us speak of liberté, égalité, pâtisserie

I suppose, though, that if push came to shove I’d be willing to restrict the use to cookbooks and slice-of-life tales. Or, as is the case with Susan Loomis’ book, titles that are both at the same time.

Publishing, as I’ve said repeatedly, is a for-profit business although publishers might Continue reading

Brothers (in Arms)

In some arenas, brotherhood works.

In some arenas, brotherhood works.

I find it hard to concentrate these days. I’m unable to finish even the simplest book. And the meaty stuff is stacking up ever higher. All signs of drawing too close to the borders of darkland, which is understandable but undesirable.

So I turn for solace, as ever, to music. And what prompts me to attempt writing today is a post from back in May on Every Record Tells a Story. That piece brought to my attention an incident I didn’t know about: a dust-up between Dave Davies and Mick Avory Continue reading

Hey, Baby, It’s the Fourth of July: A Six Pack and Playlist

Flag stampDespite myself, I am terribly sentimental about the Fourth of July. Without disrespecting anyplace else, it’s a singular privilege to live in this grand, glorious mess of a nation which is still, as far as I know, the only one built on an idea.

There are two things that make at least this American proud. One is the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics when after watching nation after homogeneous nation march by the US contingent rolls in, a fabulous mosaic of all the types of people who are just like the rest of us (only faster or stronger or more coordinated, it is the Olympics after all). The other is in the music this Continue reading