First Quarter Reading List

People ask me what I’m reading. Here’s what I’ve gotten through in the first quarter of 2015:


(1) William Sanders. Are We Having Fun Yet? American Indian Fantasy Stories. (2002) [SS

(2) Scott Russell Sanders. Earth Works: Selected Essays. (2012) [ESS

(3) Joseph Heywood. Buckular Dystrophy (2015) [Submission Draft]

(4) Sarah Bakewell. How To Live, or A Life of Montaigne: In One Question and Twenty Attempts At An Answer. (2010) [BIO]

(5) Diane Osen. The Book That Changed My Life: Interviews With National Book Award Winners. (2002) [NF]

(6) Sarah Smith. Chasing Shakespeare. (2003)

(7) Kenn Kaufman. Kingbird Highway. (1997) [NF]

(8) Toshihiko Kobayashi. Insight Track – To Become an Internationally- Minded Person (2014) [NF]

(9) Hector St.John De Crevcoeur. Letters From An American Frontier and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. (1782) [NF]

(10) Thomas de Quincey. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings. (1821) [NF]

(11) Jose Saramago. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. (1984)

(12) Joseph Heywood. Covered Waters. (2015) [NF-Memoir]

(13) Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy. (2014) [NF]

(14) Robert Shelton. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. (1986/2010) [NF]

(15) David Levering Lewis. God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215. (2008) [NF]

(16) Martin Walker. The Resistance Man. (2013)

(17) John Straley. Cold Storage, Alaska. (2014)

(18) Troy Soos. Hunting A Detroit Tiger. (1997/2013)

(19) George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfield, Dan Gunn, and Lois More Overbeck. The Letters of Samuel Beckett. 1957-1965. (2014) [NF]

(20) William Alexander. Flirting With French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart. (2014) [NF]

(21) Cheryl Strayed. Wild. (2013) [NF]

(22) Arturo Perez-Reverte. The Siege. (2013)

(23) Robert Harris. The Fear Index. (2012)

(24) Garrett Epps. American Epic. Reading the U.S. Constitution. (2013) [NF]

(25) Harriet Elinor Smith, Ed. Autobiography of Mark Twain. (2010) [NF]

(26) Adam Gopnik. Paris to the Moon. (2000) [NF]

(27) Philip K. Dick. The Man in the High Castle. (1962)

(28) Philip K. Dick. Confessions of a Crap Artist. (1975)

(29) Philip K. Dick. The Game-Players of Titan. (1963)

 (30) William Alexander. Flirting With French: How A Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart. (2014) [NF]

(31) Sarah Blakewell. The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict: At Life Of Jorgen Jorgenson. (2005) [NF]

(32) Bob Dylan. Chronicles, Vol I (2005) [NF]

(33) Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose. Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America. (2003) [NF]

(34) MFK Fisher. How To Cook A Wolf. (1942) [NF]

(35) Donald Barthelme. Sixty Stories. (1981) [SS]

(36) S.E. Gontarski, Ed. Samuel Becket: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989. (1995) [NF + SS]

(37) Stanislaus Joyce. My Brother’s Keeper. James Joyce’s Early Years. (1958) [NF]

(38) Laura Hildenbrand. Unbroken. (2010) [NF]

(39) John Darnton, Intro. Writers [on Writing]:  Collected Essays from the New York Times. (2001) [NF]

(40) Milan Kundera. The Art of the Novel. (1986) [NF]

(42) Samuel Beckett. More Pricks Than Kicks. (1934/1972) [SS]

(43) C.J. Ackerley and S.E. Gontarski. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett:A Reader’s Guide to His Work, Life, and Thoughts. (2004)

(44) Sarah Blakewell. The Smart: The Story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Unfortunate Perreau Brothers. (2001) [NF]

(45) Martin Walker. Bruno, CHIEF OF POLICE.(2008)

(46) Martin Walker. The Crowded Grave.(2011)

(47) Jim Harrison. The Boy Who Ran To The Woods. (2000) [Kidlit]

(48) John Gardner. The Art of Fiction. (1981) [NF]

(49) Adam Gopnik. Winter: Five Windows on the Season. (2011) [NF]

(50) Adam Gopnik. Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. (2009) [NF]

(51) Emily St.John Mandel. Station Eleven. (2015)

(52) W. Somerset Maugham. A Writer’s Notebook. (1949) [NF]

(53) Phillip Lopate. Against Joie De Vivre: Personal Essays. (1989) [NF]

(54) Alistair Horne. Seven Ages of Paris. (2002) [NF]

(55) Alistair Horne. La Belle France: A Short History. (2004) [NF]

(56) Donald Hall. Life Work. (1993/2003) [NF]

(57) Laurence Stern. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. (1978)

(58) Edward Rutherford. The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga (2004)

(59) Flann O’Brien. The Third Policeman. (1967)

(60) Italo Calvino. Marco Valdo or the Seasons in the City. (1963)

(61) Italo Calvino. The Baron in the Trees. (1957)

(62) William H. Gass. Omensetter’s Luck. (1966)

(63) Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice. (2009)

(64) Nicholas Carr. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us (2014) [NF]

(65) John Gardner(Foreward by Raymond Carver) On Becoming a Novelist. (1983) [NF]

(66) Robert Coover. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waurgh, Prop. (1968)

(67) Donald Hall. Fathers Playing Catch With Sons (Essays on Sport, Mostly Baseball) (1985) [NF]

(68) Edward Dolnick. Down The Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon.(2001) [NF]

(69) Joseph Heywood. Brown Ball. (UNPUBL MS)

(70) Joseph Heywood. Harder Ground. (2025) [SS]

(71) Henry Barbusse. Under Fire. (2010/1916)

(72) Tom Chiarella. Writing Dialogue. (1998)  [NF]

(73) Susan G. Wooldridge. Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life  With Words. (1996) [P]

(74) Alastair Fowler. Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature. (2012) [NF]

(75) Kenneth Burke. A Grammar of Motives. (1945) [NF]

(76) Ray Bradbury. Bradbnry Speaks: Too Soon From the Cavae, Too Far From the Stars. (2005) [NF]

(77) Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception. (Pre-1923) [NF]

(78) David Brooks. Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. (2000) [NF]

(79) Roger Angell. Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader. (1991) [NF]

(80) Roger Angell/ Intro by Richard Ford. Game Time: A Baseball Companion. (2003) [NF]

(81) Christopher Hitchens. Hitch 22: A Memoir. (2010) [NF]

(82) Christopher Hitchens. The Portable Athiest: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliver. (2007) [NF[

(83) Mors Kochanski. Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival. (1987) [NF]

(84) Robert Haight. Emergencies and Spinnerfalls.  (2002) [P]

(85) Robert Haight. Feeding Wild Birds. (2013) [P]

(86) Robert Hicok. The Clumsy Living. (2007) [P]

(87) Dave Dempsy and Jack Dempsey. Ink Trails: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Authors. (2012) [NF]

(88)Patrick Robinson. Slider: A Novel. (2002)

(89) Daniella Martin. Edible: An Adventure Into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet.  (2014) [NF]

(90) Thomas McGuane. Crow Fair. (2015) [SS]

(91) Stanley Elkin. Van Gogh’s Room At Arles. (1993)

(92) Stanley Elkin. The MacGuffin. (1991)

(93) Stanley Elkin. Cries & Kibitzers, Kibiztzers & Cries. (1965) [SS}

(94) Jim Harrison. The Big Seven: A Faux Mystery. (2015)

(95) Jim Harrison. The Great Leader: A Faux Mystery.  (2011)

(96) Laurence Sterne. The Life and Opinions of Tritram Shandy, Gentleman. (1757)

(97) Michel Faber. The Book of Strange New Things. (2014)

(98) Joseph Heywood. Covered Waters: Tempests of a Nomadic Trouter. (2015) [NF]

(99) Juhani Pallasmaa. The Thinking Hand: Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture. (2009) [NF]

(100) Henry Hitchings.The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English. (2008) [NF]

(101) A. Bartlett Giamatti. The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic. (1966) [NF]

(102) Joseph Heller. Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here. (1998) [NF]

(103) A. Bartlett Giamatti. Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games. (1989) [NF]

(104) A. Bartlett Giamatti. A Great and Glorious Game. (1998) [NF]

(105) George F. Will. Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball. (1990,2010) [NF]

(106) Clive James. Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.(2014) [NF]

(107) Nick Hornby. Fever Pitch. (1992) [NF]

(108) Virginia Woolf. A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts From the Diary of Virginia Woolf.  [1953] [NF]

(109) Ann Hood. An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life. (2004) [SS]

(110) Franco Moretti. The Way of The World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. (1987) [NF]

(111) Kevin Smokler. Bookmark Now; Writing in Unreaderly Times.  (2005) [NF]

(112) Jeanette Winterson. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. (1995) [NF-Essays]

(113) P.G. Wodehouse. The Code of the Woosters. (1938)

(114) Thomas Pynchon. Crying of Lot 49. (1965)

(115) A. Bartlett Giamatti. A Free and Ordered Space: The Real World of the University. (1976) [NF]

(116) Franco Moretti. Distant Reading. (2013) [NF]

(117) Arthur Koestler. Darkness at Noon. (1940) [NF]

(118) Arthur Koestler. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe. (1959) [NF]

(119) David Benioff. City of Thieves. (2008)

(120) Clive James. Cultural Cohesion. (2013) [NF]

(121) John Fortunato. Dark Reservations: A Mystery. (Pre-Pub, 2016)

Mental Illness, Air Tragedy, and Various Off-Piste Mind Wanderings

Germanwings Flight 9525 and its 150 dead: What is there to say? If the copilot drove the Airbus into the mountains with suicidal intent, and that certainly seems to be the case, we’re left with a kind of psychic huffing and puffing over the outcome, and fretting and sweating over how it might have been prevented.

To be honest and blunt and not meaning to be demeaning of people, most air travelers are like to thinking in their secret hearts: Better them than me.  Certainly understandable.

Let’s say up front, definitionally, that the copilot amurdered these people. It’s probable that had he survived there could be some off chance of a court verdict of not guilty due to insanity. This may strike some folks as softheaded (certainly it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of that), but it seems to me that the real culprit in all this is our continued, undoubtedly global, lack of understanding or appreciation for mental illnesses. I know at least five people who I’m pretty sure are bipolar and only one of them is under treatment. None of them are likely to kill 150 people in some kind of whacky suicide, but neither should any of them be flying aircraft or in any jobs that control the fate (read life/death) of others, like surgeons or cops or firefighters, etc. Some of them are barely functional by just about any definition.

Why aren’t these people getting treatment? Most of all it boils down to their unwillingness to come to grips with it — out of fear of being labeled and so they stumble along from one self-made crisis to the next, and heaping bad judgments and poor decisions on top of each other. I noticed on the networks the other day the talking heads talking about nut cases this and nut cases that and while I am not the least bit in favor of euphemistic political correctness, I think the pejorative and emotive power of “nut case” ,as it was bandied about, is indicative of what I’m thinking here.  The thing is, if any of these folks had a broken leg, they’d no doubt seek treatment (faith healing is not so effective on compound bone fragments sticking through skin –and probably not much good for closed fractures either), but to many of us mental illness is not an illness at all and is mainly a matter of “getting your shit together,” which itself is abject bull.

Walking around with a malfunctioning, deteriorating brain is dangerous to all involved.

Most folks don’t understand what a malfunctioning, uncontrolled, injured brain means, or feels like. Unfortunately,  I think I do.  Having had several strokes many years ago I can still remember the frustration of being fully conscious, but entirely unable to make my arm or leg move. It actually made me laugh out loud because the whole damn thing was so ludicrous. I’m guessing that psychosis and certain deep degrees of depression have the same disabling effect, in that the victim knows there’s something not working, but they can’t will it to be better again and this only adds to their frustration and probably fear as well.

People with severe mental disorders need to be helped, including helped out of jobs they have no business being in. At the same time, neither do we don’t want a massive cultural psych-testing program launched against all citizens here and/or or elsewhere. Do airline and civil aviation procedures need to be changed? Maybe. That’s for more knowledgeable people to discuss and decide, but can we make rules that will guarantee absolute safety for every air passenger on every flight? Forgetaboutit. Not possible. There will always be risk. This event, tragic as it is, happens rarely so it makes no sense to turn the air industry upside down just to minimize by a negligible amount the risk involved. Two people in cockpit rule? Probably good, but by no means a panacea and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that US aircrews have not always taken this seriously.

A CO partner and I once dealt with a man who had obvious mental incapacities and little connection to reality, though his ability to talk, even to talk convincingly, were still intact. Yet he was clearly and undeniably off the reservation of the reasonable and ultimately all he could do was look at us, raise his hands in submission, shrug his shoulders, sigh and flash an insipid grin.

Later my partner and I agreed that the man had had his reasons for doing what he did, but those reasons were far from reasonable. Mentally ill people do things for reasons — albeit crazy ones.

Who is to say how we would react if we thought there was another person inside us, fighting for control. As a fiction writer I even have a small sense of this because when I create a character in a sense, I become that character and listen to that creation carry on  with its life. The difference between this creative multiple personality thing and medical psychosis, I’m guessing, is that I know what’s happening in my noggin not real and  that I retain the switch to turn it off.

My gut says that the day world culture no longer thinks differently of mental illness vs physical illness, we will be a long step closer to not having a repeat of what happened in the southern French Alps.

Oftentimes in moments like this, mere language is inadequate – just as it was with the gentleman the CO and I encountered. All we can do is feel for the victims and the survivors, and be thankful for the courage and determination of first responders who are involved in the recovery mission.

I doubt that even praying to god offers much consolation to anyone in this thing. Mostly this tragedy is a reminder that we are human, life is short, and nothing is guaranteed. It’s just a damn sad and perplexing deal from all angles. As my brother in law Jim Miars likes to say, “Just sayin.'”


What If Mark Twain Was Alive Today.

(From a Clive James 1993 New Yorker piece on Mark Twain.) It got me to wondering how Mark Twain might be received today in our polarized land.

“You could just about convince yourself that Huckleberry Finn was a work of literature in the Old World style, aimed at a refined public – after all, it certainly has the rank if not the manner. But Twain’s journalism is a daunting reminder that he was ready to lavish everything he had on everybody, every time. He was democratic all the way down to his metabolism. For Twain there was no division between democracy and creativity. They were versions of the same thing: exuberance.”

Twain’s journalism is full of contempt for racism in all its forms. Like Swift, he had a low opinion of the human race in general, reserving his admiration for individuals. He was not much given to admiring ethnic authenticity, but he condescended on a cultural basis rather than a racial on. For any creed or color that was being persecuted he was a vocal champion. Chinese immigrants were given a bad time by the locals could count on one kind voice, at least. His initial sympathy for America’s Cuba adventure was based on his contempt for Spain’s horrific colonial record, which was almost as bad as its domestic record. When the United States began to show Spanish tendencies in the Philippines, Twain soon started  condemning American colonialism, too. As with the Spanish, so with any other European nation: he was always ready to point out that the Old World had dirty hands.

In the fictional south inhabited by Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson, even the black call blacks niggers. It was the way things were. [Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in “Huck Finn” and four times in “Tom Sawyer.”]  But if you can see past what you hear, the great message of those books is about human equality, and how racism violates it, reducing everyone to servitude, and no one more than the supposed master. The emotional centre of Huckleberry Finn is Jim’s story of how he escaped. Huck listens silently, as well he might, because it is only by grace that Jim is not including him in the vast system rigged against the slave’s bid from freedom – the whole white civilization.

Says James, “natural goodness doesn’t come any more easily to the oppressed than it does to the oppressor.

Twain thought that the Negro question was the biggest issue facing America both past and present, and he gives it his best efforts, in his private life as well as his public work. His personal conduct on the issue was impeccable. It is well known that Twain helped finance the education of Helen Keller. Less well known is that he supported one of the first black students to attend Yale all the way through college without meeting him more than once. Twain thought that to do such a thing was a white man’s plain duty and shouldn’t depend on the personal qualities of the beneficiary. Twain thought the white man’s debt was endless. He didn’t come out on the side of the Union just because it won. The Southern cause had depended on repressing minority, and that made the cause irredeemable.

Twain had the same sympathy for all repressed minorities, including (this would have got him into trouble if he lived later) the workers. Harboring no illusions about the benevolence of unrestrained capital or the innate wisdom of the free market, Twain guessed that there would be an organized union movement to secure elementary right for those who had to sweat. But he allowed no crude prejudices against those who made money from them. Accepting human villainy to be even more fundamental than human decency, Twain didn’t believe you needed a conspiracy theory to explain piracy….

Twain’s sympathy for American Indians might not be apparent in an early piece like “The Noble Red Man’ of 1870, which would not please Marlin Brando, but really Twain was just mocking the idea that the Noble Red Man lived in a civil order that made modern American civilization look barbaric by comparison. Twain didn’t believe that you could set about dealing with the deficiencies of modern America unless you first stopped dreaming of Arcadia. (NOTE: this was a region of ancient Greece in the Peloponnesus,  where relatively isolated inhabitants proverbially lived a simple pastoral life – in other words, something and somewhere way off the grid or reality,  and not normal, and yet, a view of isolation held by a lot of our fellow Americans, not just in Twain’s time but nowadays as well.) Twain was optimistic as one could be about modern life without seeing it through pink glasses.

Twains sympathy for women might similarly seem questionable by modern standards – on the whole he preferred to joke about the issue of women’s suffrage rather than face it – but he was a long say ahead of his time. …He always spoke against the exploitation of women as servants and married chattels, regretted the conditions that doomed them to do less than they could and never doubted that they could do anything. His article on Joan of Arc’s trial is a clarion call that could fill an issue of Ms. In private he was famously tender to his sick daughters and lived in a state of controlled despair about his invalid wife: he was so devoted to her that he was thought saintly by powerful men of his acquaintance, some of whom weren’t a saintly at all and, had been, by implication, flayed in his regular philippics against the great crime of seduction.

In fact, Twain was so blameless that he is likely to make us uncomfortable. Nowadays, the press – the cultural press, which is no less implacable than the doorstep reporters, only a bit slower – would try to get something on him.

One source tells us that,  “Since it was first published in 1885, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has been one of the most frequently challenged and banned books in America. The classic novel was #14 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for the decade between 2000-2009. According to the ALA, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.” Book banning is a form of censorship, the official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression (such as literature) believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order.

Throughout history, various people and groups have challenged books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because they contain information, ideas, or language that conflicts with their own values and beliefs. Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most controversial novels in classrooms and on school library shelves; the main criticism is Twain’s treatment of the theme of race and his use of racial slurs in reference to African Americans, Native Americans, and poor white Americans. Although the novel is written in the vernacular of its historical setting and the time period in which it was written, people today find this language offensive. Some people believe the novel condones or promotes racism.”

To believe that Huckleberry Finn promotes racism requires one to be playing with a deck way short of the authorized 52. It also makes one think that the move against such books is often led by folks who’ve never read the novel and may be are operating only on what they heard from others. I’d also suspect that such folks haven’t read much of anything except what some self-recognized authority has blessed for them. Too bad for them — and for us. Reading in our schools class rooms needs to use books like Huckleberry Finn and go directly at ignorance — and to support this, schoolboards and their lawyers need to cajone-up to resist the pathetic the squawkling and mean-eyed onslaughts of literary lunkites. Remember James’s words, “To see past what you hear.” That applies to a whole lot of situations in this land.

If Twain  was alive today, I suspect he would be flayed with verbal flensing knives wielded by the thin, shaky  hands of special interests, both for this work and his personal views. Twain himself said of censorship,  it is “ telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” Yeah, that says it nicely.


Love my Country, Hate the Government

I’ve been reading from From Clive James’s collection, Cultural Cohesion, from an essay entitled, “Mark Twain – Journalist.” (Which first appeared in the June 14, 1993 New Yorker.) There are some interesting thoughts in the piece that is about Mark Twain and his travels abroad, but includes some interesting thoughts regarding our current national political polarization (Balkanization?) — with the post-World War Two as the reflecting light shining down the years on our backs. I would summarize it as saying the last 60 years have tipped us into a national angst over falling short of what our two political extremes envision for what we ought to be. Somewhere in this there ought to be  some commonality, but it sure doesn’t look apparent. Mr. James is the Ozzie-born author, critic, broadcaster, poet, translator and memoirist. He is also an atheist, and calls himself a liberal social democrat.[26] He strongly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He has lived a long time in England. It seems to me that sometimes outsiders get a better take on certain places than those who live inside the places and are blown about by various conflicting political winds. My question is much simpler than a potential answer, what values exactly do we define as us and this experiment we call a country? I get sick of hearing over and over the disingenuous American mantra, “I love my country but hate the government.”  Oddly and this just occurred to me this morning, that I hear this extremely odd commentary solely from my friends who are conservative, never from liberals who seem only to hate what they hate, which is anything they don’t support. Why do I ask this now?  Because, I suspect, it’s nearing April, a back-brain fact which sparked something in the old brain pan just before I got up this morning – sleeping in until 0630. Usually I’m up and working by 0400 or earlier.

As the new breed of writers are wont to put it, here’s the backstory: Back in late 1994 I sent a manuscript to my then –editor, the late Joe Fox of Random House. I called the story The 46th Day and it’s central thesis boiled down to disgruntled Americans getting  control of nuclear weapons and trying to use them to leverage  their own “new” America, to take them back to the values they held most dear.  The immediacy in the story came from government studies showing that any terroristic group in control of a nuclear weapon would blow it by the 46th day, no matter what strategies and tactics the target country employed.  Joe always told me, “Write the story as long as you think it needs to be and then we’ll edit it down together,” which is damn good advice for first drafts of fiction for sure. (My other personal writing aphorism is “Write from the heart, but edit and revise from the brain.) It was a long manuscript and Joe sent if back to me sometime around the end of the first week of April in 1995, appending a note that said, “Can’t suspend belief enough on this – terrorism by Americans, in America, nuh-uh.”  That’s the gist of his note. We talked briefly on the phone and that was that, a purgatorial condition in publishing. The ball was back in my court: What could I do next to increase the willingness of the reader to suspend disbelief? Or should I just chuck the whole thing? Both options are valid.  Every manuscript one writes helps us to be better writers, whether said manuscript finds ink and light or not. I was disappointed but not even bruised. Such are the vagaries of the publishing business. It’s much like a contact sport. You will be hit. How you deal with it is up to you. (To be fair, every writer probably defines a “hit” differently.)

 On with backstory: Only weeks later, came April 19, 1995 and with the smoke still hanging in the air from the exploded Alfred P.Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Joe called me, “Send the manuscript back! Send the manuscript back!” Which I did, forthwith. Not long thereafter Joe came back from playing squash at his beloved Harvard Club, lay down on his couch for a nap, and died.  We never got a contract signed and the manuscript sits now in a box gathering dust. The thing that spawned the story in my mind was the fact of my extensive travel in Europe (and Asia) where I had numerous brushes with terrorist events, from car bombs in Belgium and Spain to mortars lobbed at airports in England. Most of that terrorism was economically and politically based, extreme left Marxist groups wanting to rearrange the societies they lived in, or growing out of the long Protestant-Catholic religious war between Northern Ireland and the British occupiers. It seemed just a matter of time until some such terrorism from disgruntled domestics arose in our own land.

Here’s what Mr. James wrote less than a year and a half before the events in Oklahoma City. “Diehard opponents of the American Empire …insist that America rebuilt the defeated nations only to secure markets, and so forth. This seductive notion first took off along with the economies of the rebuilt nations. Quite often it was noised abroad in newspapers and magazines that owed their editorial freedom to guarantees insisted upon by the victorious Allies, with America in the forefront. Suspicion of American power became harder to quell as American power went on increasing. Perhaps that was a good thing: about power, suspicious is the way we should always be. But to focus on America’s misuse of its economic and military strength was to abdicate the obligation, and the opportunity, to talk about the aspect of American power that actually worked – its cultural influence, the thing that made America irresistibly attractive even after it had just finished dropping bombs on you.

…Any defeated nation had something with which to compare America – itself as it had previously been. America’s allied nations, their gratitude either tinged by jealousy or annulled by it, were less inclined to admire but just as bound to compare:  America was their measure, whether as a challenge or as a threat. America’s problem was that it had no standard of comparison except its own ideal of itself.

The problem got worse, and by now it is acute. This where America’s congenital insulation from the less fortunate contemporary world, and its isolation from the needy past brought about by abundance in the present, has played the Devil. Both from the right and from the Left, America attacks itself for lapsing from its supposedly normal condition as the ideal state. But the ideal state is a platonic concept destined to be even more frustrating than platonic love. For the Right, modern America is a disappointing lapse from godliness, purity and order. For the left, modern America is a disappointing lapse from social justice. Increasingly, the argument between them is about language and its legalistic interpretation, with the Constitution as the unquestioned yet ineffable ur-document, as if God’s will were literally a will, leaving everything he ever owned to America, but on certain conditions, all of which conflict.

In sober moments, we know the Constitution of the United States would mean nothing without the laws that grow out of it and back it up. Without them, the rights it promulgates would be no better guaranteed than those enshrined in the old Soviet Constitution, a document that, as the dissident sociologist Alexander Zinoviev suggested, was published only in order to find out who agreed with it, so that they could be dealt with.”

Is that where we are now with all our squirrelly unprofessional mass media, trying to accelerate the choosing up of sides and in order to determine who is for or against their version of this almost 240-year-old country and the Constitution, which continues to be a work in process?


Speaking “American”

Just the other day I heard someone at a neighboring table in a greasy spoon here in Portage  ranting about how immigrants to this country need to learn and exclusively use our American language. I had to swallow a laugh.

Our American lingo? No doubt the man  meant English, and I remember George Bernard Shaw’s great quip, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”  Lots of tongue-in-cheek truth to that, but there are some real  facts that could bear some light.

English is a relative newcomer to the world’s languages. For a long time, Anglise came before English, Anglise being the name of the dialect used by the Angles of Anglo-Saxon invasion fame. As angelcynn (the race of angles) preceded “the English” or  England (the unified political unit). Before English of Anglise there was Angllcynn, sort of the form we now call Old English, which looks stunningly alien to most modern readers,  but was used for about 700 years after the coming of the Anglo-Saxons. Still, it was not the language of the land. Not yet. Historians tell us that he main and almost the only speakers of Anglise were illiterate pagans.

The Angles came on ships from what’s now northern Germany and Denmark and they settled in the area now called East Anglia and moved east, and later north. The Saxons settled the south-east of the English island in the region now called Wessex. The number of people speaking Old English were few and there was no writing in it and no printing presses until not all that long (historically speaking)  before our boy Shakespeare plied his trade as a playwright in London.

England was still England, not yet Britain, Great or otherwise. In 1169 some folks from Pembrokeshire landed in southeast Ireland near Wexford, but it would not be until the 17th century before English would be fully established on the Emerald Isle. Slainte. Meanwhile, it wasn’t much in England either. Historians generally look at the English language as developing and settling into two phases, from roughly 450-500 up until  arond 1450-1500, which is when modern English began to develop.

A thousand years ago the English language had about 50,000 words. Today it has, not counting scientific terms, somewhere between 700,000 and 2 million words.  Obviously counting is not a clear-cut deal. The real point here is that native English, the old root Anglise or whatever it was called was fairly small, but it grew because it absorbed everything it came in contact with. Very few of the new words  were made up whole. Mostly they are borrowed from other languages, made from compounding old stuff or borrowed stuff, by putting wrinkles into existing stuff, or re-finding old dead words and blowing life into them again. Words, like people, are born, last a certain amount of time and die. Unlike people they can be brought back to life, but this isn’t common.

Linguists and historians tell us that English has been around for about 1,500 years, which ain’t long in the world scheme of things. Romans came, then other invaders, like he Angles and Saxons, Danes, the French, the Dutch, the whole legions of people and Englishmen traded all around the Med and later the world and all the time the language grew, and then they started colonies here, we kicked their butts out, declared ourselves to be the United States of American and began developing English based on all the inputs here, from Native Americans to slaves, to French, Spanish,. Portuguese, Dutch, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, all of those folks who came to this country legally and illegally and became part of us. Take a breath.

We are a gargantuan pile of ethnic, cultural and racial mutts in this country and our language reflects who we are. English is the most flexible, wide open linguistic tool on the planet. We can use our unique tongue to turn beautiful and powerful thoughts into beautiful and powerful words that not only thrill us, but move us to action. Yah, there’s some pragmatic reasons for their to be a common language in our land, but it’s not something to be forced. The sheer magnitude and variety of the strength of our language and what that confers on all of us should remind us of the power of diversity. If all that input has made our language what it is, the force that it is, why can’t we recognize the diversity of cultures in immigrants and what that has made of us and will continue to make of us, if we encourage it.  Even Arabic is with us every day and sometime when I have  more time to get my thoughts straight,  I’ll talk a little about the role of Arab culture and the language on our own.

I am a lucky man to be born here and to have  the privilege and a tiny bit of talent to allow me to recognize and take advantage of  the great gift of our language. Good for me. Good for all of us. Down the road, we can expect even greater changes in English as the mix of new immigrants switches from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and yes, even Europe, to Pacific Oceana and Asia major and minor. Keep in mind sportsfans. We are all Africans at the genetic level.


Looking Back at Religion Gone Awry

Hump Day, March 26, 2015 –We see so much screaming about the extreme barbarism of radical Islamists but seem to forget extremism has been the moving force in Christianity at times as well, and the atrocities not swo different. Here’s an excerpt from the late Carl Sagan (1934-1996) from a piece entitled “The Demon-Haunted World.”

He writes:  “Obsession with demons began to reach a crescendo when, in his famous Bull of 1484, Pope Innocent VIII declared:

‘It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do not avoid having intercourse with evil angels, incubi, and succubi, and that by their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women.’

as well as generate numerous other calamities. With this Bull, Innocent initiated the systemic accusation, torture, and execution of countless witches all over Europe. They were guility of what Augustine had described as, ‘a criminal tampering with the unseen world.’ Despite the evenhanded ‘members of both sexes’ in the Bull, unsurprisingly it was mainly girls and women who were so persecuted.

Many leading Protestants of the following centuries, their differences with the Catholic Church notwithstanding, adopted nearly identical views. Even humanists such as Desierius Erasmus and Thomas More believed in witches. ‘The giving up of witchcraft,’ said John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, ‘is in effect giving up on the Bible.’ Wm Blackstone, the celebrated jurist, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), asserted:

‘To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God in various passages of both the Old and New Testament.’

Innocent commended “Our dear sons Henry Kramer and James Sprenger,” who “have
been by letters Apostolic delegated as Inquisitors of these heretical [de]pravities.” If “the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished,” the souls of multitudes face eternal damnation.

The pope appointed Kramer and Sprenger to write a comprehensive analysis, using the full academic armory of the later fifteenth century. With exhaustive citations of Scripture and of ancient and modern scholars, they produced the Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer of the Witches,” aptly described as one of the most terrifying documents in human history. Thomas Ady, in a Candle in the Dark, condemned it as ‘villainous Doctrines & Inventions, horrible lyes and impossibilities,” serving to hide “their unparalleled cruelty from the ears of the world.’ What the Malleus comes down to pretty much, is that if you’re accused of witchcraft, you’re a witch. Torture is an unfailing means to demonstrate the validity of the accusation. There is no rights of the defendant. There is no opportunity to confront the accusers. Little attention is given to the possibility that accusations might be made for impious purposes – jealousy, say, or revenge, or the greed of the inquisitors who routinely confiscated for their own private benefit the property of the accused.  

[Let me intercede and interrupt Sagan here. This presumption of guilt and the use of torture are the exact formula followed by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and by various Fascist regimes around the world.]

Sagan continues, “This technical manual for torturers also includes methods of punishment tailored to release demons from the victims’ body before the process kills her. The Malleus in hand, the Pope’s encouragement guaranteed, inquisitors began springing up all over Europe.

It quickly became an expense account scam. All costs of investigation, trial, and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives – down to per diems for the private detectives hired to spy on her, wine for her guards, banquets for her judges, the travel expenses of a messenger sent to fetch a more experienced torturer form another city, and the faggots, tar and hangman’s rope. Then there was a bonus to the members of the tribunal for each witch burned. The convicted witch’s remaining property, if any, was divided between Church and State. As this legally and morally sanctioned mass murder and theft became institutionalized, as a vast bureaucracy arose to serve it, attention was turned from poor hags and crones to the middle class and well-to-do of both sexes.

The more who, under torture, confessed to witchcraft, the harder it was to maintain that the whole business was mere fantasy. Since each “witch” was made to implicate others, the numbers grew exponentially. These constituted “frightful proofs that the Devil is still alive,” as it was later put in America in the Salem witch trials. In a credulous age, the most fantastic testimony was soberly accepted – that tens of thousands of witches had gathered for a Sabbath in public squares in France, or that 12,000 of them darkened the skies as they flew to Newfoundland. The Bible had counseled, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Legions of women were burned to death. And the most horrendous tortures were routinely applied to every defendant, young or old, after the instruments of torture were first blessed by priests. Innocent himself died in 1492, following unsuccessful attempt to keep him alive by transfusions (which resulted in the deaths of three boys), and by sucking the breast of a nursing mother. He was mourned by his mistress and their children.”

Religions sometime come off their rails. Certain corners of Islam are only the latest example.  Isn’t there something in the teachings about casting stones if one is without sin? We need to deal with these people as the demented criminals they are, not write off an entire religion. The earth does not need yet another religious war that will create body count and settle nothing.

FYI, I grew up Catholic, attended parochial schools on Long Island and in Virginia,  and not once did I ever heard anything discussed about the Inquisition — or the implications of that foul episode in history.


Zorro Composes Flash Fiction

My old aircraft commander and pal, Zorro E.D., sent the following story to me today, wondering if I might find a publication home for it.

A Pilot’s Story:                                                     

 Once  upon a time a pilot asked a beautiful princess, “Will you marry me”? The  princess said, “No”!                                                           

 And the pilot lived happily ever after and flew airplanes all over the world and drove hot cars and chased skinny, long-legged, big-breasted flight attendants and hunted and fished and went to topless bars and dated women half his age and drank Belgium beer and forty year old single malt scotch and never heard any bitching and never paid child support or alimony and kept his house and guns and never got cheated on while he was at work and all his friends and family thought he was unbelievably cool. And he had tons of money in the bank and left the toilet seat up. The End.

Helluva fantasy. Over.

The Verse Vine

Tax preps done, the mind shifts from numbers to other things.

Making Food Believe It is Not Food

A trick of  accumulated skill

Some fine skulduggerying sorcery.

So simple in principle,

Mending line, erasing drag,

Replacing nature’s provenance

With your own,

Think modern trick like Frigidaire

To keep food real, (or looking so,)

Think of a testosteronal strawberry

Glistening red and

Puffing muscles atop a creamy hill

(Why red? you ask, because man and Brook Trout are eye-hooked by red)

Red jacks us up, infuses the energy of monster drinks. Cranks up our emotions,

prods us to do something.

Red says: pioneer, leader, ambitious, determined

The color calls up strong will and sends confidence to the shy and rubber-spined.

Getting the drift yet?

Best of all, red’s the color of motion.

It brings awake the life force and if that’s not fishing, what is?

Okay, okay, Candor here:  I pass over sexuality and turn-ons and such endearing folderol, not because I disapprove — I wholeheartedly do not– but truth: the  banks and water’re too damn  cold for such tomfoolery this time of year.)


With our guidance, the presentation floats along as if Nature

Loosed the lot, bobbing happily,

Begging attention from jittery prey,

Strutting the stuff on top

For the wannabe predators below

Staring up with the twitches,

Thinking nervously, eat or not eat?

Be careful, be safe

And die the languid death of regret

The sure cost of chronic inaction? Or

Food, Not food? Watch, watch, yah, okay food,

Yeah food, geez, strike now? Geez,

Yah, food, rise, take closer look, yah sure

Oh boy, gotta be food, gotta be. Yah… food.

Food yah! Strike!

(Shit, not food! Not food! Spit it out! spit it out!)

All this drama bought from flimsy tarts,

Feathered tinsels wrapped on Daiichi hooks,

Floated without drag along a

Pregnant lies, done with the deliberation

Of Jesuitical patience,

A convert a year, maybe less,

So be it in God’s work, the slow crawl

Same as the Chicoms liked under Comrade Chairman Mao-Mao

Sloganeering away the present for future unspecified.

We who manipulate, play God.

Ask any trout.

[Portage, March 24, 2015]


Poem of Bygone Times (We Hope Bygone)

Waiting for the klaxon.
Waiting for the klaxon.



Wrote Mozart, Day of wrath, day of anger
will dissolve the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.
Great trembling there will be
when the Judge descends from heaven
to examine all things closely.

There is no time for prayer

When the klaxon calls at night and your only

Thought is death, your own or others.


We see feet spearing dumbly at openings

In the legs of green flight-suits

Neatly layered in folds on boots

On cold tiled floors

Making soft accordion tunnels

For ease and the suddenness of getting in,

A method to help us dance

In unison, one do, all do

Do it wrong, and we may undo

All that has to be done

With all our sleepy neurons firing,

Shoving each other around, the whole

Point here is jiffy-quick, out of sleep and bed

Simultaneously, slide your feet and legs

Down the cloth tunnels, spear black boots

Yank up the speed zip, wriggle the coveralls

Upward, twisting your shoulders, left then right,

Pull the zip from crotch to throat

Stop thinking steps, you’ve done this drill

Until you sometimes start to do it when the kids

Wake you from a deep sleep.

The whole thing here is speed

Delicacy only for those who inhabit normalcy

We hear in the halls the raucous klaxons

Squalling like a litter of newborns

drowning in their mama’s post-partum bleed.


Righteous judge of vengeance,
grant me the gift of absolution
before the day of retribution. 


They never blow the horn between midnight and six

An unspoken rule, like muting Marcel Marceau’s voice,

But it blows now, blows loud, keens, squeals, shrieks, and screams

We can smell the voice of death in passing,

Advertisement for the end of the world

Chattering fire-breath from the sky, falling even now

As we surge from sleep as lightbulbs

Snapping on instantly, gathering our heat as we move

From REM to ruin on the run

No words or language, we perform

As Ivan’s dogs, hard-wired to act

We unsleep instead of salivate

On the orders of a horn (not a bell)

We surge separately as one, joining

In the halls like water rills finding

The main course downward, awaking as officers with

Officers, enlisted with enlisted

Separate species separated in sleep

But merged as one in life stalking death

We flow in untalking, thinkless ant-lines

Through the tall gray halls, headed for a central exit

A bottleneck to undo time, some

Colliding bone-to-bone, muscles mashing muscles

Yet somehow keep careering through the doors,

Down steps, two or three at a time

Polished black Jackboots clacketing on unpainted concrete,

The last six steps banished with one long leap and out we burst

 Into frosted-nosehair-air, how fucking cold is it?

The sort of detail we parse in passing,

Save for later if we’re still alive (not a certainty)

And if it even matters then,

But fuck it is cold, can feel the freeze

Right through the thick blanket of basal cells

Clinging like hibernating sweat to our souls

Into our truck, starting rough, grinding gears, drifting turns,

Lights flashing red all around us, from poles

And building corners, towers and power lines, we ignore all  traffic signs

Race through dropped-rope gates,

Stop the truck, sprint for the bird

No talk still, only motion, group silence,

The ominous push for speed, we block

Sounds of klaxons singing church all around us

Scramble up into the guts of the bird, pulling on helmets,

Get a surge of electrical juice from a ground-cart,

Get the lights going, madly toggling switches,

flicking in freaks, reading checklists out loud

All business, there is no chittychatshit in this night

The pilot calmly says “Gang-starting four,”

And we hear the charges thump and blow and the buckets

Begin to turn as the fuel flows in and lights the fires

And engines scream the banshee song, joining

The klaxons outside,

We are the wolves of the apocalypse

Not the wolves that hunt and kill, but the wolves

That feed the killer wolves, give them life to make dead.

We know we could be rolling in seconds,

All ears and thoughts suspended to await the words of the next one minute,

Engulfed by sounds, radio voices

With deliberate enunciation, Blah… Blah this is Blah… Blah with a Blah… Dot… message,

Alpha… Romeo, Alpha… Romeo, my old man had a car of this model, What does that mean, Alpha… Romeo? I mantracize as I rip open envelopes to get the winning code.



My mind breaks the reverie, all dispatch shed by color alone,

Not red not red not red, thank god, not red,

Which is the color of the end of the world,

The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
throughout earth’ssepulchers
and gather all before the throne. 


We were called from bed in the middle of a night not a full four minutes ago

And here we sit stiff in our seats, pulling on parachutes, four J-57s howling and screaming like

Animals wanting loose, we write down the alpha-numeric letter sequences,

Realize this is only a drill not real, feel our heart rates drop,

We never know with these things which it will be

Drill or Armageddon, the gap between the two,

Far narrower than the still-sleeping in homes can possibly imagine.


Kyrie, eleison.
Christe, eleison.
Kyrie, eleison.



We carry plugs for the cockpit windows

When war breaks out

To keep from being blinded

By errant shining mushroom blasts below.

There is no romance in delivering death

Even in final colors. There is no time for prayer

When klaxons caw at night and your only

Thought is death, your own or others.

There being no box for prayer on checklists.

Can we go back to bed now, Boss?

The question addressed to our AC, who stands in for God.

Amen, and so forth go forth to do it all again.


I need my zenicillin. Over.

[Portage, Mar 23, 2015]

Afternoon at the Theatah…

We gave ourselves an anniversary gift today and went to a matinee presentation at  Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University. Once there, Lonnie and her friend Mary Lou left me lurching alone in the lobby while they went in search of the public biffy and I settled against a wall to watch the tides of humanity, which turned out to be  a marvelous mix of people, the highlight being a small flotilla of apparently intellectually disabled folks, including a tall fellow in a short-sleeved red shirt, walking with his hands on the shoulders of the woman in front of him,  rhythmically moving his head from side to side, with a huge SEG (Shit-Eating Grin) spread across his face, — one of those deep, soul-wrenching smiles — and when he looked at me, he stuck out his tongue and I saw the smile and his twinkling, delighted eyes, and I, being, on occasion, a congenial sort, stuck my tongue out at him, which set his head to nodding even more energetically  as the group sashayed past me into another part of the theater. The sheer joy in this slightly ridiculous moment left me slightly high and distinctly joyous. Lonnie and Mary Lou rejoined me and found me with my own SEG and I regaled them with the experience, just as the flotilla returned and sailed by and Tall Fella and I once again stuck out our tongues at each other, and he was smiling and looked back at me and put his forefinger to his mouth and mimed shhhh! Naturally I  reciprocated, and he nodded again, and on the crew floated toward whatever port they were bound for. This put me in the perfect happy, loopy, slightly silly mood to step into the dark to watch the thundering antics of Blue Man Group. Serendipity is often a sweet spice of life.