Category Archives: Hunger Games

PAUL GARRETT’S MONDAY BOOK

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

maryIt is one of the most iconic photos in American history. You’ve seen it, I’m sure: The black and white image puts the figures in stark relief; A mother holds a baby who is barely visible, bundled in a thick blanket against the wind.  Two of her other children, half Cherokee on their mother’s side, hide their faces as if, like some Native Americans in the 19th century, they are afraid the camera would steal their souls. Their hair shows the results of what was once called a “bowl cut,” wherein the vessel is placed upside down on the head and the hair trimmed to fit the rim.

And there is the mother, exhibiting what approaches the “thousand-yard stare;” the look that appears on the faces of soldiers after long periods of intense combat.

Look closer: See the torn fabric of her threadbare dress? Closer again: Notice the dirt caked around her fingernails? What the photo doesn’t show, can’t show, except for the after effects manifested on her face, are the conditions of her squalid life. She has been in close combat with that immutable enemy, starvation. She is sitting at a “pea camp,” where she came to eke out a few cents a day picking peas. But there are no peas to pick.  A freezing rain wiped out the crop the night before she arrived. They have been surviving by gleaning produce from the ruined fields and eating what birds her children can kill.

She has just sold the tires off her car to buy food.

In her book, Mary Coin (Penguin Group, 2014) Marisa Silver takes a very close look at this woman, whose real name was Florence Owens Thompson, and also Vera Duerr (Dorthea Lang), the woman who took the photo while working in FDR’s New Deal. The photo was colorized for the book cover.

Vera is handicapped, as was Dorthea, with a limp due to a bout of polio as a child. Mary is handicapped by being poorly educated, widowed, pregnant with her sixth child, and left to follow the crops as a migrant worker across the West.

The picture and its provenance form the heart of the story, which closely tracks the real lives of the two women. Not much is made about how their paths crossed. In the book as in life it was more-or-less accidental, or, one might say, providential.

After a somewhat confusing start the story picks up speed in the middle and races to the end with a surprising and somewhat disquieting plot twist.

The book poses questions about what constitutes one’s identity in a technological world, and what a mother may sacrifice for the sake of her children.

Neither Dorothea nor Florence were ever remunerated for the photo. Since Dorthea was working for the government, the picture is in the public domain. When Florence, who spent her life doing menial labor, had a stroke in 1983, her children tried to use her notoriety to solicit contributions to help pay her medical bills. They garnered $35,000. Florence died the same year.

Mary Coin, in the end, is left to contemplate who she is, what she has lost, and what her future holds.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Uncategorized

1960, 1991, 2018

Today is the day students are walking out of schools to demand tougher gun legislation.

On January 17, 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf addressed a different group of young people, many of them also 18. Those young people were armed to the teeth. To those kids, marching into a fierce battle that opened Desert Storm, he said some words that have a strange resonance now.

“You are a member of the most powerful force our country has ever assembled,” he began. He meant the military. The military is strong. Grassroots are stronger. Have you ever tried to pull up grass by its roots?

“You have trained hard for this battle and you are ready….I have seen in your eyes a determination to get this job done…My confidence in you is total! Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.”

This isn’t Desert Storm, when we called on young people to be brave and scary and inflict shock and awe on another country. This is students fighting for their own lives, inspiring shock and awe within their country.

Every battle is different. Every battle requires courage from those on the ground.

Go kids. Go.

 

 

 

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Inspiration vs. Perspiration (or, The Games Writers Play)

The time when inspiration is most likely to strike is twenty minutes before you have to be somewhere, while you’re brushing your teeth. You will not be dressed for this event, nor will any household dependents be in progress toward getting out the door or setting up to stay home.

This is why God invented notepads. And cellphones with that voice dictation function. Depending on which is easier for you in your time crunch, jot down the idea, or grab your phone and send yourself a voice email. “JoAnne, self-protection, dogs and doctors” is one I just sent myself at 8:50. I was due at 9 am to help the local churches pack for the food pantry distribution, a thing I have wanted to do since arriving here in Fayetteville.

28235827_1906944399316615_289168906_nI’m in Fayetteville because of a wonderful program at Lafayette Flats, run by Shawn and Amy. You can look it up with that link. The point being, at 8:50 the link to how Chapter 14 related to the rest of the story so far, the way it could be shoehorned in to being a part of the whole, not a side journey, flowed into my brain as I brushed my hair.

Those key words will get me back to where I need to go (as soon as I finish writing this blog). They will not get me past the BS games writers play with themselves that “if we only had time, what glorious things we could write.” Now I have time, and now I have the note that says how to do it. Now my butt and the chair need to be best friends for awhile. Writing is 90% butt sloth and finger exercise, 10% inspiration. This is why many writers have big bums and you should never offer to thumb wrestle with one. The wrist of a writer should be registered as a deadly weapon.

Big bums, strong fingers, notepads (or iPhones) and time: that’s how writing gets done. Plus a little human interaction now and then. I loved helping the team at the food pantry.

Back to writing now….

 

 

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Filed under bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book-turned-Movie: CLOUD ATLAS

Cloud-Atlas-Actors-Different-Characters

I know, I know, you’re very disappointed in me. But I’m on a crochet deadline, and was  looking for Netflix background–less Netflix and chill than Netflix and hook, but there you go.

So I watched Cloud Atlas because the book by David Mitchell had intrigued me but we sold it before I could rad it. And three hours of movie lets one get a powerful lot of yarn moved into correct position.

The thing about this movie is it was able to add something the book wasn’t: jokes about who was playing what part.

For those unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas is pretty much based on the idea that no matter what century it is, people are behaving pretty much the same. There are good guys, bad guys, hustlers and altruists, and it all moves around in a big circle.

The funniest part is, the hunk hero from 2143 or so is the matron of an evil nursing home from 2012. That part cracked me up. Although the fact that “soylent green is people” was a funny line in 2012 and a real thing about food in 2143 was a bit sobering.

Cloud Atlas runs from the 1800s, when on ships running from Jamaica a bad guy is trying to poison a nice guy who saves another nice guy from getting beaten to death, through the 1970s when corruption in the oil industry is getting nice people killed, past 2012 when it’s the publishing industry and nursing homes that get the scrutiny, into ethical futurist questions in 2100 and 2300 (after the fall a few winters, if that tells you anything) when Earth is back to barbarism. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good film. If you start to ask questions about how people know certain things or can gain access to certain places, forget it. This is a shallow, bright ride.

But it is a ride with some breadth, as the 2100s are shoot-em-up thriller, the 1970s are detective novel, 2012 centers around money, and 2300s is eat or be eaten with a few surprises thrown in. It was as bright and breezy as the afghan I was crocheting while watching, and less knotty if one didn’t ask too many questions.

For escapism or background noise, Cloud Atlas works well. For serious thought fodder, one doesn’t need two hours and 51 minutes of star-studded cast to know that everyone is pretty much after something, for good or ill, and that we recycle stock characters in the parade of our life. History repeats itself because we don’t learn the lesson the first time. Just ask Charlottesville.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, Hunger Games, Life reflections, out of things to read, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA

The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

Meanwhile, in DC…..

mental-exhaustionEvery year I go to DC to advocate on behalf of rural Virginia inside rural America. We converge from all 50 states and a couple of charted territories, spending a day catching up on the annual stats in health and economics, then charging The Hill to talk to the reps and senators for our individual states.

I’ve done this about eight years now, and this year sucked. Most don’t, but this time around the mood in DC and the mood at the National Rural Health Association match each other: big smiles in front of shattered glass plates.

We’re in trouble, and we know it. Insurance premiums in rural places are 150-300 percent higher than in urban areas. Insurers are refusing to enter some rural markets as a second company because the competitiveness makes the money they’d earn so low, it’s not worth it to them. And the Affordable Care Act, the thing we were all told we had to champion as though our lives depended on it, is about to go bye-bye.

There were some very honest moments this time around. A Senator told this group of beleaguered altruists that everyone involved knew the ACA rolled out with “terrible flaws” but that this was “anathema” to say in DC. You could feel the room struggling not to cheer, because we’d defended that dog’s breakfast up one side and down the other, lacking a better alternative. Not that we want its repeal to be accomplished before a replacement is in effect. Baby, bathwater. Let’s not walk backwards just because we walked too far too fast the first time out of the gate.

But we’re also struggling with the exhaustion of the staffers on The Hill, those sweet little 20-somethings who are, in the words of one we talked to, “the interns on which the back of this government is balanced.” They are tired. They are exquisitely, mind-numblingly tired.

We were supposed to ask them not to repeal the ACA. We wound up asking what they were hearing about what could replace it. Their eyes just about rolled back in their heads. Some smiled, some growled, a few talked in such bland cliches (robust, rolling out new ideas, a healthy America is good for all of us) I started counting them. He got to 10 before he quit.

But there was also a little spark in each encounter this year. When we walked into the offices of our Congressmen and women, they almost to a human commented on the power of rural to change things. Some sighed, some celebrated, but nobody was discounting us as that voiceless group that doesn’t vote out there in the sticks.

My takeaway point from this year’s NRHA conference is in two parts: 1) We’re screwed. 2) We don’t have the luxury of despair. As one friend says, “no matter how far down you are in rural, you can always find a well and climb in.”

And as we have pointed out to one another, over and over again during this conference, rural power has never been stronger. We elected a president. We proved that the Electoral College is necessary as a protection for rural voices. We reminded people to listen to us. (You should see the parade of Senators eager to address this convention this year; some of them have no idea who we are and one spent ten minutes explaining Medicaid to a room full of rural health experts. Oops.)

So if we’re screwed, we will have to unscrew ourselves. We elected a president on the power of our beliefs and knowledge. Now we have to get our healthcare positioned to really look after us, the voices that didn’t used to get heard.

It’s a little convoluted, but it’s not all bad. People may be tired, but they’re listening.

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Filed under blue funks, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch