Tag Archives: literature

What You Wish For – – –

Jack is off the hook this week as Chelsie Dubay takes on the guest post –

I decided when I was eight years old that I was going to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas that year. I hung a massive copy of the periodic table of elements on the back of my bedroom door, right next to the posters I’d ripped out of the latest Tiger Beat magazine. After about a week of trying to sift through that chemistry set I realized that sodium bi-whatever-it-was did not inspire me like I thought it would. So, I boxed up the test tubes, experiment manual, and mortar and pestle and stuffed it in the back of my closet along with all of the other hobbies I’d abandoned over the years. Then, in high school, I accepted my fate and resolved that I was destined to be a mathematician. I really don’t know why I felt so certain about that career path but I knew how to solve for X and use a graphing calculator so I accepted that math would then be my destiny.

I’m notorious for that – building unfounded dreams in the sky and then letting them sink down to the ground.

It’s taken me almost thirty-five years to discover my passion. I can remember the first day I realized what it was that I truly loved. I was an undergraduate student at UVa-Wise. College was the first time I’d ever really been around people who weren’t from my tiny town in Lee County, Virginia. We were given a writing prompt in one of my classes. We were told to write about something that we had experienced during our first few days as college students. Most people wrote about how terrible the cafeteria food was or how far away student parking was from the dorms and classroom buildings. I wrote about how surprised and fascinated I was with how students from other parts of Virginia didn’t talk like I talked and how different our worldviews were. Needless to say, my essay was a bit heavier than some of the other submissions the instructor received in class.

From that day forward I charged myself with being an advocate for the region I called home. I was flooded with emotions – mostly regret. I had taken years of amazing memories, stories, and people for granted. I wanted to rewind time so that I could go back and appreciate the days I spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s old general store in Hubbard Springs. Instead of complaining about Mamaw and Papaw not having MTV, I should have been relishing in all of the things that made my childhood and this area great. I needed to bottle the quirky way my Mamaw refers to herself in the third person, “Lord, Chels. Don’t look at Mamaw. Mamaw’s been weedeatin’.” I wanted to record the way my Papaw, with an eighth grade education, worked out complex math problems aloud, ending each solution with, “why, hell, Chels. At’s simple math!”

I can’t go back so I choose to go forward and to be thankful for the opportunity to reflect on those memories and relive those moments I’m afforded through the cannon that is Appalachian literature.

This semester I have the distinct pleasure and honor of teaching my all-time favorite class, Appalachian Literature, for the local community college, Mountain Empire Community College. The chain of events that landed me here is as poetic as the literature my students will enjoy over the course of the semester. Together, we’ll laugh and we’ll cry but most of all, we’ll reflect. I hope to expose each of my students to the beauty of the things they, like me, may have ignored or underappreciated. My hope is that, at the end of the semester, each student will walk away inspired to go out and capture the beauty that surrounds them – through oral history collection, through participant-observation, but most of all, through just being present in the things that make this area, these people, and this body of literature great.

Won’t you join us?

This course will be a great way to expose yourself to works of and about our region, as well as to build a solid foundation in some of the significant historical movements that have impacted and continue to impact this body of work.

During this course we will read works (both fiction and non-fiction) set in or about the Appalachian region. The works will range from ballads to novels and hit almost everything in between.

This course is not exhaustive; it’s a sampling. Also sprinkled throughout the 15 weeks we’ll talk a little about history, culture, religion, and the land itself. This course is discussion heavy, which means that your participation in the discussion board, contributing to our conversation, is crucial for the course’s success.

In addition to weekly discussions, the class will require 2 major projects and 2 short essays. Remember, too, that senior residents of Virginia may be eligible to audit the class for free!

Apply here: http://www.mecc.edu/step1/

Questions? Contact Chelsie Dubay, cdubay@mecc.edu

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The Monday Book

I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of the Great Writers – Roger Rapoport

I should have.jpg

Jack is doing the Monday book this week (Wendy will do the Wednesday post)

I hardly read novels these days, much preferring history, biography or memoirs. This collection of short stories by fifty well known authors, most of them travel writers, falls into the memoir category I suppose.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a ‘journey from hell’ at some point. Rapoport was able to persuade these well-known authors to contribute their particular ones. Some are funny and others are truly scary!

The idea originated with a student essay competition run in conjunction with a travel writers’ conference and the winning entry is included here.

Among the more famous contributors are Paul Theroux and Barbara Kingsolver and this brings me to the only problem I really have with the collection. Obviously there are great many different writing styles and some appealed to me more than others.

There are stories that focus on the sheer discomfort of certain modes of transport such as a hair-raising ride through the Egyptian desert in an ancient bus with an even more ancient driver. Others are more about culture clash and these tend to be more poignant and reflective.

Perhaps my favorite was about a stay in a supposed hotel that turned out to be a collection of huts that were infested – first of all with cockroaches and then with lizards that ate the cockroaches.

The book held my attention all the way through, though, and I can definitely recommend it as a good bed-time read that can be dipped into a few stories at a time over succeeding nights.

Maybe 4 stars out of 5.

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Socializing with Friends – – –

Jack’s guest Wednesday post –

There’s a favorite Scottish saying that goes – “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” (which roughly translates as “all human beings are part of the same big family of mankind”). When laid alongside Robert Burns’ famous song “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” it pretty much sums up my political views. I would therefore describe myself as a European style social democrat.

Scotland is an odd place in terms of its mix of entrepreneurship, inventiveness, canny financial acumen and sense of shared community. That last one perhaps stems from the highland clan system – the idea of extended family. Which neatly brings us back to Jock Tamson’s bairns.

I believe that there are certain things that any civilized community should provide to its members. That would include those that have health issues or just struggle to maintain an acceptable standard of living. That shouldn’t depend on the vagaries of charitable giving, but be organized, planned and paid for through progressive taxation. Of course this requires a healthy economy that can pay people sufficient to generate the tax income to pay for it. As a Quaker I have to also say that I believe far too much tax income is spent on making war!

Just twelve miles from my hometown is the one where Adam Smith, the father of economic theory was born. His famous book “The Wealth of Nations” is popular with lots of Neo-Liberal conservatives, however they always ignore the part where he says that market forces have to work alongside a safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society. So even good old Adam was a social democrat at heart! Of course he was part of the European Enlightenment of the early 19th century and Edinburgh was an important part of that through medical research, philosophy and political theory.

In case this sounds like an advertizing feature for the Scottish tourist industry, I should perhaps remind you that Jock Tamson’s Bairns are all of humanity – black, white and every color in between – all religions and none – – –

So there you have it. I guess some of my American friends will have had their worst fears confirmed now. I’m the socialist their parents warned them about!

Duck and cover – – –

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The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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The Monday Book

Jack has the honor of the Monday book post (and just scraped through in time).

Portrait of a Legend – Spitfire, Leo McKinstry, 2007

I am a complete nut for airplanes (or aeroplanes as we Scots would say), so stumbling across this book in a thrift store in Oban in Scotland a couple of weeks ago was like discovering the holy grail (we also visited Roslyn Chapel on our trip).

I should say that as a Quaker I have very mixed feelings about warplanes, but the Spitfire seems to transcend that and can stand in its own right as a thing of beauty. Many of the pilot testimonies in the book talk of that beauty of the plane as distinct from the job it was designed to do.

Most books about the Spitfire paint a romantic picture of a machine that appeared just in time to ward off the Nazi menace and the winning of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 1940. What I hadn’t realized until reading this one was what a struggle there had been from its maiden flight in 1936 to getting it into production. The company that designed it was a very small business specializing in seaplanes and had won a series of high speed races in the early 1930s with planes designed by R. J. Mitchell who went on to design the Spitfire. But the business was far too small to undertake the contract to build the numbers that were needed in the approach to WW2. Attempts to outsource production went disastrously wrong and the construction of a massive new factory went equally badly. Even after its acceptance by the public as the ‘icon’ of fighter command it continued to be mired in high level debate surrounding its suitability for a whole range of different and essential tasks.

spitfire

Despite all that it remained in service around the world from 1939 through the late 1950s in a wide variety of roles and still thrills crowds at air displays to this day.

I well remember seeing a Lancaster, a Hurricane and  Spitfire flying over our house near Leuchars RAF base in Scotland about 15 years ago at low altitude – six Rolls Royce Merlin engines making a wonderful sound!

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the story of this gorgeous flying machine – a big thumbs up!

 

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Intersections

Jack’s doing the Monday Book this week because yesterday was Wendy’s birthday – –

This is more about books in general and the kind I favor.

I tend to read memoirs, biographies, histories and novels that are set in the present. I tend not to read romances, historical novels, science fiction or fantasy. BTW – romances about the Amish may be popular but I’ve never read any.

The most recent read was ‘Monty Python Speaks’ which is really a history of the famous fellows from the their roots and on to infamy (they’ve all got it infamy). It included a reference to my big sister’s old school chum Denise Coffey, who starred in a precursor of the ‘Circus’ on British TV called ‘Do not Adjust your Set’ it even had her in a picture alongside Cleese, Palin and Jones. I was probably about 10 years old when I last was in her company.

So books can not only be a way into a particular world from the point of view of the author (and her husband), but also alongside a character referenced by someone else altogether. This gets us towards something else – altogether – –

One of my favorite writers of fiction is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels – Ian Rankin. They’re novels, but the author and Rebus are from West Fife where I also spent most of my life. He captures the Fife coalfield villages perfectly and those passages are very real to me.

So I suspect we (or at least some of us) live our lives, very often, through reliving our lives through others’ writings or maybe projecting our lives into others’ writings. We wander back and forth through our own lives, imagined lives, lives we’ve read about, imagined lives we’ve read about –

Aren’t books wonderful?

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Not the Rolling Thunder Review

In Wendy’s absence Jack gets to do the Monday book – on Tuesday

The Dylan Companion – Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman

As some of you will know I am a BIG fan of Mr Dylan/Zimmerman. So I’ve read many books about him (and by him). This is among the better ones, though.

Thomson and Gutman have assembled a grand collection of essays and articles spanning the period from 1962 through 1998 and more or less presented chronologically. Some are fairly lightweight and ‘of the moment’ while others are quite weighty and academic. All, however, have a good deal of authority.

Of course there are many well known names here – Robert Shelton, Paul Stookey, Alan Ginsberg, Richard Farina and Joan Baez. But there some unlikely and little known ones too.

Everyone knows that Bob Dylan famously re-invented himself when he arrived in New York in the early 1960s – following in the wake of many other American idols (such as Buffalo Bill Cody or Ramblin’ Jack Elliot). What caught my attention in this collection were the pieces that pointed out how single minded he was in building his new persona. The interview with his early New York girl friend Suze Rotolo is revealing in that respect, as are a number of others. Also revealing is that he was clearly already a fine performer before he hit New York!

Because the final pieces are from 1998, there’s nothing about the ‘never-ending tour’ that still continues, but there a few that shed some light on Bob’s reasons for performing live and the tensions between his public and private lives.

Correction – the afterword in the 2000 reprint does briefly touch on his continuing tour.

As the title suggests, this is a book that can be dipped into at leisure while residing perhaps on your bedside table.

Finally – although there are no essays or articles here by the man himself, he is quoted extensively throughout.

“Come Gather ‘Round people”

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