Archive for March, 2014


Faith, Mother believed,
was as evident as a sunny view.
The absence of light,
to her, proved its existence.
God’s presence
was tangible as the wind itself;
even if invisible,
there was no denying its touch.
Silence following prayer
verified that there were sounds
no ear could hear.
Nobody sees moisture ascend
to darken clouds,
but the rain falls nonetheless.
Nature remains true
to rules unwritten beforehand.
The Heaven she sought,
undiscovered by scientific fact,
was just a step away.
Mother’s faith proclaimed it so.
I cannot say in
the absence of proof or belief
that she was wrong.
Do not the flowers in spring
respond to a silent
commandment that trust alone
can comprehend?

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop : A Memoir, A History / Lewis Buzbee

In this compact book, Lewis Buzbee gives a guided tour of the book business throughout history and the eventual rise of bookshops. The reader travels from Alexandria to Classical Rome, from ancient China to the Age of Enlightenment, as he traces the important role printed books played in society.  He is someone with a deep passion for books—delighting in their smell, touch, and content.  This is both a historical account of the bookstore and a memoir of his time spent in them.  A former bookseller and publisher’s sales rep before becoming an author himself, Buzbee is clearly “at home” when surrounded by a canyon of stocked bookshelves. This is a tome that any book reader will appreciate, as it celebrates the unique experience of reading and the industry that supports it.  I found the historical aspects of the book to be quite enlightening. Since its publication in 2006, many of the bookstores he highlights are no longer in existence. He does address the rise of the electronic book and online book purchasing, but this section already feels quite dated.  Since the book’s publication, e-books have become ubiquitous and has grown even more dominant.  In some ways, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is an elegy to the demise of the bookstores he so loves.  But it is a fitting tribute, which the community of readers will appreciate and identify with.  Buzbee makes an eloquent, convincing argument that while bookstores will have to adapt and change, as they have down through all the upheavals of history, they will continue to survive.

The House Of Mirth / Edith Wharton

Published in 1905, The House of Mirth depicts America at the turn of the Twentieth Century and its awkward blending of the previous century with the new. On the roads, one finds both carriages and motorcars.  Both candles and electricity light houses.  The newly rich are beginning to push their way into high society, a world still bound by the strict rules of past tradition.  Wharton concentrates on New York in the Gilded Age, taking the reader inside the salons and country estates of the social elite.  A part of this world is Lily Bart, a beautiful young woman whose sole purpose seemingly is to find a husband who can insure her status as a member of the upper class.  Her greatest desire is to continue to live a comfortable life with accustomed luxuries. But Lily possesses an inner voice of rebellion that prevents her from simply marrying someone for money. This results in her rejecting numerous marriage proposals, even though her financial situation is dire and she is living far beyond her means.  This classic tragedy traces her slow spiral into debt and dishonor. The social elite shown here are self-absorbed, and capable of viciously turning on each other for perceived slights.  The women especially come off looking mean spirited, as they jostle for position in the narrow confines of high society. Wharton does a marvelous job of capturing the shallowness of this elite class and shows that beneath the glitter of opulence, a dog-eat-dog world exists. Lily too is self-serving, frivolous, and certainly vain about her beauty.  But while she has many of the same qualities as the other women in her social circle, she refuses to sell her soul or betray friends merely to maintain a desired lifestyle. Throughout the novel, Lily makes decisions at critical junctions that ensure her continued descent from a place of privilege.  There are countless instances along the way where she could easily reverse her fortunes and yet is unable to betray an inner core of goodness.  The world Wharton presents here is a hostile one and highly regimented.  She is a master novelist and there is not a wasted word in the novel.  The House of Mirth does not make for comfortable reading, but it proves impossible to put down.

The End Of Blackness : Returning The Souls Of Black Folks To Their Rightful Owners / Debra J. Dickerson

When Dickerson wrote this controversial book in 2004, she was a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report.  As a young black woman, she was frustrated at the pace of racial progress in America. While she documents that prejudice is alive and well in this country, she also argues that blacks themselves play a major role in slowing their advancement in society.  In this book, she sets out to prove that the concept of “blackness” is losing its ability to describe or manipulate the political and social behavior of African Americans.  Dickerson feels that both whites and blacks are too joined together, both by blood and culture, to be considered separate entities. The book is divided into three separate sections.  In the first, the author shows that white racism and white supremacist ideology has not disappeared.  Much of the evidence she produces is impossible to refute.  However, I found it difficult to ferret out the gist of her argument, as it was buried in a verbose presentation.  The author’s anger seems to have colored her objectivity, too. In the second section, she focuses on African Americans, and discusses the sense of shame they exhibit regarding their own culture.  Dickerson contends that blacks’ true problem stems from accepting the white supremacist notion that their lower class status arises from and is an exhibition of black pathology.  This portion of the book, like the first, is often unfocused and hard to follow. It is only in her concluding chapter that a clear outline of her argument is presented.  What her critique seems to boil down to is that “race” is a bankrupt social construct and that racism will continue to exist no matter how many laws are passed or whether reparations are made.  It is up to African Americans to rise above the slights they face and become self-reliant.  Once blacks believe in themselves, they will succeed no matter what roadblocks they face.  The End of Blackness presents an explosive manifesto on race relations in this country.  It is unfortunate that her ideas are often lost in a poor presentation. A more focused argument would have served better to deliver the important points Dickerson raises.


Studded with an armor of thorns,
what does this cactus have to protect?
Surely, it contains more
than sweet relief to moisten dry lips.

But consider the patience
necessary to fill its leggy reservoir.
The months of dewy dawns
required to collect a mere spoonful.

Sun-brewed and infused
with a decade of drizzled starlight.
In this parched landscape,
such nectar requires a barbed lattice.

No wonder it swells
like an accordion after a downpour.
After all, spikes alone cannot
defend against the threat of thirst.

Man In The Moon

Tonight, there’s no man in the moon.
Last night’s moon was a thin nail paring,
nothing to write home about,
yet a presence the eye could hold on to.
Two evenings before, it was
a generous slice of light, something you
could sink a hungry look into.
And only last Saturday, one day past full,
round as a meditating Buddha,
and incandescent, how sultry it appeared.
Seductive enough to bring about
a population surge nine months from now
and a raft of April weddings.
Then, it was possible to imagine not only
a solitary individual living there,
but families, entire tribes, a civilization
born old and aging backwards.
Yet what a difference a week can make.
Having vanished entirely,
that bright bulb seems to have imploded.
There is not even a gap in
the sky showing where it used to reside.
Its memory is now merely
a twinkle, encoded by the hippocampus.
Tonight, the moon is in the man.

Life, A User’s Manual / Georges Perec

11 Rue Simon-Crubellier is the address of an upscale apartment building in the heart of Paris and the primary setting of Georges Perec’s ambitious novel.  He takes the reader on an exploration of its every room, stairway, and landing.  The book is a detailed description of furnishings, accumulated clutter, and most importantly, the life histories of past and current occupants.  No object is too insignificant to go unrecorded.  One tenant stands out, Bartlebooth, a wealthy eccentric who has taken on a highly unusual life project.  In early adulthood, he hires a famous artist to teach him how to paint.  After mastering the craft, he sets out to travel the world.  In selected locations, he chooses a single landscape to paint.  Once completed, the  painting is  sent back to Paris where an artisan cuts up the landscape and creates a jigsaw puzzle of it.  Reaching a targeted number of paintings, Bartlebooth returns to 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier and spends the remainder of his days reassembling the puzzles.  Once the landscape is whole, he destroys it.  His ultimate goal is to have nothing to show for his life’s work.  The apartment building is the jigsaw puzzle that the author attempts to piece together on the page.  Considering the fifty-five years of its existence, the task is a considerable one.  Perec, a French author, is to be commended for taking all the jumbled pieces and creating a completed picture.  With that tip of a hat, I must confess that I did not find the book an enjoyable read.  It became a chore wading through the wealth of detail he presents.  Soon overwhelmed, I found myself hurrying through the endless inventory to get to the good parts.  For me, those were the life stories of the building’s past and current occupants.  From the 1920s up to 1975, these people represented in a microcosm the events taking place on the world stage.  There are readers who will delight in this novel’s minutiae, the catalog of objects that can run for pages.  I acknowledge the craftsmanship it to took to envision and compose  such a book.  Notwithstanding, I lost interest in this puzzle long before the final piece was dropped into place.

Bare Ground

Bare ground:
last seen leaf-encrusted,
frozen solid
into a concrete block.
Now littered
with driveway debris,
the grit and
grime from the shovel.
A muddy Verdun
of glacierized sediment,
pockmarked from
winter’s bombardment.

Formally verdant,
it reappears as a corpse,
scentless and
seemingly mummified.
Surely, it is
no harbinger of spring.
Yet look—unless
starved eyes deceive,
where snow
this morning held out,
a robin sprouts,
attuned to life beneath.

Next / James Hynes

In this book’s opening pages, Kevin Quinn is on a plane descending into Austin for a job interview.  He is flying from Ann Arbor, a city where he has lived all his life, and he has a return ticket for later that day.  A middle-aged  man, he is worried that his current job might be on the chopping block.  While he has never married, he does have a much younger girlfriend.  Even though they have been together a good many years, he has never fully committed to the relationship.  To complicate matters, he has reason to believe she might be trying to get pregnant without telling him she is doing so.  His third preoccupation centers on recent terrorist attacks that have been dominating the news.  On the flight he is strongly attracted to a beautiful younger woman who is sitting next to him.  This leads him into following her after they touch down, and this sets him off on a quixotic journey through the city.  The story focuses solely on Kevin’s thoughts and interactions during his one-day visit to Austin.  But it is a tale of two cities, as Ann Arbor is never far from his thoughts.  Thanks to Hynes’ fabulous stream-of-consciousness writing, Kevin’s memories, regrets, mistakes, and anxieties are presented for close inspection.  Clearly, they show a man experiencing a mid-life crisis.  While it is a story where very little seems to be happening, his entire life is expertly pieced together on the page.  When the action finally does pick up in the final fifty pages, the reader has come to care deeply about Kevin and the unfolding situation he finds himself caught up in.  The ending is sure to be seared into the reader’s memory.  This tragicomedy is a compulsive read, and Kevin is a person most will be glad to get know during his stay in Austin.

Transistor Radio

As a child, I would pull the blankets
up over my head
to hide from trespassing spirits.
At thirteen, bedtime
found me still hiding beneath.
The difference being,
this time I went in search of them.
Their voices found
amidst the nonsensical crackle
of transmitting stars.
Disembodied souls cast adrift in
the dark’s vast ether.
Often raised in song or prayer,
occasionally hectoring.
Those incantations, competing
against the static,
hinted of secrets I’d yet to learn.
Pressing it to the ear
so that my parents wouldn’t hear,
I trolled for ghosts.
No longer afraid of such trespass,
their presence
a bulwark against nothingness.