Category Archives: Books & Book Reviews

Cartoon/Comics Artist Lynda Barry: interview & Profile

New York Times– Sept. 2, 2022
A Genius Cartoonist Believes Child’s Play Is Anything But Frivolous

By David Marchese
Photograph by Mamadi Doumbouya

For nearly 30 years, the cartoonist Lynda Barry published her adored comic strip “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” which told the whimsical, hardscrabble story of the young sisters Marlys and Maybonne, in alternative papers across the country. (An anthology, “It’s So Magic,” was published earlier this month.)

She has since written acclaimed plays and novels and even a beloved book on making comics. (That would be the straightforwardly titled “Making Comics,” from 2019.)

For the last two decades, she has often led drawing, writing and creativity workshops in prisons, at schools, online — wherever will have her. And since 2012, Barry, a 66-year-old who in 2019 received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship — the so-called genius grant — has been at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has held various positions and now does cross-disciplinary teaching on creativity.

So when it comes to self-expression, to making art, it’s fair to say that she’s an expert. But in many ways, not nearly as much of an expert as your average little kid, which is something Barry has been thinking about a lot lately. “Adults think that kids playing is some nothing thing,” she says. “But play is a different state of mind, and it can help us do so many things if we just allow ourselves to get back to it.” Continue reading Cartoon/Comics Artist Lynda Barry: interview & Profile

Our Work Cut Out For Us – A Preview of 2024 Governor’s Race in NC

WRAL TV News — State @NCCapitol Politifact

In memoir, NC Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson mulls 2024 run, calls for taking science, history out of elementary schools

Updated August 23, 2022

By Bryan Anderson, WRAL state government reporter

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is dropping more hints about a potential run for governor in 2024. And, if elected, he says he’d work to keep science and history out of some elementary school classrooms. He says he’d also seek to eliminate the State Board of Education, end abortion and work to prevent transgender people from serving in the military.

In a forthcoming memoir, Robinson explains how he drew his views from a wide range of life experiences, beginning with a troubled upbringing and a violent father. Little did he know that a fiery 2018 speech about gun rights at a Greensboro City Council meeting would set him on a journey to become the state’s top Republican executive office holder and first Black lieutenant governor.

WRAL News obtained an advance copy of the book,“We Are the Majority: The Life and Passions of a Patriot,” which is scheduled to be released Sept. 13. Here are seven takeaways: Continue reading Our Work Cut Out For Us – A Preview of 2024 Governor’s Race in NC

Memo to Florida Gov. DeSantis: DON’T You DARE Read This!

NOTE: “Don’t Say ‘Gay’”? Smacking around Disney’s Mouse?? Bullying teachers??? Squashing Drag Storytime?? Hectoring trans folk???

William Prynne (1600-1669)

Guv, you must have a secret stash of the more colorful works of William Prynne (1600-1669).  Back in The Day, old Willie P. Knew how to put the Pew and the Pure back into Puritanism. Let’s hear a bit more about him . . .]

In 1633, the irascible [but indefatigable] Prynne published Histrio-Mastix, a thousand-page attack on stage plays, actresses, the magistrates who permitted them (plays and women in them ) and the spectators who viewed them.  Women had long been banned from the stage, which evoked much cross-dressing and falsetto flouncing by male actors. But don’t call them the first drag queens, particularly if you’re a teacher in Florida, Texas, or other neo-Puritan jurisdictions: the anonymous tiplines will soon be buzzing with your name and address.

Part of the title page, which goes on and on . . .

Prynne settled for calling females who acted onstage simply “notorious whores.” He also denounced long hair on men as “unseemly and unlawful unto Christians”, while it was “mannish, unnatural, impudent, and unchristian” for women to cut it short.

Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. They were not amused by William Prynne’s condemnation of such abominations as long hair on men, stage plays, women in stage plays, and women in stage plays who actually dared to speak. But while they lacked modern tools such as Twitter, they had other means to express their displeasure at bad reviews, as Prynne learned.

But this polemic about women on stage, among other horrors, earned the royal displeasure from the King (Charles I) who had enjoyed watching his queen (Henrietta Maria) perform at Court. In fact, just about the time Prynne’s doorstop tome appeared in print, the queen herself had starred in an elaborate dramatic masque, “The Shepherd’s Paradise,” along with several of her ladies, who even  <gasp!> broke new ground in public shamelessness by speaking actual lines.

“Paradise” was notorious, all right, and not only because of the women’s speaking. It was also one of many very expensive royal indulgences: it called for elaborate sets, enough for nine scene changes, and lasted for seven to eight hours.  The “plot” was something about a mythical

“pastoral community dedicated to Platonic love
[don’t ask], refuge for unrequited lovers of both genders [do ask: and all orientations?] — “a peaceful receptacle of distressed minds.” The Shepherd’s Paradise is ruled by Bellesa, “beauty,” who was certainly played by Henrietta Maria. . . .” [Wikipedia]

“Paradise” wasn’t a hit, except, it seems, with the royal couple. But the rule then was, “Don’t Say Nay”: and in those days, even without Twitter, the ones in power had ways to make critics rue their effrontery and ill manners, ways that today’s neo-Puritans can only envy and dream about (so far).

For his published insolence Prynne was sent to the Fleet prison [where William Penn was later confined], spent three days shackled in the public pillory, and while in it had both his ears partly cut off.

The pillory. Prynne spent 3 days in it.

Fleet prison also played “host” to “Freeborn John” Lilburne, a “Leveller” agitator for religious and political liberty. He was imprisoned there in 1638 for distributing “unlicensed” [aka censored] publications—not coincidentally, perhaps, one of Prynne’s own—and for which was whipped while being dragged behind an oxcart from the Fleet prison to the pillory at Westminster.

[Lilburne] later thanked God (in defiant verse) for sustaining him through his ordeal:

When from Fleet-bridge to Westminster,
       at Carts Arsse I was whipt,
Then thou with joy my soul upheldst,
       so that I never wept.

Likewise when I on Pillory,
       in Palace-yard did stand,
Then by thy help against my foes,
       I had the upper-hand.”

Prynne was similarly punished but not deterred. He published at least 200 pamphlets & books, upholding presbyterianism and culturally strict Calvinism, and calling for the monarch to rule over all religion in England. He also strongly opposed a plan to permit Jews to return to and settle in England (after being banned since 1290).

In 1654, he took time to issue a blast against a rising new movement, titled, The Quakers Unmasked, and clearly detected to be but the spawn of Romish frogs, Jesuites, and Franciscan fryers; sent from Rome to seduce the intoxicated giddy-headed English nation . . . [yada yada]

It was William Prynne’s fate (and  William Penn’s, ours; and that of Gov. DeSantis) to live in what are called “interesting times.” Prynne passed through years of religious conflict in England, which led to three civil wars, a revolution which overthrew the British monarchy and established church; and a failed attempt to build a “Commonwealth” in its place. The Commonwealth’s collapse was followed by the restoration of the monarchy and the official church. Quakers, among other surviving Dissenters, then faced and, at high cost, survived decades of persecution.

William III giving his Royal Assent to the Toleration Act, 1689.

By 1689, some of the “interesting” trends had begun to simmer down, enough that several generations of continuing religious turmoil finally produced an Act of Toleration. It wasn’t ideal, but opened the door to legal status for dissident groups like Quakers, and ushered in a long period of often “uninteresting” Quietism among them; which ultimately produced more interesting times. But by 1689, Prynne did not object, as he had been dead for twenty years. (William Penn, OTOH, saw the inside of several more prison cells in those last pre-Toleration decades.)

Prynne and Histrio-Mastix are pretty much forgotten today; but some of the penalties he faced, and even practices he supported, seem to be having a kind of revival. His attitudes are also recognizable; he wasn’t exactly a apostle of critical thinking and open inquiry. I see the impact of these echoes in, for instance, the numerous and credible reports of a nationwide teacher shortage. 

Clearly, low pay and respect from officials are big drivers here; but my sense is that the push from culture war zealots and extremists is making it worse. Beyond schools, libraries and other forums for public expression are feeling the pressures. Too many among us show symptoms of being part of what Prynne deemed an “intoxicated giddy-headed English [or American] nation,” drunk on the brew of revenge, race and reaction.

What are the rest of us gonna do?

Well, one thing: keep this article away from DeSantis, and his ilk. It will just give them some new bad ideas; and they’ve got plenty of those already. And otherwise, bring everyone out to vote pro-democracy; then get ready to tough it out, on every front.

 

Thanks to — Andrew Murphy for material adapted from his biography of William Penn, and help from Wikipedia.  

Frederick Buechner: Religious Novelist

NOTE: I was not much of a fan of Frederick Buechner, a writer who died last week at 96. I tried his quartet of novels about a semi-charlatan-but-maybe-a-saint preacher in Florida, but Buechner lost me with his character’s name, Leo Bebb, which is bar none the most uneuphonious & off-putting monicker in my experience of what is said to be serious fiction.

But on the other hand, his work did hit me a glancing blow once, glancing but perhaps mortal.

It happened when a woman friend named Patricia, assigned to do a reading, pulled a slim book from her purse and opened it somewhere in the middle. The book is called Peculiar Treasures, and in it Buechner collected short sketches of various biblical characters. Here is what Patricia read, complete:

Isaiah

There were banks of candles in the distance and clouds of incense thickening the air with holiness and stinging his eyes, and high above him . . there was the Mystery Itself . . . and the whole vast reeking place started to shake beneath his feet . . .and he cried out, “O God, I am done for! I am foul of mouth and the member of a foul-mouthed race. With my own two eyes I have seen him. I’m a goner and sunk.”

Then one of the winged things touched his mouth with fire and said, “There, it will be all right now,” and the Mystery Itself said, “Who will it be?” and with charred lips he said “Me,” and Mystery said, “GO.”

Mystery said, “Go give the deaf hell till you’re blue in the face and go show the blind Heaven till you drop in your tracks because they’d sooner eat ground glass than swallow the bitter pill that puts roses in the cheeks and a gleam in the eye. Go do it.”

Isaiah said, “Do it till when?”

Mystery said, “Till Hell freezes over.”

Mystery said, “Do it till the cows come home.”

And that is what a prophet does for a living, so starting from the year that King Uzziah died when he saw and heard all these things, Isaiah went and did it.

— Frederic Buechner, “Peculiar Treasures, A Biblical Who’s Who.”

NOTE: I’ve forgotten when and where the reading took place, and lost touch with Patricia. But I hunted down & bought the book, and hung on to it for years. Just one sketch like that can put a reader in permanent debt to a writer, even if the guy published 38 other books (as Buechner did) which were over my head or didn’t speak to my condition.

As a writer, I should be so lucky.

New York Times

Frederick Buechner, Novelist With a Religious Slant, Dies at 96

He drew on his theological credentials in essays and memoirs, and his fiction, full of colorful characters, was admired for its elegance, wit and depth.

Frederick Buechner, who wrote 39 books, exploring the human condition from inspirational and sometimes humorous perspectives.
Credit…Alan Fortney, via Buechner family

Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister who never held a church pastorate but found his calling writing a prodigious quantity of novels, memoirs and essays that explored the human condition from inspirational and often humorous religious perspectives, died on Monday at his home in Rupert, Vt. He was 96.

His son-in-law and literary executor, David Altshuler, confirmed the death.

Drawing on literary and theological credentials over six decades, Mr. Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) published 39 books, many of them well-received fictional excursions into the adventures of charlatans, lovers, historical or biblical characters and ordinary people who take on self-imposed superhuman challenges and stoop to only-too-human skulduggery, all in the name of God.

Continue reading Frederick Buechner: Religious Novelist

Let Prisoners Read More Books!

 

Reading While Incarcerated Saved Me. So Why Are Prisons Banning Books?

Credit…Ben Denzer

Mr. Blackwell is an incarcerated writer.

SHELTON, Wash. — During my first decade in prison, I busied myself with exercising and hanging out in the big yard. I hardly grew as a person, aside from developing muscles that I really used only to intimidate others.

I stopped going to school at around 14. After multiple stints in juvenile detention, I was too far behind all my classmates to catch up. By my mid-20s, I was sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison, first for a robbery and then for taking the life of another person during a drug robbery. Every day I regret what I did. It wasn’t until I began college in prison in my 30s that I started to realize my full potential.

In my classes, I met people who were intelligent, spoke with confidence and understood structural forces I had almost no knowledge of, despite the huge role they played in my life. I realized I didn’t want to feel like the most ignorant person in the room. I, too, wanted to participate in an intellectual conversation and have people think I was smart and well spoken.

Shyly, I asked a classmate and fellow prisoner in my class if he’d be willing to help me. He jumped at the task. Before I knew it, I was absorbed in David Foster Wallace and Michel Foucault and using concepts and terms in conversations that were previously far over my head.

Continue reading Let Prisoners Read More Books!

Guest Post: Profile of A Renegade Quaker Artist – Edward Sorel

[NOTE: Friend Gary Sandman, of Roanoke Meeting in Virginia, has long been collecting and distributing short articles about artists and performers who are Quaker, or Quaker adjacent.
His latest profile is of the longtime illustrator and artist, Edward Sorel. It was so appealing that with his permission, we are re-posting it here, with some addenda we found online.]

GUEST POST: Gary Sandman on EDWARD SOREL

Edward Sorel (b. 1929) is an American cartoonist and writer.  His work usually focuses on political topics, though occasionally it touches on other subjects, and it is enlivened with his sardonic humor. 

The cartoons are pen-and-ink sketches, filled out with watercolors and pastels.  The best of them, in his words, are “spontaneous drawings”.  Among the numerous magazines in which his work has appeared are The Nation, The Village Voice, Esquire and Vanity Fair.  
Sorel has published children’s books, Hollywood histories and autobiographies, in collaboration with others or on his own, including Johnny-on-the-Spot, Superpen: the Cartoons and Caricatures of Edward Sorel and Profusely Illustrated: a Memoir. He is also known for his mural at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village.  
Sorel has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, the Art Institute of Boston and Galerie Bartsch & Chariau.  His honors include the Auguste St. Gaudens Medal for Professional Achievement, the Page One Award and the National Cartoonist Society Advertising and Illustration Award. 

Sorel began attending Morningside Meeting in New York City in 1963.  After he separated from his first wife and lost his job, he went through a long dark period. Ed Hilpern, his therapist and a member of the Meeting, recommended that he explore Quaker worship.  

Sorel’s sketch of Morningside Meeting circa 1965. Morningside then gathered on folding chairs in a room at Columbia University. On that morning, Sorel (at far left) noticed Nancy Caldwell (far right). After meeting, Sorel introduced himself, and one thing led — well, Sorel gives details below.

He met Nancy Caldwell, the love of his life, at the Meeting, and they were married there in 1965.  (Above is a cartoon of the Sunday morning they met).  

Sorel participated in anti-Vietnam War marches in Washington DC with Friends and joined with them when they walked across the Peace Bridge at Rochester to deliver medical supplies for North and South Vietnamese civilians to Canadians Friends, who had agreed to forward the supplies.  

When he and his family moved upstate in the early 1970’s, they attended Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting.  A gleeful atheist, Sorel is known for his anticlerical cartoons and has sat on the board of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  He felt, however, that he could become a member of the Friends because of Quaker social witness.

I have always loved Edward Sorel’s cartoons.  I first saw them in Ramparts magazine in the mid-1960’s and enjoy them still in The New Yorkermagazine.And I was delighted to see the cartoon above.  I had worshiped at Morningside Meeting several times when I lived in New York City.

A quote from Sorel about his first Friends Meeting for Worship:

“What I remember best is the silence.  It seemed to charge the room with a connectedness of yearning”.  

Gary Sandman

[ Gary has published an extensive collection of his artist profiles in a book titled QUAKER ARTISTS. Copies can be ordered (hard back or e-book) through his website, at: http://garysandmanartist.com/ ]

Continue reading Guest Post: Profile of A Renegade Quaker Artist – Edward Sorel

The “Quaker Scout”: Highlighting A Very Relevant Piece of Quaker History

In 1848 Quaker farmer Jonathan Roberts moved his family south from New Jersey to a new farm in northern VA in 1848. He arrived with high hopes and even higher ideals.

The new spread adjoined George Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation, already a historic site for the still-young nation. Yet with its distinguished lineage, the property brought its characteristic issues: the fields had been exploited to grow tobacco, which brought quick profits but depleted the soil; and the white owners had been corrupted by maintaining themselves and their culture on a system of enslaved labor and chronic indebtedness.

The more scarred the land became and the deeper in debt many planters sank, the more belligerent they had become in their system’s defense, threatening rebellion and war if it were at all disturbed or upset.

By acquiring land among them, Roberts intended to change all that: renew the soil and make it sustainably profitable; do so entirely with free labor; thereby they would show the slaveowners a way out of debt and the thrall of their brutal human commerce. This would undermine and banish the slavery system, not overnight, but by invincible example and thus without falling prey to the scourge of war. Continue reading The “Quaker Scout”: Highlighting A Very Relevant Piece of Quaker History

Banning & Suppressing Books: Part of Our (Not Very) Brave New World

New York Times: There’s More Than One Way To Ban a Book

[COMMENT:  I read Lolita some years ago. Creepy. Unsettling. Perverse, but hardly prurient. Not for kids; but ban it? Nope.

I never read Darwin, but if anyone still doubts the nub of his argument, then don’t worry about the latest COVID variants; God created each of them specially for YOU. Banning Darwin’s book, stupid; ignoring it, stupider.

I also read Maya Angelou’s Gather Together in My Name; powerful. I can see why some don’t like it: earthy, unvarnished, but for me, a fine tale of survival.

I expect to skip Mike Pence’s tome; though you never know. . . .]

July 24, 2022

PAUL: In the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was banned in France, Britain and Argentina, but not in the United States, where its publisher, Walter Minton, released the book after multiple American publishing houses rejected it.

Minton is part of a noble tradition. Over the years, American publishers have fought back against efforts to repress a wide range of works — from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Just last year, Simon & Schuster defended its book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence, despite a petition signed by more than 200 Simon & Schuster employees and other book professionals demanding that the publishing house cancel the deal. The publisher, Dana Canedy, and chief executive, Jonathan Karp, held firm.

I might read Pence’s book, if it comes clean about this Bernie meme.

The American publishing industry has long prided itself on publishing ideas and narratives that are worthy of our engagement, even if some people might consider them unsavory or dangerous, and for standing its ground on freedom of expression.

But that ground is getting shaky. Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales. As many top editors and publishing executives admit off the record, a real strain of self-censorship has emerged that many otherwise liberal-minded editors, agents and authors feel compelled to take part in.

Raising American Girls?

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been involved in raising several American Girls: daughters, granddaughters & now great granddaughters. And I hope I’ve learned a thing or two.

Here’s one: several of the American Girl doll characters were very valuable for one of them, and me, at the turn of the millennium.

I never bought any of the dolls, which were made to resemble girls from different eras in American history: great idea but too pricey, I discovered the series, and one character, at the library, in an associated audiobook. It was Addy Walker: an enslaved girl, who escapes from sun-baked southern tobacco fields to freedom. In six connected stories, her family begins to cope with the opportunities — and hardships — of a free life in a still unequal American society.

In those years I often traveled with my oldest granddaughter, driving us for hours to family and Quaker events. Good books on tape held our attention and helped pass many miles. They also promoted the appeal of reading, one of my goals for her.

Addy was an audio and read-aloud favorite for me. My granddaughter is multiracial, and Addy’s stories were mulch for the continuing task of nurturing and navigating her growing identity in our somewhat more free but still unequal world.

They also dealt, delicately, with class: For instance, Addy’s family goes to work in a dressmaking shop run by a Quaker businesswoman. This owner is no mere saintly icon. She’s on the side of freedom, but is an unsentimental demanding boss, pressing for efficient, quality work that can be sold for a hefty profit. Nothing wrong with that! Continue reading Raising American Girls?

Quotes of The Weekend: Midterm Election Keys — Enthusiasm, Turnout — and Hate

Philip Bump in the Washington Post, from an article crunching the latest post-Roe polls:

Now we come to enthusiasm about voting, that metric that many Democrats have seized on of late as an indicator of fury about [the] Dobbs [decision which threw out Roe].

Bump: As it turns out, Gallup has new data on that. Enthusiasm for voting among Democrats is higher now than in any recent year besides 2006 and 2018 — two elections that went very well for the party. But Republican enthusiasm is 10 points higher.

If we look at the gap between the two parties’ enthusiasm, we again get a murky picture. That said: If the trend line is perfect and the enthusiasm gap stays unchanged (neither of which is the case), 2022 will be a rough year for the left.

Infinite caveats apply . . . . Poll numbers can change (though it seems unlikely in this highly polarized era that Biden’s approval is going far). Republican enthusiasm can sink; Democratic enthusiasm can surge. Exceptionally bad or exceptionally good general election candidates can shift a lot of results unexpectedly. It really does come down to turnout.

All of which is to say: If you are a Democrat who wants to shift all of the graphs [in your direction] , your best bet isn’t to parse individual polls or cross your fingers. It is, in fact, to vote.

COMMENT: About that “enthusiasm gap”.  There’s more to it, much more than Bump and his charts reveal. And there are crucial synonyms for “enthusiasm” he misses, especially two: rage and hate. Continue reading Quotes of The Weekend: Midterm Election Keys — Enthusiasm, Turnout — and Hate