Arts & Life

Catching Fireflies -- Commentary

Jul 18, 2007

Anniston, AL – On the parents' list of favorite summer activities for their children, perhaps catching fireflies is somewhere in the top 10. For commentator Lisa Davis, it's a family affair.

OUTRO: Lisa Davis is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Anniston. She writes occasional commentary for Alabama Public Radio.

In this blog, Gus Openshaw's Whale-Killing Journal, Thomson, as Gus, a fictional worker in an Oakland, California cat food cannery, tells of his adventures. Gus has lost his wife, young son, and right arm to a crazed whale and vows revenge.

Now, Ruth Beaumont Cook has done a splendid job of investigating the story of the POW camp in Aliceville, AL, interviewing those who are still alive and getting down the historical record. Her book is thoroughly researched and intelligently written and ensures that the camp will not be forgotten.

From the editor of "Stories from the Blue Moon Caf?," another anthology has been released, with a twist: it also includes non-Southern writers.

From the Farm House to the State House is the first of two books by Fuller Kimbrell about his life from birth to around 1970, in which he has been at the center of an enormous amount of Alabama history and politics in his long life.

Southern writing is mostly not funny. Thank goodness, then, for Jack Pendarvis of Bayou La Batre, now of Atlanta, who writes funny on purpose.

Writing funny is hard. Drawing cartoons, doing impersonations, even telling jokes, spinning amusing anecdotes, are all relatively easy. But writing it down in prose in such a way that a reader, sitting alone with his magazine or newspaper, laughs or even smiles, that's an accomplishment.

This volume, and its accompanying critical material, might serve as a basis for some fruitful discussion about what is happening in new fiction in America.

Wayne Flynt, in his monumental Alabama in the Twentieth Century, discusses several self-taught, outsider folk artists, the Mose T's, you might call them, but he spends time on only one professionally trained Alabama artist, the man he calls "the Vincent Van Gogh of the Black Belt," William Christenberry.


May 14, 2007

Haines the novelist has a penchant for the dark and violent, and she has taken time off from the Bones books to indulge this urge; Penumbra is indeed dark, violent, disturbing, nearly melodramatic.

Caroline Haines of Semmes, Alabama, has been publishing novels for many years. After a score of genre novels, she published Summer of the Redeemers and Touched, and then Haines seemed to have hit the mother lode with her Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series.


May 7, 2007

Moving to Nantucket Island in 1986, Philbrick wrote a series of books about his new home. In his most recent book, Mayflower, Philbrick has mostly turned from the sea to the land.

. . . and the angels sang

Apr 30, 2007

This is a first-person narrative, told by Jon Simmons Bernier, a native of Alabama. Jon Bernier is a man of sixty, which seems young enough, but he has been through a lot.

John Sims Jeter is the older brother of novelist Sena Jeter Naslund, the author of the magnificent Ahab's Wife, and, most recently, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.

The Jeters grew up in Birmingham, Sena attending Birmingham-Southern and Iowa while John went to Howard College and UAB.

Off Magazine Street

Apr 23, 2007

Obviously, I have come late to this novel. By the time I became aware of it, Off Magazine Street, published in 2004, was already a movie, A Love Song for Bobby Long, starring John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson.


Apr 16, 2007

The protagonist of Longleaf is fourteen-year-old Jason Caldwell, who is the son of academics?an astronomer father and a mother who is finishing up a doctorate in biology, herpetology to be precise. As part of his mother's research into frogs, Jason and his family are camping in Alabama's Conecuh National Forest, near Andalusia.

The Innocent Man

Apr 9, 2007

The life of Ron Williamson, convicted in Oklahoma of rape and murder and later acquitted, is reviewed in this book.

With the possible exception of books such as A Time to Kill and A Painted House, there is usually no real point in reviewing the annual novel by John Grisham. His loyal readers buy them and love them. Hollywood has turned nine of them into movies. His legal thrillers have sold 225 million copies in 29 languages.

Severance Stories

Apr 2, 2007

Choosing sixty-two beheaded subjects, some historical, some mythological, some playful, some serious, Butler has created sixty-two 240-word short-short stories, sometimes called flash fiction, yet these pieces have the density and intensity of prose poems, and, with their exact word length, the formality of sonnets.

Queen of Broken Hearts

Mar 19, 2007

This is, entirely, a relationship novel. I feel ethically obliged at this point to warn male readers that this book is by, for, and about women.

Midnight Red

Mar 12, 2007

When I picked up this novel, the first thing I saw was a bit of copy on the back cover: "In the summer of 2000, the Buckhead Vampire was at large."

Sledge's story is in large part a sad tale, however, due to the lack of preservation in Mobile. But, along the way, we learn a lot about the various kinds of ironwork, both locally manufactured and shipped from Philadelphia and NYC, how it came to flourish there, and what happened to it.

While fish had been raised for food for centuries in some cultures, it wasn't until recently that farmers in Alabama started raising catfish. Most of those people are, happily, still alive, and Karni Perez, an independent researcher in Auburn, has found them and talked to them.

Carry My Bones

Feb 19, 2007

Carry My Bones is an impressive debut novel, and very much an Alabama book. Yoder worked for a number of Alabama newspapers, including the Anniston Star, was an assistant to Rick Bragg in Appalachicola, and in his off hours wrote Carry My Bones.

Tubby Meets Katrina

Feb 12, 2007

Tony Dunbar has written several books on the South?about Mississippi, migrant workers, and Southern political radicals?and has won the Lillian Smith Award, given to a book which promotes racial understanding and harmony.

This volume, a study of the Alabama coal mining industry from about 1930 to the present, is a reworked doctoral dissertation and certainly lacks the zip of Lawrence (Sons and Lovers)or Hickam (October Sky).


Jan 29, 2007

In this novel, Exile, Patterson truly becomes a writer of international thrillers. The fictional Prime Minister of Israel, Amos Ben-Aron, is touring the United States to promote a peace plan which will be equitable to Palestinians and Israelis both.

In this book, Doug Phillips, like the forests themselves, achieves balance. Phillips has "adroitly avoided placing blame" and understands that there just are social and economic forces at work that will change the forests, for they are neither "underutilized" sources of wealth to be exploited, nor are they museums.

The World Made Straight

Jan 15, 2007

Ron Rash is an accomplished poet, and his descriptions of the mountains, the laurel, the creeks and trout, the sky and atmosphere of the Smokies are beautiful, but these people are held in place not by the beauty of the land, but by the magnetic pull of their ancestors' bones and blood.

Set in Edinburgh, this work partakes of place as thoroughly as any Yoknapatawpha novel. The action moves up and down the streets of the old city, in and out of restaurants and coffee shops and parks, art galleries and delicatessens.


Jan 1, 2007

Smonk reminds one of Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, in which there seems to be a homicide on every page. The strongest element of Tom Franklin's new novel, Smonk, is character. You have absolutely never seen people like this before.

Raising Kane

Dec 18, 2006

This novel is sold as young-adult reading and is just that. There is no sex or unpleasant violence, and Eddie, like any twelve-year-old, is a combination of innocence and curiosity, with a road trip that speeds up the process of his maturation.

A Mansion's Memories

Dec 11, 2006

Mary Mathews, wife of University of Alabama president David Mathews, lived in the mansion for eleven years, 1969-1980, and did her research and sought out the stories of the previous presidents and their families. Those stories are collected in this book.


Dec 4, 2006

One of my favorite non-Southern writers is Ward Just, a mid-list writer with fifteen novels, who has never been on the best-seller list. Forgetfulness is a typical Just novel, which is usually set in Europe, most often in France or Germany, which means the characters are eating cassoulet and papillon oysters instead of barbecue, grits, and cornbread.