The Fifth of July

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 9.31.54 AMIn her fourth novel, The Fifth of July, Kelly Simmons deftly explores the heartbreaking ambivalence of family life in upper-upper-middle-class America while also offering readers a classic page-turner in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

At the heart of the novel is the Warner clan. Vacationing in their summer home on Nantucket, the Warners represent three generations of privilege. The family patriarch, Tripp Warner, is suffering from dementia, and his wife, Alice, is a closet anti-Semite who can’t stand the fact that their new neighbor is Jewish. Indeed, that their daughter, Caroline, suffered a sexual assault at the summer home in her youth seems not to bother the elder Warners so much as the fact that their new neighbor wants them to remove a widow’s walk from their roof in order to improve his view of the ocean. Caroline, meanwhile, is doing all she can to protect her preteen daughter from the predators who haunt the seemingly idyllic island. Within this largely dysfunctional context, Caroline’s husband, John, and brother, Tom, try in vain to maintain some modicum of normalcy, but their efforts are thwarted by the mysterious appearance of a Swastika on the front lawn and the increasingly erratic behavior of patriarch Tripp.

References to various shadowy events drive much of the novel. We know that something happened to Caroline when she was on the verge of adolescence, but we’re not sure what. We know that a tragedy or a crime is about to occur, but its exact nature remains unclear through much of the book. We can probably guess who cut the Swastika in the Warners’ lawn, but then we’re forced to guess and guess again. This constant guessing and second-guessing is what makes The Fifth of July a compelling read. Despite their cultivated outward shine, the characters are all so damaged that anything could have happened and anyone could have done it.


A Visit to California and New Material from Laini Colman and From Apes to Angels…

Zapateria: The World of Zapatero

Wow! I just noticed that my last blog post was on June 6. Where does the time go? In my case, some of it went to California for a while…

I also did a bit of traveling more locally and worked on some music. At the moment, I’m having visions of a concept album about a robot who learns to play the (virtual) flute after humanity has been wiped from the face of the planet. The music has a bit of a mechanized Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 feel to it.

And speaking of music and robots (or other-worldly beings of one sort or another), Laini Colman has a new track out — a hypnotic cover of Bjork’s “Human Behaviour.” Though Colman freely admits that Bjork is an acquired taste, her cover of the song has convinced me that it’s a taste worth acquiring. With a drum track reminiscent of…

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Tracking the Man-Beasts

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.26.51 AMIt would be tempting to paint Joe Nickell, author of Tracking the Man-Beasts, as a bit of a wet blanket — like the well-meaning uncle who tells kids there’s no such thing as Santa Claus or the neighborhood know-it-all who has an answer for everything. But that’s not what he is — not even close. Far from being a cantankerous curmudgeon who laments humanity’s gullibility in the face of the seemingly inexplicable, he’s a clear-eyed, level-headed investigator who revels in uncovering the truth.

Given the proliferation of man-beasts over the centuries, Nickell is wise to divide his investigation into five categories: “Monster” Men (including a wide range of circus “freaks”), Hairy Man Beasts (of the Yeti and Sasquatch varieties), Supernaturals (like werewolves and vampires), Extraterrestrials (in various shapes and sizes), and Manimals (which take the form of either human-headed animals or animal-headed humans). Throughout the proceedings, Nickell offers a fascinating blend of historical context, pop psychology, and personal experience to explain the seemingly inexplicable. While several of the man-beasts in question are revealed as hoaxes, many others emerge as manifestations of humanity’s greatest hopes and fears. We see Yeti in the footprints of mangy animals because we want to believe that nature still holds mysteries. We see little “green” men in place of barred and barn owls because we want to believe we’re not alone. And, of course, we tend to see all of these phenomena in under cover of night because that’s when our fearful imaginations are most fertile.

While Tracking the Man-Beasts thoroughly debunks the mythologies surrounding many cryptozoological legends, the book’s ultimate revelation is humanity’s infinite capacity for ingenuity and imagination. To borrow a phrase from The X-Files, the truth is certainly out there, and Nickell’s investigation drags it, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the light of day.

Submissions Being Accepted at End of 83

Submissions are now being accepted at End of 83, a literary magazine published online and in print by the Baltimore Writing Hour, a public writing group in Baltimore, MD. End of 83 seeks to publish the best in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, illustration, and photography. They love good pieces about Baltimore and the Mid Atlantic but do not exclusively […]

via Call for Submissions: End of 83 Magazine — JMWW

Who Knew?

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 12.38.28 PMOn the surface, Richard F. Libin’s Who Knew? is a commonsense guide to the somewhat lost art of salesmanship. The problem, as Libin describes it, is that even seasoned salespeople have lost sight of what selling is about. In his words, “Most people believe that selling something means persuading someone to purchase a product or a service. This is where salespeople and sales in general start to fail. Effective selling starts with the customer, not with what you are trying to sell.” In other words, sales isn’t about products. It’s about people. And while good salespeople certainly have expertise about the products and services they are selling, the best have greater expertise in relating to others.

Appropriately, Who Knew? is as much a guide to selling as it is a guide to relationships, and Libin’s advice is applicable to people in all walks of life. What’s more, it’s easy to understand. Whether he’s extolling the power of positive thinking, sharing anecdotes from his own experience as both a salesperson and a customer, or proffering strategies for improving one’s listening skills, Libin comes across as a down-to-earth, practical tutor whose aim is to share his experience. Reading his book is like being with someone who’s been in the trenches, has no plans of leaving them, and is now on hand to help anyone who needs some advice.

Ultimately, Libin’s is a gospel of mindfulness. In sales as with everything else in life, we need to be present in all of our dealings. Or, in Libin’s words, to succeed, “You must be 100% in the game and ready to work with a single-minded focus for each client.” A tall order in a world that’s increasingly filled with all sorts of distractions, but one worth heeding nonetheless.

An excellent primer for anyone considering a job in sales or looking to brush up on their sales practices, Who Knew? also works as a practical handbook for the myriad social exchanges we all experience in everyday life.

The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.51.38 AMApologies to Nick Lowe (and, of course, Elvis Costello), but as I walk through this wicked world searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I do, in fact, ask myself if all hope is lost. So much anger, so much arguing, so much partisanship in all corners of the globe. It all makes me wonder why we all can’t just get along — or at least try to find some common ground once in a while.

Fortunately, a new children’s book by Scot Sax offers hope. In The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee, the title characters start off as rivals — each insect revels in ruining picnics and camping trips, but when they meet, they immediately see each other as rivals. Ultimately, though, they come to a realization that theirs is a rivalry based on trivial differences, and with a bit of soul-searching (not to mention some Googling), they eventually figure out that what they have in common is far greater than any trivial differences that might arise between them. And in the end (spoiler alert!), love trumps hate.

With charming illustrations by Molly Reynolds, The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee offers young readers an important lesson on appreciating differences and building friendships — not to mention some interesting information on bees and mosquitoes. It’s a welcome addition to any child’s library — and I can think of plenty of adults who can stand to read it, too!

Review of Sybil Baker’s Immigration Essays – by Lavinia Ludlow

immigrant-essays-front-coverWhether article, novel, or short story collection, Sybil Baker’s writing consistently delivers genuine passion and heart. Her recent collection, Immigration Essays, serves as a fervent reminder that human beings are all a part of “…one single race made up of countless colors, cultures, dreams, ideas, passions, and opinions.” Through the use of personal accounts and narratives, this collection forces readers to rethink conventional answers to the question, “What does it mean to be an expat, exile, or refugee? What can be done for all those oppressed and suffering in unstable economic and/or political environments?”

Baker answers with a variety of stories told through countless people from all around the globe, levying experiences and histories of those oppressed, abused, displaced throughout history from the Native Americans, African Americans, to the Japanese Americans, to those who sought asylum from war, poverty, and violence from countries such as Sudan, Cuba, and Mexico.

Throughout the collection, Baker draws heavily on stories of her own experiences from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. From her upbringing of eating butter and ketchup sandwiches and chasing the DDT truck, to completely shedding her comfort zone, culture, and all familiarity to live abroad in developing nations, here is a woman determined to wrangle her own version of the American Dream. She challenges what society views as a “woman’s place” by living “outside the social world of marriage, house, family, career,” and goes on to ask controversial questions in order to get to the core of some global truth. Baker dreams across borders whether political, economic, or war-torn, and along the way, gains a worldly perspective entirely different from the average American. She even meets her life partner when their expatriate lifestyles collide in Seoul. Hand-in-hand, they construct a life together separate from the masses, and eventually, settle into a predominantly Black neighborhood that welcomes them with open arms, although Baker herself cannot shake the self-consciousness of feeling “too white.”

There remains an obvious undercurrent of guilt riddled in her personal accounts and admissions. She frequently calls out her privilege of being white, educated, and raised “solidly and predictably American white middle class.” This undertone resonates throughout the entire book, as it must continue to resonate through her present journey. At times, she seems as if she is trying so hard to right the wrongs of the world by immortalizing the voices of those underrepresented and oppressed in print form. Her hope to “do justice to their stories by telling them in a compelling” manner, and offer her “own reparations to redress some of the wrongs.”

“I owe so much to so many. I try to commit to embracing and forgiving this world. But until I begin reparations, I will not be able to forgive myself.”

Baker proves that she is not merely a writer, but a literary humanitarian who reminds us of the greater struggle out there, and urges us to think and even exist beyond our comforts, routines, and the superficialities of the modern world.

“Leaving the States did not save my life as it did Baldwin’s, but in a way it gave me one. I guess I should consider my twelve years in Korea as more of a time of voluntary expatriation rather than chosen exile. I was not escaping anything specific, but I felt more that I was running toward something—a larger way of seeing the world and myself…What living abroad did for me allowed me to live as an outsider and to see the world, forever, in broader terms. It saved me from despair.”

Baker’s content is naturally engaging, and her narrative voice never ceases to impress. She has a natural eloquence in her depictions, and can convey such heart-wrenching beauty in the most tragic of imagery:

There was no aspirational wallpaper in this last room of this empty house, only notes of hopelessness magic-markered on spotted walls in a room littered with broken pieces of things that could never be put back together. I read the messages quickly, and I do not remember the words. I only remember the content: that life had not turned out as planned, and in fact life had taken people to a dark empty room from which they’d never escape. They could have been notes of suicide. They could have been the ramblings of a junkie. The f-word was used like a comma. They were the cries of people who’d reached the end of the line.”

A collection such as this has never been so direly needed in circulation, especially during such time of uncertainty in this post-Trump / post-Brexit world. Baker’s point of view will force readers to question their own privilege and circumstances, and inspire questions that will continue to challenge the status quo.

So what can be done about the world’s instability and conflict? Is it simply enough to be aware of poverty, violence, and war? Perhaps the answer lies in the obvious notion that no single life is worth less or more than another because of a difference in skin color, language, background, culture, or religion. Whether expat or native, Democrat or Republican, man, woman, gay or straight, we are all human beings who came into this world belonging to the exact same race.

Publisher: C&R Press

Release Date: 2/15/2017

Pages: 101