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Showing posts from June, 2018

Discovering Dorothy L. Sayers: Upon Beginning Gaudy Night

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There is nothing like discovering a writer who is new to you but that you immediately connect with and know, in that instant, that they are going to become one of your favorites. Such is the case for me at the moment with Dorothy L. Sayers. Awhile back a dear, close friend of mine who loves books (his focus is primarily with mysteries) recommended Sayers' Gaudy Night to me. I already had a collection of her Lord Peter Wimsey short stories and a biography of Sayers by Barbara Reynolds that I had purchased from Goodwill (one of my favorite places to find treasures that someone else has gotten rid of), but I had not read them. This is nothing new or surprising with me, as my house is chocked full of books (many I have read and even more many that I have not - but I plan to, so . . . ).

And now that I have begun reading Sayers, I'm wishing I had done it sooner.

It was a dark and stormy night, as Snoopy liked to type (or as Madeleine L'Engle began A Wrinkle in Time). It was on…

Like A Life-Giving Sun: The Spiritual Poetry Of Hafiz

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Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz, the mystical Persian poet, that he was the "poet of poets." And he was not alone in his appraisal, everyone from Goethe to Henry David Thoreau to Frederico Garcia Lorca have praised his poems. None of this was in my mind while I was browsing a small, independent bookshop one day. Like most bookshops these days, the poetry section was only four feet in width. I scanned the shelves to see what poets collections they had and found that I either owned most of them or they were poets whose work I didn't connect with. Then I noticed an orangish-yellow book with the title The Gift: Poems By Hafiz The Great Sufi Master. Now I have read a lot of another Sufi poet, Rumi, and loved his work so I took the book from the shelf and simply opened it to a page to read the poem I found there. Now this was during a period when I began to realize my depression was returning, so I was stunned to see that the name of the poem was "…

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: The Power & Poetry Of Words

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John M. Langston High School Graduating Class of 1938
My older son recently graduated from high school. It was a jubilant, bittersweet moment. Tears of love ran down my cheeks as I watched him in cap and gown, with all of his cords and stole of academic distinction, march down the aisle. It was a celebration of his, and his graduating class' achievements and of their futures. All of the speeches that were made spoke of promise and of hope and of possibility. Nothing appeared to be impossible or out of their reach if they worked hard enough for whatever their dreams were. No one would have dared to stand at that podium and crush the hopes of dreams of these youth.

How much my own son's graduation was in my mind when I read chapter twenty-three of Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.  It begins with optimism and expectation:

The children in Stamps trembled visibly with anticipation. Some adults were excited, too, but to be certain the whole young population had co…

My First White Love: Maya Angelou On William Shakespeare

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"During those years in Stamps," Maya Angelou writes of her childhood in Arkansas, "I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare. He was my first white love. Although I enjoyed and respected Kipling, Poe, Butler, Thackeray and Henley, I saved my young and loyal passion for Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. Du Bois' Litany in Atlanta. But it was Shakespeare who said, 'When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes.' It was a state with which I felt myself most familiar. I pacified myself about his whiteness by saying that after all he had been dead so long it didn't matter anymore."

The Shakespeare poem she's referring to is Sonnet 29:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring…

What Makes A Book A Classic? Final Thoughts On Reading Where The Red Fern Grows

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"Classic," Mark Twain once quipped is, "a book which people praise and don't read."

We laugh when we read this because there is an element of truth to his words. Yet what makes a book a "classic?" Why do some books endure while others, once notable and widely read, are now forgotten?

Back when I was a boy at Olde Providence Elementary School, I was in Junior Great Books. This was a program to expose children to what was deemed "Classics" of children's literature. We read everything from Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince" to Hugh Lofting's Doctor Doolittle to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (my first work by Dickens and what gave me my love for his works). A small, select group of us were to read these assigned works and then, each time we met, we would be asked questions by a teacher and we were to have discussions about what we'd read. It was because of this program that I fell in love with the writing of Ken…

A Boy & His Dog: Where The Red Fern Grows

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"I suppose there's a time in practically every young boy's life when he's affected by that wonderful disease of puppy love. I don't mean the kind a boy has for the pretty little girl that lives down the road. I mean the real kind, the kind that has four small feet and a wiggly tail, and sharp little teeth that can gnaw on a boy's finger; the kind a boy can romp and play with, even eat and sleep with," Wilson Rawls begins the second chapter of Where The Red Fern Grows.

Literature is filled with books about the relationship between a boy and his dog: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, My Dog Skip by Willie Morris,  and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson to name just a few. Rawls himself became a reader only after his mother brought him home a copy of Jack London's Call of the Wild, which resonated so deeply with him that he dreamed of writing his own book one day. When he informed his father of his dream, he was told, "Son, a man can do anything he sets ou…

Stirring Up Old Memories: Beginning Where The Red Ferns Grows

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Nothing quite impacts us as deeply or lasting as those books we read and loved most in childhood. They are the works that are so interwoven with my own story that I cannot even begin to imagine my life without the likes of Harold with his purple crayon, Amelia Bedilia, Paddington, Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte the spider, Anne Shirley, Meg Murry, Mary Lennox, Peter Pan, Laura Ingalls, Jim Hawkins, Huck Finn, Harriet M. Welsch (better known as Harriet the Spy), the small Clock family from The Borrowers, or Toad of Toad Hall (though I more easily identified with Mole or Badger than the wild, crazed Toad with his obsessions). They were the characters whose worlds I inhabited to escape my own or to fill my summers with the delight of checking out stacks of books from the local library. I fell in love with the words and the power they had to invoke such emotions and imaginations in myself.

Of course, despite my constant reading (even late at night, under the covers with a flashlight), there …

Cultures of Gratitude

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"The sunrise ceremony," Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass, "is our Potawatomi way of sending gratitude into the world, to recognize all that we are given and to offer our choicest thanks in return. Many Native peoples across the world have this in common - we are rooted in a culture of gratitude." When I read these words, I ached for all cultures to be rooted in gratitude, to be thankful. While I cannot change the culture, I can change myself. If I was to begin somewhere then I was going to begin with myself and developing a deep and real sense of gratitude. This would be more than merely taking the month of November to post on social media each day something I am thankful for all the way up until Thanksgiving. I wanted to encourage and enroot a spirit of gratitude that expanded beyond mere words and platitudes.

Gratitude begins in an awareness that creates an appreciation for both the significant and insignificant, the extraordinary and the ordina…