Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'The bookstore that changed my life'

Fellow bibliophiles:

Please don't miss this touching tale by Salt Lake City librarian and author Josh Hanagarne.

Based on this piece alone, I'm going to read his new book, "The World's Strongest Librarian," which is scheduled to be published this week.

Wow. What a story.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rainy night in Knoxville...

Lazy, rainy Sunday. 

That's OK. I needed a day to detox.

Had fun last night at the annual Halls High Alumni Dinner. Was honored to induct three fine gentlemen -- Hubert LaRue, Dr. Jim Marine and David Sharp -- into the Alumni Hall of Fame.

Woke up this morning to the sound of the thunder, with apologies to Bob Seger, but most of the day it just rained. It's cool, too, a Dogwood Winter, or so they tell me. May flowers should be beautiful after all these April showers. 

I read the newspapers and watched CBS Sunday Morning. Neat show about all those future predictions from the mid-20th century that didn't come to pass (yet). Flying cars, George Jetson's house, Pan Am trips to the moon.

Caught the first part of Jonathan Schwartz's "Sunday Show" on Sirius/XM 40s on 4. He played a late Sinatra recording that fit today's mood, "It's Sunday." Take a listen. It's just Francis Albert and a guy playing guitar.

Also got caught up on my reading, took a nap, watched a couple of episodes of "Star Trek." Really liked the one about the Shakespearean actor who, 20 years prior, was a murdering dictator.

Tried to listen to a radio episode of "Gunsmoke," but I kept getting interrupted. It's OK. I think I've heard it before. I'm sure Marshal Dillon did OK without me.

Now I'm listening to Sinatra again, the Capitol "Point of No Return" album. Didn't feel like TV tonight. I'll catch up with my DVRed shows later in the week.

I should have one last Blogging the Book installment tomorrow or Tuesday on Belle Blackburn's "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice." I am almost finished. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending.

Hope you enjoyed a great weekend. See ya soon.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Losing a legend

The first record I ever bought (and, yes, for any of you young 'uns, it was a record) was "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

It's the greatest country music recording of all time. Period. Don't argue. You're not going to change my mind. (Kudos must quickly be given to its composer, Bobby Braddock.)

George Jones, the singer who performed it, didn't think it would be a hit. He bet his producer, Billy Sherrill, $100 bucks saying as such -- and lost.

The Possum is dead. He was 81. Talk about the end of an era.

George was colorful, an understatement to be certain. He drank too much at one point, snorted too much coke, fought too much with ex-wife Tammy Wynette, even drove a lawn mower to the liquor store. He earned every one of those lines on his face.

You could hear the pain in his voice. My favorites are his Epic hits: "The Grand Tour." "These Days (I Barely Get By)." "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me..." "He Stopped Loving Her Today," of course. "A Picture of Me Without You." Others.

In 1985, he sang a smash called "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" I've been asking myself that question since Keith Whitley died and I've got news for you: it ain't this bunch of models and pop singers. If that makes me an "old fart or a jackass," Blake Shelton can kiss my you-know-what.

Picture this scenario:

One day anthropologists or music historians will be digging through what will then be old recordings. Once they finish with whatever the hell this era is called, they'll find "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

And one of them will say: "Oh. So that's what country music sounds like."

Rest in peace, Possum. You sang from your soul.

Ain't nobody gonna fill your shoes.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Overheard in a waiting room...

I overheard this exchange in a waiting room yesterday:

Man: Are you still reading that book?
Woman: Yeah, but I hate it.
Man: Then why are you still reading it?
Woman: I keep hoping it will get better. I hate to stop reading a book until I have finished it.

What say you, dear readers? Do you give up if you don't like a book? Or, like "The Old Man and the Sea," do you become obsessed with finishing the job?  Or do you put it away for awhile, let it simmer on the back burner?

 I have done all of the above.

I have tried to read Dow Mossman's "The Stones of Summer" three times since I first saw the charming documentary "Stone Reader." I can't. I just can't.

We won't even talk about "War and Peace." I finally stopped putting it on my New Years' resolutions.

I stopped reading "You Can't Go Home Again." I have no idea why. I was loving it.

I stopped reading the first Harry Potter book after about 20 pages. Several people whose opinions I respect say I need to give it and the series another try. We'll see. 

I borrowed Jonathan Franzen's book "Freedom" from the public library when the novel was receiving positive reviews. Couldn't read it.

I have never been able to make it past the first 100 pages of "Dr. Zhivago," even though it's one of my favorite films. Everyone says if you do so, you're home free. I'll try again someday.

Somebody once said we rediscover books when we're ready for them. This has happened to me, too.

I couldn't read Hemingway's novels until I was in college. The wait was rewarded.

I took a break during my first stab at Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" and finished it a few months later while sick with kidney stones. What a gripping read.

I found Pete Hamill's "Forever" unreadable at first go in 2003. Eleven years later, I loved it.

Second readings?

I have reread Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" as well as Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird." Both have aged well. I have reread Pete Hamill's memoir "A Drinking Life" twice. The book contains not one wasted word. It's his best work to date.

I do believe, however, in the "too many books, too little time" line of thinking. So I don't do much rereading. 

What do you think?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Old friends, cast aside...

One of my life's passions is collecting books.

I love to spend hours, if I have the luxury of such free time, skimming the shelves at murky, dusty secondhand bookstores -- when you can find one. Bookstores have become an endangered species, along with newspapers, common sense, intelligent conversation, great music, good grammar, and most things I cherish. But I digress.

Often I find notes in these tomes, traces of long-ago gifts, affectionate notes to a son, a friend, a mother or a lover. Once, I even found a book that had belonged to a teacher in town.  I thought about putting it in the post, anonymously, with a note that said: "I found my way home."

My respect for books are such that I feel like each and every one of those in my collection are entities. Good friends, acquaintances, ambiguous authors, even enemies. And yet I know that someday, mine, too, will end up in a used book store, or a garage, or -- heaven forbid -- at the bottom of a Dumpster.

Thomas Jefferson, that enigmatic Founding Father, used much of his collection to create one of the nation's greatest libraries. I don't know who would have need of mine. It's eclectic in its way. History, biography and literature dominate, but you can find Dickens next to Kutler's "Watergate" next to Cheever's "Stories" next to a memoir by Roger Moore. Each has a story, both in the literal and figurative sense.

One box is dedicated to CBS radio and TV news anchors and reporters. Another is dedicated to "Dark Shadows." Yet another contains the Folio edition of Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Nudged in between are two "Star Trek" novels.

While I was recuperating from surgery, I ordered Richard Kluger's "The Paper," about the birth and death of The New York Herald Tribune. You may know that the International Herald Trib's name is folding later this year into The New York Times umbrella. The Times has owned it for years. I guess it's a logical step. I don't know.

Anyhow, I opened the book to find one of those old-fashioned stickers people used to put on or near title pages to mark their property. It reads: "From the library of Florence Michael."

I can't remember from which online bookstore I bought the book. I assume Florence is dead or perhaps needed to rid her home of clutter. Maybe she needed a couple of bucks. Still, it made me sad. I mused a minute on Florence, who she is/was, what she liked, where she lived, what she made of her life.

When our newspaper moved its offices two months ago, I kicked and cursed as I packed nearly 13 years of memories.

"I'm never buying another book again," I muttered, as I carted a fourth or fifth box of books to my truck. "I'll just download the damn things on my Kindle."

But, of course, I don't mean it. I love the feel of them, love the sight of them on my shelves, and, yes, love the musty smell of an aging edition of a writer's work waiting to be read.

Goodnight, Florence Michael, wherever you are. This book of yours, at least, is in good hands. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

To boldly go...

I don't know whether you can accurately call me a full-blown Trekker or not (or "Trekkie," if you must), but, yes, I am a fan of Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek."

I'm partial to the original cast, the original series and the first six "Trek" films (especially II, IV, and VI), but I also like "The Next Generation," especially its first three seasons and the whole concept of a holodeck.

I skipped "Deep Space Nine" after the first episode, only watched "Voyager" -- if you will forgive me -- because of Jeri Ryan, and missed "Enterprise" during its original run because I didn't get the channel on which it aired.

All of it is available on Netflix, so I may revisit these other three series. I don't know.

My interest in "Trek" waxes and wanes every 10 years or so. I watched "Trek" in the late 1980s in syndication because my late grandfather Wayne Wyatt loved the original series. He was a civilian pilot and loved the space program. Mom says "Star Trek" was one of the few TV programs (the other being "Gunsmoke"), he would enthusiastically watch when she was a child.

My dear friend Matt Shelton is also a fan. He and I watched at least five "Trek" films together at the theater and have screened the rest on DVD. We also, to my "can't look away from a train wreck" chagrin, watched the documentary "Trekkies." Geez...

I bought the Blu-ray "enhanced" editions of "Star Trek: TOS" as a late Christmas/birthday present. I just finished watching "Mudd's Women." Always makes me grin. I also took advantage of an Amazon Deal of the Day last week and bought the first six "Trek" movies for an amazingly low price (thanks for the heads up, Joey!) And, for the first time in at least 20 years, I bought a few of those fun "Star Trek" Pocket Books novels dirt cheap at McKay Used Books last weekend. I am saving them for a rainy day.

What appeals to me most about Roddenberry's vision is the idea that human beings on earth finally put all their differences aside to help create Starfleet and explore the universe. I don't want to touch off a discussion about a new world order or any of that crap. I just like that idea. (Did you ever see "The Day the Earth Stood Still"? Same concept, in its way, or at least the dangers of what can happen if we don't.) I also especially like the triangular bond of friendship between Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy. This came to fruition in several of the popular "Trek" films, most notably II, III, IV and V.

And, I am a lifelong fan and proponent of space exploration. The current state of the U.S. space program saddens me, although Curiosity's landing on Mars last year was a true thrill. Yep, I stayed up late to watch its landing.

Before the Challenger disaster in January 1986, I thought I'd live to see a human being land on the so-called Red Planet. I don't know if I will now, but I hope I do.

Meanwhile, through Roddenberry's vision at least, I can vicariously boldly go where no one has gone before.

Live long and prosper!

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blogging the book: Groped by an octopus

This is a continuation of my thoughts as I read "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" by Belle Blackburn.

My, my. Quite a bit has happened to Kate since my last blog post about the book.

Late-night intrigue in a graveyard. Discovering her best friend is in love with her. Being "requested," in the implied "you'd better do this" sense, to make a public speech in favor of Tennessee's secession from the Union.

And, yes, getting married. Sigh.

I have told you before I don't like this Brice guy. True story: the thought was going through my head, "Geez, all this guy wants to do is get his hands all over Kate every time they're alone or take a carriage ride," when Kate says she doesn't much like it, either, adding she feels likes she is "being groped by an octopus."

The exchange between Brice's father and Kate's mother after their children announce their engagement is sad, disturbing, heartbreaking. Kate's wedding night is anything but blissful.

Oh, and by the way, what's the story with Brice's former girlfriend Daisy and why don't I think I'll like it when that tale is told?

Methinks a storm's a-brewin', and I ain't talkin' about the war...

The Rockwells' description of Nashville's previous public hanging reminded me of a scene in the 1969 version of "True Grit." It was an all-day event, almost like a festival. Children playing, people hawking concessions, a public sing-along to "Amazing Grace."

One scene provided a great laugh because I have heard this exact conversation in my lifetime.

While touring Brice's alma mater with Kate, he makes reference to "standing high on this hill," watching steamboats navigate the river.

"Hill? That's no hill," Kate says. "I'm from Knoxville and I know what hills are. Trust me, this is a slight rise in the land."

The journey continues...

"The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" is available from Amazon.com.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bless you, Boston

Watching CBS News coverage of today's horrific tragedy at the Boston Marathon.

For several years, I used to take off to watch the Red Sox game on Patriots Day. I was working today and heard the news while on the road.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families, to the first responders and to the city of Boston.

Hug somebody you love tonight. Hug a stranger. Put a little love in your heart.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Music is medicine

Sunday morning comin' down, Sinatra, Sid Mark, newspapers, nice.

I've got a scratchy throat. But I think (hope) it's just drainage. That time of year, you know.

Four days migraine free. I am happily, cautiously, feeling human.  It's humane, sane, no longer profane.

Tax Day cometh. Sigh. I'm going to see the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's production of Verdi's "Requiem" on Thursday. Seems appropriate.

Speaking of the KSO, Doc Severinsen conducted the KSO Pops last night. No big band. Italian style. It was a nice way to detox.

Doc played the trumpet he co-created with Steve Shires. Kathy Duggan, whom Jenn and I saw after the show, says that was the best part. I agree.

Never thought I'd ever get to see Doc in person. Thought I'd missed the boat. He's 85! Who knew he'd move to East Tennessee.

And, yeah, I dreamt about the days when he and Tommy and Ed (Shaughnessy) played on Carson's "Tonight Show." Someday I may write a book arguing that the pop culture, in the way I define it, gasped its last breaths in late May 1992.

Doc wore orange pants and joked he bought them at "a yard sale at Derek Dooley's house." He wore pink during the second set. (See Cynthia Moxley's photo above.) You know Doc. Remember those '70s suits?

He and the Pops (one of my UT instructors, Keith Brown, played drums) took us on a tour of Italy. Caruso and "Caruso." Look up that second one. Pavarotti made it a hit. Tenor Joseph Wolverton supplied the showstoppers.

Friday night, I caught Josh Groban from Lincoln Center on PBS. And, after that, Michael Feinstein on the early days of radio.

Music is medicine.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A brief hiatus (and a little Elvis)

Hi folks.

Hope you're enjoying a great week.

Just wanted to let you know I haven't disappeared. Technical issues at home and continued health problems (although, I am happy to report as I knock on wood that I have enjoyed two decent days yesterday and today) have kept me from blogging since Friday.

I am still reading Belle Blackburn's book "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" as I can and plan to post a "Blogging the Book" update tomorrow.

Meanwhile, have a great week and enjoy this rare photo of Elvis Presley, taken at Stokely Athletics Center during his 2:30 p.m. show on April 8, 1972, 41 years ago this week, in Knoxville. It was his first concert appearance here.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

'A leave of presence'

Roger Ebert still had things to do.

He was scaling back on his movie reviews. He planned to do what he had always dreamed: review the movies HE wanted to see. He was relaunching his website. Ebertfest 2013, his annual film festival, was scheduled to begin April 17.

But the credits rolled before the film was finished. Roger Ebert died today, of unspecified causes, most likely complications from a renewed bout with cancer. He was 70.

He titled his last blog post "A Leave of Presence." How fitting. Because Roger Ebert will remain very much with us. He lives on, in his writing, in his commentaries, in countless video clips, in the memories of his friends, fans and loved ones.

I am not going to do Mr. Ebert justice with this post. I lack the talent. But here's my best shot.

Roger Ebert was the first critic who made me THINK about films. I realized that, at their best, they were more than entertainment, more than a backdrop for a date night. Film is an art form. Roger was one of its poets. I paid attention to the technical aspects, to the mise-en-scene, to how a director worked his or her magic.

His commentary on the DVD releases of "Citizen Kane" is a thing of beauty. Like so many of us, he lost it at the movies, long before Pauline Kael coined the phrase. And he was more approachable than Kael, more talented, frankly, less in love with his own sense of self.

Ebert's frequent TV appearances with the late Gene Siskel on Letterman or Carson were hilarious.

Forget the famous "two thumbs up." Look deeper. He was the first film critic to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

And he exposed me to so much, not just to directors whose films I might have otherwise missed (Fellini, Bergman), but to literature, too. I was so inspired after one of his blog posts last year, I drove to McKay Used Books and bought several novels by Henry James. Another piece caused me to put "A Dance to the Music of Time" into my Amazon.com wishlist.

He could rip a flick to shreds and he could wax poetic about the superiority of film over digital projection and he could write better than anyone in his field. No, scratch that. He could write better than most scribes, period.

And he was an inspiration as a human being, too, bravely fighting a cruel disease. Cancer took his jaw and his voice. He kept working until it took his life. 

This weekend, I plan to watch "Citizen Kane," with Ebert's commentary, in tribute to an old friend I never met.

Godspeed, Roger Ebert. I hope you and Gene are somewhere together, laughing, talking, maybe watching a flick or two.

Your life and career rate two thumbs WAY up.

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

'A Sensitive, Passionate Man'


That's how I would describe "A Sensitive, Passionate Man," a 1977 TV movie starring David Janssen as a laid-off rocket engineer whose life spirals out of control as he descends into alcoholism.

My friend Beverly recommended the movie after I saluted Janssen, who I think is a wonderful, underrated actor, on what would have been his birthday.

Sue Mudge, on the Facebook fan page for Janssen's most famous TV series, "The Fugitive," said she has a love/hate relationship with the production. She loved it at the time it aired, but as it turned out, Janssen was having his own problems with alcohol during filming. (He died in 1980 at age 48.)

Just remember, she said, this isn't our hero, Dr. Richard Kimble.

That being said, it's an excellent piece of work.

Janssen's Michael Delaney fits the description of the film's title. He is obviously in love with wife Marjorie, played to perfection by Angie Dickinson.

But he's fighting a one-two punch: his father's alcoholism/early death and Delaney's depression following his layoff. He seeks solace in the bottle.

This isn't a Friday night popcorn movie. It's a disturbing portrait of a pitiful (in the charitable sense) disease.

But it shows off Janssen's acting chops and casts him in a darker light than the good-guy image to which fans of his three TV series (the other two are "Richard Diamond" and "Harry O") are accustomed. Dickinson also tends to be underrated because of her physical beauty. Here, she takes a difficult role and makes you feel her pain, to coin a phrase.

I don't know that I will watch this movie again, but I am glad I screened it. It is a noteworthy part of Janssen's filmography along with his TV work and appearances in such movies as "Marooned" and "The Green Berets."

 Knowing that Janssen's fate was similar to Michael Delaney's, though, makes this a particularly poignant performance.

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Monday, April 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

...or, as others call it, Opening Day.