Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Reading: Five Books

HOLLOW CITY, by Ransom Riggs.  (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2014)

This is the sequel to MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, and Riggs continues to use strange and unusual photographs to illustrate and drive the plot.  The safe loop of Miss Peregrine and her charges has been destroyed, Miss Peregrine has been turned into a bird, and the surviving children desperately seek another safe loop where they can take refuge and find someone who can turn Miss Peregrine back into a woman.  The peculiar children are chased by their mortal enemies, the wights and hollowgasts, and faced with almost insurmountable obstacles at every turn.  The characters are well-drawn, the plot continues to be fast paced and, when you finish reading this book, you're going to have to pick up book 3 immediately because book 2 leaves you hanging.


      SHOPAHOLIC  TIES THE KNOT, by Sophie Kinsella.  (New York: Bantam/Dell, 2003)

I don’t know how the children who read HOLLOW CITY feel after they finish the book, but I went to my book case looking for something humorous and so light, it would float off the shelf to me. I found it with Sophie Kinsella and read it in one sitting.  Becky Bloomwood is an outrageous heroine who, more than most brides, must juggle competing family expectations.  Somehow, with incredible chutzpah, she manages to keep everyone happy.


This book was in a stash of books a friend donated to the Little Free Library, and I snatched it to read first.  While I was familiar with Brown, I've never read one of her books.  Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, studies people who live life “wholeheartedly” in this book written for the nonacademic audience.  She defines wholehearted living as “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” Over the course of eight years, she interviews over 1,000 people and collects 10,000 stories.  She then analyzes the stories for commonalities and comes up with ten guideposts to help individuals move toward wholehearted living.  Her ten guideposts are helpful constructs, and examples include #1 Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think; #4 Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark;  #5 Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty; and #6 Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison.  Her research perspective is called “Grounded Theory,” a form of qualitative research methodology. I enjoyed the book and may have to hang onto it for a while longer to absorb it all.
      A KILLER COLLECTION, by J. B. Stanley. (New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2006)
This is a mildly interesting cozy mystery, with characters that aren’t that well-defined, but I persevered and got caught up in the milieu of the Carolina Pottery world near Seagrove, North Carolina.  In the book, a pottery collector is killed and no one seems unduly sad about it, but, in the end, the killer is brought to justice.  The reader learns more about pottery than necessary for the plot of the mystery.  A KILLER COLLECTION is the first book in the “Collectible Mystery” series.  I became curious about the author and discovered this book appears to be her first published mystery, and when this book and others in the series were published in an e-series, they were revised and she used another nom de plume.  Stanley now writes multiple series under different names: J. B. Stanley (2 series); Jennifer Stanley (1 series); Ellery Adams (3 series); and she is half of the writing team, Lucy Arlington (1 series).  Obviously, Stanley is a hard-working author whose works others enjoy.
MURDER IN THE WHITE HOUSE, by Margaret Truman (New York: Fawcett Popular Library, 1980)

A friend recently gave me all of Truman’s mysteries.  This is the first one Truman wrote.  Robert Lang Webster is President.  He, his wife Catherine, and adult daughter Lynne occupy the White House residence.  Ron Fairbanks is Special Counsel to the President.  When the President’s long- time family friend and Secretary of State is murdered one night on the second floor of the White House, the President asks his Special Counsel to head the team, working with the FBI and Secret Service, to find the murderer.  The problem is only a few people had access to this floor, and they are all family members or close associates of the President, so Fairbanks must tread carefully but work quickly.  Although there are elements of the plot that don’t seem feasible to me, plot twists and a surprise ending keep the reader interested.

A sixth book I read in January will get a separate post, and I have a couple more books that are partially read, so stay tuned.  What did you read to start off your year?


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Willie and Willie Again

Willie: An Autobiography, by Willie Nelson, with Bud Shrake
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988

It’s a Long Story: My Life, by Willie Nelson, with David Ritz
New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2015
I read both of these books over the recent Christmas holidays.  My husband gave me the new release for Christmas, knowing how I feel about Willie, and the older book showed up in a stack donated to our Little Free Library, and I snagged it to read when I had time.   The most recent book has more space between each line of type and is one of those celebrity autobiographies that is a breezy, fast read.  The older book appears denser when you open it because of the spacing.  It contains more biographical details of his early life and young adulthood, but the second book also covers his early life and continues up to the present, Willie at age 82.   

The 1988 book is organized into eight parts, each of the parts is named after a song Willie wrote and loosely reflects the content of that section:  Let Me Be a Man, Family Bible, Night Live, Write Your Own Song, I Gotta Get Drunk and I Sure Do Dread It, It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way, On the Road Again, and The Healing Hands of Time.   Each section contains one or more “chapters,” which is Willie’s voice telling about that part of his life, followed by a “chorus,” stories told by someone else—his sister Bobbie, an ex-wife, an old friend or colleague.  There are two groupings of photographs, plus an index. 
The more recent autobiography is divided into five parts, has two sections of photographs and an index.  The whole book is in Willie’s voice.  Some of the stories are the same as in book one but recollected differently, e.g. the time that Willie was working for a tree trimming company and fell 40 feet from a tree.  His friend in the first book remembered it one way, and Willie said he recalled it differently in the second book.  There are several such examples of differing accounts of the same incident in the two books.

After reading both of these books, I can rattle off Willie’s wives’ names (Martha, Shirley, Connie and Annie), the number of children he had with each and other details of his personal life.  A few years ago, tragically his oldest son committed suicide.  I know about his and Bobbie’s early upbringing and his lack of animosity toward his parents for leaving him and Bobbie to be raised by his dad’s parents, his early career, the business and art of songwriting, his passion for golf, his support for family farmers, and his life on the road performing.  Of course, Willie’s use of and support for marijuana is covered in both books.
I especially enjoyed Willie’s talking about his songwriting and creativity.  In his recent book, Willie says:
Well, songs come easy to me.  I’ve written hundreds of them.  I see them as little stories that fall out of our lives and imaginations.  If I have to struggle to write a song, I stop before I start.  I figure if it don’t flow easy, it’s not meant to be….The truth should flow easy.  Same for songs and stories.  If you overanalyze or torture yourself to bring them to life, something’s wrong. 

Willie is also a spiritual man, not as traditionally religious as he was in his younger days, but he writes about his faith and beliefs in his first book:
You can bring divine energy into your lungs by breathing.  Feel the beat of your heart.  It is holy light.  When you become conscious of the Master in your heart, your whole life changes.  Your aura goes out and influences everything around you.  You have free will to recognize it or to blind yourself to it.  Be quiet and ask your heart.  I mean, really shut up and listen to your inner Voice.  It will tell you this is the truth.

I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform several times—in Tennessee when I was in graduate school; in Rapid City, South Dakota, at a concert to support the occupation of the Black Hills by the Oglala Sioux; in Austin, Texas at a taping of a show for public radio; and at a small rodeo arena in East Texas.  There may have been other concerts along the way that I’ve forgotten. 
Willie says “telling stories has kept me alive.”  Since he turned 80, Willie has written a couple dozen new songs, recorded five new albums, and performed over 300 live concerts.  I never tire of Willie Nelson.  He's one of a kind.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wild Ponies

Alan Dyson of Fairfield House Concerts introduces Wild Ponies.

Doug and Telisha Williams entertain the crowd
The band Wild Ponies, with Doug and Telisha Williams and drummer Jason Winebrenner, was in Shreveport last night.  They kicked off the 2016 Fairfield Studio House Concerts that, fortunately for us, take place in our neighborhood.  When I heard and met the husband-wife duo that comprise Wild Ponies, I felt I had found my people, and to some extent, I had.  Both Doug and Telisha hail from Martinsville, Virginia, but Doug has family roots in Galax, Virginia in the southwestern part of Virginia.  I’m originally from Marion, Virginia, in that same neck of the woods, and I traveled the mountain roads and hollars between Martinsville and Galax for my first job as a social services caseworker in Carroll County, Virginia. 
The name, Wild Ponies, comes from the wild ponies that roam the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area (and are also found on the Virginia/Maryland coast on Chincoteague Island).  My mother worked for the US Forest Service and was the clerk on the Jefferson National Forest when the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area was designated.  She then had responsibilities for both entities.  Doug Williams recounts fond memories of riding horses on Mr. Rogers with his grandfather. 

Doug’s Aunt Patty and her husband now live in Baton Rouge but drove up for the concert.  Patty and her sister, Doug’s mother, now own the family farm in Galax where Doug and Telisha plan to record an album this summer.  When I met Patty, we discussed the long drive between Louisiana and Southwest Virginia.  She commiserated with me about the two speeding tickets I got on my last trip. I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend rather than chatting with a new acquaintance. 
All this to say, I felt an immediate bond with Wild Ponies who now make their home in east Nashville where they pursue their passion for songwriting and performing.  Doug and Telisha write the vast majority of the songs they perform and record. 

I loved every song Wild Ponies did!  As a writer, I’m into words and telling stories so the roots-folk-rock ballads in the first part of the show resonated with me.   Telisha and Doug don’t shy away from writing and singing about the tough stuff, as in the song The Truth Is.  “The truth is I’m more broken than brave/There are things I think about everyday/Like his footsteps in the hallway.”  Telisha is open in interviews about the childhood sexual abuse she endured and is an advocate for other victims.  Trigger is a song that Telisha introduced as both a lullaby and a song about murder.  Another Chance on their first album deals with addiction and recovery.

Telisha’s song Iris about her grandmother brought tears to my eyes with “I called her Granny/But she never hugged me/She was quiet and she moved slowly/But somehow, I know she loved me/She never told me, I just know.”  But the song also had me smiling as she sang about her grandmother chewing a plug of tobacco and spitting expertly into a can. 
We bought the vinyl of Wild Ponies’ first album, Things That Used to Shine.  The title song lists all the things the Williams cherish  that are “polished smooth by the hands of time.”   Among the things that they sing about is Appalachian folksinger, Hazel Dickens.  I wager I was the only one at the concert who was both familiar with Hazel Dickens AND who owns a CD that features Hazel Dickens singing a coal mining song.

My favorite song of the night, Trouble Looks Good on You, co-written with Amy Speace, is on the album that we bought, but I also had to download the song onto my phone.  It reminds me of meeting my husband!  He might have been trouble but what good trouble it has turned out to be.  To hear the song, click here .
I could go on and on about Wild Ponies.  They have a new album (they offer CDs, vinyls and digital downloads that come with the vinyls) with a more rock ‘n roll sound, and they performed several songs from it. 

In addition to their songwriting skills, Doug and Telisha are talented musicians and sing beautiful harmonies.  Doug plays guitar while Telisha pounds the stand-up bass, and Jason holds down the fort at the drums.  If you get a chance to hear them, meet them, purchase their music, take their Kentucky whiskey distillery tour, DO IT—that’s my advice.