Monday, July 23, 2018

“River Road” by Charles Martin

It’s a common question asked of authors, and especially authors of fiction: Where do you get your story ideas from? Charles Martin partially answered that question by publishing River Road, a collection of stories from his childhood, teen, and college years.

River Road is the neighborhood where he grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. It is not unlike the neighborhood where a lot of us grew up in the 1950s, 1960s, and later. His experiences are more than familiar; his childhood was much like my own and like millions of other boys growing up in America, and especially the American South.

Martin wrote a few of these stories in high school and most of them in college. What emerges from them now is one writer’s beginnings. If you’ve read Martin’s novels, you can find the man in the child by reading these stories.

He writes of playing with a friend in a sandbox and digging a hole intended to each China; how he was caught stealing and the experience of terror while expecting a neighbor to call his mother; his career objective to be a cowboy; how a bully (himself) got unforgettably bullied; the laugh-out-loud experience of a full bladder while your mother is trying on clothes; when a fishing expedition goes awry and a man who doesn’t know how to swim saves a boy who doesn’t know how to swim; the fine art of stealing tangerines from a neighbor’s tree; what chewing tobacco can do to a boy’s stomach; ordering books from the monthly reading club at school, not to actually read the books but to have the most number of books with sports heroes; fishing with his grandfather and how his grandfather cut his hair; when your father is your football game referee and he calls penalties fairly; the theft of his favorite bicycle; and more.

Charles Martin
These stories all describe the commonplace, not unusual experiences of boyhood, with its joys and sorrows, and triumphs and humiliations. They describe growing up and all the stories we live (or live down) to survive to adulthood.

Martin includes “An Open Letter to My Boys,” which should be required reading for all of us, and “Random Rules for Writers,” which includes such advice as “Don’t use eight words when two will do.”

If you read River Road, you will smile and laugh, occasionally cringe in recognition, and shed a tear in memory. In those things, it is much like a Charles Martin novel, an experience to be grateful for.


Top photograph: a view from River Road, Jacksonville, Florida.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I would die for a good man

After Romans 5:6-11

I would die for a good man
for sure, I think, or so I tell myself,
I guess I would, maybe,
a good person accused unfairly or
plotted against or betrayed or treated
unjustly. I would do that, I think,
surely we would do that.

But to die for an evil man? A murderer.
a thief, a rapist, a child abuser,
a wife beater, a terrorist, or even worse,
someone who votes differently? Would
I die for any of them, any of those people?
I think not.
I think not.
But he did.

Photograph by Ian Espinosa via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

I’m finding myself spending less and less time on Facebook, and the reason is politics. Any discussion involving politics seems to start from the viewpoint of outrage, with extreme language and sentiments. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you sit on. When outrage is your starting point, your post is simply inviting others of like mind to share your outrage, taunt people who believe differently, or both. And no one’s mind is being changed. Scott Adams is right: we Americans are seeing the exact same events unfold, but we’re watching two entirely different movies.  The Atlantic did a survey, and discovered that, for all our talk about the desperate need for civil discourse in America, we’re sticking to our political bubbles and our confirmation biases. 

J.D. Guesing describes who’s buried in a small, relatively unknown cemetery in London. David Henndendorf writes on Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. A 26-year-old from India meets an 87-year-old in Dublin, and two lives are changed; the BBC has the story. A Clerk of Oxford explore a 10thcentury Old English poem. The New Yorker has what I’d call a “calmly horrible” story on the 19thcentury slave trade; the calmness with which the author writes adds to the horror of what’s being written.

And more.

British Stuff

To Catch a Thief – Sarah Rayne at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Reader, If You Seek a Monument, Look Around – J.G. Duesing at Footnotes.


Historical Markers – Benjamin Myers at First Things Magazine.

Some Small Bone – Hailey Leithauser at Image Journal.

On Remembering – Elizabeth Marshall.

Life and Culture

The Disappearing Newsroom – Wallace Stroby at CrimeReads.

The wise words that changed my life – Awanthi Vardaraj at BBC. 

My Great-Grandfather, the Nigerian Slave Trader – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani at The New Yorker.

One Country, Two Radically Different Narratives – Emma Green at The Atlantic.

Writing and Literature

Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Cost of Knowing One’s Place – David Heddendorf at Front Porch Republic.

The World of Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep – Pamela Jackson and Anthony Rizzutto at CrimeReads.


Choosing to be Different in the Workplace – Jeff Klick at Biblical Leadership.

Friendly Theological Liberalism: A Threat in Every Age – Dan Doriani at The Gospel Coalition.

Is the Wall of Separation “Bad History”? – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

Awkward Saint Crazy – Adam Whipple at The Rabbit Room.

Art and Photography

The Serious Charm of Edward Bawden – Jenny Uglow at The New York Review of Books.

Summer at Sugar Creek – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

The Inspector Morse Theme (Morse code)

Painting: Interior with Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (1863-1935).

Friday, July 20, 2018

The fig tree

After Mark 11:1-14

Hungry, he spies a tree,
a fig tree in full leaf,
suggestive of branches
hanging heavy with fruit.
He searches, but the tree
offers nothing, yields nothing
but leaves, an appearance only,
an invitation without substance,
a mirage, a fraud

and so the curse.

From the cursed fig
to the temple, with its appearance
of wealth and wisdom and worship
but nothing but appearance, a fraud,
a mirage,
and so it joins its brother,
the fig tree.

Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.