Monday, June 30, 2008

Daufuskie Island, Pat Conroy, Peace Corps & Wordsmith's Books

The photographs shown here are of the Mary Fields School located on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. It was here that (Georgia) author Pat Conroy taught between 1969-1970. He later turned his experiences on Daufuskie into the 1972 autobiographical novel, The Water is Wide. The book was later made into the 1974 feature film Conrack (the name Conroy’s students gave him), starring Jon Voight.


The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (1986), maybe Mr. Conroy’s best-known book.

The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy (1980), another autobiographical novel, this one about the author’s time as a cadet at The Citadel. This book contains the best description of a southern forest at night that I have ever read.

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (1976). You end up hating Santini’s guts, really. Still, you want to keep reading, and you end up maybe not hating his guts quite so much.

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy (1972). I bet that I have sold a hundred copies of this book over the past ten years. I like recommending it to education students and new teachers in particular. It is also one of the titles that I most recommend to prospective Peace Corps volunteers, particularly those going in to service to teach. My wife and I are both former Volunteers (Mali and Albania, respectively).

Speaking of the Peace Corps, Wordsmith’s Books in Decatur, Georgia will be hosting a Peace Corps information session tonight at 7 p.m. It seems appropriate that a bookstore would host a Peace Corps event, especially considering the role that books play in most Volunteer’s experiences. Also, the Peace Corps has quite a reputation for churning out writers. Paul Theroux and Kinky Friedman are examples.

For a more extensive list of Peace Corps writers (there are several hundred) and their works, visit Peace Corps Writers on the web at

Also, visit the Peace Corps at for the official view of things.


Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa's Borders by Jason Carter (2002 by National Geographic). Former Peace Corps Volunteer, Georgia author, and grandson of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter discusses his Peace Corps service in South Africa during the late 1990’s. Back in July of 2002, your humble blogger had the honor of introducing Mr. Carter during his appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV.

Finally, congratulations to Wordsmith's Books in Decatur (Georgia's biggest and newest indie book store) on their one-year anniversary earlier this month. Shendet!


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Aboard the Capt. Eulice on the crossing between Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Natural Sense of Wonder--Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons by Rick Van Noy

“Imagine if they (kids) knew plants and animals the way they knew brand names and logos, if they knew mountains the way they know malls.” writes Rick Van Noy.

Yes. Just imagine.

Just out this month from the University of Georgia Press, Van Noy’s new collection of essays, A Natural Sense of Wonder, considers many of the same themes as Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005, with a newly expanded edition out this past March).

Van Noy considers his children, in nature, through the seasons. All of the usual villains are here, of course—television, fast food, materialism, television, bad development, strangers, television. Still, as a father of two small children—children whom I want to grow up outside camping, fishing, hiking, wandering, exploring, reading, loafing, and safe—I enjoyed the way that Van Noy related his stories and observations through his kids.

There were a number of other reasons that I liked this book. Chief among them was the author’s thorough trashing of yard work and, in particular, Godforsaken weed eaters. I hate the damn things. It’s a mutual hatred, too.

“It is downright un-American not to fawn over our lawns,” writes Van Noy. I gave up weed eaters two summers ago, and went back to clippers.

But I digress from the main points of the book.

I also liked the book because it mentioned Slovenia. My wife and I had the opportunity to live there for much of 1999. Slovenia is a very green and very healthy place. The Slovenes have a real passion for the outdoors. They walk everywhere. This is probably to offset their love for and consumption of so much German-influenced food and Italian-influenced-coffee and desert. A word or two about Slovene beer—they take it quite seriously. The national brewer, Union, actually built it’s main brewery in the country’s capitol of Ljubljana over a vortex—a geographic location that draws in all nearby positive energy and focuses it into one big happy spot. It’s a good story. It is also a very good beer. Apparently, hops from Slovenia are sought by brewers from around the world.

Regarding the country’s “greenness”, is there another capitol city in Europe—or anywhere—in which one can look over the rail of a bridge that crosses a river that runs right through the city…and see trout?

Another digression.

Van Noy also explores the benefits of tree houses, swimming holes and fishing, among other things.

Finally, I also liked the fact that, though the author explores the more complex issues of kids in nature, his essays are all firmly grounded in the reality of actually having and raising kids.

“As I write this, I’m granted a little writing time because the kids are finishing a movie.” Van Noy confesses.

On hiking, he adds, “But we have finally crossed that most important stile a hiker with children must cross: just getting out the door.” Amen.

And, on fishing, something near and dear to me, he notes that, “And when you fish with children, you discover that fishing tangles have their own laws of physics. On a good day, the number of fish we land is greater than the number of trees we catch.”

True. But he adds, with regards to fishing as teaching medium, “Patience is what people commonly say you need to fish, and perhaps that’s it if all you do is watch your bobber. But persistence is what it takes. If one thing doesn’t work, you try another, or you move to a different section of the stream.”

I’m already seeing the truth of this in the slightest hints of its taking hold of my own two little ones, ages five and three. They seem to be figuring it out, and all on their own.

Van Noy addresses some of the same issues as Louv. There is the danger—real and perceived—of nature itself, and of strangers lurking in it. There is the natural parental concern that one’s offspring might get hurt.

On the subject of getting hurt, Van Noy, like Louv (like me) sees kids’ time in the outdoors as a means of acquiring confidence born of experience—and being given the leeway by mom and dad to gain that experience.

“If they fall, they learn to pay attention to those conditions that made the fall happen.” and, “—pay attention or you could get hurt.”

Like Louv, the emphasis is on “pay attention”, not “Be careful!!”

Yeah. I know. I’m a big talker. Be careful!!!

It’s a hard thing to do. There’s water, fire ants, ticks (we’ve had two in a week). There are strangers out there. Lions, tigers, bears and, etc. Van Noy understands a dad’s worries, and eloquently addresses them in his essays.

“Spend time with your children and experiences intensify, take on a special poignancy….Not too much is new as we grow older, but with children we rediscover the newness and brightness we once knew, the potential in a pile of wood shavings. Blink and they will pass you by—reach summits before you do.”

—Rick Van Noy, A Natural Sense of Wonder.
Georgia Outdoors by Victoria and Frank Logue (a couple of friends from my college days at Georgia Southern). Published in 1995 by John F. Blair.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day 2008

Yesterday was Father’s Day. I scored big. No tie, but a really cool—retro—shirt. Plus the latest titles by Jimmy Buffett (Swine Not?) and David Sedaris (When You are Engulfed in Flames).

Best of all, though, was spending the day with my wife, my kids and my dad. And fishing down at the small lake that my dad owns just south of Atlanta.

We call him Pop. The kids call him Poppy. And do they adore their Poppy. Why not? He has a lake, an endless supply of Fruit Loops, and believes that his grandchildren hung the sun, the moon and all the stars.

All three of them love fishing. Me too. And their mom—my wife—still speaks of the rod and reel that Pop gave her years ago as one of the most thoughtful and original gifts that she ever received. She still has me bait her hook, though.

Most days, I can barely get my little one’s to sit still for anything. It’s amazing to watch them when we go fishing down at Pop’s. The lake seems to slow them down. They can spend several hours doing nothing but casting and reeling in their lines, and tossing rocks into the water.

Yesterday marked my kid’s first experience with night crawlers. “Night Crawls”, my five-year-old daughter called them, which had my humming Bob Seiger’s song, ‘Night Moves’ (inserting the phrase, “Night Crawls”) all afternoon. I was a little concerned about them being squeamish at first, but they took to the night crawls from the start, wanting to hold them in the backseat of the van during the drive down to the lake. My daughter just couldn’t get enough of the night crawls. She’ll soon be baiting her mother’s hook.

So, Pop, again, Happy Father’s Day (and Happy Grandfather’s Day, too). Thank’s for helping to teach the kids to fish. And thanks for teaching me to fish, forty plus years ago. I swear that I will never reveal the dark secret behind the bass that you have mounted over your fireplace—the bass that you caught back in the late 1960’s. I’ll never tell how you finally landed him, or what you said to the taxidermist when he asked you, “Whut the hail happened to this fish?” I’ll take it to the grave. By the way, what caliber lure were you fishing with that day? I forget.

Pop. My dad taught me to fish and camp. He also made sure that I grew up with books, though never a big reader himself.

Pop introduced me to the world of trucking and logistics, where I cut my teeth in the working world. He just retired a few years ago after nearly forty years in the trucking business in Atlanta. He has a never-ending supply of stories that begin with some version of “You know, ol’ So-and-so, the traffic/warehouse/distribution manager up at such-and-such company….” If you got it by truck in or around Atlanta between 1960 and 2005, there’s a good possibility that my dad had something to do with your getting it.

My dad’s always had a knack for finding things that others have lost. Maybe it had something to do with his having always been out and about for work. He once had a sermon dedicated to him at a local African American Baptist church near Atlanta. He had found a bank bag out in the road and had looked up its owners. Turns out it was the bank deposit bag with all of the church’s offerings for that week. Someone had left it on a car, from which it had fallen on to the road.

My dad has helped a lot of people over the years, in one way, or another. He’s given money, references, and time. And more patience than Job. He has saved a lot of butts over the years, too. Mine, for one. Many times. He helped raise three children not his own. He’s intervened on many occasions to keep a few people out of very—very—serious trouble, for no other reason than it was what he thought was the right thing to do, and he thought the person needed another chance. Always patient, though he never gave genuine stupidity, irresponsibility, or bad behavior even an inch.

Pop’s always been a great teacher by example. A great dad, bottom line. And he did all that while caring for and sticking by my late mother through years of chronic illness, and more than three hundred hospital stays. So, great dad, great husband, doting grandfather.

Back in the early seventies, a drawing of straws took place involving the fathers in our neighborhood. I imagine it did, anyway. And my dad lost. Big time. That next weekend, he would escort me, and four of my best friends, to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta to attend the (all day) Planet of the Apes Film Festival. That’s right, all five classics (Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes) all together, back-to-back. God, it’s tedious just typing the film titles. Even we kids were miserable by the time it was all over. And Pop insisted that we stay for the entire Festival—it was a stamina thing, I think.

Thanks, Pop.

GB&W recommend for this Father's Day:

Wisdom of Our Fathers by the late Tim Russert


Monday, June 9, 2008

Georgia Books--The Georgia Center for the Book 2008 Must Read Georgia Authors

The Georgia Center for the Book, located in Decatur, has released its latest version of The Books that All Georgians Should Read. Some great titles here:

The 2008 Georgia Top 25 Books By Living Georgia Writers

Taking After Mudear
Ansa, Tina McElroy

Above the Fall Line: The Trail from White Pine Cabin
Blackmarr, Amy

Be Sweet
Blount, Roy Jr.

Waltzing Through the Endtime (poetry)
Bottoms, David

Baby Brother’s Blues
Cleage, Pearl

Dwelling Place
Clarke, Erskine

Strong at the Broken Places
Cleland, Max

Georgia Odyssey
Cobb, James C.

The Meaning of Consuelo
Cofer, Judith Ortiz

A Cabinet of Wonders
Dodd, Renee

There Is No Me Without You
Greene, Melissa Fay

The Untelling
Jones, Tayari

The Race Beat
Klibanoff, Hank

The Book of Marie
Kay, Terry

McPherson, James Alan

A Little Salvation (poetry)
Mitcham, Judson

Your Body is Changing
Pendarvis, Jack

Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land
Ray, Janisse

Sams, Ferrol

Beyond Reach
Slaughter, Karin

Native Guard (poetry)
Trethewey, Natasha

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For
Walker, Alice

For the Confederate Dead (poetry)
Young, Kevin

The Big Mama Stories
Youngblood, Shay

In the Morning: Reflections from First Light
Williams, Philip Lee

Source: The Georgia Center for the Book, 2008.

The Center also has a nice new look to its web site.

Does anyone have any good Kiwi authors to recommend?

Recommended titles: see above list of authors.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Georgia Record Still Holds

Seventy-six years ago yesterday, a nineteen-year-old Georgia farm boy named George Washington Perry landed a 22 pound, 4 ounce largemouth bass. He caught it in Montgomery Lake, located in middle Georgia. Perry’s bass still holds the record for the biggest largemouth bass ever caught. Ever. Anywhere.

This likely does not seem like such a big deal to non-fisherpersons. Bibliophiles might wish to think back to Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick, to get some idea of just how important a thing it is to some people, however.

Perry caught his fish from a boat that he had made by hand, from some seventy-five cents worth of material. The rod and reel that he was using cost about two dollars. It would be difficult to count the millions—millions—of dollars that have been spent since then, trying to best Perry’s record. Or the millions offered to the angler who finally does it.

In addition to the dollars involved—and the record’s longevity—are the stories. The myths and legends surrounding the quest to break Perry’s record are many. And some of the “mysteries” surrounding the Perry bass are just as interesting. For example, Jack Page, Perry’s fishing partner on the day that he caught his record bass, is lost to history.

It was only in the past few years that a photograph of the famous bass turned up. A story about the photo by Bill Baab appeared in Bassmaster Magazine in 2006 and was featured on The full story can be read at the link below:

I recently spoke with George L. “Dazy” Perry, son of the late George Washington Perry. A retired Delta pilot now living up in the mountains of north Georgia, Dazy obviously likes talking about his dad, and does so with obvious fondness. He spoke of the many “side” stories related to his late father and the famous bass. He said that there was a lot of nonsense that had been written. About the biggest thing missing, he seemed to think, was the lack of what people really know or remember about his late father.

“All they know about is the fish. And there was just so much more about him.” says Dazy.

It would be difficult to asses just how much paper and ink has been used on the Perry Bass. I’ve suggested it before, but check out Sowbelly by Monte Burke, for more about Perry’s bass, and about George Washington Perry. I’m looking forward to full story, someday.

The honest, enthusiastic, unrestrained, wholehearted way that a largemouth wallops a surface lure has endeared him forever to my heart. Nothing that the smallmouth does can compare with the announced strike of his big-mouthed cousin.

John Alden Knight
Black Bass, 1949

Noah smiled. He knew the trick. It was a way of making the fisherman think that the catch was at hand, making him relax, and when the grip on the rod was made loose, the fish would yank it into the water.

Terry Kay
The Valley of Light, 2003

You can’t say enough about fishing. Though the sport of kings, it’s just what the deadbeat ordered.

Thomas McGuane
In Silent Seasons, 1978

The largemouth bass is the official State Fish of Georgia.