Thursday, March 29, 2018

Flowers, books, sails, and observations

 I am not going to do the April A-Z, as I pondered in my last post. I can't seem to find time to do a post a week.  But I did want to check in and let everyone know that I'm still alive and kicking.  Actually, I've been pretty well and have been enjoying our cooler weather (this means highs in the low 60s instead of the 80s) which has allowed us to enjoy azaleas for nearly a month. Last year, it was hot and the flowers seemed to last only a week.  I have been enjoying them even though our bushes have been beat up pretty badly in the last two fall hurricanes.  I have photos of the various types of azaleas in our yard.

Last week, the Rotary Clubs of Savannah had a reading program. On Wednesday, every first through third grade class in the county had someone assigned to read to the class (nearly 600 classes). I signed up and was right on time for my assignment, reading to a second grade class at Heard Elementary. Part of the deal is that each reader was to give the book (or books) they'd read to the class for their library, which helped get a lot more books into school.  BUT, when I arrived, I learned that the second grade classes were out on a field trip. They must of known I was coming, but I did get a chance to read to a first grade class. I gave them a book on Pirates and another on a girl traveling in Scotland.

 Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that China has come out with the answer to tone-deaf folks desiring to do Karaoke.  There now have private booths where you can sing to yourself.  My first thought was, "What? Don't they have enough showers in China?"  Now I am wondering on what this does to alcohol sales...

This has been a month of reading.  The major work completed was for my book club, Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  I should write more about it in a later post.  I enjoyed listening to the audible issue, read by the author, of Rick Bragg's, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.  A short book of funny stories was Jim Gillespie, The Cabin: Tall Tales and Murky Truths from Hunting and Fishing the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Dorothy Stone Harmon, Archibald Rutledge: The Man and his Books was a bit disappointing as I was hoping for more of a biography of a writer that I have been reading more of who died in 1973. I knew most of what she covered about him.  For a man who wrote nearly 60 books of poetry and non-fiction, I think he should be worthy of a biography. Finally, I read  Robert L. Reymond, The Lamb of God: The Bible’s Unfolding Revelation of Sacrifice, which also left me thinking that this is a subject that needs more exploration. 

Last Saturday, we raced in the St. Patrick Day's regatta. It was fun, but it felt we were always behind (except for another boat of our class). Most of our racing is done against similar boats, in these races we actually did a lot better than others when the handicap timing of various hulls were factored in. The photo to the left was taken by a friend in another boat that was racing in the non-spinnaker class. We had a steady wind and after the first race, we took down the genoa (an oversize jib sail) and went with a regular jib.  This allowed us to hold a truer coarse.  On this race, we tacked away from most of the fleet (I think one boat followed us).  This allowed us to avoid tidal currents turned out to be the right tactic as we did our best in this race, coming in 3rd.     

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Is it St. Paddy's Day already?

I haven't been around much lately.  The good news is that I've been working on a creative non-fiction project. The bad news is that I've been too busy to do many of the things I love.  I have sailed some, but it seems that lately we've had either too high winds or no wind.  As for kayaking, when I have had a chance to get out for a few hours, it seems the wind was just too strong to make me want to fight it.  Yesterday, I decided it has been too long and despite a 10-13 mile an hour wind, I went out for a good seven mile paddle!  That's me in a selfie in one of the few places I wasn't being blown away (in a small creek at low tide).  I hope you are all doing well.
Anyone doing A-Z in April?  I haven't decided yet and curious if others are up for the challenge.
Here is a review I wrote a few weeks ago. Those who are friends on facebook may have seen this as I also published on another site...
Brennen Arkins, The Magic Kings (2015), 259 pages.
The transition from elementary to middle school is a tough time for all students.  For Alan and his classmates, it is made more uncertain by the 911 terrorist attacks that occurs at the beginning of their last year of elementary school. Alan’s life is filled with challenges.  He’s being raised by a single mother. His father died when he was much younger. He’s now slowly coming to a realization of what it means to have a mother that is an alcoholic.  Arkins tells this story through the eyes of Alan. As a pre-teen kid, there are a lot of things he does not clearly understand. Like Alan, the reader is slowly provided clues.  Alan understands his mother is having problem with her former boyfriend, Art, who seems to be a good male role model for Alan. It appears Art and Alan’s mother both have issues with alcohol and even though they break up, Art helps her become involved with Alcoholics Anonymous.

As an escape from the confusing world of adults, Alan and his best friend Zak play in a fantasy world. Yet, they sense things are coming to an end (this will be their last year to “trick-or-treat” so they decide to make the best of it). But while they sense things are ending, they are excited about the fantasy world in which they create. They find a special spot on the other side of town (and across a dangerous bridge that they must ride across on their bicycles) in which they can live out their fantasies. There, Zak looks for his magic wand. But on their second visit, they are challenged by boys from the local neighborhood who have claim on the property. At this point, Zak decides they need a third king, and Joel joins them on their adventures.

As Zak and Alan play in their fantasy world, Alan’s mother begins to take him to church. Before, they had only occasionally attended church. Now they start going to Art’s church. His mother is concerned about Alan’s interest in fantasy and magic and suggests that it goes against the Bible. Their pastor isn’t as concerned as Alan’s mother, but she takes away his Harry Potter books as punishment for him riding over the bridge to their magic kingdom.

The book ends as Alan, Zak, Joel along with others including several girls, move into Middle School.  Alan notices the changes as he is more interested in the girls and less in the fantasy worlds that he and Zak had created. Alan is also more interested in sports and in reading the Bible, which seems to have become his new “magic book.” And construction has begun on the land upon which they’d envisioned their magic kingdom.

I found myself curious about Alan as he navigates his changing world. His challenges kept me engaged. At first I found myself not liking the pastor (who told Alan the only book he read when he was a kid was the Bible). I didn’t find that believable.  But I later liked him when he refused to tell Alan’s misdeeds to his mother, allowing Alan to take responsibility and to work it out himself.

This book could benefit a young boy troubled about his changing world (we’ve all been there, especially in those pre-teen years). The book could also help a boy with parents (or a friend’s parents) with drinking problems.  The story shows the benefits of a religious community and organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous to help address such problems. However, I found myself concerned with seeing the Bible as a substitute for “magic books.” In this way, I agreed more with the pastor, who didn’t appear overly concerned about the magic books. I found myself wondering more why Alan’s mother was so concern. Adding to the confusion was Zak trying to be a good friend to Alan and giving him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ “magic books,” The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe.  Lewis’ use of the fantasy genre as an allegorical way to understand Christianity is well known, and the gift shows that although Zak doesn’t get Alan’s interest in Christianity, he is supportive of his friend’s interests.

As for the Bible being some kind of magic book, I would hope that Alan would come to understand the purpose of Scripture is revelation. By showing us who God is and who we’re to be, the Bible helps bring us into a relationship with God. Maybe Alan’s new found interest in the Bible will help him appreciate it not just as a book with better magic or fantasy, but as a guide to a relationship with (to draw from AA language) a higher power.

I am curious as to how middle school boys might relate to this book.  While those of us who lived through the terrorist attacks of 2001 understand the fear and uncertainty expressed by Alan and Zak, I wonder if this would be the same for those who were born a decade later (Alan and Zak would be in their late-20s today). If Arkins was to do a second publication, I suggest he consider how that event might be perceived differently by younger populations.  The other issues that Alan face (a single parent with alcohol issues, fidelity to old friends while making new ones, and relationships with the opposite sex) are more universal than the 911 experiences.

The Magic Kings is easy to read.  Arkins is an excellent storyteller and his style maintains the interests of the reader.  I look forward to reading more books from him.

Disclaimer:  I am in a writing group with Brennen Arkins and was given a copy of the book for review.