Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

As we spend the weekend celebrating, it is important to understand the importance of Monday’s holiday. Around 160 years ago, the United States was trying to recover from the Civil War. The nation had torn itself apart, and destroyed many cities, and killed irreplaceable numbers of our young men. We should never forget the devastation this war brought on our country lest we repeat it.

Shortly after the Civil War, Union Officers William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore estimated the combined death toll as 618,222 men. In 2010 the number of dead was raised to about 750,000 based on research compiled from census data by J. David Hacker.

The movement to remember the fallen began on a local level with cities and municipalities marking the graves of the dead soldiers with wreaths, and they called it Decoration Day. Overtime the name slowly changed to Memorial Day, and after World War II people started honoring all war dead.

President Johnson officially signed a proclamation in 1966 declaring the first celebration as occurring on May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York. However, this date and location are highly controversial. He also officially named it Memorial Day, and designated it as the date to honor all members of the United States armed services who died serving their country.

The estimate for the total number of deaths for U.S. military service members killed in war stands at 1,321,612. The American Civil War accounts for more than half the deaths of our military soldiers killed in war.

Memorial Day holiday celebrations occur on the last Monday in May. Flags are flown at half-mast, and markers are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers. Some towns still hold parades to honor the fallen. It is also considered the first weekend of summer, and many families participate in outdoor activities.

However you choose to enjoy the weekend, please take a moment to remember those that have given their lives for our freedom.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tribute to B.B. King

Picture by Tom Beetz, CC-BY
From Mississippi to Las Vegas and all points in between, born B. B. King played and sang the blues on his Gibson guitar named Lucille. Last night blues legend B.B. King died in Las Vegas at the age of 89.

Born Riley B. King on a cotton plantation in Itta Bena Mississippi, he purchased his first guitar at the age of twelve. He played in the church choir, and by twenty-three he was playing on the radio in Memphis. He used the stage name of Blues Boy, which became truncated to B.B. 

I’ve seen B.B. King in concert several times. The last time was at the University of South Florida Sundome on December 30, 2004. B.B. King not only played the guitar, he entertained. Every song had a lead in story, a history, and a meaning. Like his music, his stories contained a bit of sadness, and a touch of irony. Sometimes you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. After all, he was a master of the blues.

With his passing another great musician joins that fantastic band in heaven. Imagine the jam sessions they must play, that would truly be heaven to listen in. Most of his songs were written based on life experiences that evoke emotions. His concerts were a treat, and he will be missed.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Three Reasons to Shop at an Independent Bookstore

Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL Picture by The Quiet Image
Growing up our little town in Northeast Pennsylvania we didn’t have a bookstore. The closest store was forty-five minutes away, a Walden Bookstore at the mall. There was no Amazon. As a kid, I depended on the school library for my reading needs. Around the age of fourteen, an independent bookstore opened in the next town. Once I discovered it, I begged for rides on the weekends. I fell in love with the store.

Today I still enjoy shopping at independent bookstores mostly because I enjoy the individual attention. A couple of weeks ago I bought a book at Inkwood Books in Tampa. The owner worked the cash register. She provided great service, and advice.

I wanted to purchase a signed copy of John Green’s, Looking for Alaska. The owner looked at the book then looked at me. “Is this a gift?” she asked. I shook my head no. She smiled. “You don’t fit our typical buyer. Usually, young teenage girls buy this book. Perhaps you would like something else.”

Picture by The Quiet Image
I appreciated the fact that she knew her merchandise and clientele, and she was willing to help me not waste twenty dollars. I assured her, I was willing to take a chance. I did enjoy the book.

Independent bookstores also build community. Inkwood Books has several book discussion groups for different ages and interests. I declined to attend the teenage girl’s reading group that meets on Thursdays after school.

Other local community building activities include local author autograph sessions and lectures. Customers get a chance to meet other people from the area that share similar interests. I’ve found that people attending independent bookstore events tend to be more interactive with each other than at the megabookstore author talks.

Lastly, buying books or services at a local independent bookstore supports the local economy. A 2003 study by the American Business Alliance in Austin, Texas found 13% of money spent at big chain stores stays in the local economy, while about 45% of money spent at a locally owned company goes back into the local economy.

Independent bookstores are a good place to shop, and a great place to have in the community. The owners know their merchandise and their market needs. Indie bookstores generate social interaction and build local community spirit, and they support the local economy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr

Saint Malo
Congratulations to Anthony Doerr for wining the Pulitzer in fiction for his second novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I was amazed to find a Pulitzer awarded to a book I’ve actually read. Further more, I found the book tremendously enjoyable.

It’s a historical fiction story set in France during World War II. The heroine, Marie-Laure cannot see. She lost her sight at the age of six. A few years later the Nazis invade Paris. Marie and her father, Daniel LeBlanc flee to Saint Malo on the French coast to live with her odd Uncle Etienne.

Her father is a curator at a Paris Museum of Natural History, and he is entrusted to protect the Sea of Flames from the Nazi horde. It is a rare diamond highly sought by the Nazis.

Werner Pfennig lives in an orphanage with his sister in Germany. He has a knack for technology and radios. The Germans send him to a Nazi youth camp to further his knowledge. While there he designs a system for locating radio messages. After graduation, he uses the device to hunt resistance fighters through radio waves.

Doerr weaves the three story lines in an intricate pattern. Less skilled authors would lose things in a complex story including the reader, but Doerr masters the writing art. He keeps everything neat and tidy so the story flows smoothly through the transitions. He weaves description and science into the story in adequate amounts making for an entertaining read.

I found the story suspenseful and intriguing. It was not a quick read. This is not a beach book or a story that can be finished on the red eye from Atlanta to Seattle. It will pique your interest and cause you to seek more information on the topic.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Earth Day

"The Earth seen from Apollo 17" by NASA/Apollo 17 
April 22, 2015 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Today people in general seem so much more aware of conservation and ecology. They drive hybrid cars, and refuse to drink water from plastic bottles.

My first Earth Day was in 1980. We sat on the Union Green at Penn State and listened to bands all day and into the night. We played ultimate frisbee. We sat on sheets from our dorm beds. Life was much different. 

We didn't have hybrid cars, and Perrier had only recently reintroduced bottled water. No one had cell phones, and you wandered through the crowd trying to connect with friends. In the process you met new friends, shared a drink and a smoke. This was BI, before Internet.

Even though people seem more aware of the issues, Earth Day seems to have shrunk in importance. Celebrations are held when it is convenient rather than on Earth Day. People fear skipping out on work or school to enjoy a few minutes. 

Celebrate Earth Day today. Don't eat lunch in front of the computer, instead eat lunch outside. Get some fresh air, and see what the weekday sun looks like. Just maybe you'll be a little less stressed out at the end of the day.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings - The Yearling

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
While preparing an article about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, I decided to read her tearjerker, The Yearling. It has been decades since I read it, and I find the story even more depressing than I remembered.  

It’s a young adult novel about Jody Baxter growing up in North Central Florida. It takes place close to Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators. They have a dormitory, Rawlings Hall named after the author. There is also a Florida State Historic Park comprised of the property where Rawlings lived and wrote the book.

The story occurs around 1870, and the Baxter family farms a parcel of land they cleared. It’s a piece of scrubland in the middle of some Florida swampland. For a taste of what the Baxter’s must have endured, go for a walk in the Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park just south of Gainesville.

Imagine Jody’s life. He has no cell phone, no cable, no bug spray, and no air conditioning. He had to be fairly hardy to survive under those conditions. In the brief year we join the Baxter’s in the story, they encounter drought, disease, bear attacks, a hurricane, a rattle snake bite, and less than pleasant neighbors.

Poor Jody gets mentally and physically clobbered through out the story, but he keeps on going. He encounters death on many occasions, and each time it hits closer to home and has more impact. We watch Jody turn from a little boy into a man.

Rawlings’ uses dialect for her dialogue. It makes the story a bit difficult to read. It is very similar to the dialogue used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Be warned, in the version I read, the text hadn’t been sanitized like Mark Twain’s books. The language could be offensive.

Rawlings demonstrates her love of nature throughout the book. She describes the plants and animals in great detail and correctly. Her story follows the seasonal changes accurately. Her story demonstrates the cycle of life, and the dependence of animals, plants and man on each other.