• click for details

movie: Deliverance (1972)

Content warning: rape. Not discussed here in detail, but rather more graphic in the movie.


Assigned for Rebecca Gayle Howell’s seminar on “The Documentary Imaginary: One Way It Means To Be an Appalachian Writer,” and I have never seen this iconic movie before, so bring it on.

I am reminded of Urban Cowboy, how I recognized the moment in time, the cultural marker the movie made, felt nostalgic for some of its imagery, felt drawn to its presumptions, at the same time that I bridled against its crimes: stereotypes, misogyny, a casual good humor towards domestic violence. I gave it some slack for its datedness and enjoyed it some but still gave it 5 rides. And in many of the same ways, I meet Deliverance.

Four city boys take a weekend canoe trip down a backwoods Georgia river about to be dammed, which in the words of one of them, will “rape this whole goddamned landscape.” They take a decidedly nasty attitude towards the local hillbillies, who are short on teeth and don’t talk like the city boys–although it’s interesting to note that from my perspective the city boys sound pretty country, too. They have some small-scale internal conflict among them, but it’s mostly an idyllic float down the fictional Cahulawassee River. Until it isn’t.

I find myself unhappy writing about what follows, and geez, this is an awfully well-known movie. If you don’t know the plot, a simple web-search will fix you right up.

The cultural markers Deliverance has left behind are the dueling banjos, and the rape scene. The movie, it’s true, is so about more than that; but I found the rape scene quite disturbing, and didn’t realize how much so til I started trying to write about it. These are interesting observations that I imagine will be relevant to the discussion we’ll have in class, of “the documentary imaginary.”

Further, I imagine that we’ll be talking about the stereotyping of the Appalachian “mountain man” hillbilly. It’s quite ugly. Also ugly is the city boys’ attitude towards the locals when they arrive on the scene; really, they weren’t setting themselves up for any kind of good relations. A good movie in many ways; iconic, yes; musically interesting. But hard to watch, and ugly, despite the beautiful scenery. I did not find it redeemed by its profundity or higher themes or teaching value in the way that perhaps Boys Don’t Cry was. Maybe it’s just the datedness again. But I struggled; and ultimately, this movie gets the same rating as Urban Cowboy, and for similar reasons.

I look forward to being educated.


Rating: 5 missing teeth.

books for children

There are no babies in the household or extended biological family of pagesofjulia, but when I considered getting rid of my own baby/children’s books years ago, upon some move, my friend Liz protested. She told me that one day I would know babies, and I would wish I had books for them. And she has been right, again. Thanks, Liz.

I’ve been visiting with a baby recently, a family friend, a sweet little brown-eyed three-year-old who mostly remains quiet when I’m around but I’m told asks about me when I’m not. For her, for a recent visit, I dug out these four books which had been mine when I was small.

Giant Treasury of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter


Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr


The Patchwork Cat by William Mayne, illus. by Nicola Bayley


The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog by Tomie dePaola

It sort of tickled me to observe that these were all about animals.

And for the coming holidays, I have these two in hand for the same little girl:


Claude the Dog: A Christmas Story, words and pictures by Dick Gackenbach


Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans


Several years ago I passed on a few classics to a friend’s new son, who is now going on five years old.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola


The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola


And, I’ve just bought some board books for a baby friend for the holidays:

A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman


Caldecott winner The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats


Baby Touch and Feel: Animals


The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter


Baby Faces


These all in board book format, because this baby with her sticking-up hair is barely nine months old. I also got her an autographed copy of Katie Fallon’s Look, See the Bird!, but I know she won’t be ready for that one for a while.

Look, See the Bird! by Bill Wilson and Katie Fallon, illus. by Leigh Anne Carter


All of this is out of my comfort zone as a book reviewer, as babies are themselves out of my comfort zone, but it feels good to make some effort to pass on what I love and to help these parents out.

I confess I’m charmed by looking for the books I myself enjoyed as a child, rather than the new stuff. But then I come across an article like this one and am excited all over again. Of course I must link here as well to Shelf Awareness’s children’s gift book issue, for those searching for more recent titles – my children’s book review colleagues at the Shelf do such a swell job. Maybe next year I’ll do a better job of taking their advice!

What have you learned, as parents or just friends of parents, about books and gift-giving outside of your own comfort zones? Have any books to recommend for babies or small people?

Glorybound by Jessie van Eerden

Disclosure: Jessie is the director of the MFA program I am enrolled in.


And it’s so hard for me to separate this book from the Jessie I know. I felt like I heard the lines read aloud in her measured, careful tones, with attention for each sound within them. Impartial I guess I am not, but I’ll tell you my opinion anyway, that this is a beautiful book.

Aimee and Crystal Lemley are holding it together, a decade after their father Cord, preacher at the Glorybound Holiness Tabernacle, predicted the end of times and then left town after times didn’t end. Their hometown of Cuzzert, West Virginia, population 335, is the kind of place where people stop over and then keep going. The girls take care of their mother Dotte and keep faith to the vows they made when Cord left: Crystal does not speak, and Aimee is celibate. They intend to be woman-prophets–by the rules of Glorybound, they will be able to prophesy but not to lead from up front.

Then a new teacher comes to town, from a volunteer program, sent from Chicago. His name is Aubrey Falls–Aimee calls him “sweet Aubrey Falls,” like an epithet. Aubrey finds the missing patriarch preacher Cord, and hopes to reunite him with his daughters. He uproots the past, which had come to feel well-buried in the drought-ridden, crusted-over, slow-moving Cuzzert; he raises questions and disrupts the Lemleys’ stasis. Unwitting, he becomes part of a swell of change.

This story, in its framing elements–setting in time and place and culture, religious backdrop and markers–is foreign to me. In fact, the Lemleys’ lives and understandings of the world are so caught up in their church that I would normally steer clear of them. In this way I’m like Aubrey. But like Aubrey, I was pulled along by the charm and charisma of Aimee and Crystal and the whole dysfunctional town. I guess in part I trusted in Jessie, whose work I knew to be luminous; but this book is luminous from its first lines, shines from within in a way that marks it as special, so I don’t think it mattered that I knew Jessie was an amazing writer beforehand, at all.

There is a magic beneath the words on the page, which glow and sing with music. These characters are all a mess and not quite decipherable, but they also feel perfectly portrayed, as in perfectly represented in all their weirdness; authentic. Think of entering a dark movie theatre and being transported, coming out with that dazed surprise at the world you live in, after all.

I realize I’m being a bit mystic and vague in my praise–perhaps the tone of this book has rubbed off on me. Here are a few of Glorybound‘s nameable strengths: exquisite detail and description, for example, of the dresses Aimee wears; lyric language, with a clear attention paid to every syllable; characterization through silences, diversions, and body language; tone and atmosphere. I would like to say that the West Virginia portrayed here is a true West Virginia, but that’s something I don’t know from personal experience so much as trust from what I know of Jessie and her background. (She made a lovely contribution to my birth/place project.) As a through-line, for those looking more closely for craft elements, I love the recurring quiet importance of clothing: Aimee’s dresses, Crystal’s worn work clothes, Aubrey’s discomfort with what to wear, Dotte’s seamstress work, the dresses worn by other women, the work of doing laundry. Every word counts.

Jessie has since had two more books published, her second novel My Radio Radio and most recently a collection of portrait essays, The Long Weeping. I will read them all.


Rating: 9 pieces of wash on the line.

upcoming semester

It’s nearly residency time again! I’ll be flying out in a few weeks to meet a friend & classmate in Rochester, New York, to join her for the drive down to Buckhannon, West Virginia for the start of winter residency at West Virginian Wesleyan College. You can read about the program I’m enrolled in, if you haven’t already; and you can check out the schedule I’ll be following while I’m there, and read about the seminars I’ll be attending (along with a taste of reading I’m undertaking in the next few weeks – whew!). I am excited to be back in the fold again, with the people who more or less make sense to me and whose weird minds inspire.

Be patient with me during this holiday season, as I travel, read and write. Be patient with each other, always. And stay tuned for reviews of all that reading, and three moves I’m assigned to watch!

What’s new for you in reading and studying as 2017 comes to a close, and what does 2018 hold?

Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland by Jeremy B. Jones

Disclosure: I read this book in preparation to meet its author at school in a few weeks, where he is guest faculty for the upcoming semester. There is some chance that he will be my advisor for this semester.


I bought Bearwallow more than a year ago, when I was researching MFA programs I might want to attend, and he came up as past guest faculty at WVWC, where I did end up going. I thought it would be good to get to know their faculty better by reading books like this one, but I didn’t get around to it until we got word that he was actually on his way back to serve as guest faculty again. I’m pleased I finally found time for this memoir, which does have something to teach me. And I’m looking forward to meeting Jeremy, not least because I learned in these pages that he is an avid cyclist! (Road, not mountain, but close enough. I remember roads.)

In the timeline of Bearwallow, its narrator is a young man recently returned to the shadow of Bearwallow Mountain where he grew up. Jeremy wanted to leave Appalachia, and he and his wife Sarah lived for a time in Honduras, where they taught young children English. But he kept feeling struck by those mountains’ familiarity, their relationship to his own mountains; and he ended up coming home to teach the children of his own old neighborhood. There, he teaches ESL (English as second language) to the children of immigrants. As he considers language, mountains, and our relationships to place, he watches developers parcel out the top of Bearwallow and plan for it to change. The book is about Jeremy’s life (still a short one in the book’s timeline), his family history, his region’s history, the significance of change and growth, and what place means to people. (You can see why I like this book.)

This is a young man’s memoir, which is a tricky undertaking. But Jones handles it well. For one thing, his story is not chiefly or firstly about him. He opens with the story of one of his forefathers, a Dutchman named Abraham who helped to settle the region where Jeremy would grow up. He always grounds his own experiences in their larger settings: the mountains of Virginia and Honduras; a family history; the challenges of immigrants and immigration; a young person’s dual drive to leave home and to return to it. He also frequently references his own youth, acknowledging the uncertainties of anything he can know about himself as a man in his 20s. In fact, this book ends when the narrator and wife go off to graduate school, leaving again and only perhaps to return (as we, outside the book, know he did, at least to the region if not the town and neighborhood).

I found the narrator easy to like. He is humble, though not self-deprecatory. He has an open mind and questions his own decisions and impressions. I also liked the kind of musing he does. People and place, the dubious demands of family and inheritance, and the complexities of a place like Appalachia, all speak to me. I appreciated Jones’s use of scenes to transition into memory, or historic topics: scenes and scenery as smooth transitional material between more abstract subjects, and of course for their added interest and characterization.

This is an enjoyable, easy read, but it’s also got something to offer the writing student. In fact, its ease is one of those deceptive qualities: apparently effortless, so that the style fades into invisibility, but that’s some of the hardest prose to write. Again, on a personal level, I look forward to meeting Jeremy as a fellow cyclist (and I think of my mother, a fellow teacher of English as foreign language). Recommended.


Rating: 7 lots.

The Stampographer by Vincent Sardon

This iconoclastic French artist’s work with rubber stamps is for fans of fart jokes, the f-bomb and political satire.

The Stampographer is a different kind of coffee-table book. Vincent Sardon makes rubber stamps because “the stamp is never neutral”; it generally appears as a tool of bureaucracy, but here subverts authority to play with taboo. The book’s endpapers are filled with repeating middle fingers, its pages with insults, erotic and violent images, the profane and the vulgar. In an interview (the volume’s only text), Sardon denies any such political motive: “My work simply reflects the world, which seems to have been created by an absolute moron.”

These are evocative images and complex references to art and history, showcasing Sardon’s dark, satiric, antagonistic sense of humor. He considers his stamps “both tools and works of art,” and sells them only to amateurs, not artists, from a private gallery in Paris. Readers not local to Paris are lucky to get a glimpse of his work in this unrivaled art book.


This review originally ran in the November 21, 2017 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 turd blossoms.

This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

This is a work of art, teaching tool, pop-up toy and book that will delight playful lifetime learners.

This Book Is a Planetarium–as well as a musical instrument, a decoder ring, a spiralgraph and more. With a smartphone or small LED light, the galaxy comes to your living room. Graphic designer Kelli Anderson exults in the science and the art in the everyday, here playing with the powers of paper. This short but engrossing large-format book is at once an art object and a collection of teaching tools. Each page pops up and moves, dynamically demonstrating lessons from physics, geometry and astronomy. Brief explanations in small print further expand the didactic element. While the text is written for adults, not children, a little grown-up assistance (and supervision of removable parts) could make this an educational toy for all ages. Sensory play involving touch and sound as well as sight is too often left to the kids, but This Book Is a Planetarium is a physical object and absorbing interactive experience for all curious and young-at-heart readers.


This review originally ran in the November 21, 2017 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 strings.
%d bloggers like this: