Making Book

Here it is September, and not only that but mid-September, and I have not posted my periodic list of books absorbed.

This will be the second year I have attempted a complete list of books. Some I read, some I hear, as CD sets in the car while commuting.

January 2011

Memento Mori, by Murial Spark. Although recommended on, it never grabbed my interest. Didn’t finish.

The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner. Book on CD. National Book Award, 1976. Solid novel. Sad. The tangents aren’t tangents, it all ties together. First person with no wavering, though of course the narrator is wavering — it’s his uncertain life, while he leads it. Set in the early ’70s, mostly a flashback to 1956, three months in Copenhagen, for him to heal from a heart attack and both he and his wife to begin to heal from the drowning of their young adult son.

Our Kind of Traitor, by John le Carre. Book on CD. Do le Carre’s recent books all start out the same way? Well-drawn person who turns out to be a secondary character? Still, I enjoy his political thrillers. He found he didn’t need a Cold War setting, after all.

Literary Life: A Second Memoir, by Larry McMurtry. Short, oddly entertaining and it shouldn’t be. It’s pretty obvious McMurtry shot this volumne out to fulfill a contract. It’s not careless, but put much out there. Still, if you want to spend a couple of hours watching a great writer’s mind working, here it is.

February 2011

The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Book on CD. Narrated by the author. Gladwell has made my my white list, he can voice audio books just fine. I’ve not let go of his 10,000-hour theory of success go in the months since. It is a valuable concept The book is broader than that — who and what are the outliers among us. Gladwell goes for the why, and it makes sense.

The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier. Don’t tell me it’s not fantasy in the Stephen King mode. But character driven more than plot driven, the latter being King’s mode. Little Rock references are used in one of the cities the novel is set in, but the city is not identified. A creepy small novel, with an ending not very satisfying — maybe that was on purpose. Continue reading

Hill of Beans

And I feel like a beetle on its back
And there’s no way for me to get up
Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax
And that’s something I don’t want to catch
— Gang of Four, “(Love Like) Anthrax,” 1978

Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock

JUST AFTER ELEVEN — Two hundred eighty-something million Americans had nothing on the few thousand people who sustained a direct loss in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Me among the majority.

Maybe 9/11 cost me the career as I was predicting it at the time. Maybe it cost my mom aspects of her last years. Maybe it cost me what my 40s could have been and can’t be reclaimed in my 50s. But also perhaps substantially everything that happened through yesterday, the 9/11 10th anniversary, might have happened through 2011 regardless.

Would the United States have been in one or two wars in the greater Arabian Peninsula googolplex in the last decade? Probably, but maybe not two at once. Would the U.S. economy gone up and down 1 1/2 to 2 times? Sure, a lot can happen in 10 years.

Nearly 3,000 civilians and responders died in those first hours, survivors are suffering long-term ailments from inhaling toxic dust from the smoldering wreckage. To consider the first 9/11 decade does not denigrate true responses to the assault.

Volunteer military personnal (there being no draft to make participation — even with deferments and exemptions — more democratic) have been killed in action in the Near East for actions rationalized by 9/11. We mustn’t forget their individual sacrifice, even as we are compelled to question what soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen were sent to do. Openly doubting current and past leaders is an expression of American freedom.

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” — Death of a Salesman

On Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, My Beloved and I figured out details of how I would drive 50 miles to Fort Smith fairly early Tuesday.

Childhood home of Ben Pollock, far right
Childhood home of Ben Pollock, there on the far right with brown roof.

My mom, Joanne Mendel Pollock, was being discharged from St. Edward Mercy Medical Center and needed to get to her house, the family home since the mid-1950s. She’d had another serious emphysema episode and got intensive lung treatments and tests for a few days. This was the hospitalization that finally convinced her to move to assisted living.

Watching CNN and ABC delayed my leaving Tuesday morning. Maybe Mom should be put in a cab? A little checking put that option to rest. The National Guard was not closing the Interstate Highway System. I’d already gotten permission for a half day off; Continue reading

The Room in the Elephant

This column first was published as the “President’s Message” in the September 2011 newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The board of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists has been cleaning up after the party in Detroit. While washing glasses and emptying the trash, we share the usual mix of gleeful recollection of anecdotes and recriminations about disasters that could’ve been worse, just like any reunion or New Year’s shindig.

This conversation has continued longer than usual, out of necessity. Yet for feeling like the NSNC world is crashing in a bit, our data are looking pretty good. What color is the elephant in the room?

See over there, by the filing cabinet? That’s the national recession; if it’s a double-dip, where was the boomlet in the middle? Look here, on my desk, the print media are imploding (as are video media). Journalism will continue in some form, as will our leg of the profession — commentary and reflection — but individually we may not be able to wait for the toner to dry on what forms it will take.

Our numbers are stored in a trunk that we open in our bimonthly online board meetings. Also, our executive director hauls it to every conference: Each conferee gets the financial reports stapled to the agenda of the annual general membership meeting.

Those who studied them — especially our new officers (Vice President Larry Cohen, Treasurer Jim Casto and Membership Chair Rose Valenta in two-year posts and Social Media Chair Tracy Beckerman as a one-year member) — were struck by the numbers for the conference, membership, contest and financial.

We are asking if the conference is an endangered species. Can we afford to hold one in 2012? What aspects would have to change to avoid canceling our annual education and advocacy party?

If we lost money Continue reading