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Book Reviews

Friday
Jul192019

Book Review: True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft

True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft. Brigid Johnson. Outskirts Press, April 25, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 326 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

True Course is a work of non-fiction and is centered on discovering, accomplishing, and living an intrinsic dream. 

People have unique passions: playing an instrument, art, growing particular strains of cucumber, or as described in this memoir’s story-chapters, piloting an airplane. Brigid Johnson has written an inspirational book about spending many of her days aloft. Told with humor, insight, and a poetic voice, the author carries the reader along as she first learns to fly and with her side-by-side teaching and lyrical stories about flight.

Brigid strives to answer the question “How does one renew their spirit?” by relentlessly pursuing what the spirit wants. For this aviator-writer, that meant “looking up to the heavens to recharge . . . the smell of aviation fuel . . . and the roar of a Stearman’s Lycoming R-680 engine . . . a symphony of wonder.” 

For the author, renewing the spirit first became necessary when at the young age of four, her mother began a lengthy and difficult battle with cancer. A cherished toy airplane given to her by her father transferred a feeling of flight while going through what she describes as “. . . a dark sky from which the air is so dark and thick it’s hard to draw a breath.” The small, winged craft was managed by a control stick from inside the moving family car while strung out a partially opened window; it gave the child the sense she could fly. From this young girl’s backseat cockpit she could make the plane dive and climb, imagining she was aloft too.

For Brigid, when she flew, there was a discovery that was “almost empowering in its perspective,” going even further to wonder if birds felt the same. Through a series of vignettes, she continually returns to the natural world and her faith, and the lens they both provide for viewing her life from childhood to adulthood, with the symbolism of water and air as quotidian word-scape features.

For the author, the act of flight changes when it transitions to becoming a method for earning a living. As a college student, she began teaching others how to fly planes. The amount she made depended upon whether someone wanted to learn to sail the skies or if the skies would cooperate. Later, as a commercial pilot, the job necessitated navigating the quirks of co-pilots within the tiny space of the cockpit. After 9/11, when planes were purposely crashed, killing 2996 and injuring over 6000 people, the tragedy shifts her employment direction. Having observed that monumental moment in American history, Brigid realizes that none of us knows for certain what might come next. With her father needing supportive care, she decides to shift her career from the sky to the ground, and into a form of law enforcement.

Throughout the narrative of this aviator’s life path—deaths, loves, schooling, career changes, hardship, and rescue dog companionship—the author weaves in wind currents of flight, metaphorically projecting wings with her words. The reader is seated in the cockpit as she views events from above and alongside, following her map to letting go, grieving, remembering the joy, developing new interests, and mentoring others with what she has learned.  

When it’s time to leave piloting as an occupation, Brigid manages to see the benefits and drawbacks to this career, giving both viewpoints to a friend considering the same endeavor. She shares the thrilling sense of freedom she felt in the sky, the toll a life of flight can take on relationships, and how airports and the lift of a pilot aren’t always that great. She says to the young man, “What is it that makes you complete? What is it that will give you the life you want and I don’t mean prestige, or income, or titles? Grab your destiny and forget what others think.” 

Unfortunately, this is likely a rare form of counseling offered to those considering a new trajectory. Wouldn’t this world be far more interesting, have greater potential for joy, and create more diverse thinking if we began our day or made a decision using Brigid Johnson’s approach—What is it that our spirit wants? Perhaps, “renewing” our spirit, as she suggests on the first page of her memoir, would then become second nature. 

A life aloft, indeed.

 

Friday
Jul192019

Book Review: Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? 

Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? Wes Payton. Adelaide Books, April 16, 2019, Trade Paperback, 202 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna. 

Wes Payton’s latest publication, Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? is a book of two plays. Anyone familiar with Payton’s unique way of looking at the world will not be disappointed. His complex work simultaneously enlightens and entertains.

The first play, “Way Station,” concerns itself with a one-hit-wonder of a novelist looking back on his life twenty years after the publication of his lone success. The protagonist, known as Frieze, relives his past while contemplating suicide. The story is told in three acts. The play features a nonlinear narrative, with scene one in each act taking place in a present-day, shabby barroom. Scene three of each act takes place in the same barroom, only twenty years in the past. The second scenes in all the acts take place in Frieze’s mind.

While Mr. Payton is never afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects, he couches his writing with smart, funny lines that catch you off guard. I would find myself pitying the characters just before I burst out laughing at something one of them said or did. Speaking of the characters, along with Frieze, they have names such as Ease, Sleaze, Cheese, Louise, Wheeze, Geeze, and Please, which gives you an idea of the playwright's off-kilter predilections.

The second play, “What Does A Question Weigh,” revolves around a character named Tralf, “a self-described time-traveling anthropologist who is studying the people of our time in the hope of finding a cure for the lethal ennui that plagues his time.” He becomes entangled in an investigation into the disappearance of the wife of a wealthy industrialist—someone he knows well. Throughout the play he interacts with members of the Chicago Police Department, including a hard-boiled detective straight out of 30’s film noir; if the film had been co-directed by Lewis Carroll and Timothy Leary. The detective, as well as most others, have trouble believing he is really from the future. Along with the police, other characters include agents of the FBI, Tralf’s Blographer (blogger-biographer), and a young anarchist.

By looking at our world through the eyes of an outsider, the author skewers many of our foibles and questions things we take for granted. Why is a plastic spork referred to as silverware? As in the first play, the clever dialogue sneaks up on you and gives you an entertaining and thought-provoking way of looking at the world.

I would love to see these plays performed on a stage, but having said that, they are both excellent reads. As in Payton's other works, these plays can be appreciated on more than one level. As pure entertainment, they excel, but they also point out absurdities all around us. I highly recommend Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh?


Monday
Jul152019

Book Review: Fear Naught: The Junk Drawer of Poetry

Fear Naught: The Junk Drawer of Poetry. Owen Patterson. Chicago: Brevis Publishing, June 11, 2019, Trade Paperback, 128 pages.

Reviewed by marssie Mencotti.

Fear Naught is a lovely book of poetic musings—sometimes sensitive in tone and sometimes sweet, but never mean or cruel. The six sections of the book are entitled “Flow” (the passage of time), “Silence Tucked into Clamor” (finding peace in chaos), “Art in Life” (beauty and inspiration), “Paradox” (things are not always what they seem), “Posts” (from blogs and thoughts of the poet), and finally, Coda (the poet putting together his philosophy and musings at the end of the book).

Owen Patterson has worked as a tutor, special ed paraprofessional, and behavioral health counselor. He has been writing poetry and short stories since childhood, but only recently published his works. He brings much of his experience and caring nature to this book, which will appeal to those who appreciate thoughtful discourse through the discussion of poetry. Each poem contains a conversation intended to be had with someone whose opinion you value.

There were several poems that I will never forget. One is “Pebbles and Flow” (Flow) because it perfectly captures interpersonal changes we can make to one another and their subsequent consequences. We flow around one another and change each other through erosion, but one of us will always “flow around” past us. There is another musing on the impermanence of love, written in Spanish (with translation), entitled “To Dream of the Beautiful Lady” which permanently touched my heart. 

I found favorites in every section. Patterson watches the world and shakes it down to words we understand. Don’t miss reading the poem “Abandoned,” the entire section entitled “Posts,” and the poem “Look Back,” which is a sweet and simple reflection on the permanence of our planet. “Look Back” opens with the line “a Hammer . . . everything looks like a nail.” This tiny hidden gem discusses gun control and guns in the hands of those who do not understand the consequences of that mindset. So succinct, yet so powerful.

There isn’t an untouched area of poetic musing in Fear Naught. The poet brings light to many of his inner reflections regarding faith and politics, home life and universal experience, personal affection for the world and his beloved Karinn, and thoughts that come straight from the heart for each of us to consider. Try on the emotional punch of “The Shady Maybes,” a poem that unveils human indifference to people in pain. Owen is an honest un-sugar-coated poet of his truth who has something to say to us in every poem. 

I found this collection both charming and profound. If you are a lover of poetry, this small book will give you plenty to think about and enjoy.  Every time you open it, you will find something inspirational, loving, and well done that will touch you in unexpected ways.

 

Wednesday
Jul102019

Book Review: The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter

The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter. Glenn Seerup. Self-published, October 11, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 262 pages. 

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

Time is the essence of this new work from architect Glenn Seerup. A self-proclaimed aficionado of Holden Caulfield, readers are challenged and amused to discover bits of Catcher in the Rye allusions in Seerup’s stories.

One March day in Chicago, life begins to unfold for recent industrial design graduate Hayden Carlisle. Realizing his talents and prickly personality are more suited to a smaller operation, Hayden takes a job with a toy design firm. The Plush Porcupine is past its heyday of once-popular unique toys and entering a downward spiral of ennui. Hayden is more interested in using the staff for a personal pet project—writing a best-selling documentary on his first, and probably only, year at the firm that will jumpstart his literary career—and initially has little other appreciation for corporate or personal intrigue.

Characters rarely get what they wish. Hayden is not the only hire at the Porcupine this special week. A promising, indeterminately-aged but highly motivated and challenging woman named Maxine Porter also starts work there. The reader follows Hayden and the members and friends of the Plush Porcupine during the rest of the tumultuous year.

The book is divided into months, with epigraphs that hint at the events to come. Chapters within the months are divided by Hayden’s journal writing in the first person and other chapters in a wandering omniscient voice that focuses on the personnel: company founder and owner Walter, whom Hayden admires; the troubled Marty, Walter’s friend and confidant who’s a talented designer in her own right; Scott, another focused toy designer; Matthew, the religious advertising guy; the ever-perky Caryn, who’s a designer but prefers to run the office and make sure everyone is greeted with a smile; and Adam, Hayden’s roommate. The story progresses as the force that is Maxine, with all her mystery and energy, firmly shakes up the world of the Porcupine. The staff wonders alternately if she’s an angel, an alien, or Mary Poppins. Maxine plows on, taking Hayden under her wing as her special assistant on an equally mysterious project dealing with virtual reality.

Meanwhile, each character’s personal and professional life plays out with Maxine’s golden prophetic aid, firm hand, and subtle dare to rise above. As the year moves onward, it’s obvious Maxine has a personal goal, and I had fun turning pages and wondering about it right along with the well-fleshed and interwoven characters. Participating in the story as the pieces come together is a delight for readers who enjoy character-driven set pieces with a subtle twist of fantasy.

Chicago comes alive as the designers and their friends and family invest themselves in their work and lifestyle choices. The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter is a fresh, thoughtful, feel-good tale of imperfect people learning to grow, work, and communicate in a joint effort to make a better future.

 

Monday
Jul012019

Book Review: Glory Bishop

Glory Bishop. Deborah King. Red Adept Publishing, June 4, 2019, E-book, 302 pages.

Reviewed by Sierra Kay.

It’s 1983, but you wouldn’t know it from Glory Bishop’s life. Glory’s mother is raising her under strict rule and must have had “spare the rod, spoil the child” surgically etched in her brain. Glory goes to church, work, and home, and struggles to find any freedom as she progresses through her senior year in high school.

While most of her classmates prepare for college, Glory can only hope for the freedom that a man can provide. Her mother doesn’t believe in college. So, marriage would be her only way out. 

The man that chooses Glory happens to be the preacher’s son, Malcolm, who is Glory’s senior by ten years. Her mother is ecstatic. Glory is hesitant. Malcolm is persistent. 

Glory finds herself reveling in the new freedom she experiences while dating Malcolm. She’s eating at the best restaurants, getting rides to and from school, and receiving expensive gifts. Her mother can’t even say no to Malcolm. The problem is neither can Glory. Malcolm would do anything to protect and keep Glory. But what does Glory want? 

Glory Bishop is a well-developed story. Glory’s internal struggle trying to determine what she wants manifests itself in different ways throughout the novel, which keeps the reader engaged. 

Glory’s boss, Herschel, tries to guide Glory through her complex emotions and the world outside of the church. He offers practical advice, while also serving to highlight what was happening in the society at large during this time. 

Deborah King has written a compelling, thought-provoking novel that engages readers and made me wish the story would never end.