Browsing Archives for Books & Letters


May 2nd, 2012

New Sherlock episodes are airing this Sunday on PBS.

I certainly hope you have plans to watch it.

The first season was fabulous.

Even my boys are looking forward to the new episodes.

They are going to watch PBS with their mom!


And I don’t even have to MAKE THEM!

Seriously though, if you haven’t caught any of the new Sherlock shows on PBS, I am going to have to insist that you correct this grave oversight by watching the latest installments this Sunday.

And that is all I have to say about that.

A Visit to Central High

April 26th, 2012

During our recent trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, we visited Central High School.

IN 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School was the site of the historic forced integration of African American school kids into an all white school.

Nine kids were chosen by a small group of Little Rock’s black community to attend Central High.

Those nine kids endured a year that began with the Arkansas National Guard forcibly keeping them out of the building, to daily withstanding physical assault, bullying and verbal abuse every day they attended school.

Some of those kids went on to have productive lives, but some of them were deeply scarred by their experiences during that year and their lives were severely diminished as a result.  Elizabeth Eckford was probably the most famous of the kids who became known as the Little Rock Nine.

It is this famous photo of her, that captured the intensity of what these kids went through.  This picture is from the first day that Elizabeth attempted to attend Little Rock High.  An angry crowd surrounded her and followed her as she tried to get into the school.

The other eight students who were also attempting to enter Central High that day had traveled together as a group, but Elizabeth was not informed of the group’s plans and showed up at the school alone.  She then took what must have been the longest walk of her life from one end of the school grounds to the other and finally to a bus stop where she sat down and waited for a ride home.  Then entire way, as she made her journey across the school property, she was followed by an angry mob that hurled insults at her and threatened her, while soldiers blocked her from getting into the school and reporters took photos.

The girl behind her with the grimace and the newspaper is Hazel Bryan Massery.  Her young face came to symbolize the bigotry of those opposed to integration.  She too was only a kid at the time of the photo – a boy crazy underclassmen at Central High.  Hazel would live with the image of herself in this photo for years until eventually she did something remarkable.  She reached out to Elizabeth and apologized.  Over time, the two of them became very good friends.

But sadly, that is not the end of their story.

If you want to know what happened to Elizabeth and Hazel, you should check out Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock written by David Margolick.

I would definitely recommend the book.

Shortly after I finished it, I was talking to my boss at work.  Downtown Abbey had just concluded it’s second season.  We were both at a loss, wondering what to do with our Sunday nights.  She mentioned watching a documentary about Harper Lee the author of To Kill a Mockingbird called Hey Boo.

I went home and watched it.

It was especially interesting to watch it after just visiting Little Rock and just finishing a book about Elizabeth Eckford.

Sometimes it is like there is some kind of unseen hand guiding my life.

Helping me to put all the pieces together.

As if there was a bearded man sitting in the clouds gazing down at me and directing my life like some kind of hillbilly junk band.

Taking me to Arkansas.

Guiding me to Central High.

Forcing me to buy a book at the Central High museum…

Making me get a job at the Garden Center where my boss will one day suggest I watch a documentary about Harper Lee!

I know!

How is this even possible!

The movie is called, Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

You can watch the entire movie on PBS at this time.  Link to movie

This is Harper Lee smoking a cigarette.

She only wrote one book.

That book was called To Kill a Mockingbird.

It was a very hard act to follow.

But Elizabeth Eckford is even harder.

I keep thinking about the parents of the Little Rock Nine.

How hard it must have been for them… day after day after day to send their children back into Central High.

To face another day of ridicule, mocking, abuse, bullying, from both teachers and students.

What kept them going?  Could I have done it?  Was it worth the psychological damage that occurred to some of the children?

Obviously the Little Rock Nine and especially the photo of Elizabeth being taunted and threatened by an angry white mob played a huge role in the civil rights movement.  But for Elizabeth – a fifteen year old girl enduring that level of anxiety and fear day after day while at Central High, it left a mark on her that she was never really able to overcome.

There is a tremendous cost to human progress.

Alain De Botton

March 27th, 2012

Our first stop on our Spring break trip was in Lawrence, Kansas where we paused briefly to hear author Alain de Botton speak on his latest book, Religion for Atheists.

But before I tell you about Alain, I feel that I must tell you about the supernatural force(s) that have been at work in my life of late.

One day several months ago when I was deep in the midst of reading every book written by Frank Schaeffer, I found myself wrestling with an undeniable thirst to find out a bit more about him and his books. A quick internet search led me to Frank’s blog which revealed that Frank was soon to be speaking in my own neck of the woods!  As a result of this happy chance, I was able to drive to Omaha and hear Mr. Schaeffer talk and ask him a few questions and even get his autograph on several books!  At the time I shrugged off this lucky chain of events as mere happenstance and thought nothing more of it. Little was I to know, that stumbling upon world renowned authors who just happen to be traveling through my area was to become an regularly unexplained phenomenon in my life. For just a few months later, I once again googled upon a famous skeptic/author who had plans to be within shootin’ distance of my own little house on the prairie. This time the author was Alain de Botton and as a result I could no longer accept that these seemingly random events were happening to me merely out of chance.  Clearly there had to be some force… some presence… some supernatural entity guiding and directing the traffic of my life.  How else could it be that in only a few months time I was able to stumble across lectures by two world renowned authors on topics specifically related to atheism, skepticism, and mockery of the religious right?  Clearly a power much larger than I is at work in my life steering me deeper and deeper into an unrepentant denial of anything supernatural at all.

But how could this be?

Why would a supernatural force work so valiantly to get me to NOT believe in a supernatural force?

Why would (it?) direct my fingers to make these searches and then propel me to travel and listen to these same speakers that only serve to fan the flames of my die hard skepticism?

Either this force wants me to burn in hell forever…


This force is kind of weirdly into self harm?

Either way! I can’t deny that something out there is guiding me into further believing that nothing out there is guiding me.

And that is how I found out about Alain de Botton.

Who wrote a book called Religion for Atheists. (In case you forgot about that part already).

I have not read this book yet because I have been reading lots of other good books instead.  But I did go hear Alain speak and if the content of his lecture at all matches up with the content of his book, it would appear that de Botton’s chief complaint regarding atheists is that they don’t appreciate the finer things about religion.

(WTF Alain?)

Evidently by “finer things” he means…

Things like art…

And architecture…

And nature…

And music…
And literature

And poetry…

And meditation, community, rituals, blah, blahdee, blah, etc, etc, etc…

Which is fine and good…

Except that I kind of do appreciate art and go see it often…

And architecture… which I love, love, love – (Clinton Museum – Little Rock, Arkansas)

And nature… (love it, but please no more camping).

And music… always.

And literature… used books.  My favorite!

And poetry…

Like the incredible poem I just composed above.

Okay – maybe I could work on this one a bit…

And though I am not to into meditation these days, I like to think I participate in a variety of communities – friends, workmates, family…

And for me – making a good pot of tea and sitting down to enjoy it, is the best ritual I have ever known.

I’m not saying that I can’t improve on appreciating the wonder and beauty of life, but I also don’t think I have a huge blank spot in that area.


I did buy an extra copy of de Botton’s book.

And he even autographed it and everything!

If you would like a chance to get a copy of this book, just leave a comment.

I will say that he is an excellent speaker, very witty and very British.  I really enjoyed him and hope to someday soon enjoy his book.

He also wrote the best seller – How Proust Can Change Your Life, which the CD is currently reading.  He is enjoying that book very much and every once in a while will read a passage aloud to me while chuckling under his breath and insisting that somehow this book with the most horrible title I have ever heard of is highly entertaining.

I am not doing a very good job at making you want to read de Botton’s book am I?

Let me see if I can do better…

Alain de Botton is British.

So, when he talks, he sounds like he knows very, very important things.

He could basically be talking about gluing cheerios onto paper plates and you would think he was a genius.

I am absolutely positive that his books are much the same.


Not about the cheerios and the glue… but about the genius…

Oh dear!

Here’s the deal…

Alain de Botton is known as a modern day philosopher.  He is very witty.  Plus English accent.  Plus he once wrote a book with the name Proust in it and even with that extreme handicap it became a best seller.

So how can you not be at least a little curious about his book?

So leave a comment and make both myself and de Botton feel better about his unfortunate book titles and the fact that I am pushing a book that I haven’t even read.

Here is a clip of him talking.  This is basically the same exact talk that I heard at KU.  Maybe he will do a better job of selling himself than I am.

Alrighty then…