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Blink Book Review #9: “These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett

Reba Campbell

Posted August 3, 2022

By Reba Campbell

This summer’s reading list has included books beyond the best-seller fiction I usually favor. Ann Patchett’s “These Precious Days” is one of those. This collection of 24 essays hits on topics ranging from Snoopy’s influence in her life and her three fathers to how she selects a book cover and why knitting saved her life.

Ann’s fiction has graced the top of the New York Times lists for years. “Commonwealth,” “The Dutch House” and “Bel Canto” are just a few. But it’s her non-fiction work that really gets my pages turning.

Initially, the cover drew me in when I saw it on the shelf at Litchfield Books (yes, I occasionally judge a book by its cover). The bright colored painting turns out to be Ann’s beloved dog, Sparky, with eyes that will look right into your soul. You’ll have to read the book to get the whole story on the cover art. That essay alone, ‘These Precious Days,’ is worth the price of the book.

What I love about Ann’s essay writing (I’d read her first book of essays years ago) is how she blows life into seemingly mundane things while, at the same, makes events like being asked to interview Tom Hanks at his own book signing sound almost ordinary. Ann quotes a friend as telling her, “Do you even realize your life isn’t normal? You understand that other people don’t live this way?” My kind of gal! She seems so totally unimpressed with herself and her huge talent.

My favorite line in the book reflects so my own love of books and sharing books with others: “As every reader knows, the social contract between you and a book you love isn’t complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say ‘Here, you’re going to love this.’” Consider this my hand-off.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com. Read previous reviews at Random Connect Points.

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The Power Of Moonlit Imagery

Tom Poland

Posted August 2, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

Herman Melville created Moby Dick, the great white sperm whale that bit off Ahab’s leg. James Dickey had a 12-point white buck that swam from island to island in moonlight. And I recall boyhood tales of strange white things. There’s something about a wild albino animal that grips the imagination, and if you place it beneath a full moon at midnight, the power of moonlit imagery becomes transformative.

Great Aunt Annie would gather all the children in my mother’s clan around a wood stove on a white frosty winter night and tell ghost stories. Chief among her stories, a favorite of mine, was the mysterious white thing of eastern Georgia’s Broad River Valley. On a Sunday night returning from church, folks would be astride horses and in horse-drawn carriages when the horses would whinny and rear. Silent as white ash settling on a sycamore of white the white thing stepped into the road. The horses bolted.

Aunt Annie told several versions of this tale, so the best I could make of it was that long before dams drowned so many swampland haunts, eastern cougars prowled the land. Albinism does strike and I’ve seen photos of albino porcupines, squirrels, crows, and, of course rabbits, though not the white rabbit of Grace Slick fame. Go ask Alice about that.

All this albinism and full moon imagery came to me when I once again read James Dickey’s essay, “The Starry Place Between The Antlers” in the April 1981 issue of Esquire magazine. Back then Esquire had notable authors write about why they lived where they lived. Dickey lived in Columbia, South Carolina, saddled as it is between the mountains and the coast.

“The sea-deer I cherish above mountain deer, even, because I have never seen them doing what I have been told they do: swimming in moonlight from island to island. I would like to see that …. There would not have to be any reason for them to be swimming; in fact, I had rather there were not any reason. But with the mere possibility the heart of the imagination blazes up like stump-kindling, and starts throwing moonlit shadows, which are antlered. If I maintained that one of these deer, a huge buck with at least twelve points, is said to be dead-white, or moon-white, or breaking-wave white, or angel-white, or black-body-white, I would be accused of making it up, as I just did. But too many hunters and foresters have told me of the swimming deer for me to doubt it. There are deer, they do swim, and at night, and I plan to stay until I see them. Between the deer of the mountains and those of the sea, those down on the salt between the South Carolina islands: that is my balance, and it is right for me: the starry place between the antlers: between the bucks of rhododendron gullies and those of the ocean, the mountain horns and the swimming.”

A white buck swimming in moonlight … It seems to me that if you write about some majestic white creature, you best portray it in moonlight for moonlight fascinates us. After all, the moon’s adjective, “lunar,” gives us “lunacy,” the term, if not the affliction. So, you writers out there, place a wild albino animal in moonlight and you have a potent thing.

Hemingway wrote Hills Like White Elephants, a story about something entirely removed from albinism and moonlight. You’d half expect Ernest Hemingway would have pursued a white lion in moonlight, just as Ahab pursued Moby Dick, but whitetail bucks are as close as Ernest came.

Before I exit the stage, I hope to see the pale messenger from the Otherworld high-step into an inlet, antlered crown held high. I’ll watch it make way for a small island, swimming like the regal beast it is, with purpose and force. Molten moonlight will explode in all directions as the mythic white buck froths dark brine just as the white thing frothed the saliva of Aunt Annie’s terrified horses so very dam-free long ago.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Everything and Nothing: A checklist for people who don’t like summer

Aïda Rogers

Posted August 1, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

For someone who dislikes summer as much as I do, I can’t help but marvel at the many good things it provides. Proof of a divine generosity? I think so. Because it seems that for the three things that bother me most – heat, humidity, mosquitoes that sing in the tight of your ear before making you their meal – there are many more happy things that almost make up for them. As we wilt through August, I’ve made a list of those things to keep me sane while I swat, sweat and swear. Here it is, in no order at all:

  1. Watermelon. For breakfast, lunch and supper. Good with salt or without. Try an old-fashioned “yellow-meated” one if you can find it. And doesn’t it sound gooood cracking open?
  2. Cantaloupe. See above
  3. Swimming. A group of women in McClellanville gather on Sunday afternoons in their special cool place on the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s a dock, a rope and a current, and because they’ve been friends for so long, they can talk if they want to or not.
  4. Tomato sandwiches. Much has been written about this Southern summer staple, and here’s my thinking: It doesn’t matter what kind of bread you use (I like sourdough or rye) or whether you toast it (I do to avoid the slippy-slidey/mooshy-gooshy factor). What you must have, inarguably, are salt, pepper – and this is critical – full-fat mayo. Don’t cheat yourself. Don’t cheat the tomato. That tomato deserves respect.
  5. Cucumber sandwiches. See above
  6. Lengthy browsing in the grocery store ice cream section, and license to eat as much as you want, while practicing indolence  
  7. The colors. The hotter the sun, the more glorious the flowers. My favorites: hibiscus, crape myrtle, cone flower, morning glory, sunflowers, lantana. Also, canna lilies, which have changed my mind about orange  
  8. Peaches, plums, corn on the cob, children selling lemonade, children playing in sprinklers (not that I’ve seen that in years), biblical clouds, righteous thunderstorms, okra fixed every way, including pickled. Also, dill, basil, parsley and mint growing on the front porch; eggplant, and things that can be made with these, like baba ganouj and tabbouleh. Not to be forgotten: figs. Figs being picked, figs being preserved, figs on cereal, figs on buttered toast, figs on ice cream, figs straight from the tree, figs to risk your life for by climbing that tree. I realize this is more than one thing but 10 seems to be the magic number and speaking of magic,
  9. Fireflies
  10. Finally, these limp summer days give us a greeting that never lets us down. And so on this 96-degree day that feels like 101 because of the humidity, I just have to ask: Is it hot enough for you?        

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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Living on Purpose: Our character reflects what we love

Dr. William Holland

Posted August 1, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

Most of us have heard that having lots of money cannot buy love or bring happiness. Since I’ve never been mega-wealthy, I will trust God on this one. Most people are trying to build financial security, but it’s also common for those who succeed to encounter frustration and disappointment. Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 gives us this divine insight, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them, and what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep.”

We notice this passage begins with someone who loves money as there is a difference between enjoying wealth and it becoming an idol that is worshiped. A popular Bible verse in I Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Money does not develop character, it reveals it. I’ve heard people say that money is the root of all evil, but this is incorrect. Money is not evil in itself, ion fact, it can help people and accomplish wonderful things. The danger is how it can possess the hearts and minds of those who have not learned how to prevent it from controlling them. Again, we see that true wealth is joy, peace, and contentment. This reminds me of a story about a little boy that loved pancakes. His mother told him one day, I am going to fix you all the pancakes you can eat, so he thought this will be wonderful. She started cooking and he kept eating. She finally asked if he would like another pancake, to which he replied, “no mam, I don’t even want the ones I’ve already had!”

King Solomon comes to mind when we think of someone who had more wealth than anyone in the world and yet was miserable. He said that having everything you could ever imagine cannot satisfy and is what he called vanity. Sadly, many believe if they could win the lottery, have their dream house, a flashy car, or marry that amazing person they would be happy, and there is nothing wrong with having these things until they begin to have us. There is only one thing that can truly satisfy the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the human experience and that is having a personal relationship with God. He wants to bless us so that we can live an abundant life and also be a blessing to others. Remember the man in Luke chapter 12 who tore down his barns so that he could build larger ones? God was not pleased with him being so insensitive and self-absorbed.

The end of our verse in Ecclesiastes talks about how the person who works hard and obeys God can rest in peace, but those who love riches are always frustrated with stress and anxiety. I remember when I was a young boy, my dad worked for a very wealthy man. This person was in the construction and developing industry and built subdivisions and shopping centers and owned several farms and so on. He would drive out to the job sites and tell my dad to get in his Lincoln and they would go for a drive and chat. He would tell my dad that he had not slept all night because he was watching the stock market and was consumed about losing money. Instead of being grateful and filled with joy with what God had helped him accumulate, he was nearly in tears and afraid that he might not be making the right decisions. He was obsessed with his riches and even though he had more than he could ever spend, he was being controlled and incarcerated in the darkness of fear and gloom. We were created to love our Creator and be generous, not to allow the pride of materialism to lure us into a state of disappointment and depression. Whatever consumes our mind controls our life. The more we focus on our possessions, the more entangled and distracted we are from our priorities. However, the more we seek and love God and commune with Him, the more we will reflect His attributes.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Pact Act

Posted August 1, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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Blink Book Review #8 “Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR” by Lisa Napoli

Reba Campbell

Posted July 27, 2022

By Reba Campbell

This book is the story of four women from vastly different backgrounds who converged on a fledgling radio network in DC in the mid-1970s. Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts built the backbone of the early National Public Radio while they also whacked away at the broadcast industry’s glass ceiling.

The author, Lisa Napoli, lays out these journalists’ diverse upbringings at the beginning of the book with a biographical account of each that foreshadows their ultimate intersection at NPR. The narrative of how these women reported the news overlays with the stories of how they questioned the broadcast establishment and managed high-power careers while juggling marriages and child rearing – none of which were typical for women in the early ‘70s.

The author also tells the human side of their friendship spanning almost 50 years. There are stories that illustrate their support for each other, their love for each other’s families and their genuine friendship. The narrative is interspersed with the tales of powerful politicians, gender inequality and the changing face of journalism.

Admittedly, I’m a long-time NPR fan girl ever since I discovered WAMU, the NPR affiliate in DC, when I was a young Hill staffer in the early 1980s. Little did I know as I tuned in to Morning Edition and All Things Considered daily that I was listening to history being made – and I don’t mean just the history these four journalists reported on. This book is their history, and the author does a beautiful job to parallel these journalists’ individual stories and struggles with the historic events in their news reporting.

I also found the backstory of NPR’s bumpy rise to relevance particularly interesting. I thought I knew a good bit of this history from my years of association with SCETV and SC Public Radio, but this book made me realize how little I know of how NPR came to be. This book is an easy read that illustrates not only how far we’ve come in terms of women in broadcasting but it also reminds us that there are real people behind those microphones.

Although Cokie died in 2019, Nina, Linda and Susan remain on NPR almost 50 years after they first met in a tiny radio studio in DC. Here’s a great NPR interview with the three surviving “mothers” from last May.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com. Read previous reviews at Random Connect Points.

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The Dark Corner

Tom Poland

Posted July 27, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

I’d been there many times but never realized just what a dark history existed until I visited a legal distillery up that way. “Folks still go in there and disappear,” and old timer told me. Maybe so.

This bright red beauty sits in the region known as the Dark Corner.

I asked around and did some searching and found plenty on the Dark Corner, a notorious region centered around Glassy Mountain and Hogback Mountain in upper Greenville County. The notoriety was earned. Political differences, killings, vanishing people, moonshining, a place where deserters of Union and Confederates hid and preyed on others, residents who didn’t see eye to eye on the Civil War, and a wariness of outsiders contributed to the Dark Corner’s reputation as a place to avoid.

I’ve been to Campbell’s Bridge. I’ve driven SC Highway 11, the Scenic Carolina Foothills Highway, and that put me in the Dark Corner. Outside of highways the terrain is tough. Forest clad slopes and waterfalls and rivers and creeks provide water aplenty. All that water attracted gristmills and stills, and the stills attracted trouble. Venture in there in the old days and it’s said you might not come out.

Back before highways braided through the region, a lot of land proved inaccessible. A fellow could be hard to find, especially if he didn’t want to be found. Folks didn’t like to tell strangers where it was. Outsiders never could quite find the Dark Corner. It was always over yonder a ways, up the road a bit, or back a ways.

Today, you’ll find yourself in the Dark Corner if you visit Campbell’s Bridge and Poinsett Bridge. Tryon, North Carolina borders it on the north, Spartanburg on the east. The region is not as wild as it was but apart from the settlements, exclusive developments, attractions, and highways, inaccessible places still.

The region possesses a dark history but it is enchanting. This folded land—cloaked in green and running white with rapids and waterfalls—forms a big part of South Carolina’s charm and consequently, tourism. It has its attractions. The first time I saw that quaint covered bridge it was late afternoon. The sunlight came in so low it made everything golden and lustrous but driving was a tad difficult. A bit blinded as I rounded a curve, I got a treat as my eyes adjusted—it was Campbell’s Covered Bridge.

If you go there, and you should, imagine moonshiners crossing the bridge with well-secured contraband that proved a man could make a better living with corn than those who tow the line. Here’s proof, the truth kind, not the drinking kind. From the South Carolina Encyclopedia—“As one Dark Corner native put it, he ‘could make three gallons of corn whiskey from a bushel of corn and sell it for one or two dollars per gallon when he could only get sixty cents for his corn. The same individual recalled that there were ‘as many as twenty distilleries in two miles of each other.’ ” Right, nothing succeeds like success.

While researching the Dark Corner, I came across the name Dean Stuart Campbell a lot. He’s considered the squire of the Dark Corner and he has written much about the region. He’s done a documentary as well. Check out his work. Shed some light on the Dark Corner. Even better pay it a visit. See Campbell’s Bridge and let your imagination run free.  


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Slow poke

Posted July 25, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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Living on Purpose: Birds of a feather flock together

Dr. William Holland

Posted July 25, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

There is a huge difference between personal transformation and just talking and wishing. We can counsel, advise, pray, and encourage someone, but they are the only ones who can discipline their thoughts, take the initiative and chart a new direction. For example, being an optimistic person does not fall out of the air and happen on its own, but rather it’s a learned behavior similar to developing bad habits such as a negative attitude or a rude personality. We cannot prevent unpleasant things from happening to us, but we decide if they will control us, or we prevent them from controlling us. As we discover what God wants us to be, we are then faced with deciding just how much we will do. Philippians 1:6 declares, “Being confident of this very thing, that he (God) who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The writer is saying that God considers you His most valuable possession and is filled with anticipation and excitement to see you flourish and thrive according to His plans. However, it will require self-discipline to overcome fear and doubt as He will not force us to obey Him the same as He does not make us love Him.

In the course of our lives, we watch those who have accomplished admirable things while the unseen forces of negativity remind us how we could never do that. You are not good enough or you do not deserve this or that are some of the most common lies that people face when dealing with low self-esteem. The truth is these individuals who are soaring in the clouds have also been hounded by the same dark voices and deceptions, yet became determined to rise above them. Anyone who has advanced in God’s wisdom and obedience has learned to be careful about who they listen to. Sadly, some have become a victim of their environment and must break free from the cycle of dysfunction. Our thoughts control our actions and eagles have no business hanging around in the chicken coop. Birds of a feather flock together and if you are determined to be an eagle, it’s important to spend time with other eagles.

A sound mind is one of the greatest gifts we have been given and it’s our responsibility to guard and protect what it absorbs. The ears and eyes are windows to the soul and as the caretaker of our garden of thoughts, we must be very careful of what type of seeds are planted and allowed to grow.

We are reminded in Proverbs 23 that as a person thinks in their heart, so are they. You see, The farmer was aware of what the eagle was supposed to be, and knew if the eagle believed he was a chicken he would always live like a chicken. A true leader can recognize another leader and it was the zookeeper who understood the eagle’s potential and did everything he could to help him see his destiny. Many of us have been blessed to have someone who discerned our abilities and helped us fly. In turn, after we realize who God has called us to be, it’s our mission to help others that need the encouragement and inspiration to look in the mirror and see themselves the way God sees them. I know people who are confused and are without a specific direction as they say they cannot find their way. We may indeed be adrift, but God knows exactly where we are and where we need to be. If we sincerely seek Him in prayer, Matthew 7:8 promises, “For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

We are called to be eagles, but our nature tends to be complacent and content to take the easy way. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He was arrested, He asked His disciples if they would watch and pray with Him. After a while, He went to check on them and they were sound asleep. He is quoted in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The story of the eagle and chicken is about knowing our identity and as Luke 1:37 declares, “NOTHING is impossible WITH God.”

Read more about the Christian life and Dr. Holland’s book, “Convictions and Considerations – Encouragement For The Soul” at billyhollandministries.com

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Don’t hide evidence in Murdaugh murder case if you want public trust in justice

David Lauderdale

Posted July 21, 2022

By David Lauderdale

Want to start restoring confidence in the South Carolina system of justice? Disregard both banks of lawyers in the murder case against Alex Murdaugh and demand that the business of the court remain public, not gagged.

At a bond hearing July 20 in the historic Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian asked Judge Clifton Newman to seal all the evidence in the case.

“Further discussion of the alleged facts in this case we think continues to run the risk of polluting the jury pool,” Harpootlian said.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters of the South Carolina Attorney General’s office agreed with Harpootlian’s motion.

But at this point, you’d have to knock on the door of an igloo deeper in the wilds of Alaska than the Iditarod dogs can go to find anyone not already suffering from Murdaugh pollution.

Judge Newman denied bond for the 54-year-old disbarred attorney from Hampton County in the latest of scores of indictments against him – indictments that accuse him of killing his wife and son.

Murdaugh pleaded not guilty as a flank of reporters looked on, as did a portrait on the wall of his grandfather, who ruled all justice in this area for almost 50 years as the 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor.

The oil portrait helps explain why Judge Newman’s decision on this motion is so important.

The overriding question since Murdaugh’s now-deceased son was accused of driving a boat into a bridge piling three years ago, killing a young woman from Hampton County, is whether the so-called elites have a different justice system than the rest of us. It’s a question of whether the criminal justice system does more to protect its own than the rule of law.

A gag order in the murder case would only make that public doubt worse. The people have a right to know what authorities think happened on the night of June 7, 2021, when Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, were found brutally shot at a family estate near Hampton.

Murdaugh’s lawyers have already unsuccessfully tried to block the public’s access to Murdaugh’s phone calls from the Richland County jail where he resides under a $7 million bond and a mountain of charges that allege he pilfered millions of dollars through his legal practice.

A judge shot down that attempt for secrecy.

Judge Newman needs to quash this latest move to shield the legal elites from public scrutiny. It’s encouraging that Newman immediately told the lawyers that the court is a public place where public matters are to remain public, not hidden.

He said he would consider the request.

“I just want it clearly understood it’s a public matter, a public trial. Matters that need to be sealed can be sealed. I want it clear we will not have any private motion hearings. Public matters will be public.”

South Carolina needs public matters to be public for everyone — equally. In fact, that is what is on trial here with Alex Murdaugh.

David Lauderdale may be reached at LauderdaleColumn@gmail.com.

THIS COLUMN ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE STATE, THE ISLAND PACKET AND THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE.

DOWNLOAD LAUDERDALE HEADSHOT AS JPG. (The image above may download as a Webp file.)

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