Category Archives: what’s on your bedside table

The Monday Book – Woody, Cisco & Me.

Jack- gets to do the book review again – – –

Woody, Cisco, and Me – Jim Longhi.

I was fascinated by Woody Guthrie from the minute I discovered folk songs, and not just because Guthrie is a Scottish name.

I knew that he and Cisco Houston (another Scottish name) had sailed in the US merchant marine during world war 2 and that they’d wound up briefly in Glasgow after their ship was mined.

But I didn’t know about the third member of the gang, Jim Longhi!

Longhi’s book is completely wonderful and engrossing. It tells the story of how they kept themselves together through very scary times and also kept their shipmates and traveling companions hopeful and entertained as well. There are many hilarious shore trips from Sicily to Liverpool and Belfast, but lots of really nail biting times as well, as other ships are torpedoed and sink around them.

Although I knew about Woody and Cisco I had never heard of Jim.

The only disappointment is that, despite a lot of details about their shore visits, there’s nothing about the shenanigans in Glasgow, which are well documented. Despite that very minor quibble I thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in Woody or what life was like for mess hands on the Atlantic convoys in WW2.

Dulce et Decorum Est – – –

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table

THE MONDAY BOOK: The Ha-Ha by Dave King

I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a book so much, not least because half of me was engrossed in the story as a reader and half of me was sitting back as a writer going, ‘how is he managing to do this?’

A great read

Think of the challenges you would have if your narrator were a man incapable of speech. And if the narration were limited to his point of view. And the cast of quirky characters included five well-drawn people whose points of view you’re not allowed to hear unless they speak out loud, and a handful of supporters.

This was an amazing novel.

The protagonist, Howard, was injured when his sergeant stopped paying attention to the dangerous territory through which they passed, and started investigating local flowers. There are many lovely sections about Howard remembering the life-changing, speech-taking event, sometimes comparing the flight through the air in slow motion to the disruptions of his life.

Howard, in high school, went with a girl named Sylvia, both of them casual drug users. Sylvia got hooked where Howard got drafted, and when he came home and got well enough to go back out into society, Sylvia had a little boy named Ryan. So when Sylvia had a chance to go to rehab, guess who got asked to look after Ryan?

In the intervening years, Howard had built something of a life by taking in renters: Laurel, an Asian woman who makes soup for a living and home delivers to her buyers. (Her soups are awesome.) Then there’s Nit and Nat, according to Howie, but Steve and Harrison according to Laurel, two guys who kinda hang around and do pick up jobs and such. Howie doesn’t consider them much until Ryan comes to stay with them and suddenly the house pulls together around his child needs. They go to his concert, they enroll him in Little League, and life is happening.

But Sylvia is going to get out of rehab, and her pull on Howard remains like a bad boomerang.

The book is called The Ha-Ha because Howie’s job is lawn maintenance at a local convent. The convent is near a major road, protected from it by a landscaping feature literally called a ha-ha. You’ve probably seen them; sound walls built out of manufactured hills. At the bottom of the hill you see the restraining wall of beams and dirt. At the top of the hill you think the hill continues without the large gap that accommodates the road. They are designed to hide both sound and sight to the casual eye.

Howie, the mowing machine, the ha-ha, and life are a good metaphor for all the insanity going on between these finely-drawn characters. Reading the pain, dysfunction, and desperation of the characters comes from Howie’s point of view, but comes through clearly for all the main players. They are a Gordian knot of competing needs.

Where character drives plot, Howie driving his mowing machine over and over toward that dangerous gap makes a story not to be missed. Highly recommend picking up this book.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table