As I’m a bit of a guitar freak, I looked forward to reading this and I wasn’t disappointed. However, I do have a few caveats –
First of all, despite the title, this isn’t a book about Eric Clapton – he makes no appearance. This book follows master guitar luthier Wayne Henderson as he builds two nearly identical guitars. One is being made speculatively for Clapton while the other is to auction off and raise money for Junior Appalachian Musicians (Jam). Jam was the brainchild of Henderson’s late partner Helen White and there are branches throughout Appalachia.
This brings me to my second issue with the book. There’s hardly a mention of White or JAM in the book, which strikes me as very strange. I have seen Wayne and Helen perform a good few times together and their individual activities were very much intertwined. Perhaps she declined to be involved; I don’t know. I only know Henderson by reputation, whereas I had a friendly and mutually respecting connection with White through providing advice on tutor training for JAM. There’s no report in the book of how much went to JAM or whether any did.
I’m also not impressed with the way the author describes the various characters who hang out regularly at Henderson’s workshop. There was more than a hint of Appalachian stereotyping and condescension. For example, eating cold fast-food and the famous tail out of the box trick.
Aside from these issues, the book does describe wonderfully how Henderson puts these guitars together, where he gets his wood, the tools he uses and the sheer craftsmanship involved. This I found truly fascinating. I won’t give you a spoiler on whether Clapton bought the guitar.
The author is also a guitar freak, and he references many other excellent and well known luthiers, such as T. J. Thompson (I’m surprised he didn’t include Dana Bourgoise in Maine or Chris Bozung in Nashville.)
If your interest is in how a top notch luthier puts together a hand crafted guitar, then I can thoroughly recommend this book. Just ignore the ‘local color’ and wait for another volume that should be written about the life achievements of Helen White.
The Monday Book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
This charming little book (it can be read in about two hours) was on the shelf at the cabin where I’m holed up getting some writing done. I took it down because it had a pretty drawing on the cover, and read it because it contained the enticing phrase “Viruses are a part of life.”
The premise of the book makes good reading during a pandemic: the author is ill with an unusual condition that started with a virus and progressed to a dysfunctional autonomic nerve system. In essence, she couldn’t sit up because gravity did things to her it didn’t do to the rest of the world. Lying flat with minimal movement was hard for a formerly active and healthy gardener, so when a friend brought her some wild violets in a pot, she picked up a woodland snail for good measure. Why she thought the snail would interest her friend, neither woman could ever say.
But the snail did. At first as confused by its new surroundings as Elisabeth was by hers, stuck in care, dependent on friends to do almost everything for her, the snail began to explore at night, eating pieces of paper and flowers brought by friends of the invalid.
Slowly the author came to understand the snail as she did her own illness; move slower through the world, take time for one’s needs, and appreciate the small miracles. But the book is not so much sentimental as descriptive. Learning how a snail’s foot allows these miraculous little creatures to travel over even razor-thin edges without harm is surprisingly fascinating. Likewise discovering that they can seal themselves into their own shells with a special foot slime, or repair their shells with a different kind of slime.
And then there is snail sex…. did you know they literally sling love darts at one another? They do.
Sometimes the right book comes into our lives at the right time. I’m holed up in an unwired cabin to get some writing done, trying to slow down in a world that has had some strangely enforced slowdowns of late, and yet still wanting to undulate along. Like the snail that Elisabeth found she could actually hear eating, so quiet was her life, I am becoming aware of many new things around me. We all are in this strange new world. So take some time to read about the small things in life – the snails and the viruses – that make up this beautiful, peaceful memoir.