Monday, March 19, 2012

Review of A Route 66 Companion at Publishers Weekly

A Route 66 Companion

Edited by David King Dunaway. Univ. of Texas, $19.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-292-72660-4

Route 66 has a long and interesting history, and Dunaway--the recipient of Berkeley's first Ph.D. in American Studies--has done a fantastic job selecting works of literature about "America's Main Street" to tell its dynamic story, supplemented by the editor's own invaluable commentary. The pieces span all genres, from poetry to memoir to detective fiction to SF. The first chapter tells of the early years, when in 1858 Lieutenant Edward F. Beale surveyed the prospective route for a wagon road with a caravan of camels. That path became a railroad in the 1890s, and finally a highway in 1926. From there, the selections are split into sections focusing on a different regional area of the famed road. In "Plains 66: Oklahoma and Texas," the autobiography of Will Rogers--the man for whom the route was named--is excerpted. Also included is a selection from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a text detailing establishments open to African-Americans in the 30s. In the New Mexico and Arizona chapter, Mary Toya writes of growing up in the "Indian Camp" in Winslow, Arizona, where families lived in boxcars and were not permitted to leave their homes at night. A selection from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is included in this chapter as well. "66 is the path of a people in flight," he wrote. The California chapter has many great pieces, but Sylvia Plath's poem "Sleep in the Mojave Desert" is a definite standout in this all-around remarkable anthology. Illus. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 2012

2012 opened quickly. A few days after it began, I was packing up the car for that fifteen hundred mile drive to San Francisco. Which I really don’t mind, for it gives me a chance to look over the year and understand a few things that I might not have seen while I was living through it. The power of retrospection.

This summer, I found myself among the great faculty at Berkeley as a Knight Digital Media Fellow. This was an intense workshop with almost every software usable in multi media thrown at us at once. The crowd was a distinguished one from major institutions including everything from the National Geographic to Al-Jazeera. At the end, we promised to work on at least one piece, which I am now finishing. Then in the fall, I had my keynote to give in Denmark and some radio teaching there; and, even further, I then gave a keynote in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at the fifth international conference on music and media. It almost knocked me out, listening to Portuguese for 6-8 hours/day; but my Portuguese improved some. It’s always strange to be loosed on your own into a vast foreign city like Sao Paulo. The best part was that I got to see my son Alexei in Rio, for a week or so. We hiked, wandered around, helped settle him in a bit and buy groceries, and had some magical moments on a balcony overlooking the famous christus statue. Rio is astonishingly beautiful and its beaches are very accessible and fun. Alexei was just getting started on his Brazilian adventure, and he was kind enough to let me enter his world as it was just forming.

So between Denmark and Brazil, it was a Keynote year, and one of significant travel. I am just glad that these opportunities for the long work I have done.

Going back to Berkeley as a student triggered memories of my times there which were not entirely pleasant. The campus is beautiful, but the competitiveness among the graduate students was disconcerting when I was there. Not as bad as Harvard Law School where they say you always have to bring extra pencils to the exam because if you drop one, the person next to you is sure to step on it. But I remember my now-deceased professors grilling me and holding up impossibly high standards, as we struggled to read a book/week/class and write something intelligent and groundbreaking. Well, too late. They gave me my degree, and I’m roaming the world. But those memories of seminars at which students left in tears still haunt me.

Finally back in San Franciso, where the food and entertainment is of higher quality at higher cost. I’m staying in a tiny little house which manages to be both quiet and desirably located in the Irving Avenue district. But it is tiny. I’ll get used to it--kind of like a hotel room with a kitchen attached. But any place in San Francisco offers great possibilities for adventure and offbeat behavior. Both of which I enjoy.

Over and out for now,