Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
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Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Reviews: The Road to Matewan by William Trent Pancoast and Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy … Movie Review: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation … Keep it in perspective, please.


The Road to Matewan by William Trent Pancoast … imagine communities living the pastoral life, in tune with their environment and at peace with their neighbors. It existed in the mountains of West Virginia prior to coal mining, prior to the industrial progress that ultimately destroyed both the land of those same mountains and the lifestyle of their communities. Pancoast’s fine novel begins mid-destruction, when Thomas Greene’s family is confronted with the onslaught of coal mining progress and the decay of life as he knew and enjoyed it. An intelligent man, Thomas sees the writing on the wall, and before his ultimate fleeing the land he so loved, circumstances put him in contact with a manager of one of the mines where the company not only houses its labor, it provides them with script, their only source of income, which is useless off company grounds. It is to be spent in company stores, and is far worse than any form of welfare known to man. Script is earned with blood, sweat, and tears, and can be taken away for no more an infraction than getting injured on the job or mentioning the word union. It is that level of greed that is the road to Matewan and the massacre that occurred there in 1920.
Company housing and script are forms of slavery making a comeback today as our economy drifts closer and closer to a modern form of feudalism where West Coast truckers are experiencing a similar fate (i.e., where companies finance or refinance the trucks and later repossess same as drivers fall further into debt). Matewan is the town where the coal miner wars of 1920 began, and the novel provides a wonderfully graphic overview of the conditions that lead to the coal mine strikes as the United Mine Workers Union attempted to gain support in the western most portions of West Virginia.
Thomas Greene’s family suffers, but not nearly as badly as so many of those beholden to the jobs they signed on for, including a life under script conditions and the brutality of non-regulated capitalism (what America seems determined to return to today). Ultimately, as conditions worsen for mine workers and the abuses of the employers increase to include hiring professional thugs (Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency) as muscle, the natural occurrence of a revolt is imminent. Thomas Greene makes the move away from life on the mountain, makes sure his children are educated, and although they prosper, he and his wife long for the life they knew and loved best.
An engaging read start to finish … and if your blood doesn’t boil for the conditions heaped up on workers doing such a dangerous and self-destructive job, check your pulse.
The story behind this book is best described by the author himself: “Appalachia, its coalfields, and especially the Tug Valley, are an American tragedy. When the liars and thieves representing the land and coal companies set about stealing the land from its pioneer owners, no one could have envisioned the feudal state that would be imposed upon the mountaineers of West Virginia. I know how important the history of the Tug Valley is to me, and I have seen how important that history is to the people who were uprooted, and to the descendants of those who stayed. Therefore, The Road to Matewan.”
Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy … this has to be my favorite William Kennedy novel (and that’s saying a lot). A brilliant touch of Cuban-American history, with a touch of Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita and some Santeria, the Cuban revolution (Batista vs. Fidel), Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, the race riots of the late 60s, and so much more. From Albany, the protagonist Quinn’s stomping ground, to Cuba and back, Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is the master, William Kennedy, at his very best. Cynical, comical, emotional, raw, violent, sensual … you name it, you’ll find it in this exciting trip through some of the most clever dialogue ever penned, as Quinn (the journalist) falls for Renata (the gorgeous revolutionary who worships Santeria and desires Batista’s death) and the sparks fly.
Kennedy is quick and clever and sophisticated and exciting to read, especially when he blesses us with a page or two of straight dialogue that is so witty and tight, we long for more as we turn each page. The history lessons you get from this one are a bonus.

Birth of a Nation by Nate Parker … I guess I wasn’t aware of the controversy regarding the director/writer/actor’s sexual assault case during his college years, but maybe that’s a good thing, because I was able to watch the film without those lingering thoughts. I thought the film was very good and will likely watch it again. I thought the title couldn’t be more appropriate. It makes one wonder how African-American families today aren’t arming themselves for some of the blatant injustices heaped on them by law enforcement that simply go unpunished if not rewarded. When videos aren’t enough, one has to wonder what the hell is.
I thought this movie about 10xs better than the Oscar winner from a few years ago, 12 Years a Slave, the one the academy felt was a good choice to be the token bone thrown to the black community as Best Picture. Then again, there’s something about a revolutionary movement, whether it’s quelled or not, I find much more alluring than happy endings reinforcing the institutions to blame for some many of society’s ills.
Don’t blame the tweets … that’s right, amici, it isn’t the tweets that are the problem. We know what Trump is. We knew it before he was elected, so let’s KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE, PLEASE. Read the article here: 
From the article: “Despite Trump’s own warning a mere two years ago that ‘we should stay out of Syria,’ he now finds himself hip-deep in Syrian blood with no apparent aversion to his predicament. I’m not sure about the percentage of bleeding women amid the daily carnage in Syria, though it seems to be enough to whet Trump’s appetite for destruction.”
The above article reflects pretty much what Democrat loyalists did for eight years under Barry. They ignored everything, maybe because they felt they did the right thing electing a mixed-race president? He was good-looking, he said the right things, he had charisma up the wazoo, and his family was something special to root for. Ignored was the politician he proved to be by not taking positions 131 times as a senator. Ignored was what he didn't do while president. I think it is more that Democrat voters were happy enough it was their party in power and that's literally all that mattered to them. Pathetic really, but that's where we are. I don't find Trump’s "blood" tweets all that offensive as I do funny, but funny because this is what our government is comfortable with, a bad joke. Hillbots ignored her war crimes the same as they ignored Barry's the same as Republicans will ignore this moron's killing. Very frustrating.
Too many of us (Americans) have become VERY complacent with the killing our military is ordered to do across the globe. Where are the anti-war protests? Where is the shared angst at a war that has gone on for fourteen years and expanded dramatically over that time? Where is the angst at all the disasters we've caused? Is it because our kids are no longer drafted and there is a wealth of unemployed to volunteer? Is it because Covfefe's tweets are more offensive?
He's an asshole. We all know that. Those who defend his actions are lost causes, so don't bother arguing with them. They're beyond ignorant. They wear their ignorance with pride (and think they're tougher for it---how pathetic is that?). The much more relevant issues are the killing we continue to do in the Middle East, the meddling WE do everywhere, and the economic protections being put in place to secure the wealthy their stranglehold over our government.
I don't "hate" America, so if you're that fucking stupid to believe so, move on, please. Americans need to do some serious self-reflection. Whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever the fuck ... think about what we ignore and what enrages us. Think about how bad off we as a nation are to have just gone through an election between a criminal and a con-man. Think about where we're headed.
It's time to give up on the lesser of two evils bullshit. It's time to DEMAND more from ourselves and those we elect to represent us.
What a GREAT Band … and song. The Allman Brothers Band … Not My Cross to Bear.