A handful of good reads 

Book Reviews

Rita Kohn The Lotus Dickey Songbook,

Rita Kohn The Lotus Dickey Songbook, Second Edition Edited by Nancy C. McEntire, Grey Larsen and Janne Henshaw, with two articles by Dillon Bustin and essays by Pete Sutherland and Bob Lucas; bonus CD included Indiana University Press; $39.95
Lotus Dickey (1911-1989) has been an enigma, inspiration and icon to succeeding generations of fiddlers and folklorists since his "discovery" in 1981 by Nancy C. McEntire, an IU doctoral student. In the book's introduction, McEntire recalls her first meeting with Lotus Dickey. "I was stunned by the completeness and breadth of his repertoire. He had sung for several hours without repeating himself and now, as I prepared to take my leave ... Lotus called my attention to the clear, nearly full moon drifting above us. 'I wrote a song about the moon,' he said. "Walking in the Moonlight." Would you like to hear it?'" On the spot, McEntire decided, "The most logical thing for an aspiring folklorist to do with a person like Lotus was to help promote him and his music, and Dillon [Bustin] and I (and later, many other musicians and folklorists) focused our efforts on this goal." To say they succeeded is an understatement. At age 70, and for the next eight years, Lotus Dickey hit the mainstream "after a lifetime of playing and composing in relative isolation." Along with biographical essays are contextual notes for the 120 songs representing Dickey's compositions and favorite folk songs. "Spending time with him ... was like leaving the planet and going to a place of grace where time had no meaning," observed Bob Lucas, who appeared in concerts with Dickey. Dickey's memory and music have been kept alive through two festivals that annually attract people worldwide to his Paoli hometown each June, and to Bloomington, Ind., for the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, each September. Includes a discography, selected bibliography/filmography, indices of songs by title and by first line. Each song is annotated. What Our Kids Teach Us About Prayer By T. Wyatt Watkins; illustrations by Rachael, Rebecca, Seth and Sarah Watkins NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company; $17.95
It's about what children intuit versus what adults tend to think is reverential. An easy-to-read, anecdotal delivery invites sharing with family and friends and opens dialogue. From describing bedtime back-scratching for a foursome of kids to accepting a pre-teen wanting to pray alone, door closed-no touching, a reader will acquire a historic perspective about prayer. Most of all, a reader can become open to one-of-a-kind prayers, designed by the child to fit the needs of the moment. It's equally an oblique confessional about the search for good parenting skills. Thirty-four short chapters range from the expected at bedtime and dinner table to the whacks on the side of the head. T. Wyatt Watkins' son one evening adds, "And thank you, God, for me." Watkins at first wonders if this is a bit of hubris, but eventually concludes it's simply "a straightforward expression of satisfaction at his own existence." One night, one child prays for jobs for the homeless people she has observed wandering streets downtown. Another night it's the need to "give prayer a face." "Where's Bangladesh?" asks a daughter. When disaster strikes we've come to pray for the well-being of strangers. Next time it might hit us. We'd want the comfort of someone caring, sending up prayers. But the prayer that really set Watkins off was "And be with God." "Just who do my kids think they are, praying for God?" he asks. And then he stops fussing. "Is it perhaps the most natural prayer? [Do] they only wish to let God know they care?" Caring beings is what his kids have come to know they are. Perhaps that's the gift of this small volume. Theseus Retold by Geraldine McCaughrean Cricket Books; $15.95 Charisma was invented with Theseus, the accidental child wished for by King Aegeus of Athens. This expertly crafted retelling gifts us with an ancient tale to help us out of the maze of "How did it come to this?" Theseus, born out of sorcery, matures into a gorgeous body with an abundance of brawn, a cunning cut to his brain and no heart. His exploits explode and implode every bully and encumbrance from one end of Greece to the other. He seeks adulation, returns it with disdain. He treats women like offal, but from them demands reverence. He has been the blueprint for too many centuries of political leaders, Hollywood idols, sports heroes. Have previous retellers erroneously emphasized the glamour of derring-do and overlooked the consequences of arrogance? A mere 102 pages of sparse prose matches an uncluttered place: "Only a few ships were sprinkled on the world-encircling sea; only a few houses had grown up along its shores and riverbanks. And what houses there were, were bare and barely higher than a man's head. Beds sprawled legless on the floor, and grain and grapes rattled by in two wheeled carts pulled by small, pale-eared donkeys." Into this simple world comes disaster - a monstrous bully who kills for the sport of it. Theseus overcomes him, and he's off to claim his due, never looking back, thinking of himself as immortal. Bound up in the Theseus cycle are monsters, gods and mortals, inventors, architects, seafarers and murderous kings. Yet in the myriad retellings that have come down to us, their interconnectedness with Theseus' downfall has not been as clearly articulated as here. A juvenile book that's a must-read for adults trying to make sense out of our present predicaments. A Hungry Heart {A Memoir} By Gordon Parks NY: Atria Books; $26 Gordon Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kan. He was 15 when his mother died. In accordance with her deathbed request, his farmer father sent him to live in Minneapolis, where his relatives promptly put him out. How he survived on the streets in the bitterest of winters, and went on to become one of the most revered figures of the 20th century, is a whopping tale of the best and worst of these United States of America. A high school dropout out of necessity to support himself, he became self-taught in a half-dozen careers, including photojournalism and art photography, music composition, film directing and writing. Parks broke the color line with Life Magazine, and gave up the security of a paycheck and perks to wade into the uncharted waters of Hollywood. He defined the power of pictorial story and defied militants in the black power movements to present balanced reportage. He also philandered in the wake of almost worshipping his children and parents, whose own marriage verged on the ideal. He eventually made lots of money, shared it, found ways to bring a better life to disparate victims of society. Parks' life, one generation removed from slavery and the Civil War, is a series of notable experiences spanning two world wars and skirmishes here and abroad. The events he covered and personalities he met chronicle a century. At the end of 1952, Life Magazine brought Parks home from his stint at the Paris bureau. "Segregation, that poison left over from slavery, was still feeding racial unrest to America when I was sent South to cover it. I was to concentrate on the black man's most relentless enemy. I didn't go alone. Sam Yette, a young black journalism student who knew the area well, was to meet me in Birmingham, Alabama. His knowledge of the South was to help protect us from those enemies who would be waiting to do us in. "Having entered the bastion of Klansmen and lynchings, I waited for Sam that first morning on a red clay country road outside the city where a black cabby had dropped me ... It was growing late, and I was becoming impatient when a car pulled up ... 'I'm Sam Yette. Sorry I'm late, but your bureau chief never showed up. So I decided to come without him.'" Fifty years later, in deference to the man's family, Parks still will not put into print the name of the Life bureau chief who put him in harm's way. A Small Nation of People: W.E. B. DuBois & African American Portraits of Progress Issued by the Library of Congress with essays by David Levering Lewis & Deborah Willis NY: Amistad; $15.95
This treasure of photographs from the American Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition is enhanced by two excellent essays that give context to the exhibition's original goals and to the lasting value of even unidentified photographs. The 360-plus images may be viewed at www.loc.gov, in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog in the collection designated "African American Photographs Assembled for the 1900 Paris Exhibition." The wonderment of this story of black leaders demanding representation at the turn of the century World's Fair, and the story they tell, leaves a postmodern reader gasping. What happened to the promise of life as "people who preferred to conceive of identity in terms of nation rather than race"? It's a powerful book appearing a hundred years after showing a "proud, productive, cultured" society of people as a "small nation" within the larger sphere.

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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