Saturday, December 27, 2008

Finishing old homework

Over a half century ago, I waltzed into the ninth grade without realizing that teachers actually expected me to work. Miss Murphy, our English teacher, assigned us to read Jane Eyre, and dear God, I didn’t want to. What language was it even in? Miss Brontë never wrote anything in simple English, it seemed to me; why use only one word when she could use ten? And she never left a room in Thornfield. She issued from it. That and perhaps the fact that the story was about a girl convinced me not to do my scholastic duty.

Oh, there were consequences of my sloth, but they are beside my point. I enjoyed War and Peace, but declined to finish Anna Karenina in two tries. Then in my thirties, I reread David Copperfield to see whether I would hate it as much as I did in high school. Well, as Mark Twain might have said, the story got better with age—my age.

Fast forward to the present, 50-plus years since my disastrous introduction to Charlotte Brontë. What would I make of her work now? To find out, I recently downloaded Jane Eyre onto my new Kindle with the intent of alternating between reading it and American Lion, my February review assignment for The Internet Review of Books.

Reader, she hooked me. Yes, I chuckled at the flowery language at first, imagining my fourteen-year-old alter ego diligently reading but looking up half her words in the dictionary. As a writer, I noted techniques modern writers don't use, such as addressing the reader directly ("Reader, I married him"). Now and then a coincidence stretches credulity, as when Jane is rescued from near-certain death by three people who just happen to be first cousins she never knew existed. (When was the last time that happened to you, reader?) A couple of other events occur that help greatly to resolve the plot, and I won’t mention them but to say they are deus ex machina. Yet Jane Eyre has a number of credible twists driven by the force of her personality.

The critic Harold Bloom includes Charlotte Brontë in Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds. He suggests that Brontë intended Jane Eyre to mirror her own personality and virtues, but Jane’s goodness approaches a perfection I would rather not see in a real person. So yes, I root for her—an essential reaction to good fiction—yet I would not last long in the company of a real Jane Eyre, nor she in mine. A plain-looking young woman of frail constitution and fierce stubbornness, she consents to nothing out of accord with her view of God's will—and her God doesn’t put up with much.

Perhaps Jane Eyre comes as close to feminist literature as one is likely to find in the early 19th century. Jane shows men all the deference expected in that era, even addressing Rochester, the man she adores, as “sir” and “Master.” But wait til the end and see how that relationship changes.

So now I have to finish reading American Lion and don't have 50 years to write the review; it’s due in February.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review of Three Generations, No Imbeciles

The website of the Georgia State University Law School has quoted from my review of the excellent Three Generations, No Imbeciles, which ran in November 2008 issue of The Internet Review of Books. It’s great to see that review site (which I help with) receive the attention it deserves.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Welcome to America

This poem won second prize in the poetry category at the 2008 El Paso Writer’s League writing contest:

Welcome to America

Hirschfeld washed ashore

In Galveston

My mother’s grandfather

Left bayonets and cannon behind

To raise chickens, cotton, Kinder

But spoke the Prussian tongue

Until he died.

Mesilla, where I meet

My writing friends,

Belonged to Mexico

Back in the day

Of European potentates

Ruling south of our border

Then with a stroke of ink and

A sack of gold

The people stayed and

The border moved—

Welcome to America.

The poet Frost wrote of walls

Unloved but neighborly

Saying “respect my land”

Walls not so high you cannot cross them

Though he’d much prefer

You knocked on his door and

Asked permission to come in.


This short piece won first prize in the humorous fiction category in the 2008 El Paso Writer’s League writing contest.


By Bob Sanchez

George knew the world was coming apart at the seams. Only by furious effort had the world avoided the Y2K debacle, with its attendant threat of planetary lockjaw. Citizens would have been shot dead for their bottled water, their gasoline, their triple-A batteries and their clean underwear.

“I’ve had it with you, George.” Lila was trying to tell him something. He examined an unopened roll of duct tape, wondering if the stuff had an expiration date. Maybe he’d better buy a fresh supply, just in case.

Okay, he thought, we dodged the millennial bullet only to take one in the heart with nine-eleven. We have Columbine shootings, no-fly lists, outsourced jobs and insourced illegals, corporate meltdowns, ozone holes, and Americans up to their asses in IEDs in Iraq. Now that Pacific Rim runt has Nagasaki-sized nukes he’ll be selling to terrorists to finance restocking his liquor cabinet and his porn collection.

Lila grabbed the package out of his hand. “This isn’t going to keep out sarin, anthrax, or radioactive isotopes.”

“You’re red in the face,” George said. “Are you sick?”

 “Only of living in a bomb shelter, surrounded by” —she waved an arm in a sweeping motion—“sterile gauze and chlorine tablets. And a year’s supply of Charmin!”

“Because if you’re sick, you should sleep on the cot tonight.” He took back the duct tape and opened the package. “Maybe I didn’t seal the windows properly.”

“We don’t need to live like this! We are not a terrorist target—we’re a hundred miles from the nearest city!”

“But downwind,” he said quietly.

For the first time, he noticed that she had her winter coat on and that she had packed a suitcase.“I’m leaving you,” she said.

“Right now?”

“Now isn’t soon enough, but yes.”

“But you’re safe here.”

“I don’t care. I’m sick of being safe. I’ll risk sorry.”

George took Lila’s hand, and for a fleeting moment her expression softened. Then he placed the roll of duct tape into her hand. “At least take this,” he said.

He thought nothing of it when her jaw dropped at the sight of his gift.

Or when she gripped it tightly in her fist.

Or when she cocked her arm like a World Series fastballer.

So he didn’t blink when her arm whipped forward. The hard, black roll followed a short, swift trajectory from her fingertips to his temple. George had always suspected that his life would end in a flash of blinding light.

And so it did.



Monday, December 08, 2008

Getting Lucky

Tonight I resubmitted an edited version of Getting Lucky to iUniverse. They had a good set of suggestions that should make it a significantly better book.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Poems for a philistine

On the Internet Writing Workshop,  a woman had asked people to recommend poems she could introduce to her “philistine” friend. Here were my suggestions:

You could do worse than introduce your philistine to Robert Frost—Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening and Mending Wall are two of my favorites. Longer but worth a look is Death of the Hired Hand, while Nothing Gold Can Stay is short and sweet.

A few other random favorites, all available on

Ozymandias of Egypt by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes by Thomas Gray is a bit literary, but has a clever punch line you’re sure to recognize.
A Penitential Week by Carolyn Wells isn’t world-class poetry, but it’s clever and funny.

Now a suggestion on delivery: Don’t just hand your friend the poems and send him off to read them by himself. Sit down with him, in front of a blazing fireplace if you can manage that, and take turns reading aloud to each other.