In this episode Stan brings out the crying towel and reviews the quick end to a glorious Braves season, offers his take on how to “fix” the playoffs, and looks ahead to next season.
In this episode Stan brings out the crying towel and reviews the quick end to a glorious Braves season, offers his take on how to “fix” the playoffs, and looks ahead to next season.
As I type these words here in my office atop the Jepson House in beautiful downtown Savannah, Hurricane Ida Lupino (or whatever it’s called) is furiously lashing my windows with wind and rain. By the time you read this it will be well on its way out into the Atlantic, but I hope wherever you are you are safe, sheltered, and unharmed.
College Football: It’s that time of year again, as the baseball season enters its last full month, to turn our thoughts to the agony/ecstasy that is college football. The season officially began last Saturday, August 26, but you probably didn’t even realize it, with few games to catch our attention. The season really begins on Thursday evening, August 31, and kicks into high gear over the Labor Day weekend. Our beloved Georgia Bulldogs are looking to be the first team to win three consecutive national championships since the University of Minnesota (!) in 1934-1936, back when Dexter was a baby. Since 1936 there have been 13 teams with a chance to win three nattys in a row, the last being Alabama in 2014, yet none have done it since the Golden Gophers during FDR’s first term. Can Georgia do it again this year? The Dawgs tee it up Saturday at 6pm against UT-Martin, and if you’re scratching your head and asking, “stepped in what?” you’re not alone. In addition to the Skyhawks, we play Ball State (Cardinals) and UAB (Blazers) as non-conference opponents. UGA’s schedule is ridiculously weak this year, with the marquee (and most difficult) matchup being Tennessee on November 18. If Georgia’s not undefeated at that point it won’t be the scheduler’s fault. Nevertheless, because we play in the SEC, ESPN still ranks the Dogs schedule as 31st in the nation out of 133 teams. We’ll make up for it next year, however, opening against Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and in the SEC we play at Texas, at Alabama, at Mississippi, at Florida, and home against Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Auburn. Winning a championship is incredibly difficult, so for my part there’s no expectation for a three-peat, especially with a new and untested quarterback, but with Kirby Smart, anything’s possible. Keep the crying towels handy and Go Dogs.
Summer Reading: I finally got around to watching Turn Every Page, the 2022 documentary about the relationship between writer Robert Caro and his editor, Robert Gottlieb. Having read Caro’s 2019 book, Working, and Gottlieb’s 2016 memoir Avid Reader, there wasn’t much new for me in the film, but it’s still great fun to listen to two craftsmen talk about what they love to do. The duo began working together more than 50 years ago on Caro’s massive 1974 bio of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. Caro is now racing the clock (he’ll be 88 in October) to finish the 5th and presumably final volume of his monumental biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro is thorough and meticulous but not fast (it’s been 11 years since the last volume appeared), hence the title of the documentary. Gottlieb, alas, won’t get to see the finish line, having died this year on June 14 at age 92. Write, Caro, write.
Speaking of massive tomes, I recently finished the first volume of Shelby Foote’s three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative (1958), which clocked in at 810 pages of closely written text. The next two volumes are even longer, and the whole thing totals just under 3,000 pages. The work has been picked apart by Civil War scholars over the last 60+ years, but it’s still beautifully written and if you’re going to spend 5 weeks with an author, you could do a lot worse than Shelby Foote. It’s even better if you can hear his voice sounding it all out as you read.
Also read this summer: The first volume of Douglass Southall Freeman’s four-volume R.E. Lee (1934), a Pulitzer winner and much more critical than I’d ever imagined. I’ve never been drawn to Lee, but this biography has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it at the now-defunct Jackson Street Books in Athens 37 years ago, so I finally took the plunge. Freeman’s interpretation of Lee has long since been challenged and mostly overturned, and his insistence that Lee made the only choice he could in serving the Confederacy rather than remaining loyal to the US is hash. Still, I expected this to be full-on hagiography with Lee as saintly knight, but that isn’t the case. Freeman was far more balanced than I ever gave him credit for, but that’s what often happens when one judges without reading. As with Foote, I’ll wait a year and dig into volume 2.
I re-read James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933), about the legendary mountain-top utopia Shangri-La and the mysterious Hugh “Glory” Conway’s visit there. What an absolute joy to read. This book, like Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, is relatively short but packs a lot into a little. Hilton is mostly forgotten now—he died of liver cancer at age 54 in 1954—but this book was one of the most popular of the 20th century. I plan to re-visit Shangri-La every summer. [Sidebar: FDR loved this book and named the presidential retreat on Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain “Shangri-La”; Eisenhower, thinking it sounded too stuffy, re-named it “Camp David.”]
Other novels read this summer: Clyde Edgerton’s Rainey (1986) (hilarious) and Ferrol Sams’s Run With the Horseman (1982) (hilarious and moving). The latter was a high-school graduation gift received 41 years ago that I didn’t read at the time but, operating under the mantra that “every book finds its day,” I’m glad I waited. The exploits of “the boy” and his relationship to his father and the rest of his small community had much more to say to me now than it would have at 17. Staying with semi-autobiographical fiction, I just started Nina Stibbe’s 2014 novel, Man at the Helm, which, so far, is, as Shelby Foote would say, “just a pleasure to be part of.”
Meanwhile, in preparation for an upcoming podcast, my early morning reading is Jim Cobb’s fascinating new bio, C. Vann Woodward: America’s Historian (University of North Carolina Press). Jim is B. Phinizy Spalding Professor Emeritus of history at UGA. We’ll record the podcast in September, which will be fun. Stay tuned.
At lunchtime and bedtime, I’m finishing two other books with similar themes and self-explanatory titles: Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries, by Greg Melville (2022), and Sue Black’s All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes (2018). Both are about death, dying, and what becomes of our remains when we’re gone. Perfect reading before rendering unto Morpheus the things that are Morpheus’s, as Clifton Fadiman said.
Passages: Here in Savannah and across the state of Georgia, we mourn the death this week of Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler, the legendary lawyer and owner of a succession of Damn Good Dawgs all named UGA. Sonny was serving on the Board of the Georgia Historical Society when I arrived here 25 years ago. Like everyone else, I knew him from afar as UGA’s keeper and as one of the central figures in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the book and the movie). Soon after I arrived in town, my boss Todd and I walked over to see Sonny in his office in the Armstrong House, across from Forsyth Park, the walls covered with oil paintings of various English bulldogs all named UGA. Introducing me, Todd explained that, like Sonny, I too was a Double Dog. Sonny cheerily waved me into his office, pointed to a chair, and said, in that inimitable voice, “Stan, siddown right heah and let the Dawgs look down upon you!” A Savannah and Georgia institution, Sonny died on Monday, August 28, at age 90.
Finally, Don Smith, television producer extraordinaire, died last Friday, August 25. I had the pleasure of working with Don on “Today in Georgia History,” produced jointly by GHS and Georgia Public Broadcasting, which I wrote about in this blog. Don brought a wealth of experience to the project, having spent years at Atlanta’s WAGA, CNN, GPB, and many other places besides. The Quitman, Georgia, native was tremendously talented—winner of 22 Emmys and a prestigious Peabody—smart, wickedly funny, and equal parts sweet, grumpy, and curmudgeonly fussy. Don was the first person I knew who practiced what is now called intermittent fasting; he ate once a day. It might be lunch or dinner, but never both. Being old school, he was a gifted raconteur with a wealth of stories and jokes, almost all of them off-color. Don frequently broke up the sound stage—especially poor fellow producer Bruce Burkhardt (and me)—at all the wrong moments as we recorded on set, usually with something hilarious that began, “As the actress said to the archbishop…” Peals of laughter ensued. Don complained, groused, and fussed through it all, but once he liked you, you were golden. Though we butted heads once or twice in the beginning, fortunately Don took to me almost instantly. Every minute you spent with him was a seminar on living, and I cherished it all. Hail and farewell, dear fellow. We’ll miss you.
Stay safe, and until next time, thank you for reading.
In this podcast Stan discusses the newly available Ed Jackson Collection at GHS, Freddie Mercury’s handwritten lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Ed Ames’ tomahawk throw, and college students giving up their cellphones to take a vow of silence.
Do unexpected calls on your smart phone send you into panic mode? Should people text before calling? Do you hate text messages too? Is AI the end of the world as we know it? Stan discusses these pressing issues and more, including this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners, the travails of our beloved Braves, and the goings-on in the Fraternal Order of Tall People in Shorts.
Item: Play Ball: It’s April, and Major League Baseball has returned, complete with a pitch clock, larger bases, and other rule changes designed either to speed up the game or otherwise make it more exciting for the casual fan. So far our beloved Braves are off to a very hot start and look better than the hated Mets or Phillies (the reigning National League champions who finished a distant 3rd place in the NL East)—and better than the version that won the 2021 World Series. Time will tell, but this should be a fun season.
Item: Hoops: In the meantime, I hope you didn’t miss the Women’s Final Four in college basketball or the championship game between LSU and Iowa, instant classics all. Angel Reese, Georgia Amoore, Aliyah Boston, and Caitlin Clark, are all superstars right now, with many years and great games ahead of them in the WNBA–whose season starts May 19 by the way, with 40 games on the schedule this year. Our Atlanta Dream opens the season on Saturday, May 20, at the Dallas Wings, 1pm on ABC. Don’t miss it.
Item: More Hoops/Football: Speaking of college basketball, just one observation—uninhibited by the thought process—about the men’s final, featuring the exciting San Diego State Aztecs. Their run to the final was great fun to watch and they’re an explosive team. But they were a 5th seed and I kept wondering, if they win the championship, can we really believe that they were the best team in all of college basketball through the year—or just the best team over a number of weeks, during the tournament? Doesn’t matter, right, if they win the championship game? Except that I kept thinking that the college football playoffs are about the expand to 12 teams, and it’s inevitable that a low seed with 3 losses during the regular season will get hot for a few weeks and win it all by beating a previously unbeaten team. Will they really be the champions? Or just a hot team at the right time? Yes to both. I get that it’s much more unlikely in college football that a team with three losses will upset an undefeated team on a neutral field, but it’s bound to happen eventually—like a 16th-seed beating a 1-seed in basketball: it’s only happened twice, but it has happened. It will happen in college football too, and it will dilute the sport, no doubt about it. But it’s inevitable. Then again, my team has won back-to-back championships under the current system, so I’m prejudiced. Moving on…
Item: Books, or A Case of Serendipity: I recently bought a copy of T.J. Stiles’s 2015 book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History. As I was putting it on the appropriate shelf in my office, I noticed immediately beside it my copy of Evan Connell’s 1984 best-seller on Custer, Son of the Morning Star, which has been hailed as a masterpiece. I remember buying the book as an undergraduate at UGA just getting interested in history. Why had I never read it? And who was Evan Connell? I remember reading articles in the mainstream media (like Time magazine) about how this unusual book and author surprisingly took the literary world by storm that year. I did the usual Google searches on Connell and found myself fascinated by what I discovered. Suffice it to say, Connell is considered a writer’s writer, at home in nearly every genre, from fiction, essays, and short stories, to history, biography, and poetry. The contemporary of Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and John Updike labored in comparatively undeserved obscurity, but hiding in plain sight was part of his deliberate brand. Connell, who died in 2013 at age 88, was a lifelong unmarried loner, the opposite of a self-promoter, who hated publicity and never courted the spotlight. He granted few interviews (none on camera) and if there’s a picture out there anywhere of him smiling, I’ve never seen it. He never did public readings of his work, never spoke publicly about his writing, never taught classes about writing or literature. He lived in the Bay Area much of adult life, spent some time in local watering holes, and formed few permanent attachments. He died alone in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And yet his novels reveal a remarkably penetrating insight into human relationships that are astonishing for someone who seemed to spend most of his life shunning them. His 1959 novel Mrs. Bridge (a National Book Award finalist) was praised as a masterpiece of spare, lean, concise story-telling, with not a spare word in it, as was his 1969 follow-up, Mr. Bridge. I bought and devoured them both and wished for more. I finally also read Son of the Morning Star (published by then-little-known North Point Press in Berkeley, now owned by FSG) and found it beautifully written and moving as well. The New York Times called it “impressive in its massive presentation of information” and added that “its prose is elegant, its tone the voice of dry wit, its meandering narrative skillfully crafted.” The Washington Post said it “leaves the reader astonished,” and the Wall Street Journal called it “a scintillating book, thoroughly researched and brilliantly constructed.” I can confirm that all of this is true. Happily, for people like me who are fascinated by him, there’s a new literary biography of Connell out by Steve Paul, Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell, published in 2021 by the University of Missouri Press. And so, through the serendipity of shelving one book, Evan Connell is now on my list as a favored author whose writings I plan to work through patiently and in their entirety, one bite at a time. I’ll be spending considerable time with him in the coming years. If you love the power of words, I invite you also to get to know this talented, mysterious man in the only way we can—through his writing.
Item: Bourbon: Speaking of Evan, Evan Williams has long been known among bourbon lovers as one of the best low-priced (read “cheap”) bourbons on the market. This is especially true of Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch, which I highly recommend. The date comes from the year that Williams founded Kentucky’s first distillery. If you’re keeping score, this particular batch is 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and 10 percent rye. For those uninitiated, enjoying bourbon whiskey is quite simple: pour it into the appropriate glass, either over a few cubes of ice or without, then a) see the bourbon, b) smell the bourbon, and c) taste the bourbon. This one is aged 6-8 years, so you will see a nice copper bronze in your glass. You will smell charred oak, caramel, and vanilla. You will taste all three plus brown sugar and a flash of heat as it goes down. Nicely priced and packaged, widely available, and back up to 90 proof (previously 86), this is a great entry-level bourbon that I highly recommend for the upcoming Kentucky Derby Day—or any upcoming day, actually. As always, I am not getting paid to endorse this product, but I should be.
Item: This week in Literary History: On April 3, 1783, 240 years ago, Washington Irving (not to be confused with famous cricketer Irving Washington), another of my favorite authors, was born in New York City, the youngest of 11 children. He will become the first American author to gain critical and popular fame in this country and in Europe. Charles Dickens, another favorite, said of him: “I don’t go upstairs to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm.” On April 6, 1895, author Oscar Wilde is on trial in London for sodomy and gross indecency. He was accused on the stand of having written the story, “The Priest and the Acolyte,” a story of a love affair between an Anglican priest and a 14-year old boy (it was actually written by John Francis Bloxam). Wilde denied authorship and when asked if the story was immoral, he famously replied, “It was much worse than immoral. It was badly written.”
Item: Currently Reading: The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope (originally published in 1867), the final volume (of 6) in the Barsetshire series that begins with The Warden (1855) then continues with Barchester Towers (1857), Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861), and The Small House at Allington (1864), chronicling the always interesting goings-on in the fictional county of Barsetshire and its cathedral town of Barchester during the height of the Victorian Era. The county is peopled with delightful almost-living characters like The Rev. Mr. Quiverful, Mrs. Proudie, Sir Omicron Pie, Dr. Fillgrave, Sir Abraham Haphazard, Sir Raffle Buffle, and many, many others. The series is beloved by Trollope fans, who are legion, ranging from actor Alex Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), who never travelled without a Trollope novel, to economist John Kenneth Galbraith, to author Sue Grafton. It’s taken me 14 years to read the series, not because the books are hard to read—just the opposite; one critic said they’re like eating peanuts, hard to stop—but because I let too many years elapse between volumes. After this, it’s on to Trollope’s 6-volume Palliser series, which I hope to finish in half the time. Maybe I’ll read those straight through? At any rate, Trollope is also one of my favorite authors, not only for his wonderful books but because of how he wrote them. He famously kept to a disciplined schedule, putting in 3 hours at his writing desk every day before going to his real job at the Post Office, where he is credited with introducing the ubiquitous red pillar mailbox to the United Kingdom (seen here). His literary output was prodigious by any standards: 47 novels, 42 short stories, 5 travel books, 2 works of non-fiction, and an auto-biography. I intend to read them all.
Item: Finally, this little gem from columnist Giles Coren of The Times of London: “I’ve always thought of art as culture for people too thick to read books. The super-rich invariably collect paintings but I’ve never met one who could quote Milton.”—Coren, in The Times of London, February 27, 2023. Ouch.
Until next time, thanks for reading.