Between tram tours at the air museum, I sneak into a mostly-empty storeroom behind one of the exhibit galleries. It’s quiet and out of the way, a perfect place for a break. I thought I was the only one who knew about it.
For at least the last two years, these two boxes have been sitting against one of the walls. One with Spanish labeling, one with English. When I sat down in the storeroom yesterday, this is what I saw:
I guess the storeroom isn’t that big a secret after all. Someone else knows about it, and whoever it is turned the one box around so that the English-language side faces outward. I’m gonna guess it’s a Trumpkin.
Just to show I’m above such small-minded shit, I turned the box back around. If it happens again, I’ll turn ’em both Spanish-side out. ¡Esto es la guerra!
Donna’s sister Robin is here for a few days, and she’s helping Donna put my Hash House Harrier T-shirt quilt together. That’s Robin in the photo. All you can see of Donna is her hand.
Donna has made a few of these for friends in the hash, meanwhile saving some of my old shirts for this one. Matter of fact, she and Robin could find only the backup stash for this quilt … the shirts Donna wanted to use are still hiding somewhere, so maybe, eventually, we’ll have two quilts.
Every one of these shirts brings back memories, and now I understand why hashers treasure stuff like this. Oh, by the way, Robin is a hasher too … so far only hashing hands have touched the quilt-to-be!
The raised end grips I put on my mountain bike last weekend were a bust. They were plastic and wouldn’t clamp solidly to the handlebar. Every time I grabbed them they’d twist right off. I took them back and replaced them with sturdier metal ones. These clamp on tightly and should do the trick. Not perfect, but they’ll allow me alternate between riding hunched over and sitting up a bit straighter, and they’re way cheaper than a new handlebar. That rectangular thing on the stem is an iPhone holder. I use an app called MapMyRide to track routes and distances, not that the distances (so far, anyway) amount to much. Bicycle nerds call photos like this “cockpit shots.” Brother, I know from cockpits. Go home and eat a gluten-free snack.
One of the TVs at Anytime Fitness was set to CNBC this morning, not Fox News. I watched a few minutes while I was on one of the leg machines, and frankly didn’t see much difference. The media, left, right, and center, are tripping over themselves this morning to proclaim Trump “presidential.” Funny, though, he seems as selfish, childish, and vindictive as ever to me. Weird, huh?
We’re going to the annual volunteer appreciation dinner at the air museum this week. Yesterday the organizer sent a list of last-minute instructions. One item stood out, and not in a good way: “This is a nice dinner, so please refrain from wearing blue jeans, shorts and such.”
It was a crappy thing to say, and it reminded me of something even crappier:
That’s a Reuters photo, taken in the Oval Office on the 28th of January. Note the guy on the right, Senior Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon, and what he’s wearing.
Now I wouldn’t dream of meeting the president at the White House in anything less than full Men-in-Black attire. I’m not saying I want to meet this particular president, mind you, but love him or hate him, jeans are just fucking inappropriate. Trump in particular, we’re told, is a stickler for appearance and dress: he evaluated cabinet post candidates on their appearance; he made regular cracks about his rivals’ looks during the campaign; he was reportedly dissatisfied with Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s appearance at the first post-inauguration press conference, asking “Doesn’t the guy own a dark suit?”
There’s a message in that photo. The message is that Bannon can wear what he wants and Trump doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Think about Putin for a minute. Trump never criticizes Putin, and nearly everyone by now realizes the meaning of that: Putin has something on Trump. I say ditto Bannon: there’s a reason he wears dirty jeans in the Oval Office, and it has everything to do with power. It’s plain as day: Trump is owned.
God, I can’t wait until it all falls apart and we learn the piggy-dirties! It’s gonna be even juicier than Watergate!
I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that I didn’t have to help Polly move after all. She and her current boyfriend were able to cram everything she’d left behind at her ex-boyfriend’s house into a U-Haul, and for the first time in over two years, Polly has her own apartment and all her stuff again.
Honestly, though, I was disappointed not to be needed. I wanted to help, and not just because I was psyched after spending a couple of hours on Friday getting myself, the truck, and the trailer ready for the job; my relationship with Polly has been strained lately, and I hoped working together would go some way toward patching things up. Oh, well … I’m proud of her for taking care of business and getting back on her feet again, and I think she believed me when I told her that.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m waiting to hear from Donna, who should be on the road from Palm Springs to Tucson with her sister Robin. At Robin’s request I’m making dry-rubbed spareribs. Donna’s going to have a heart attack when she sees the Safeway receipt, though: that one rack of pork spareribs cost $33! When did ribs get so expensive, or is it just Safeway? You didn’t ask, but there’ll be corn on the cob and baked beans as well, and a night in front of the TV watching the Oscars.
And I’ll be wearing dirty jeans.
Our daughter Polly asked for my help moving her stuff from the ex-boyfriend’s house in Ajo, Arizona, to her new apartment in Tucson. Specifically, she needed me to hook the trailer to the truck and meet her at the ex’s at 1 PM today. I backed the trailer into the garage yesterday, pumped up the tires, then put all the tie-down straps and packing tape I could find into a toolbox. This morning I called to make sure we’re still on. She’s at the house in Ajo now with her current boyfriend, packing. Polly said it’s starting to look like everything will fit into his truck and trailer, and maybe they won’t need me after all. I’m standing by. She’s supposed to call with a come/don’t-come decision by 10 AM, the time I’d need to start the three-hour drive to Ajo. It’s 9:35 AM now.
While I’m waiting, I’ll blog a little. Why not? Donna’s still in Palm Springs. She and her sister Robin, who’s been visiting her daughter in California, are driving here tomorrow. Robin’s going to stay with us a couple of days and then fly home to Michigan.
When we bought this house in 1998, the guy who serviced the pool for the previous owner came by to introduce himself, and we hired him. For the first ten years he worked for a pool company, but then struck out on his own. Something’s been going on with him over the last year and a half. He started coming by less frequently, then hardly at all. When I’d call him he’d get back on it for a week or two, then flake off again. The last time I called him I said we were going to have to find a new service. He said he was going through a divorce, but that he’d get back on schedule since he really couldn’t afford to lose his clients. He didn’t, though … we haven’t seen him in over two months, and in the meantime Donna and I learned how to service the pool ourselves.
If he does show up again, I’ll tell him he’s fired. Divorce is a bullshit excuse. Couples get divorced all the time, but who can afford to quit going to work over it? No one I know of. It has to be drugs. He’s gone and gotten himself addicted to something. What else could it be?
We also have a monthly yard service. The man who runs our crew came here from Mexico but is now an American citizen, like most first-generation Mexican-Americans in Tucson. I’m pretty sure some of his guys, though, are undocumented. Like it or not (and I emphatically do not), the cattle car caucus is in power and the roundup has started. I fear for those guys. I fear for America and what we’re becoming.
The latest: I’m off the hook. Polly called to tell me she doesn’t need me in Ajo after all. Now I’ll have to find something else to fill my day. Pulling the trailer out of the garage and parking it on the side of the house will take an hour. Then what? I’ll think of something.
Fending for myself: Donna drove to Palm Springs to spend a few days with her sister and niece. Right after she left I heard one of the dogs howling. And she thinks they love me more than her!
Since I had the TV to myself last night, I turned on Netflix to watch what must be the shittiest Stephen King movie ever, “Stephen King’s Silver Bullet.” In terms of dialog, hammy acting, even the color and graininess of the film, it might have been a spaghetti western (or a 1980s porn flick). Afterward I cleansed my mental palate with the first episode of “3%,” a Brazilian sci-fi TV series, followed by an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” We never watched Buffy back in the day. Friends kept telling us it was good, and maybe even culturally important. Okay then. Don’t know about Donna, but Buffy’s growing on me.
Donna’s back went out again earlier this week, forcing her to delay the Palm Springs trip one day. I’m worried her back issues are becoming chronic. She started physical therapy, and if it has a positive effect we’ll have to get her an Anytime Fitness membership so she can continue exercising once the PT runs out. For sure my own Anytime Fitness membership needs more use than it’s getting.
When I think of going to the gym I think of Fox News, because the gym rats work out to it. Speaking of right-wing media, have you noticed how all the interviewees on NPR these days are conservatives and administration apologists? Despite the liberal bent of some NPR correspondents, this translates to a near-constant pro-Trump message. At NPR, progressives are out of power and thus out of fashion. The welcome mat is still out at Chris Hayes’ and Rachel Maddow’s shows on MSNBC, but that may be only because conservatives, GOP congressmen, and Trump administration officials refuse to go on those shows.
That’s not to say prominent progressives with media platforms aren’t still out there. God knows a lot of them are raking in money making fun of the naked emperor, but as I said many times during the heyday of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, making light of existential danger helps the wrong side. I keep remembering a friend’s incisive remark on Jon Stewart’s retirement:
She was right. We laughed, and look where we are now. Sure, we’ve still got Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Alec Baldwin on SNL, but like Jon Stewart, they’re part of the corporate media system. The net effect of their satire and comedy is the venting off of rage at the sharp rightward turn of American politics and governance. Laughing and sneering does nothing to stop the immiseration of American lives or the dismantling of institutions and society. Action is what we need … and that, I believe, is nowhere on corporate media’s list of priorities.
Oh there I go again. You’ve read it all before. I can’t promise I won’t subject you to more in future posts, but we’ll move on for now. Here’s a photo of my friend Ed’s garage, or maybe I should say “garage complex” (I can only dream).
That’s my Goldwing. The heated handgrips, installed by the dealer when I bought the bike in 2001, finally gave up the ghost. Ed helped me replace them with an aftermarket set, a long job but a successful one, and now I’m ready for the return of winter weather.
But is winter over? It sure seems that way, at least here in southern Arizona. It’s been in the 70s and 80s. Every night the weather lady on TV promises the return of colder weather, but after you sit through commercials waiting for an actual number, it always turns out what she means is a drop into the 60s. Sure, it’s nice to be able to open up the house during the day, but we’re going to pay for this warm winter in a few months.
Here’s a job I was able to do myself in our own small, inadequate garage: installing a new set of handlebar grips on my mountain bike. I’ve been wanting to replace the flat handlebar with a buckhorn, but it’s an expensive proposition, especially since the cables for the gear shifters wouldn’t reach and would have to be replaced.
Our bike shop guy pointed out these grips, which have adjustable extensions that curve back inward. Now I can rest my hands higher and sit up straight when riding hunched over gets old (i.e., after about five minutes). Normally I don’t undertake handyman work when Donna’s away. I’m not to be trusted with tools, but this job went off without a hitch.
I’ve been feeling the need to meet more people and do more volunteering. I was invited to a Rotary Club meeting yesterday, an organization that raises a lot of money for worthy services and charities, but it felt like a networking for professionals thing to me, and since I’m no longer looking for work probably won’t pursue it. Also: expensive as hell. A friend is a Kiwanis Club member; maybe I’ll ask for a invite to one of their meetings.
Our daughter Polly is moving out of her boyfriend’s condo and into an apartment of her own. Today’s the day, I think. She called to ask if our truck and trailer are available Saturday. I’ll offer to do the driving, but my heavy lifting days are over so will have to settle for watching Polly and Joel do all the work.
Just got an email from the library. The next Jack Reacher novel is waiting to be picked up. The last one was a disappointment; if this one is too I may try re-reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Of course I’m open to recommendations, so if you have some please leave them in the comments.
I’m having a love/hate relationship with this home alone thing. Donna comes home Sunday. The dogs and I are looking forward to her return.
“We are all part machine, Kaaro. Your phone is a polymer under the skin of your hand. You have a locator chip in your head.”
—Tade Thompson, Rosewater
by Tade Thompson
A Goodreads friend said this about “Rosewater”:
“This book is one of those discoveries that not only is enjoyable for itself; it’s good enough to make me feel overall cheerily optimistic about the future of science fiction writing. Of course, this is not to be confused with ‘feeling cheery about the future;’ the effect here is quite the opposite, in fact.”
With an endorsement like that, I had to read it. It was everything she said, and more. As I read, I found myself as excited as I had been, decades ago, when I first read “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by an up & comer named Gene Wolfe, or later, when I discovered the work of William Gibson.
“Rosewater” tells a hell of a story. Thompson says his science fiction stories are “about people, with incidental science,” but neither the people nor the science is incidental in “Rosewater.” Both are central to his complex first contact/alien invasion novel.
I particularly liked the main character Kaaro’s flashbacks to 2055 and his first encounters with the super-secret S45, the xenosphere, Femi, Wormwood, and Bicycle Girl. As other readers reported doing, I occasionally paged back to chapter heads to remind myself which timeline I was in, 2055 or 2066, but it was not bothersome: in fact, the very minor effort this entailed drew me even more into the story and enhanced my understanding of the world Thompson built.
Thompson is a master of introducing shocking plot elements through throwaway one-liners: when you run across one like “When America went dark,” your hair wants to stand on end. I suspect most Western readers will know enough of present-day Nigeria to be somewhat frightened of it; for sure I have heard of “necklacing,” and was perversely happy Thomas didn’t paint a prettier picture of the future Nigeria. Nigeria, along with the cast of characters who inhabit Lagos and Rosewater, is gritty and entirely believable.
There’s not a hint of the didactic in “Rosewater.” Thompson is a master of showing, of putting you in the story. “Rosewater” is brilliant, and I agree with my friend: the future of SF is assured.
In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)
by Tana French
“In the Woods” is my first Tana French novel. I bought the ebook version after reading a glowing review in The New Yorker. I started it in November, then put it aside to read two Lee Child Jack Reacher paperbacks. The contrast between man of action Jack Reacher and the brooding and complex detective Rob Ryan could not have been more stark, and I had to cool down before I could start reading “In the Woods” again. Which is to say that after Jack Reacher, I had little patience for Rob Ryan’s tentativeness, self-doubt, and unmanly fears.
But the weeks went by and eventually I picked up “In the Woods” again. To my surprise, Rob (the Dublin Murder Squad detective), in addition to becoming even more tentative, self-doubting, and fearful, revealed himself to be a major asshole as well, losing any claim he might have had on my sympathy. I was surprised the novel went in that direction. That’s the problem with reading Jack Reacher thrillers. You expect characters to stay the same and for mysteries to be resolved. Which of course is not at all how things actually work, as Tana French clearly understands.
I’m dangerously close to spoiler territory. The Dublin Murder Squad solves a particularly nasty crime. Rob Ryan falls far short of resolving an earlier and possibly related crime, and screws up professional relationships and friendships along the way. Real life sucks. I may need a third dose of Jack Reacher to clear out my baffles.
I must say, though, Tana French is a very gifted writer. Although I didn’t like the lead character in this novel, I will definitely read more of her fiction.
Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)
by Lee Child
Jack Reacher thrillers are, three books in, much of a muchness. Addictive and fun to read, but I have nothing to add to my review of the first Jack Reacher novel, which I’ll repeat here:
“I read a long article about Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series in a recent New Yorker. Since the same magazine had previously introduced me such brilliant writers as Patrick O’Brian and Tana French, I decided to read a Jack Reacher book.
“Reader, I inhaled it. That’s not to say Lee Child is a brilliant writer. He is what most of us would call a hack. But how refreshing it is, once in a while, to read a first-person, reasonably well-plotted and action-filled thriller where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and justice prevails.
“I was reminded of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, which I inhaled in the 1980s. You’ll get hard-boiled detective tropes, not a little Sherlock Holmes, plenty of Hulk. You can criticize the plot for being contrived and unlikely, but you can say the same thing about most action-hero thrillers. I like Lee Child’s plain language and direct writing style. The pages turn almost of themselves.”
Jane Carver of Waar (Jane Carver #1)
by Nathan Long
As a kid I shunned Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of Martian adventure books. They struck me as mere swashbuckling fantasy, not science fiction, and I was a bit of a snob about science fiction. I guess I still am, but boy, was “Jane Carver of Waar” a fun read!
Which, I guess, means one doesn’t have to have a grounding in Burroughs’ John Carter books to appreciate what Nathan Long is doing with Jane Carver. She’s a gas, very like some biker chicks I know in real life, and I’d want her at my side in a Hells Angels bar.
If you’re ready for a break from serious reading but don’t want your intelligence insulted (i.e., if you’re also between Jack Reacher novels), you could do worse. And who knows, a visit to Waar might help you keep your sanity in the Trump era.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
by Sebastian Junger
A longish essay/short book on what binds men together in societies. I say “men” because Junger here writes mostly of men and war. My heart is with him when it comes to the military experience, but I don’t think it’s as binding an experience as he does: I want to believe young men and women leave the military better than they were, having shared tough conditions and common goals with people from different cultures, races, sexes, etc … but then I look at some of the KKK/white militia types coming out of today’s military (and the great racial tensions our military experienced during the Vietnam War) and I think, hey, wait a minute there Junger, do you believe this to be true, or, like me, do you wish it to be true?
One of the problems with not footnoting your work (Junger does not, but instead lists sources at the back of the book) is that it can be hard to know when the author is blowing smoke or presenting fact. Junger goes deep into woo territory with tales of white settlers running away to join Indian tribes in the early days of this country. Yes, it happened, but Junger oversells his point, presenting these defections almost as everyday occurrences, undermining his credibility.
Still, he’s on to something: times of war and hardship do unify people, and there is little to unify Americans today. This tallies with my own observations. I also related to Junger’s conservative streak, which comes out strongly in his discussion of “disabled” vets milking the VA system for higher disability ratings and pay: something I saw up close and personal during the two years I worked for the VA Hospital in Tucson. Perhaps if the military was better integrated with society as a whole, there’d be less of this … but then again, thanks to the draft the military was far more integrated with society during the Vietnam War than it is now, and yet Vietnam vets had just as hard a time reintegrating into society as soldiers do today.
Overall: interesting reading from a damn good war correspondent, but his premises and conclusions are debatable.
Ocean of Storms
by Christopher Mari, Jeremy K. Brown
An interesting story, half science fiction and half thriller, but overall skimpily told: weak characterization, sketchy (and sometimes inaccurate) science, call-it-in plotting, no followup on intriguing threads.
But first, let’s have a drink. Sorry, that’s a spoiler.
Fans of serious science fiction will find this novel laughable. Newcomers to the genre will enjoy it more. Young adult readers may find it appealing. But if you grew up on science fiction, as I did, you’ll find yourself wondering if “Ocean of Storms” is worth the bother.
And that’s a good question: why did I bother to finish it? Because its one redeeming quality, apart from the interesting central idea, is its Perils of Pauline format, with a cliff-hanger at the end of every short chapter. As Don Draper would say, you can’t eat just one.
Books I did not finish …
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047
by Lionel Shriver
After two chapters I grew weary of the author’s heavy hand. I did not like the omniscient narrator point of view; I did not like the unrealistic dialog, I did not like being lectured to about economics. There are echoes of Christopher Buckley’s equally heavy-handed satirical novels, only without the humor. The book did not grip; I did not care about the Mandibles or their fates.
The Lost Time Accidents
by John Wray
There’s a promising science fiction time travel idea here, but the narration was too fussily baroque for my taste, and the plot promised to be overly complex. Will you hate me if I say it reminded me of BBC’s “Sherlock” (the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman one), a series which got so wrapped up in itself it lost its way? I gave up after three chapters.
For the second time in two months, my debit card’s been compromised. Donna picked it up right away: four small charges from Angeles City in the Philippines. I always examine card readers on gas pumps and ATMs and am pretty sure I haven’t fallen victim to a skimmer. Well, who knows? This time I had to make a crime report to the police and give the bank a case number.
I thought briefly about going old school, living off cash the way we all did not that many years ago, but boy does that seem like it would be a major inconvenience today. So inconvenient, in fact, I didn’t think about it for more than a minute. I wonder how long it’ll be before the new card’s hacked. Seems like a problem a lot of us are dealing with these days, if comments on Facebook are any indication.
When I checked Google News early this morning, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was dead after “falling ill” at the airport in Kuala Lumpur. I figured right away he’d been poisoned. Sure enough, an hour later an updated news report said an unidentified woman at the airport sprayed his face with something just before he croaked.
The dead guy is Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s older brother. Kim Jong-il, the father, had been grooming him to be his successor, but in 2003 Kim Jong-nam tried to get into Japan on a false passport and has been living in exile ever since. The mastermind behind the whole thing—the secret visit to Tokyo Disneyland, the exile, today’s assassination—was probably Kim Jong-un. Gangnam of Thrones, anyone?
Our elderly friend from Las Vegas paid us another visit this weekend. He’s home now and we’re recovering. His visits are tough on us. Tough on him too, because he’s too feeble to travel, but I suspect the anticipation of coming to see his friends in Tucson keeps him going, and we don’t have the heart to close our house to him. We’ll be there ourselves sooner or later.
In honor of today’s Hallmark holiday I’m cooking dinner, and Donna gets to choose what to watch on TV tonight. It’s the least I can do after she cleaned up the mess our guest left behind.
Every day we lurch closer to a Mike Pence presidency, and I wonder if we’ll be sorry Trump was too incompetent to hold onto his ill-gained office. I suspect we will be. They say everyone’s reading Orwell’s “1984” and Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in an effort to understand the current regime. I think that’s off the mark. We should be watching the Coen Brothers’ movie “Burn After Reading” instead, plus re-runs of the “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory episode. And of course Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Sorry for the short post. The kitchen awaits.
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
10,000 unwanted books overtake the streets of Melbourne
Many Americans these days are engaged in protest. Reading in public, especially the reading of banned or challenged books, can also be an act of protest.
Related: Using Banned Books to Teach Resistance.
Not banning by any means, but worrisome: public libraries using automated book-culling software to purge shelves of unpopular titles. I’ve noticed the difference myself at my local library. Yes, you can still request titles, and libraries will still seek them out for you, but what does it say about a public library that a science fiction fan can’t find a single title by William Gibson or Philip K. Dick on the shelves, or a detective thriller by the immortal John D. MacDonald?
Related: Library Closures and Defunding Concerns in 2017
In my last YCRT! post I mentioned the banning and reinstatement of literary classics at public schools in Accomack County, Virginia. Subsequent to that, a bill was introduced in the Virginia legislature to “red-flag” books with sexual content. This has come up before in other states. The most worrisome aspects of book labeling, to me, are who gets to decide what is sexual content, and the chilling effect putting a “sexually-explicit” label on, say, “The Diary of Anne Frank” or “Brave New World” would have on teachers who want to assign the books. Bullet dodged for now: the Virginia State Board of Education has rejected the proposal.
Another follow-on from a previously-mentioned story:
Resident Rick Ligthart came with a prepared statement of changes he wanted in the district’s policy.
“Regardless of the books, I’m recommending to the board that no literature whatsoever be inclusive of literal metaphorical, figurative or allegorical words for male or female genitals,” he said. Identifying himself as a former tenured school teacher he said, other than exceptions for state-mandated sex ed, “English classes should not be involved in sexuality in literature for our kids. It shouldn’t be in any books. No books.”
“We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation or sexual issues, regardless of the literature. I don’t care if it’s from Dickens or who else,” he said, in summary.
So who is this “resident” and “former tenured school teacher”? This guy, a professional Biblical exegete (Koine Greek), hermeneutics and apologetic Hamartiology (sin) consultant.
It’s nice to know that once in a while, parents will rise up in defense of challenged books and the teachers who assign them to students. In this case, the book is Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” mysteriously dropped from the eighth-grade reading list in Stonington, Connecticut.
From a YCRT! reader:
I was searching for some articles about accessing blocked websites and i came across your page. I noticed that you linked to one of my favorite pages on the this subject: 5 Ways to Bypass Internet Censorship and Filtering.
I just wanted to give you a heads up that I created a guide on accessing blocked websites. It`s like Hongkiat Lim’s article on blocked sites but a bit more up-to-date and packed with more information.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
The Confessions of Nat Turner
Thomas R. Gray*
This is the original “Confessions of Nat Turner,” not the 1967 William Styron novel but a 24-page summary of an interview with the actual Nat Turner, written by Thomas R. Gray, a lawyer seeking to cash in on the sensation surrounding one of the few slave revolts to occur in the American South.
Starting with six accomplices, Nat Turner led a short-lived uprising in the Virginia countryside in August, 1831. Starting in the dark of night, Turner and his group went house to house, murdering white farmers and slave owners, many in their sleep. As more slaves joined along the way, Turner’s army grew to 60 men. In 36 hours, they killed 10 men, 14 women, and 31 infants and children. By noon of Tuesday, August 23, white militias ended the revolt, killing, capturing, and dispersing Turner’s army. Turner himself evaded capture for several weeks. Once caught, he was quickly tried, convicted, and hanged. Gray, who represented Turner at his trial, conducted his interview with Turner in jail and then published his pamphlet.
Gray claims he quotes Nat Turner extensively, but it’s hard to tell whether the words we read are his or Turner’s: Gray didn’t use quotation marks, and sentences that are clearly judgments on the part of Gray are mixed together with sentences purportedly uttered by Turner. It’s no fun to read: Turner, an educated slave who could read and write, a minister to fellow slaves, had been odd since childhood and thought his revolution was directed by God. The revolution amounted to little more than a killing spree, depressingly squalid and cruel, and there really is no message in Turner’s confession. There was no plan; no hope of success.
My interest in “The Confessions of Nat Turner” was piqued by references to its banning in the South. After Turner’s uprising, several Southern states passed laws making it illegal to teach slaves to read and write. Turner’s failed revolt ended hopes of abolition in the South while spurring abolition movements in the North. “The Confessions of Nat Turner” was one of many elements in the polarization between North and South, ultimately leading to the Civil War. In this context, it is easy to see why authorities in the South would want to suppress the book. No doubt, as always, banning led to runaway sales, padding the pockets of Thomas R. Gray.
*Reference sites list the author of “The Confessions of Nat Turner” as Nat Turner, but if you read it I’m confident you’ll agree the author is plainly Thomas R. Gray.