Clan Mondo welcomed the New Year in with our traditional standing in the yard and watching fireworks through the trees, followed by some sparkling juice and off to bed. I hope the New Year brings you and yours both what you need and what you want, and I hope that you still want those things when you receive them.
Some folks are making resolutions, as is the tradition, but I tend not to do that. Honestly, I spend enough of my life feeling like I’ve failed at things, and the idea of adding more stuff about which to feel guilty doesn’t thrill me. Nonetheless, if you are among the people who resolve, I wish you well.
I spent much of yesterday watching college football, as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats fell short in the Gator Bowl (yeah, I know it’s now the TaxSlayer Bowl, but much as I like the idea of slaying taxes, it’s always gonna be the Gator Bowl to me). The sting was eased, however, by watching Alabama knock off Washington, followed by the team from nearby Clemson putting the kibosh on (The) Ohio State U. This sets up a rematch of last year’s championship, which was quite a game. I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, Bama was my favorite college team — I think the first college game I remember watching was the 1973 Sugar Bowl, where Notre Dame edged the Tide in Parseghian’s final game — and I spent some of my childhood wanting to play for Bear Bryant. But bad knees and the knowledge that I had other ways of getting through college led me in other directions (as did my lack of athletic talent). And because I’m a former defensive lineman, I love good defensive teams, which have been a hallmark of Alabama football for many years.
So once again, I’ll be pulling for the Tide in the title game. But I had a great-uncle who went to Clemson in the late 1930s, so I bear no grudge toward Clemson either. I’m looking forward to a good college football game.
I spent a chunk of last week reading Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels, and have now read the entire series (although I read them out of order, having doubled back to catch the earlier books), with the next installment, Rusty Puppy, coming out in a few months. As my binge read indicates, I highly recommend the series.
Particular strengths of the series include the friendship between the two principal characters, which I think nails the needling love of lifelong male friends, and the insight into the blue-collar world of Lansdale’s East Texas. Lansdale’s characteristic blend of horror and humor (both frequently verging on the Southern tall tale tradition) is another selling point, and I would recommend his handling of fight scenes as textbook lessons for writers wanting to handle violence effectively.
But I think what makes the books especially readable — and valuable — for me is Hap Collins’s voice as the narrator. I’ve mentioned that my background was a weird mix of working class and Bohemian, and that my maternal grandparents were country folks who came to Nashville looking for work, which my grandmother found as a drugstore cashier and my grandfather found driving fire engines. My grandfather in particular was a natural storyteller, and had both an endless source of material and a chance to hone his craft during nearly 40 years at the fire hall.
When Lansdale writes Collins, I hear echoes of my grandfather’s voice — the rhythms, the pace, the dysphemistic worldview. All are considered characteristically Texan, but I assure you that they were found in blue-collar Tennessee as well.
If you’re a reader of crime fiction, Lansdale’s tales of a “Rough South” will entertain. If you’re a writer, you’ll find a lot to learn from in the books. Either way, you should read them.
One of the things I’ll be doing this week is assembling my syllabi for the new term, which starts midway into next week. I’m teaching four different courses (FroshComp, Shakespeare, Film Noir, and Creative Writing/Poetry), but they’re all courses I’ve taught in the past, so I already have the general outlines in mind. Still, we never step in the same river twice, so it’ll be interesting to see what this semester has to offer.
I’ll close with a bit of music. It’s New Year’s Day, so this one seems appropriate. Here’s George Harrison from 1974 (with an assist from Alfred, Lord Tennyson):
Happy New Year, gang!