Sandefur has the idea that the Positive Liberty writers should lighten things up a bit and write an essay on our favorite things. Not a bad idea, I’m up for that. And let me start by wholeheartedly endorsing his choice of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King as a favorite book. Florence King is an often overlooked American treasure, one of our most brilliant writers and most unique personalities, and if you have not read any of her books I suggest you run, not walk, to the library or bookstore to get them.
While Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is her best work (it is also her autobiography), also very much worth reading are Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye and With Charity Toward None. The latter is about misanthrophy, which is fitting since she is herself a misanthrope. It contains thoughts like these (and I am going from memory here because the book is buried in a box somewhere):
Misanthropes make excellent citizens. We rarely break laws because prison is a communal experience. We never molest children because in order to molest them you have to be in the same room with them and I don’t know how the perverts can stand it.
Her wit is searing, her prose is perfect and her vision is thrillingly unique. I strongly urge you all to read all the Florence King you can find. But I should also offer my own favorite book to recommend. Not my sole favorite book, of course, but a favorite that I think it’s likely my readers haven’t read and would enjoy. In the past I have written enthusiastically about A Mencken Chrestomathy, HL Mencken’s handpicked collection of his best writing. This is probably my single favorite book of all time and if you haven’t read it, you should. But since I’ve already picked that one, I’ll choose another for this post.
1) A favorite book. Since we’re being light, I’m not going to recommend a serious book of scholarly work. In fact, I’m going to stick with the theme of slightly misanthropic and scathingly witty female writers and recommend two books by Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies and Metropolitan Life. You may have seen Lebowitz on the David Letterman show, where she has appeared dozens of times over the years. Her books are fully of biting and witty observations about humanity, particularly the New York variety of humanity, admittedly not our best example. She begins Social Studies with this observation:
People (a group that in my opinion has always attracted an undue amount of attention) have often been likened to snowflakes. This analogy is meant to suggest that each is unique – no two alike. This is quite patently not the case. People, even at the current rate of inflation – in fact, people especially at the current rate of inflation – are quite simply a dime a dozen. And, I hasten to add, their only similarity to snowflakes resides in their invariably and lamentable tendency to turn, after a few warm days, to slush.
She devotes one chapter of that book to the subject of parenting, a subject with which she has no personal experience but to which she has given all the thought it is due and, perhaps, requires. She comes up with a list of suggestions for parents that should be required reading in lamaze classes:
Your responsibility as a parent is not as great as you might imagine. You need not supply the world with the next conqueror of disease or major motion-picture star. If your child simply grows up to be someone who does not use the word “collectible” as a noun, you can consider yourself an unqualified success.
Children do not really need money. After all, they don’t have to pay rent or send mailgrams. Therefore their allowance should be just large enough to cover chewing gum and an occasional pack of cigarettes. A child with his own savings account and/or tax shelter is not going to be a child who scares easy…
Do not elicit your child’s political opinions. He doesn’t know any more than you do.
Do not allow your children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth.
Don’t bother discussing sex with small children. They rarely have anything to add.
Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.
She likewise has advice for the children, particularly those who have reached their teenage years and another full chapter in Social Studies is devoted to that advice. Among the gems:
Try to derive some comfort from the knowledge that if your guidance counselor were working up to his potential, he wouldn’t still be in high school…
It is at this point in your life that you will be giving the greatest amount of attention to matters of sex. This is not only acceptable, but should, in fact, be encourated, for this is the last time that sex will be genuinely exciting. The more farsighted among you may wish to cultivate supplementary interests in order that you might have something to do when you get older. I personally recommend the smoking of cigarettes – a habit with staying power.
Remember that as a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you.
Stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.
2) A Favorite Album. Sandefur picked a Miles Davis/John Coltrane collaboration, and I’m tempted here for irony’s sake to pick My Favorite Things, Coltrane’s collection of multiple variations of the song from the Sound of Music. From 1960 until his death in 1967, Coltrane recorded over a dozen versions of this song ranging from standard to avant garde. But instead, I’m going to go with a band I love that richly deserves wider recognition – Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. This is one of the great independent bands in the world (having turned down multiple major recording contracts to retain full control of their music) and one of the best live shows you will ever see.
They had a minor brush with fame under their original name of The Refreshments with the song Banditos, a song about robbing a bank in Mexico. You might recall the catchy first line:
So just how far down do you wanna go
well we can talk it out over a cuppa joe
and you can look deep into my eyes
like I was a supermodel….uh huh
Or by the equally catchy chorus:
Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people
So meet me at the mission at midnight, we’ll divy up there
Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people
Well I got the pistol so I’ll keep the pesos…yeah, that seems fair
You may also know them as the band that performs the theme song from the show King of the Hill. Roger Clyne is one of the great American troubadours, a brilliant songwriter with a talent for telling a story that reflects his Southwestern roots perfectly. He stands firmly in the tradition occupied by Springsteen, and like the E Street Band, their live shows are the stuff of legend. Few performers come off more genuine than Clyne, and the songs are perfect for live performance – tequila-fueled, desert-borne, sweeping anthems about life, love, loneliness and redemption with a side of salsa. Great stuff, deserving of far wider recognition.
3) A Favorite Blog. This one is more serious than lighthearted, but I strongly recommend Bartholemew’s Notes on Religion. Bartholemew covers a wide range of religious questions, from far eastern cults to events in Israel to the American religious right, with far more depth than most. A must read blog.
4) Favorite coffee-dunking cookie. Well, I’m drawing a blank here. I don’t drink coffee and rarely eat cookies. But if you’re looking for a good donut, I’m still partial to plain old fashioned donuts to dunk in milk.
5) Favorite bookstore. This one is so obscure, I’m not even sure it has a name. In the town I grew up in, Portage, Michigan, there is a tiny little used bookstore on the east side of town owned by an eccentric white haired man who virtually never speaks except to tell you what the total is. He sits at his desk and reads all day, always with Celtic music in the background, and never even looks up at you when you walk in. You can browse for hours and the books are packed in like sardines, jamming every bookcase and stacked up on the ground in every nook and cranny available. The sign outside, if I recall, just says “Used Books”. I’ve probably bought 500 books from this place in my life and never exchanged even a hello with the old guy who runs the place.