Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Orphans' Nine Commandments

When I met William R. Holman last month, the author of The Orphans' Nine Commandments (TCU Press, 2008), I couldn't have known of the overwhelming adversity this man had to overcome to be where he was at that point in time, telling me about the broadsides in my hands that he and his wife designed, about the books he had designed and printed, his work with libraries, and even showing me his wife's picture in the book and speaking so lovingly of her.

As he talked about the book, a narrative began to unfold that could have undermined the success and happiness so evident in my brief meeting with him. He showed me the book mark with its teaser about his incredible journey and a quote from Larry McMurtry. And then he asked me to please let him know what I thought of the book. He indicated his contact information on the bookmark with red notation.

I would encourage anyone to read this powerful and engaging memoir and let Mr. Holman know your thoughts. I did and what follows is a modified version of that correspondence with Mr. Holman.

The first chapter of The Orphans' Nine Commandments will knock the wind out of you and lay the foundation for the emotional, gut-wrenching journey a young boy (Holman) is forced to take through orphanages and foster homes during the 1930s and the Great Depression.

As you recover from the shock of what happened to William, who starts out in life as Roger Bechan and is given new names along the way, you'll learn of the human spirit to adapt and survive, even in a little boy stripped of his family, home, and name. This compelling memoir is fraught with cruelty from adults and countered with the resilience and adventure of a young boy growing to manhood, carving out, painstakingly, an existence and new identity for which he seeks meaning and worth and, above all, love and acceptance.

Larry McMurtry calls Holman's book "an important and compelling memoir." Of Holman's struggle and private hell, McMurtry states further that Holman will take his readers along in a way "that will move you, inform you, and haunt you."

This is a horror story as well as a success story. It's repugnant and poignant, humorous and jubilant. Mr. Holman succeeds in taking us lockstep through his darkened childhood with vivid detail against a backdrop of characters, good and evil alike. At times, it reads like a picaresque novel with the pathos and humor of Dickens and Twain.

The reward in the reading is the triumph of the spirit with threads of hope for love and understanding woven into an achievement of family and success, against overwhelming adversity in the formative years.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Survive, Man! (and Steer)

My trip to the warehouse to retrieve a book this morning turned into an eerie confluence of words, music, art, and imagery.

About 9 a.m., I head east on the Farm-to-Market road out of my neighborhood for the quick five-minute drive to pick up the last sale of January--an order that came in late last night for a book called Survive, Man! Or Perish: Sculptural Metaphors That Command Allegiance to Life, Resistance to Race Suicide, with the Art of Survival: a Critique of the Survivalist Art and Philosophy of Randolph W. Johnston.

I tune in to The Motor City Hay Ride with Don Was on Sirius and pick up a Grateful Dead song, the twangy country strains of Dire Wolf, with the lyrics, Don't murder me. Please, don't murder me. A tenuous connection there between book title and song.

But a second or two later, I spot a Longhorn steer making his way nervously down the shoulder on the west-bound lane. He's busted out of a nearby ranch and is making his getaway.

Now, I get it! The book title, the song lyrics, the runaway survivalist steer! Don't murder me, the Grateful Dead call out. The book I'm about to pick up encourages, Survive, Man! I'm wishing I had my camera with me, as the runaway steer trots across the gravel entrance of a business parking lot.

I fetch the book and double back to the west, hoping to pick up the trail of the Longhorn. He's nowhere in sight. Must have gone into some adjacent brush. And maybe he survived whatever Dire Wolf it was that put him on the highway. I've lost him.

But back home with the book, I find some interesting sculptures from an equally interesting artist, Ran Johnston. At the Mother Earth News, I discover a profile on Johnston (the best available--not much on this elusive man), which starts out with the following:
Back in the '20's, Canadian sculptor Randolph W. Johnston coined a word—Megamachine—to describe a society that swallowed people up and excreted them as look-alike pellets. And it was back then that the young sculptor conjured a dream of being able to leave the Megamachine to live in freedom, alone, on a tropical island.
So the metaphorical coincidences continue for the escaped Longhorn...