If you know Willie, ‘Roll Me Up’ is fun but no revelation

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 8:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 8:46 PM

Tickets for Willie Nelson’s 3 p.m. signing Thursday at BookPeople are sold out. Information: bookpeople.com.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the song, is a surprisingly spry sing-along from Willie Nelson, not the blunt — ha! — bit of ham you’d expect from a tune with such a name. It offers us crotchety country conservatives the best access to Snoop Dogg since the Gourds introduced us to “Gin & Juice.”

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the book, is an excellent chance to have a book named “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” on your coffee table, maybe between the bong and the Fritos. It doesn’t offer quite so much to us crotchety country conservatives.

Well, maybe if he’s indeed a Red Headed Stranger, you’ll enjoy the light reading. But if you’re familiar with Willie — somewhere between a mild fan and a build-a-shrine fanatic — you’ve heard most of this before:

  • There’s the childhood bumblebee fights and the Booger Red tale.
  • There’s the tree-trimming incident and the bluff that got him his radio station job in Pleasanton.
  • And if you’re keeping track of Kinky Friedman, too, the foreword includes the obligatory Willie song pun and reference to the size of a Willie Nelson joint (this one, sadly, only as large as a large kosher salami).

 

“RMUASMWID” … sorry, that’s horrible, let’s just call it “Roll Me Up” … is essentially an updated version of Willie’s highly enjoyable “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes” (Random House 2002), with its mix of autobiographical bits, musings, jokes and song lyrics. How similar are they? The same golf joke and a pair of drunk jokes are in both books.

There are moments of discovery: Willie plays Wii golf? A Leon Russell show in Albuquerque helped inspire the Fourth of July Picnics? And there are moments of predictability: An impassioned case for the legalization of marijuana and a fondness for a certain stop in Europe — “Amsterdam is heaven.”

He even turns serious a time or two, noting that he’s against assault weapons and for troops on the border. But he spends much more time talking about dominoes and Maui. Apparently actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson are frequent guests and domino victims. I’d like to hear more about those nights than see lyrics to songs I already know by heart.

“Roll Me Up” turns into a love-fest by the end, borrowing from the “let’s-hear-from-the-family” excerpt format found in his 1988 biography “Willie,” (with Bud Shrake) to exchange praise with his wife, kids and grandkids. I’d never fault a man for praising his talented children (son Micah did the illustrations for the book), but only Lana Nelson’s recollection of working for dad in the mid-1970s makes for compelling reading.

For a while there between “Spirit” and “Heroes,” I treated most new Willie Nelson albums (or at least those prominently featuring Toby Keith) as an opportunity to go buy an old album I didn’t have. There’s no reason not to look at “Roll Me Up” in the same light. If you have to have it, it’s out this week. But there are better Willie books out there.

4 good reasons to go to Jewish Center’s Cultural Arts and Book Festival

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

Award-winning playwright Jack Fry celebrates the life and times of Albert Einstein with his one-man show “Einstein!” on Oct. 19 at Oakwood High School. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Award-winning playwright Jack Fry celebrates the life and times of Albert Einstein with his one-man show “Einstein!” on Oct. 19 at Oakwood High School. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Health, Hollywood, the Holocaust, science and romance are among the compelling subjects of this year’s Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton’s Cultural Arts and Book Festival. The annual event begins Thursday, Oct. 19, at Oakwood High School and continues through early December.

“We try to have something for everyone,” said Jane Hochstein, center director. “This year, you will see a little bit of everything from education to health, from a one-man show to an art exhibit. We have a large diverse committee with different interests and backgrounds who help to determine the lineup. The Jewish Book Council in New York holds an annual conference. Meryl Hattenbach, the Jewish Community Center’s Program Manager, attended this year. She had the opportunity to hear over 200 authors speak about their books and evaluate if the author is a fit for Dayton, who is the target audience, and is the book topic high interest?”

>> 12 books about Dayton or by Daytonians that you should read

REASONS TO GO

1. Einstein!

Award-winning playwright Jack Fry of Los Angeles kicks off the festival with his one-man show “Einstein!,” an intriguing look at the legendary scientist’s early years in Berlin as he struggles to prove his theory of relativity and prove his relevance as a father. “Einstein!” was selected as the encore winner from the 2016 Hollywood International Fringe Festival and was also chosen as one of the “Top Ten Shows to See” at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.

“(Fry’s) knowledge of Albert Einstein as well as his passion for the character come shining through his performance,” noted Elaine Smith, Director of Michigan’s Berman Center for the Performing Arts who previously hosted Fry. “This is a unique look into the life of young Albert Einstein that fascinated audiences and had people giving him a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.”

>> Winners of the 2017 Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Rabbi Naomi Levy, seen on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Today” among other programs, discusses her book “Einstein & The Rabbi: Searching for the Soul” on Oct. 30 at the Boonshoft Center for Jewish Culture and Education. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

2. Top Rabbi

Hochstein is particularly pleased to have so many highly respected authors in the mix such as in-demand Rabbi Naomi Levy.

“Rabbi Naomi Levy was named by Newsweek as one of the Top 50 Rabbis in America,” Hochstein said. “She’s appeared on ‘Oprah,’ ‘Today’ and NPR and was featured in Parade, Self, Time, and Good Housekeeping. She will be speaking about her book ‘Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul,’ which is inspired by a poignant letter of Einstein’s about the human condition that we are all intimately connected.

Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Frankel will provide commentary on the Academy Award-winning classic “High Noon,” particularly the script being a parable about the Red Scare, on Nov. 15 at the Neon Movies. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

3. Pulitzer Prize winner

Pulitzer Prize-winner Glenn Frankel will reflect on the Academy Award-winning classic “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.”

“We will be showing the film ‘High Noon’ and Frankel will enlighten us with the complex historical context of the movie,” Hochstein said.

4. Multiple venues

In addition, the festival will be held at multiple venues throughout the Miami Valley from Coco’s Bistro to the Neon Movies. Organizers regard the move as a vital effort to help broaden its base.

“We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with various organizations and community venues,” Hochstein said. “This allows us to reach a wider audience. We are grateful to have ongoing relationships with Hospice of Dayton, the Washington-Centerville Public Library, Friends of the Washington-Centerville Library, the Wright Memorial Public Library, Crowne Plaza Dayton, and the Ohio Arts Council.”

“We have worked hard to bring many talented individuals and diverse programs to inspire the Dayton community as a whole through authors, art and theater,” added festival Chairperson Julie Bloom. “We are looking forward to seeing everyone exploring the events we’ve planned.”

>> 10 must-read books by Dayton authors

2017 JCC CULTURAL ARTS AND BOOK FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

Thursday, Oct. 19

“Einstein!”

7 p.m. Oakwood High School Auditorium, 1200 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood

$18 in advance/$25 at the door. 18 and under no charge.

Wednesday, Oct. 25

“The Power of Different” with author Dr. Gail Saltz

7 p.m. Wright Memorial Public Library, 1776 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood

No charge.

Monday, Oct. 30

“Einstein & The Rabbi: Searching for the Soul” with author Rabbi Naomi Levy

7 p.m. Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Drive, Centerville

$5 in advance/$8 at the door.

Wednesday, Nov. 1

“The Light We Lost” with author Jill Santopolo

6:30 p.m. Coco’s Bistro, 250 Warren St., Dayton

$30. RSVP required by Oct. 24. Strictly kosher meal is available upon request.

Thursday, Nov. 2

“The Light We Lost” Q&A with author Jill Santopolo

10 a.m. Washington-Centerville Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd., Centerville

No charge.

Wednesday, Nov. 8

Local Holocaust survivor Robert Kahn shares his memoir “The Hard Road of Dreams”

7 p.m. Stivers School for the Arts, 1313 E. Fifth St., Dayton

No charge.

Wednesday, Nov. 15

“High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic” with Pulitzer Prize-winner Glenn Frankel

7:15 p.m. Neon Movies, 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton

$9.

Thursday, Nov. 16

“Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life” with author Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter

7 p.m. Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Drive, Centerville

$5 in advance/$8 at the door.

Tuesday, Dec. 5

“A Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Gut Health” with Dr. David Novick

7 p.m. Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Drive, Centerville

$5 in advance/$8 at the door.

Thursday, Dec. 7

“My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew” with author Abigail Pogrebin

6:30 p.m. Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Drive, Centerville

No charge

HOW TO GET TICKETS

For tickets or more information, call the JCC at (937) 610-1555 or visit online at www.jewishdayton.org.

Bush sisters going on tour for new book

Published: Tuesday, August 01, 2017 @ 11:23 AM

Barbara Bush (L) and Jenna Bush Hager attend the Third Annual UNICEF Masquerade Ball at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on December 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for UNICEF)
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for UNICEF
Barbara Bush (L) and Jenna Bush Hager attend the Third Annual UNICEF Masquerade Ball at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on December 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for UNICEF)(Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for UNICEF)

Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush are headed on a book tour.

>> Read more trending news

According to PEOPLE magazine, the sisters are hitting the road together to promote their upcoming memoir, “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life.”

“In ‘Sisters First’, Jenna and Barbara will take readers on a revealing, thoughtful, and deeply personal tour behind the scenes of their lives, with never-before-told funny and poignant personal stories and reflections about their family, their adventures, their loves and losses, and the special sisterly bond that fulfills them,” Grand Central Publishing said in a statement.

The official tour is set to begin on the day of the book’s release on Oct. 24 in New York City, and their mother will join them for a preview of the book in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Aug. 18.

“We’ve always felt lucky that we had each other to walk side-by-side as sisters through the extraordinary circumstances of our ordinary lives,” the sisters previously said after announcing their book in March. “We are so excited to share the stories that mean the most to us — from the ones that made us laugh to those that shaped us the most — and we hope to make ‘Sisters First’ an entertaining read that will also give readers a more nuanced look behind the headlines.”

Tickets for the tour go on sale on Aug. 4.. More information about the tour can be found on the book’s official website.

Teacher Jenna Bush Hager (L) and Barbara Pierce Bush attend Prabal Gurung Spring 2016 during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)(Astrid Stawiarz)

A Q&A with sci-fi author John Scalzi

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 4:28 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 @ 4:28 PM

Science-fiction author John Scalzi
American-Statesman staff
Science-fiction author John Scalzi(American-Statesman staff)

Science-fiction writer John Scalzi has such an amazing literary biography that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the fact that though he is now very much of Ohio, he’s not originally from Ohio. John, who now lives in Bradford with his wife and daughter, grew up in California, graduated from The University of Chicago, wrote for The Fresno Bee and America Online, and in 2001 moved from Washington D.C. to live in rural Ohio in order to be nearer to his wife’s family.

“I’ve grown to appreciate living here. Ohio is beautiful. Shortly after coming here, I looked up and saw the Milky Way for the first time in my adult life. And people here are friendly and kind, willing to help without being asked.”

Ohio has proven a great setting for him to work as a writer. He began writing his “Whatever” blog in September 1998, long before “blog” was really a popular term or concept; thus, his blog is one of the longest running on the internet; his blog now has more than 8 million “views” by readers from around the world.

HIS BOOKS

Content from his blog has been collected in three books, all published by Subterranean Press: “You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing;” “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008;” and “The Mallet of Loving Correction.”

In 2002, John serialized his novel “Old Man’s War” on his blog; Tor Books published it in 2005, and the novel was later nominated for a Hugo Award, the top literary award in science fiction. Since then, John’s science fiction has garnered much success, both among critics and readers.

He is a New York Times bestseller in fiction, with works translated into more than 20 languages. His novels include six titles in the “Old Man’s War” series, including “The End of All Things” which came out in 2015 and five stand-alone novels, including “Redshirts,” which won the 2013 Hugo for Best Novel, and “Lock In,” which came out in 2014. He has also published quite a few nonfiction books and short stories.

Science fiction writer John Scalzi, who lives in Bradford, will appear Monday at Books & Co in support of his new book. SUBMITTED PHOTO(Contributing Writer)

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS

Other notable career achievements: John was Creative Consultant for the “Stargate: Universe” television series, writer for the video game “Midnight Star,” by Industrial Toys, and former president (July 2010 through June 2013) of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is Executive Producer and Consultant for “Ghost Brigades,” based on his second novel in the “Old Man’s War” series, currently in development for television.

In May, 2015, John made quite a splash in literary and publishing news with a breathtaking book deal with his publisher, Tor: $3.4 million dollars, for 13 novels, to be written and published over the next 10 years. The deal quickly made headlines in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other media outlets.

John’s other accolades include winning the Locus, the Seiun and Kurd Lasswitz awards.

In 2016, he was a recipient of the Ohio Governor’s Award for Individual Artists.

Learn more about John and read his “Whatever” blog at www.whatever.scalzi.com

Q. Why science fiction?

A. Because science fiction — and mysteries — were what I read when I was younger! For example, in science fiction, I loved Robert Heinlein’s works. In mysteries, I loved John MacDonald. These are, of course, just two examples of the many authors I loved.

Anyway, when I decided to start writing novels, I wanted to write in a genre I already knew and loved as a reader. So, it was either going to be science fiction or mystery. I decided to flip a coin. Heads was science fiction. Tails was mystery. The coin came up heads.

Q. Wait—you really flipped a coin to select your writing genre?

A. I really did!

Q. Science fiction has, of course, many stories featuring alternate timelines. Do you ever wonder how life would have gone for you if that coin had come up tails for mystery?

A. Occasionally. But the truth is that I have no idea what my writing life would have been if that coin had come up tails. Would I have had as much success as a mystery writer? I like to think so, but I don’t know. I do think about how I’d have developed a different set of friends, and how odd it feels to think about not having my friends in my life. I was at the Iowa City Book Festival several years ago and talking with a current mystery writer I very much admire — Sarah Paretsky — and I thought, huh. I would have a mystery writing set of friends if I’d pursued mystery writing. Which would be cool … but I’m very happy with how my life has gone, personally and professionally.

Q. So as a writer who found his way into his genre as a reader, what do you love to read now?

A. I’m sorry to say I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. I just can’t read fiction when I’m writing my own. But I read quite a lot of nonfiction, as well as essays and articles via the Internet.

Q. Do you have a particular process that you follow for each book?

A. I set a quota for the day of 2,000 new words for the project I’m working on. That’s every weekday, with weekends off to spend with my family. That way, I see steady sustainable progress, but I’m not writing so much new material at a time that my brain feels like it’s collapsing in on itself.

I usually start by tweaking what I wrote the day before to get some momentum going and to ease back into the material, and then I fulfill my quota for 2,000 more new words. After that, I heavily revise material that was created on previous days, and after that work on the business end of my career — social media and business correspondence, for example.

I write on a computer and by the time I’ve finished a “first draft” using this process, it’s usually pretty solid. I go back over it for a bit more tweaking, but then turn it over to my agent for feedback.

Q. Do you have an outline when you start? It seems to me that those first few days of a new project would be pretty tough if you truly have no idea where you want to go with the novel.

A. I start with a high concept idea — a “what if,” — a world of some sort, and some questions about what could go wrong in that world. And then I populate that world with characters. But I’m more than happy to eventually cut large amounts of copy. I keep an “excise” file for depositing huge chunks of draft material.

I have no patience for pre-writing. Exploration is part of the process for me. This is how world building and character creating works best for me. For example, with “Lock In,” I was six or seven chapters in when I realized I needed to relegate every single one of them into my “excise” file for that novel. But that was fine. I needed to write that much to gain an understanding of the world and story I needed to create.

I’ve been writing since I was 14 and finally this is the process that works for me. Obviously, I’ve been at this for a while now. I used to panic if I’d created, say, 30,000 words of material that I realized I wouldn’t use. Now I just understand that that is part of my process, and I’m more relaxed. The result is that I’m able to create more robust worlds and, I think, more interest concepts and characters.

Q. Hmmm. This sounds like good advice for other writers. Any other tips?

A. Besides putting your butt in your chair and doing the work? Well, my big tip is “don’t panic.” That means don’t worry about whether or not what you’re writing is going to be useful, or worry if you’re not sure of the plot as you’re writing your first draft. Diversions, even those that don’t end up in the final book, are good for you as a writer so that you know what’s going on in the world and story you’re creating.

Q. You have been working on adapting and developing some of your material for television and film. How has that changed you as a writer — or has it?

A. Before I began writing fiction, I was a music critic all through college. After that, I was a film critic for several years. I got that job right out of college, but it didn’t start until September, so I spent the summer between college graduation and day one of the job immersing myself in movies. I watched three a day, read everything I could about filmmaking, and read all the Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel reviews that I could find, as well as other reviews. Looking back, I sort of created my own self-taught film school to prepare for that job.

Then, I became immersed in my film critic job. What that experience really taught me was the value of “high concept” in story, meaning, how can I create a story that is fresh and compelling but that I can describe from a bird’s eye view in just a few words that people will really get? So, for example, the high concept for my first novel, “Old Man’s War,” was what if people are compelled to sign up for the army at age 75? Well, that’s a concept that, I think, is immediately intriguing. It flips the idea of what we expect — young people drafted into the military. The concept begs a lot of questions: why would this be the case? What happens in battle? From that, we can build out something of a world. Then, of course, we start wondering about the people who would populate such a world — and from there, we have characters.

So, to get back to your original question, working on telling stories through the medium of film hasn’t changed how I approach story as a fiction writer. In a way, it’s coming full circle back to my beginning.

Not only that, but in college, I majored in philosophy, which taught me how to research and look at the world from different angles. My angle was definitely language, and how people to with one another. That has really informed my use of dialogue, and much of my stories are told through dialogue.

Q. Speaking of coming full circle … that coin flip led you to write science fiction. Why do you think people love science fiction — or is it yet a genre for general readers?

A. I think science fiction is very much for general readers. Or, to put it bluntly, it’s not just for nerds!

People love watching science fiction in movies and on television, and usually don’t think about it as science fiction or fantasy. I don’t think many people say to themselves, “I’m going to go watch the new Star Wars movie, which falls into the genre of science fiction.” No, they say, “I’m going to go watch the new Star Wars movie.” This is true of many other movies, television series and video games, and I think this opens people up to also reading more science fiction or fantasy.

Frankly, independent of what I’m doing, now is one of the best times to be reading science fiction. We’re in a second renaissance for the genre, with many more diverse writers — whether by that we mean gender, ethnicity, point of view — than ever before. That means more interesting and challenging stories, and richer literary material. As a reader, fan and supporter of science fiction, I’m thrilled by that. I don’t want to only read about people just like me but in a different world. I want to read about all kinds of people, reflecting the people in the world around me, but in different worlds and high concept stories. I’m seeing more of that, and it makes me glad to be a part of this particular literary field.

Before Michelle, Barack Obama proposed to another woman, book claims

Published: Thursday, May 04, 2017 @ 3:52 PM

ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 27:  Former United States first lady Michelle Obama smiles during the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 on April 27, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 27: Former United States first lady Michelle Obama smiles during the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 on April 27, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)(Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

A new book about the life of President Barack Obama emphasizes the former president’s commitment to career and political success at the expense of his personal relationships.

>> Read more trending news 

“Rising Star” by David J. Garrow “portrays Obama as a man who ruthlessly compartmentalized his existence; who believed early on that he was fated for greatness; and who made emotional sacrifices in the pursuit of a goal that must have seemed unlikely to everyone but him,” according to a Washington Post book review. “Every step -- whether his foray into community organizing, Harvard Law School, even the choice of whom to love -- was not just about living a life but about fulfilling a destiny.”

>> Related: Obama says he'll write a book and 'be quiet for a while' after White House exit

The book highlights a long-term relationship that Obama had with Sheila Miyoshi Jager, whom he met and lived with in Chicago years before he met Michelle Robinson, his future wife.

Jager, who was briefly mentioned  only as one of a few former girlfriends in Barack Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams from my Father,” studied anthropology in college like Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham.

Jager said Obama proposed to her in 1986, but her parents said no because they believed that she, two years younger than Obama, was too young to wed. The two remained a couple and continued conversations about marriage.

Jager said the 25-year-old Obama changed significantly the next year.

>> Related: Barack, Michelle Obama discuss post-White House plans

According to Garrow, Jager, who is of Dutch and Japanese descent, and Barack Obama initially bonded over their multicultural backgrounds, but the two were pushed apart by Obama’s tunnel-visioned desire to advance in the political world and his growing focus on his black identity and dismissal of his white roots, Jager said.

“He became ... so very ambitious ... very suddenly,” she told Garrow. “I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president.

“The marriage discussions dragged on and on ... (but there was) torment over this central issue of his life ... race and identity ... (The) resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career.” 

>> Related: Barack, Michelle Obama sign multimillion-dollar book deal with Penguin Random House

Garrow claims that Obama ultimately believed that he couldn’t pursue a more serious relationship with Jager in part because of racial issues. Though they continued to see one another into the 1990s, after Obama started dating Michelle Robinson, their communication became more and more infrequent.

>> Related: Malia Obama’s stalker detained, given psych evaluation

>> Related: Malia Obama decides which Ivy League college she'll attend

Today, Jager is a professor at Oberlin College.

According to Washington Post reporter Carlos Lozada, Garrow’s “Rising Star” is “harsh but persuasive” as well as accusatory.

Read more at The Washington Post.

>> Related: Michelle Obama writes actress Yara Shahidi college recommendation letter