Books I’ve Known and Loved


Fascinating and beautiful book on how American Victorians handled the unparalleled suffering and deaths of the Civil War. Death was something Victorians faced in such an open way. From mourning clothes to the proper final words of a dying family member this book gives such insight into the hearts and minds of our grieving ancestors. We sometimes forget that the Gilded Age was filled with survivors and the memories of those lost.

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Artist capturing war being documented.

The Civil War’s being fought stage right, but the lens is on the artist and how perfectly the life of an artist is captured here. Note the look of intense sympathy, horrified interest and serious intent. Maybe he posed for the camera and sketching battles was just this man’s boring day job, but today I won’t be cynical. I believe his eyes. He’s there to document humanity. I hope he gets closer. I hope that when Matthew Brady, the photographer of the Civil War brings his cameras right next to a dead young man with bloated belly and shirt pulled from his trousers alerting the viewer to the fact that the boy had just enough time to see where he’d been shot, that this artist, got past the smells and the maggots and saw the boy.

I hope as a writer that I get past the big picture, the seemingly endless gallery of black and white documents that tell us how we’re supposed to feel about the rich, the Egyptians, the poor and the gay. I hope that when a gay character walks in to book two I’m able to get at the depth and struggles and humor of him without the world’s photos obscuring the man. I hope Thankful Crenshaw doesn’t put in a cardboard performance after reading feminist magazines of the day.

I’m going to hang this photograph up to remind me of how lucky I am to be part of a long tradition of writers and artists–most of whom are now forgotten, who were given a deep and abiding love, a true gift in itself, for this world and the flawed people who break out of black and white and bleed into grey.

Life is dark and bleak and lovely and rich, and I imagine that this gaunt looking artist with fantastic boots captured it all.