Sunday, February 14, 2016

Steve Kemper

Steve Kemper has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years. His books include Code Name Ginger: the Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World and A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa.

Kemper's most recent book is A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant, a thoroughly enjoyable account of what happens when a British ex-pat journalist and his girlfriend move from New York City to a moldering mansion in a rural Delta burg called Pluto. As in the best such books, the cultural shocks are sometimes amusing, sometimes shocking, but always entertaining and revelatory. Some writers would have opted for snarky condescension about this peculiar place and its inhabitants, but Grant writes about his new home with humor, affection, a sharp eye, and wide-open curiosity, and he makes refreshingly direct explorations of the Delta’s troubled racial history.

I also recently finished Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the third novel in her trilogy about a minister and his family in a small Iowa town named Gilead. That description may make you yawn, but Robinson finds deep currents of feeling, meaning, and American history in these ostensibly plain quiet lives. Her trilogy is one of the best things from the last decade of American fiction.

To remind myself of how powerful condensed language can be, I rotate favorite books of poetry through my nightstand. At the moment I’m meandering for the second or third time through Wendell Berry’s New Collected Poems. (His This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems, which I like even better, is also in regular rotation.) Like me, Berry is a Kentuckian, but he has stayed rooted, farming and writing in his home state for many decades. This time I’m skipping most of the polemical rants about environmental destruction and corporate greed (with me, he’s preaching to the converted), and savoring his ability to express, in clear language, his strong love of the land and its creatures. He has a gift for finding grace, beauty, and throbbing immortal evanescence in everything around him, as in “The Peace of Wild Things”:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Visit Steve Kemper's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms.

The Page 99 Test: A Splendid Savage.

--Marshal Zeringue