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Archive for April, 2011

Emory Thomas on the Civil War’s Beginnings

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Emory Thomas has long been one of our finest historians whose focus has been on the Confederacy during the Civil War. He isn’t writing as much these days as he used to, unfortunately. He’s retired from the UGA history faculty, though he remains Professor of History Emeritus and a much in-demand speaker and teacher. (He’ll visit the Center for the Book in Decatur on May 10th.)

He’s probably best known for his 1995 biography of Robert E. Lee, a perceptive, balanced account of Lee’s life before, during and after the war. His new book, however, looks at a very small time period in which Lee really didn’t figure much. The focus in this much-anticipated new book — “The Dogs of War: 1861” — is the first months of 1861 leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter that catapaulted the war of words into a bloody, violent clash.

It was during that period when he now finds himself asking this question: What were they thinking? The “they” refers to the leaders of the North and South, all of whom acted without a clue as to what they were doing as they moved the nation closer to a shooting war. Abraham Lincoln should have known better given his background, Thomas writes, but he refused to believe until it was too late that Southerners could and would risk their lives for the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis did what he felt honor required him to do even though he knew it would produce war, but Thomas writes that Davis also managed to convince himself there was no way the South could lose on the battlefield.

There were, in other words, a lot people clinging to a lot of myths in those dangerous days of January, February and March 1861. We know what ultimately happened. But what do we learn from that? Well, you’ll want to read the book, and we hope you’ll want to come hear Thomas and talk about his thoughtful conclusions.

But here’s a hint: “Three of the most dangerous words in the English language,” he writes, “are ‘History teaches us’…  There usually follows some overly simple pretension that has little or no relation to truth. I believe that the Civil War offers insight and enlightenment about the human condition to inform the present. The dogs of war, once loosened, seldom go where we want them to go. Once slipped, they run wild.”

Please join us on May 10th. It promises to be a most interesting evening.

Glimpsing Good News

Monday, April 18th, 2011

We all know about the plight of public libraries across this budget-stressed nation.  The bad news is everywhere. So how about some good news for a change?

Consider this: In a county that has seen cutbacks in services and hours  for its library system and a book budget shunken by about 85% over the last two years — I’m talking about DeKalb County here — one newly built and enlarged branch just re-opened its doors. And two more are scheduled to open to the public before we get through the summer!

That’s worth celebrating — and perhaps explaining a bit. The library branch that just had its official “re-opening” April 16 is at Hairston Crossing, serving a part of South DeKalb. DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and other county officials joined in the ceremonies; what politician doesn’t want to be part of good news?

Another branch at Salem-Panola in Lithonia is tentatively scheduled to open in June. and soon thereafter the library plans to one a major new facility at Stonecrest, a branch that has been completed for over a year but has lacked the money for staffing. These were all projects funded by a 2006 bond referrendum, by the voters of DeKalb County, voters who saw the value of not just maintaining but growing their public library system.

This is terrific news for thousands of people in DeKalb County and even some beyond its borders. Among other things, it sheds a positive light on this awful money crunch we’ve been in for too many years. There are still plenty of issues for libraries: squeezed budgets, insufficient staffing, shortened hours. But let’s not forget there is an “other side,” and we’re getting some much-needed glimpses of it right now.

Celebrating Georgia Writers

Monday, April 4th, 2011

You might have missed it — heck, it didn’t get as much public attention as the Social Circle Flower Show –but three people were inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame late last month. You didn’t hear about it? Welcome to a very, very large club. I doubt if more than a handful of people outside of the honoree’s families and close friends can identify this year’s inductees. And what a pity — an unnecessary pity — that is.

For the record, this year’s inductees, all richly deserving, are Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, the prize-winning nonfiction writer Melissa Fay Greene, and the late lyricist Johnny Mercer.  Please join me in congratulating them. Please also join me in wondering why their induction was a secret, and why almost all of the induction ceremonies have been keep closeted, known only to a select few.

The Writers Hall of Fame has been at the University of Georgia since 2000. The induction ceremonies have been held there annually ever since. As someone with more than a passing interest in Georgia’s literary life, I’ve tried and failed on several occasions to go to the inductions. But it seems they are never publicized to any great extent outside of the university. If you go to the UGA libraries on a regular basis, you’re likely to hear about them. On the other hand, if you’re one of the other 9-million or so people in the state of Georgia who don’t do that, you likely missed the news.

Yes, I’m being a bit snide here. But it’s because I’d like to change things, somehow. I’d like very much for the authors who are so celebrated by the Hall of Fame to get as much recognition as possible, not just all over the state but in the rest of the country as well. I’d like for lots of people to be made aware of the inductions and what they mean. Keeping the ceremonies so closed for whatever reasons serves neither the state’s literary community nor the honorees themselves. The university can and should do better by the writers it claims to care about. Let’s start making a big deal about it because it Is a BIG DEAL.

Of course, it’s no flower show…..