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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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Archive for June, 2003

June 2003 in Black Lamb

Volume 1, Number 6 — March 2003

June 1st, 2003


The All-Book Issue

In this, our first All-Book Issue, Editor Terry Ross describes how close this came to being a (shudder!) All James Michener Issue. In our page 2 feature, Wondrous Land, Cate Garrison pays homage to Lewis Carroll. D.K. Holm celebrates the film critic Robin Wood. In Memorable Miss Osborne, Grant Menzies remembers the first book that made him cry. Jim Patton (Mighty Marcel) claims that Proust is the all-time best. In The Man Who Couldn’t Think Straight, Greg Roberts takes Henry David Thoreau to task.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The All Book Issue

... and the incredibly cruel All-Book Issue hoax

June 1st, 2003


This month’s edition of Black Lamb — which I call the All-Book Issue — is a departure from the norm, because this magazine was created as a reincarnation of the old-fashioned literary Miscellany. Most months, that’s what it is, with the writers checking in from wherever they are — geographically, professionally, psychically — on whatever subjects or anecdotes they choose. It becomes a potpourri of different (and sometimes differing) voices and lives.

But for the June issue, the halfway point in our first year, I proposed that the writers choose a book and write about it in the context of their regular columns. Not book reviews, I said, but rather essays on how influential books had changed their lives. About a month before the copy deadline, I sent a mass email to most of the contributors (a few had already sent in their articles) to remind them of this assignment. That’s when the fun started.

Noting the copy deadline of April 1, one of the writers, Bud Gardner (his column’s calledCountry Lawyer) copied the others’ email addresses from my message and wrote to them all, suggesting a prank. Country apparently called to country, for Emily Emerson (En Campagne) in west-central France immediately proposed that everyone write about the same book. Too hard, someone else said, we have no book in common. How about the same author, then, piped in Rebecca Owen from Pittsburgh, Pa. And thus came into being, at least conceptually, Black Lamb’s first, and certainly its last, All James Michener Issue.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Ross | Link to this Entry

Wondrous land

Finding Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell everywhere

June 1st, 2003


I was born a million miles away in a little village on the side of a hill…

(“When you say ‘hill,’” the Queen interrupted, “I could show you hills, in comparison with which you’d call that a valley.”)

alicerunningShe’s right, her boastful Red Majesty, who somehow has followed me from England to the United States. Ben Nevis, Snowdon, the so-called mountains of the English Lakes, all are tiny, benign pimples, mere beauty spots on the face of the earth compared with the roiling, boiling, majestic carbuncles of the High Cascades beyond whose eastern slopes I now make my home. Like Alice, I’m in a constant state of wonder, and not just at the newer, bigger, exhilaratingly more dangerous topography. The flora and fauna bewilder either in their unfamiliarity (for dodos, mock turtles and gryphons, read coyotes, moose, elk and bears) or, more tantalizingly, in an apparent sameness that turns out, looking-glass-like, to be an illusion. Consider the robin; compared to its tiny English cousin, the new world bird is a heavyweight, like Alice’s incongruously huge gnat (“…about the size of a chicken, Alice thought”).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Garrison | Link to this Entry

Aged in Wood

June 1st, 2003


I remember finding coveted film books the way most people remember where and when they first saw a favorite movie.

In the case of the book Hitchcock’s Films, it was fall of 1971. I was in the Portland State University bookstore, then a massive monument to university press and special-interest books (now a textbook clearing house), with thorough holdings in most fields. After fantasizing for years about a career as either a comic book creator or a movie director, I discovered that I enjoyed reading about films more than making them.

It takes a special personality type to helm the unwieldy juggernaut of a film crew. It takes no personality at all to read a book about it.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Holm | Link to this Entry

Memorable Miss Osborne

June 1st, 2003


To single out one book, any more than a whole library’s worth of them, as being of most influence on one’s development — as reader, writer, and human being — is like having to list your favorite kisses from an unforgettable lover.

But I can simplify the process by counting on one hand the books which, read before age twenty, had such a powerful effect on me that the impressions remain vividly: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (which I found in my Southern grandmother’s house when I was eleven and read without stopping over the course of two days and a night); Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz (the copy given to my mother by her analyst, who curiously thought Zelda’s unhappy story would make inspiring material for my mother’s own recovery from a nervous breakdown); Ferdinand Mayr-Ofen’s The Tragic Idealist (a life of so-called Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, which set me on course for studying and writing historical biographies and put me in love with the handsome young monarch pictured in the frontispiece); and Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (which, with West’s painter’s eye and composer’s ear for coloring and orchestrating ideas and images to produce breathtakingly beautiful moods and insights, had a huge influence on my own writing style).

Yet it was a children’s book, not quite fit for the above list of masterworks, that made the greatest, longest-lasting impression: Wilson Gage’s Miss Osborne-the-Mop.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Menzies | Link to this Entry

Mighty Marcel

June 1st, 2003


Call me a Proust snob. Whatever. I’d rather be that than one of these “well-read” people who’ve never had the experience of A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) or who tell you proustcartoonthey’ve read “some of it,” meaning three of the thousands of pages. No. You’ve either read it or you haven’t. Reading “some of it” is like reading “some of” a James Patterson novel, or watching “some of” a movie or a World Series game. You might have a sense of it, but that’s all. In the case of Marcel and A la recherche, you’re nothing but a poseur. Hey, it offends me. And I feel bad for you, because you don’t know what you’re missing.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Patton | Link to this Entry

The man who couldn’t think straight

June 1st, 2003


Thoreau messed me up pretty bad. I read Walden at seventeen, and it turned me into a non-materialist for most of my life. As a result, I endangered my family by driving them around in a hundred-dollar Peugeot 504 with bald tires that were ready to blow any second. I thought I was saving the planet. I’m better now. We have a thousand-dollar Toyota van with new tires.

I’ve lost some respect for Thoreau. He’s a wonderfully clever writer, but he couldn’t think straight. The imprisonment at the pond, in a hell-hole of a cabin, slaving over a goddamn bean patch, would have driven anyone to suicide, except for one thing — he was writing the book. With the inspiration of his art, it didn’t matter where he was. Same for Beethoven. His drive to compose music made him oblivious to his filthy room with the many unemptied piss pots.

Anyone without a major artistic project had better stay away from a Walden situation. Better to exist in a studio apartment with a part-time job at Burger King and a basic cable package.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Roberts | Link to this Entry

The Morocco case

June 1st, 2003


In the first lines of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes takes a hypodermic syringe from a “neat morocco case” and injects himself with cocaine. He offers a shot to his roommate Dr. Watson, an unemployed veteran nursing wounds from a hideous colonial war, himself half in holmes2the bag after a wine-soaked lunch. On other occasions, Dr. Watson remarks, the detective prefers morphine.

I discovered this scene as I sat crosslegged (or as we still said in 1980s Montana, “Indian-style”) on the floor of the bedroom my brother and I once shared. It was probably winter or, if the month was October, November, April or May, something close. Across my lap, a dogeared copy of a 1950s omnibus titled The Boy’s Sherlock Holmes, borrowed from Williard Elementary’s little library. (They don’t really publish books just for boys any more, do they?) I was ten years old or maybe eleven, and as the detective jabbed a needle into his vein, Literature’s darker possibilities burst open before me, a dusky and faintly malevolent orchid.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

I hate books

June 1st, 2003


When I was about nine I fell in love with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was a solitary kid, and books were a seductive escape. I used to sit under a flowering bush in my family’s side yard, soggy peanut butter sandwich in hand, smelly little terrier snuffling by my side, just reading. Lewis Carroll’s imaginative scenarios about the little girl down the rabbit hole spoke directly to my rebel heart, and I memorized long passages and fancied myself a modern-day Alice: she was so crisp, so witty, so practical and peppy. She made sparkling observations, and her world was speckled with talking animals! A dream book, a book to carry with me everywhere.

Then I found out that the Rev. Dodgson was a pedophile. He converted his obsession with Alice Liddell into something sanitized and mainstream when all he really wanted was to photograph her in her underwear.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Browning | Link to this Entry

Charlotte triumphant

June 1st, 2003



It was 196_, during that humid, pre-cable summer between third and fourth grades, when my mother gave me her copy of Jane Eyre. Whether dear Mammá did so for my edification or merely to quell my restive humors, it mattered not; for upon learning that Charlotte Brontë was obliged to adopt the masculine nom de plume Currer Bell to hide her gender, charlottebrontephotoI was filled with an indignation that compelled me to read on….


How cruelly our orphan’d heroine suffered at the hands of her scornful aunt and vile brute of a cousin! And when Jane dared defend herself, she was summarily rewarded with a blow to the head and confined to a haunted bedchamber. Still, her courage inspired me; and thus when my parents insisted that I wash the dinner dishes while my brothers (hearty and dexterous lads both) were at liberty, I protested. “Fie, goodly sir and madam,” I cried, “but never shall I tolerate such gross injustice!” Suspension of privileges, however, proved even less tolerable, so for the next fortnight I played scullery maid… till one day dear Mammá (she of the breakfast and luncheon dishes) threatened a rebellion of her own, leading to dear Papá’s immediate purchase of a Kenmore dishwasher with Pot Scrubber Cycle.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Gendelman | Link to this Entry

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