A Short Review of The Bright Mason: An American Mystery by Robert Berry

Here is a summary of this book from the back cover:

This well-written book traces the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan in 1826 in western New York when he proposed to publish the secret rituals of the freemasons. His disappearance led to a firestorm of antimasonry from the public and from political parties. The controversy culminates in the emergence of the first third party to nominate a U.S. Presidential candidate.

I knew little of Freemasonry before I read this book. Berry is an award-winning journalist, and it shows in his writing. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances through the years who have been Masons, but other than seeing the distinctive ring, I don’t recall learning a thing about them. I suppose a member of any “secret society” must be guarded in ways, but what I’ve seen in my friends is a subdued, subtle secrecy. After reading this book, I wonder if modern members know of the volatile times in the early 1800’s, very important times in their history. As I am still ignorant of Masonry, because Berry’s book is the extent of my study so far, I’m also not sure if Masons today would view Berry’s book as an expose or an effort to objectively analyze the people and events related to Morgan’s disappearance.

You can read a great summary of the novel and Berry’s biographical information here:

Berry’s epigraphs for the fifteen chapters are well-chosen, the citations numerous, and the conclusions Berry draws are convincing. The story is unsettling in some ways, effectively making me realize how much the history books and politicians have left out of America’s story. I remember the same feeling when I read a book about Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, entitled, No Man Knows My History. The Bright Mason is a book that should be in the library of anyone who has interest in studying this period of America’s history. Berry has no hidden agenda–he merely wants to tell readers this forgotten story.

I hope you obtain this book so he can tell the story to you. It’s a story and a look into our past that will enrich and intrigue you.

A Skinful of Scotch by Clifford Hanley: A Short Review

I’ve found as I work hard in my frequent trips promoting my writing, storytelling, and music that serendipity often comes my way. That was certainly true for the book I just finished reading, which I paid a dime for at the Montgomery, Alabama Public Library. The title is A Skinful of Scotch (Houghton-Mifflin) and it’s written by journalist Clifford Hanley. The subtitle is “The guidebook that guides you to nothing–except what the Scot is really like.” Now admittedly, I have a rather odd sense of humor, but I found Hanley’s writing to be quite amusing with some of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, but I also found the book to be informative. He throws in so much “by the way” type of information (almost like you were talking to a Scotsman) that I now have a long list of items (people, places, terms, etc.) to research. So, if you want to know about “Auld Reekie” or a multitude of quirky Scottish facts, this is a book to read.

Hanley is well-published, a known and respected journalist and humorist, but he also has an autobiography and three novels. The MOST interesting bit of information was that he was the man who wrote the words for “Scotland the Brave”, which is an unofficial anthem of Scotland (along with “Flower of Scotland”) and I’ve included those lyrics in this post. The book’s jacket claimed that he was the author of Scotland the Brave and I thought the claim was a joke, but it turns out that he really did write the lyrics around 1950, though the tune had been in existence since 1900. As a Civil War reenactor, I find the tune a good one to march to.

Scotland the Brave

Hark! When the night is falling
Hark! Hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling, down through the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Chorus
Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever, Scotland the brave.

High in the misty Highlands,
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens’ eyes.

Chorus

Far off in sunlit places,
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.

Though there were too many to list them all, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

“The vanishing Highlander was helped to vanish by a fiscal exercise known as the Highland Clearances.” (17)

Gaelic was, “as every Scotsman knows, the tongue they spoke in the Garden of Eden” (18).

“Inverness is a pretty place . . . simply a lunatic asylum from which no traveller [sic.] returned” (21)

“[T]he tartan was taken to be a very big juju, heap strong totem, like Sioux war-bonnets, and the Government realised it could shear the Scotsman of his courage by abolishing the stuff altogether. A law as passed in 1746 forbidding the wearing of multi-coloured cloths in the Highlands. Penalty for the first offence, six months in jail; for a second offence, seven years’ transportation to the Colonies” (33)

Return to Monroe . . .

I just entered my quarterly contest for Booklocker. Boy, am I tired. I’ll print the story I entered at a later time when the contest has been judged.

After my signing today at the Frisco Barnes & Noble, I left around 5:30 and arrived in Monroe, Louisiana about 11:00 p.m. Weather was great, and during the drive I finished listening to an audio CD of The Pale Criminal by Phillip Kerr, a pre-WWII noir novel. I found it quite enjoyable. Before I began my signing (around 1:00 pm) I met with the Frisco Public Library and with Lochran’s Irish Pub in Frisco and it looks like I could be booked at both places this next year. Great people. My signing went well, lots of sales, and I met so many wonderful people. Below are photographs of two of the B&N children’s area workers. The first is of me and Dani and the second of me and Jen. I could tell these bright and beautiful workers loved their work!

jen b&n 08 frisco

jen 08 b&n frisco

Friday in Wichita Falls

Today, I’m presenting programs at Region 9 Educational Service Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. I’ve already presented my Scots-Irish and Civil War programs, and after lunch, I’m going to present my Texas History program. That program is a new one, and I hope to add other new programs including the World War I Poets and another for Chinese Poetry. I am a Native Texan, and I love the state of my birth. The Texas Program (like my others) has more than I can present in one session, but here are the highlights I’m prepared to address:

I. The TEKS it addresses:

History:

02. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues prior to the Texas Revolution shaped the history of Texas.
03. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues related to the Texas Revolution shaped the history of Texas.
04. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues shaped the history of the Republic of Texas and early Texas statehood.
05. The student understands how events and issues shaped the history of Texas during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Culture:

19B

How I Created My First Novel

You won’t understand the good-ole-Boys of the South if you only listen to Jeff Foxworthy and other comedians of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. While their writing and jokes are funny and often true, there can be much more to the Bubbas of the South. I grew up observing the good-ole-boys who lived along the Red River in North Texas and I learned some things from them. There are many synonyms for these renegades and outlaws who made the Texoma region their vacation land– good-ole-boys, rednecks, desperadoes. They are the subject matter of songs we love, songs written by men who have a bit of the outlaw in them–men like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. I like those songs so much I’ve suggested to my good musician friend, Johnny O’Neal that he create a CD of the many outlaw songs he does. Having played bass guitar with him for over a year, I noticed how the crowds LOVE those songs. The good-ole-boys of the South with their dark, wild, violent and quirky characteristics have inspired many movies. Newspaper articles about them shock us as we read of their bizarre and sometimes brutal escapades. Of course, women in the Red River Valley can also demonstrate the same characteristics.

One day I was listening to my mother, Jessie Faye Pittman (Don’t you just love Southern names?) tell me story after story of the crazy antics of the rednecks who lived along the Red River. I was writing down every one of the tales in total amazement. My mother stopped suddenly and said: “I don’t know what gets into people who live along this Red River. It’s like they’re sick or something.” At that moment the title of my novel popped into my brain: Red River Fever. I got to work, and a year later, I had a novel.

At signings and readings in North Texas, I will often have someone say to me: “You wrote about my uncle, didn’t you? He said he was the one that done that . . .” I assure them that the novel is a work of fiction and that I did not have their uncle in mind. (Do novelists ever change the names and other details to protect the guilty?) These boys along the Red River could get so out of control that I chose this quotation by Thomas Moore as an opening epigraph: