Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: A Short Review

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, Scribner Publishing, 2007

A Short Review by Rickey E. Pittman

Sometime ago–it was either on Fresh Air or on NPR News–I heard Steve Martin discussing his memoir, Born Standing Up. The interview revealed a new and intriguing side of Martin I had not known about, so I ordered the book, which I have now just got around to reading. The book is worth reading if you have any interest at all in Steve Martin, in New York Times Best Sellers, or in stand-up comedy. Here you will discover the brutal life of a comedian when on the road and learn many techniques and the vocabulary of comedy.

Let me tell you why I think I liked the book. I often encounter students who I think will have a knack and interest in comedy performance, and I nudge them to study comedy writing, to study comedians, to collect jokes and bits and try them out in public settings. Perhaps one of them one day will find a career in stand-up.  This study of comedy and comedians forces them to analyze words and speech with all its complex rhythms, cadence, tones, syntax and diction. The writing of a comedy routine builds memory and organizational skills. I know there are some comedians on a genius level who are truly and only extemporaneous, but the truth of it is that most working comedians have to create, refine, practice, and experiment.

My respect for Steve Martin greatly increased.  He is a man who has paid his dues to life and to comedy.  I think of this book not as a tell-all confession, but an introspective and existential look back at his life. Through hard work and dedication to his craft, he has earned the money and fame that came his way. This memoir analyzes Martin’s comedic career and his transition from stand-up comedy into movies.  This book is the story of why he did stand-up and why he walked away. The back cover says: Born Standing Up is a superb testament to the sheer tenacity, focus, and daring of one of the greatest and most iconoclastic comedians of all time.”

The Last Time They Met: A short review of Anita Shreve’s novel

The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve, read by Blair Brown:
A Short Review by Rickey E. Pittman

I was pleasantly surprised with Anita Shreve’s  novel, The Last Time They Met. It is another audio book in five CDs, read by award-winning actress Blair Brown.  This a novel that will make you think about the nature and intensity of love and the inner and outer world of writers. Though there are several reviews on the Web, I prefer to not read the reviews of others until I’ve posted my own, so I guess I’ll get them later.  Shreve is also the author of The Pilot’s Wife and The Weight of Water, which I’ve previously reviewed on my blog, A Southern Missive. She has several other novels in print and I intend to read them all. When an author can rattle me with two good books, it is likely that anything she wrote is worth reading. Shreve has a fine website. You can find it here:

Here is a summary of The Last Time They Met from the CD jacket:
Linda Fallon encounters her former love, Thomas Janes at a literary festival where both have been invited to give readings from their work.  It has been years since their paths cross and in that time Thomas has become a kind of literary legend.  His renown is enhanced by his elusiveness; for most of the past decade, he has remained in seclusion following a devastating loss.

From the moment they speak, The Last Time They met unfolds the story of Linda and Thomas in an extraordinary way; it travels back into their past, bypassing layers of memory and interpretation to present their earlier encounters with unshakable immediacy.  The novel recreates love at its exhilarating pinnacle–the kind of intense connections that becomes the true north against which all relationships are measured.  Moving backward through time, The Last Time They Met traces the shocking resonance a single choice, even a single word, can have over the course of a lifetime.”

The technique impressed me as it is a story written in reverse chronology that leads you to the very surprising and sad ending.  There are many good quotes I could suggest, but I’ll close with the last lines describing Thomas who takes his own life, but not before he has “known  the unforgiving light of the equator, a love that exist only in his imagination, and the enduring struggle to capture in words the endless possibilities of a life not lived.”


A Special Performance at Caffeine Addicts

7819 Nashville Street

Ringgold GA 30736


Date: Sat. Feb 6, 6:30PM to 09:00PM

Price: $5 donation

Phone: (706) 935-3355

Jed Marum and Rickey Pittman present Confederate American history through song and story. In their presentation, Pittman’s narrative story and Marum’s songs retell tales and reveal experiences from memoirs, diaries and histories – in a light and color that is personal, meaningful and true. They bring to life the heroes of the time, and pass on their message to a modern age. Celtic and Folk/Bluegrass performer Jed Marum in concert with guest speaker, author/historian Rickey Pittman. The music is from and about the period of the War Between the States and includes songs that Jed has recorded for licensed to TV and film projects (PBS, Playboy Channel and independent theater releases).

This is a chance to meet Pittman and Marum up close and personal. Time will be allowed for questions and answers – and for mingling. Fine food and soft beverages will be available.

If you are a collector, historian, or just interested in the War Between the States, you can also see Pittman and Marum at:

The 14th Annual Chickamauga Civil War Show

Times: Sat, Feb 6 and Sun Feb 07.Sat 9am to 5pm Sun 9am to 3pm

Admission Price: $10

Event Address: Northwest Georgia Trade Center

2211 Dug Gap Battle Road

Dalton GA 30720-3863

For more information on this show, email

Or call 770-267-0989

Cell: 770-630-7296



Jed Marum is widely known in the world of Celtic and Folk/Bluegrass music as a compelling performer and gifted songwriter. His music plays on the radio airwaves around the globe and in soundtracks for internationally released films, and for television series shown on PBS and HBO/Playboy Channel. He performs over 150 shows every year at festivals and concerts throughout the USA. To date Marum has released 9 albums on Boston Road Records.

Jed Marum ‘s album, CROSS OVER THE RIVER; A Confederate Collection recently won the 2009 JP Folk Album of the Year Award. From the over 42,000 albums published in 2009 and distributed around the world by big record labels, solo artists and indie labels alike, JP Folk selected CROSS OVER THE RIVER; A Confederate Collection as Album of the Year – in the Traditional/Folk category. The album was also was nominated for the 2009 Southern Heritage Award. Visit the performer’s websites for more information:


Rickey E. Pittman, storyteller, author, and guitarist/singer was the Grand Prize Winner of the 1998 Ernest Hemingway Short Story Competition, and is originally from Dallas, Texas. Pittman presents his stories, music and programs at schools, libraries, organizations, Civil War Reenactments, and Scottish, Irish, and Celtic festivals throughout the South. He is a certified Secondary Gifted English teacher and currently teaches freshman composition for Louisiana Delta Community College, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Virginia College Online. His books include: Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House, Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School, Stories of the Confederate South, and The Scottish Alphabet, all with Pelican Publishing. You can learn more about this award-winning author at his website:

Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell: A Short Review

There are several impressive reviews of Jennifer Lee Carrell’s novel, Interred with Their Bones, but having completed a read (via audio-book with 12 CDs) I felt compelled to give the book a good endorsement. If you are interested at all in Shakespeare, if you love books, if you like a good mystery, if you are into the Elizabethan Age with its cyphers, criminals, politics, and theatre, you will love this book.  The story begins on the eve of the modern Globe’s production of Hamlet and takes the central character, Kate, on a literary treasure hunt that you will not soon forget. The novel reveals extensive research and the language is so carefully crafted that it is a delight to read.  The novel ends with notes from the author detailing her sources and ideas on the themes, events, and people of the novel. I intend to follow up by reading more of this author’s works.

According to the CD set cover, Carrell, the author holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Harvard and is the author of The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox.  If addition to writing for Smithsonian magazine, Carrell has taught in the history and literature program at Harvard and directed Shakespeare for Harvard’s Hyperion Theatre Company. She lives in Tuscon, Arizona. To learn more of her, visit her website, here.

Part of the enjoyment of this audio book came from the wonderful reader selected, Kathleen McNenny. She is a skilled actor and audio-book performer. You can find her website and learn about her at her website:

I’ve to say that experiencing this book revived my interest in Shakespeare. I realize that there are reasons we consider him our greatest English author.

Two Irish Units during the War Between the States

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, my mind is on the Irish in the Civil War. I found a site devoted to the 7th & 30th Missouri Volunteers: Missouri Irish Brigade of Civil War Re-enactors. You can find the site here:

According to the website, the 30th were “Known as the “Shamrock Regiment”  the 30th Missouri Volunteer Infantry [and were] mustered into United States service, at St. Louis, Missouri in October of 1862.”  The unit was part of Sherman’s Army and saw action at Chickasaw Bluff, Vicksburg, Jackson, Clinton, Natches, Vidalia, Mobile, and were after the war were assigned guard duty in Texas.

The” Irish Seventh” were “mustered into United States service at St. Louis, Missouri in June of 1861.”

Both units were consolidated by the end of the War and the consolidation continues today in the reenactment unit. If you go to their site, you can see a photo of the regiment’s flag, a painting created and submitted to the site by Aaron Gilmore. Here is a description of the flag in the Boston Pilot, an Irish Newspaper that existed in Boston Mass. during the Civil War. The article was ran on July 12, 1862.

“A splendid standard for the 7th Missouri (Irish) Regiment, painted by Somerby was exhibited at the Pilot bookstore, last week. It is painted on green silk of beautiful color and texture, and measures six feet by six feet six inches, in one piece. On one side is the Irish harp, guarded by a savage looking wolf dog surrounded by a wreath of shamrocks, and mounted by an American eagle, and supported on either side by flags and implements of war. A golden halo shoots from out and over the whole. On the reverse is a sunburst in all its glory, with the Irish war cry for a motto – “Fag an Bealac!” A beautiful gold eagle mounts the staff; and nothing is lacking about it which constitutes a first class standard.

If you go to this site,  you can learn about the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 4th Regiment in the famous Irish Brigade. This site will tell you all about the regiment’s history, weapons, flags, battles, and casualties.  It will also inform you of the recreated 28th that in the world of Civil War reenacting, represents the unit. The site has pages that will tell you of the 28th today, some vital information about Civil War reenactment, uniforms and equipment, recommended sutlers, their campaign schedule and an image gallery. You can also find out how to join the unit should you have the desire and means to do so.

In case you’ve never seen them, here is a famous Civil War song entitled, “The Boys of the Irish Brigade.” It’s one I often do in my Civil War programs at schools and libraries.

What for should I sing you of Roman or Greek,
Or the boys we hear tell of in story?
Come match me for fighting, for frolic, or freak,
An Irishman’s reign in his glory;
For Ajax, and Hector, and bold Agamemnon,
Were up to the tricks of our trade, O,
But the rollicking boys, for war, ladies and noise,
The boys of the Irish Brigade, O!

What for should I sing you of Helen or Troy,
Or the mischief that came by her flirting?
There’s Biddy M’Clinchy the pride of Fermoy,
Twice as much of a Helen, that’s certain.
Then for Venus, so famous, or Queen Cleopatra,
Bad luck to the word should be said, O,
By the rollicking boys, for war, ladies and noise,
The Boys of the Irish Brigade, O!

What for should I sing you of classical fun,
Or of games, whether Grecian or Persian?
Sure the Curragh’s the place where the knowing one’s done,
And Mallow that flogs for diversion.
For fighting, for drinking, for ladies and all,
No time like our times e’er was made, O,
By the rollicking boys, for war, ladies and noise,
The boys of the Irish Brigade, O!

From the Book of Irish Songs, by Samuel Lover
(Paul A.Winch, 1860)

A New Children’s Song by Rickey E. Pittman

Yesterday at the East Texas Library Summit, I met another author, Marvin S. Mayer, whose book, Sammy Squirrel and the Sunflower Seeds,  tells the story of Sammy the squirrel’s adventures after being captured and relocated to the Squirrel Relocation Center, and his courageous attempt to return home while his father searches for him at the same time.  I was so impressed with this author and his children’s story that I wrote a song on the spot. The conference videotaped the song and I think it will be YouTube soon. I’ll also post it on my blog and my Facebook page.  I like this song and plan to work it into my children’s program.


(A children’s song by Rickey E. Pittman)

Sammy the squirrel went out to play

A wire box trap was in his way

He started to just pass it by

But he saw the sunflower seeds inside.

He entered the cage at an open end,

The door slammed shut, trapping him in

Sammy cried “Mother, what will happen to me?”

Then they took him to the *SRC


Sammy the squirrel lived in a Texas town,

Climbing in trees and rolling on the ground

Leaping and flying so wild and free,

Sammy would work for sunflower seeds.

Sammy said enough of this SRC

I’m leaving here and you can’t stop me

It’s hard to survive when you’re on your own,

I’ve got to find my way back home.

Harriette the squirrel said, Listen to me.

Get off the ground if you want to be free.

Travel in the trees and telephone lines,

And move through the air so clean and fine.


*Squirrel Location Center

You can order or look at this children’s chapter book here:

Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School

I’ve a new book that I’ve written to honor one of the great heroes of the Confederate South–Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The book is called, Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School (Pelican Pub.) It can be preordered from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and in January printed copies will be available. I plan on telling this story to as many people as possible, not only to honor Jackson, but to show those who are determined to demonize the South and Southerners that the issue is really much more complex than the media, the politically correct, and enemies of the South have presented it. A history teacher I respect described those who have negative reactions to or who seek to minimize or dismiss the significance of Jackson’s Sunday school as people who “cannot allow a person at that time to be simply doing what God has called him to do. If the person is white, he must have another motive (a hateful one) for any good he does.” Jackson’s Sunday School, like the story of Jim Limber, undermines the stereotype people have in their minds about the South and race.

Here is the story of Jackson’s black Sunday school in a nutshell: In the autumn of 1855, Jackson began a colored Sunday school in Lexington, VA. He did this under the guidance of the Lexington Presbyterian Church and in spite of and defiance of social mores and laws. Not only did Jackson teach the black folks who came to the school the gospel, he also taught the students to read and write.

If you go here, (and please do) you can find a fine article telling the story of Jackson’s influence on that Lexington black community.  One of the students there became a pastor and wanted to honor Jackson, so he raised funds to construct a window in his congregation, the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. in Roanoke, Virginia. You can see that window’s image in this post.  I’ve also posted images of a statue and gravestone honoring  this great Christian man.

To understand Jackson’s work and influence on the Lexington black community, I would recommend that you read, Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend by Richard G . Williams Jr.  Like Williams, I was inspired by Jackson’s life and love for people–whether they were black or white–and thought the story of Jackson’s work should be told.  I thought a children’s book would be the best medium to use. My artist is Lynn Hosegood and she did a fine job illustrating the story and her art reveals the sensitivity and historical research that the account deserves. I’ll have a future post with samples of her artwork.

Statue of Stonewall Jackson

Statue of Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson Gravestone

Stonewall Jackson Gravestone

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A Short Review

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A Short Review by Rickey Pittman

When my friend FB friend Dena, who works for Books-A-Million in Sherman, Texas, recommended this novel, I decided I would give it a read. I knew that Water for Elephants (Algonquin Pub.) was a bestseller, that it had acquired many good reviews, but because it dealt with the circus, I was hesitant. After having read it, I must say that it is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  The beautiful author’s site is here, and I hope you will visit it to learn more about her and her other books.

Here is a brief summary of the novel which I lifted from her website:

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.
It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Here are my own personal observations:  I learned much more about the “circus” than I expected. Gruen’s extensive research into the circus and Depression-era America was obvious, as was her ability to describe the human condition–in the words of one reviewer–in the “pathetic grandeur of the Depression-era circus.”
Told from the flashbacks and viewpoint of an old Jacob, the novel reveals the author’s understanding of what it means to be old and a resident of “assisted living” and this, because of dealing with my own father recently, endeared me to the storyline.  One could construct a circus glossary from the terms the author weaves into her story.

This was the last book I will read in 2009, and I think it was a proper and inspiring choice. I’ve only been to one circus–Ringling Brothers in Dallas, long, long ago, but I feel I understand those who work the circus much better. There is an interview with the author included as well as study questions should you read this with a group. There are photographs related to the circus scattered throughout, and so many good lines in her prose that I’m hesitant to try to list them all. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Jacob says he is “observing as the ghosts of my past rattle around my vacuous present” ( 13).

After he first makes love to Marlena, he says, “I am afraid to breathe in case I break the spell” (273).

In short, I found this novel to be exceptional.

Georgia Political News: Ray McBerry

Candidate Rising Like a Meteor in the Governor’s Race

(ATLANTA, December 22, 2009) — Having won several polls in the Governor’s race across the state in the past month, Ray McBerry’s campaign continues to pick up steam across the state.

In the past month, McBerry won first place in the governor’s race straw poll conducted in Tifton the week following two candidate forums in south Georgia, one in Tifton and another in Valdosta. Even Austin Scott, a native of Tifton, came in second to McBerry among the seven Republicans.

Meanwhile, Ray McBerry scored overwhelming victories in the online polls for the Governor’s race that were conducted by both the Augusta area Young Republicans in east Georgia and the Paulding County GOP in west Georgia.

In north Georgia’s Walker County, the McBerry Campaign came in second place in the Republican party’s straw poll, being bested only by Nathan Deal, in whose “back yard” the straw poll was conducted.

For several months now, there have been record turnouts each time that Ray McBerry has spoken at different county GOP meetings across the state, leading to an increase in the number of speaking invitations from other county chairmen.

Additionally, Ray has been invited to be the “kickoff” speaker for nearly a dozen ” tea party patriot” groups springing up around the state — groups who are looking for candidates who are not part of the current Democrat and Republican establishment. The most recent of thes e events was this past Thursday evening in Dalton in which approximately 200 people turned out to hear Ray speak on the subject of “States’ Rights.”

The record turnout at both Republican-sponsored events and these “town hall” type meetings every time that Ray McBerry is invited to speak have certainly gotten the attention of many within the Republican Party. Being called “the best public speaker in Georgia today” by a number of statewide candidates, Ray’s message of “States’ Rights” is resounding incredibly well in all areas of the state and among all groups, including “blue dog” Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents, as well as traditional conservative Republicans.

The McBerry Campaign team continues to grow with each new week and is the largest volunteer organization in the governor’s race among both Republican and Democrat contenders. With the rapid growth of the campaign, the success in numerous recent polls, and the increasing demand for his speaking across the state, Ray McBerry appears to be rising like a meteor in the Republican race for Governor.

For more information or to contact Ray McBerry’s campaign about interviews and speaking engagements, please visit the campaign website at

A Soldier’s Christmas by Jeff Talmadge: Chords and Lyrics

With Christmas coming on, I wanted to share the lyrics of this Jeff Talmadge song that I learned from his Blissville CD. I plan on playing it for the Scottish Society in Shreveport this Saturday. During the holidays, please remember our soldiers . . .

A Soldier’s Christmas by Jeff Talmadge: Chords and Lyrics

Verse 1:

The guns were silent and the night was still *C G

And we’d just come in from patrol C G

We never thought that we’d spend Christmas here Bm C

We thought that we’d be going home  C D (There is a walk down here)

Verse 2

We sang Christmas songs that we all knew C G

And we ate turkey from a tray C G

We never talk about not coming back Bm C

It’s best to treat it like any other day. C D


And in between the clouds of smoke G C D G

There’s Christmas in the air G C D

It’s Christmas in this tent tonight G C D G

It’s Christmas everywhere.  C D G

(Final verse add)

Em C D G

Verse 3:

We took Basra just by driving through

And we took Baghdad in a day

The day the war was over was the day our war began

And they can’t tell us how long we will stay

Verse 4:

And there’s an empty bunk right next to mine

It’s where my buddy used to sleep

They’ll be sending somebody to take his place

They say he’ll be here sometime late next week


Verse 5:

So we strung some lights from pole to pole

With ornaments of cartridges and shells

We clean our guns so when the morning comes

We’re not afraid to walk through hell


*Note: Jeff finger picks it and as he often uses a D tuning, it may not be a true “C” chord, but an adaptation. If you hear the song and finger pick, you’ll know what I mean.