Book Giveaway: “Chasing Texas” By…My Dad!

I’m pleased to offer my first book giveaway of the year to one of my lucky readers, for what *I* consider a very special book. My father Reece Newton has published his first novel, “Chasing Texas”, the story of three generations who make their way across the vast landscape of Texas. If you’re interested in the chance to win a copy, just use this simple entry form. I’ll select one lucky winner from my readers, whom I will announce on Monday, March 9th.

To be frank, “Chasing Texas” is not the sort of novel I would normally read. There are no drawing-room scenes of elegant people sprawling about saying elegant things to one another beneath a languid lighting scheme. No one in the book holds an aristocratic title or high political office, engaging in the kind of plotting and intrigue that often accompany such positions. Instead, this a book of gritty realism, but one in which the values of basic decency and respect for others still matter to the characters inhabiting the Texas evoked by the author,

When the first protagonist of the book, Sedge Rountree, decides to leave home on his quest, he is following in a line of stories seminal to Western literature, from “The Odyssey” to “Don Quixote” to “Captains Courageous”. This type of storytelling begins with adventure, but ends up being more about the making of a man in the process. Moreover, “Chasing Texas” is engagingly written, painstakingly researched, and frankly rather hard to put down, in the tradition of the best “on the road” type of literature.

Take a look at this passage, for example, when Sedge is thinking back on what he left behind as he heads out across Texas. Even as he sleeps out in the cold, remembering the comforts of home, he is already beginning to realize how he is changing from a boy into a man:

Shivering, he wrapped himself more tightly in his blankets, thought of the fireplace at home, his mother making his favorite by filling cored apples with raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a little of the blackberry brandy and nestling them near the dulling coals of the fire to roast and meld the fruit, but strangely something in him now made that seem not appealing at all.

Later, Sedge has found work on a ranch, but has run into trouble with the law. He has made friends with an elderly Indian named Alonso, whose real name is Red Wolf Runner. As the two sit and consider the troubles facing Sedge, the old man reflects on his own regrets:

They sat watching the hills far across fading into deeper blues. The old man gazed at them, hardly breathing, it seemed.”To dream of the wolf was a good sign, they used to tell me. A good sign for a boy. It meant he was true to himself. To know what was right and to do right. I don’t know if I was true. I tried to be.”

Sedge and the other Rountree boys that come after him have to go through their own trials in the transition from boyhood to manhood, against the backdrop of Texas. In fact Texas is, in a way, another character in the book. From the marshlands and Gulf Coast of East Texas to the big open skies of West Texas, the Rountrees continue to head West across their home state, never quite knowing what lessons life will have in store for them, even as the State draws them on.

Sometimes those lessons are pleasant and profitable; other times, they are extremely serious, even deadly in nature. And nature itself, in the hugely varied geography and wildlife of Texas, is more than mere scenery for these men. The places they find themselves are as important to the plot as any other individual in this family tapestry.

Even as generations and stories change within the novel, the reader stays with these men, coming to appreciate and identify with them, as characters with facets mirroring his own. With age comes the realization that, despite what you have been told, there really is no single guaranteed path to success, otherwise everyone would simply follow the same path and achieve the same ends. Instead, as the experiences of the Rountrees demonstrate in this novel, the question of remaining true to the self, even when the end result is unclear, matters more than any achievement measurable by mere human standards.

Again, for those of my readers interested in entering to win a free copy of the novel, please fill out this form with your contact information, and I will announce the winner on Monday, April 9th. And for those of you who do not want to wait to find out whether you’ve won, hop on by Amazon and pick up either a printed or e-reader copy of Chasing Texas for yourself or someone whom you know would enjoy it. I am certain you or your recipient will appreciate the well-woven storytelling as much as I did.

Nice job, Dad. :-)

Reece Newton.

Greece Is the Word: New Exhibition Arrives in Canada, U.S.

Western Civilization begins with Greece. Some might argue that Greece is also trying to bring it to an end at present, at least economically. However, rather than focus on lowest common denominator politics, a new exhibition touring North America over the next year and a half promises to remind visitors of why it is that Ancient Greece is so important to understanding not just our own art and culture, but indeed the entire history of mankind.

“The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great” is a comprehensive survey of the history and culture of the Ancient Greeks. Beginning with the dawn of Greek civilization on Crete and the Peloponnese, the exhibition brings together an extraordinary collection of objects, many of which have never traveled outside of Greece before.  This includes the famous “Mask of Agamemnon” discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae.  Over 20 museums worked together to put on this movable feast of archaeology, art, scholarship, and technology, which features art and artefacts from all over the Greek world alongside modern media presentations.

It also comes at a crucial time in Greek history. As we all know, the Greek economy today is in the doldrums, to put it mildly, and an exhibition such as this, which in total should draw more visitors over the course of the next 18 months than would ever see these works in their respective collections, should have two positive effects, at least. Not only will ticket revenues be welcome income to cash-strapped Greek museums, but piquing the interest of potential travelers to a country where tourism is of fundamental importance to the overall economy cannot be a bad move, either.

My Canuck readers get first crack at seeing this remarkable show. “The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great” is presently on view at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Montreal. It will then move on to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa on June 5th, The exhibition will travel to the Field Museum in Chicago beginning November 26th and continuing through to April 17, 2016. It will have its final run at the National Geographic Museum here in DC beginning June 9, 2016.

Long time to wait, DC folk, I know, but I imagine it’s going to be worth the wait.

Detail of the Mask of Agamemnon (c. 1550-1500 B.C.) National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Detail of the Mask of Agamemnon (c. 1550-1500 B.C.)
National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Let’s Have Some Above-Average Life Goals

Some months ago, my attention was drawn to a popular Twitter account being linked to by a number of my contacts.  Average Life Goals tries to present aspirations which might be considered rather mundane, in a humorous way. Although meant to be ironic, the account’s writers often choose to look down upon things which, once upon a time, we saw as being acceptable and enjoyable, or at least suited to their purpose.

Take this tweet for example

I grew up in a rust belt Pennsylvania county where agriculture was the main industry, and steel manufacturing was a distant memory. There were only a couple of restaurants where one could expect a level of dining comparable to that you might find in an urban setting. Chain restaurants like this one, for most people, were as fancy as one could reasonably expect to be able to experience beyond fast food.

People in the hundreds of small towns across America whose pay does not allow them to dine luxuriously whenever they choose, are not going to be spoiled for choice when it comes to taking their sweetheart out to dinner on St. Valentine’s Day. So while it may not seem particularly nice to some that the anonymous fellow evoked in this tweet is taking his girlfriend to Golden Corral for a special dinner, maybe that is the best that he can afford to do? To scoff and suggest that there is little or no value to such a practice seems to me rather off-puttingly bitter and childish.

A similar tone of bitterness pervades the tone of the following tweet:

Here, someone’s parents paid for and installed this contraption for their child out of love, but we are supposed to mock it for not being…what, exactly? Gold-plated? Signed by Lebron? Would it be better if it came complete with tattoo artist, pole dancing Kardashian, and contraceptive/marijuana dispensing unit? Would that then make it more palatable?.

Now to be fair, two tweets do not condemn an entire Twitter account. Some of the tweets posted by those who run this particular account are actually quite sensible and even clever. Yet these tweets should make us pause and ask, what do we actually value? Are we really so jejune, that we have to denigrate others’ aspirations or acts of generosity? And to what end?

We should certainly cultivate an appreciation for quality, and aspire to learn more about the world around us. Yet being a little more charitable, and engaging in more realistic self-examination as part of that charity, would go a long way toward our treating one another with a bit more compassion, patience, and appreciation. Those would be far better life goals for each of us to try to espouse.