Sunday, September 20, 2015

Charles Gramlich: 'The Adventures of an Arkansawyer' (2014)

Charles Gramlich has done a wonderful thing: combined his earlier Days of Beer: The Memoirs of a Beer Drinkin' Man, originally in ebook format (Razored Zen Press, 2011), with a new, bigger section, "Adventures of an Arkansawyer," which is twice as long as the first part, in the form of a traditionally printed codex book entitled The Adventures of an Arkansawyer (Razored Zen Press, 2014). As much as I enjoyed Days of Beer as an ebook, I very much enjoyed it again as part of a larger, printed book. So, I'd say, why not purchase both and see what you think?  If you haven't already, that is . . . (More details of how to acquire a copy here).   

My initial response to Days of Beer can be found in another post.  In this one, I'll focus on the new material. The setting is laid out clearly: the Gramlich family farm in Arkansas, " a few miles south of the Arkansas River . . . The closest actual town was Charleston, Arkansas," with "a population of around 1,400 when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. The closest city was Fort Smith . . ." (page 63).

Now, in the new section, Charles focuses more on the family and farming milieu than on beer-drinking adventures. He does so in a warm and wry way, loving toward his family, through vignettes -- many of them comical and some more serious. These can be read both as stand-alone pieces, and as part of the larger tapestry. A reader unfamiliar with family farming will learn things about the kind of work it entails, and indeed, this thread also serves as a valuable reminder that many or most people on earth, until the Industrial Revolution, were farmers, probably working in somewhat similar ways. But there is also a time element at work here. 

The Adventures of an Arkansawyer, beyond the farming element, says much about American life in general during the period after the Second World War and before the complete communications revolution brought on by the internet, digitization and wireless mobile devices by the beginning of the 21st century. In that, it is a testimony to American social and limited technological life from the 1960s to the 1980s -- and not just in rural areas far away from the sea coasts. 

We also catch glimpses of why and how Charles became a writer. A big element in his development came through his avid reading, which was given a lot of extra fuel thanks to his sister Dolores, once she began working at a nearby library and could provide him access to an expanding trove of reading material. 

Charles, even as a child, had a vivid imagination and colorful (even visionary) dream life. There are probably several factors that worked together to propel this inner life. 
Closeup of stained glass, St. Mary's of the Valley, Hot Springs, Arkansas, by EDF, 2015
For one thing, outside of school, Charles was isolated from others around his age. He couldn't just bop down a sidewalk or street to hang out with a friend or friends his age, as in a cityscape or suburb. 

Secondly, the Gramlich family was Catholic and Charles was given a Catholic education. "My Catholic grade school," he writes, "had a small library of maybe a hundred and fifty volumes, mostly about saints. I read all of those" (page 179). I guarantee you that this process alone would have fueled Charles' imagination. Beyond that, in 1960, only two percent of the population of Arkansas was Catholic (even though Catholicism in Arkansas dates back to 1541), so the Gramlich family was distinctive in their religious culture. 

Third, Charles has anosmia (see page 74), and cannot detect or discern scents or odors. This is one of the five or six senses, right? Charles anosmia has led him to clever strategies of getting around this, which reminds me a lot of the wisdom of Huck Finn. Do you remember when Huck forgets his made-up name, George Jackson, and tricks Buck into spelling it out for him? (cf. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884-1885, chapter 17). Charles may be the very (re)incarnation of Huck Finn -- who knows?

And really, truly finally for now, a salute to Charles Gramlich for his fine, fun and evocative memoir, The Adventures of an Arkansawyer.

p.s. Charles is now an Experimental Social Psychology Professor at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. How he got there is touched upon toward the end of the book. As you can imagine, that's an interesting story in its own right. 

Today's Rune: Fertility. 


t said...

because memoirs are really cool and important.

the walking man said...

Though I haven't read either memoir, I have tasted Gramlich's sci-fi, poetry and his westerns, which were my personal favorites. Charles is fastidious but never boring in his writing, which prolific is not near enough of an adjective for his body of work both related to his profession and his literary pursuits. For a person i have never shook hands with he is one I would most likely find myself in the company of and in that presence for once be tongue tied. Erik you've done him a great review here--maybe I should spend some of my hoard on this one. Amazon right?

Charles Gramlich said...

wow, thanks, man. Glad you enjoyed and thank you for giving it such an in depth review.

Thanks to Mark for the kind words as well. :)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Sounds like a fascinating life! It's always compelling to consider the combination of experiences and circumstances that go into making a person who they are.

jodi said...

Erik-what a wonderful review. I had originally pictured these stories as more stories for a male audience. Now, you've changed my mind. Charles rocks and so do you!