Hot Damn! : Alligators in the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History, and
James W. Hall is the critically acclaimed author of eleven crime novels, including Body Language and Blackwater Sound. He's also published four books of poetry. And several of his short stories have appeared in magazines like the Georgia Review and Kenyon Review. Now, writing in the spirit of Dave Barry and Garrison Keillor, Hall wins a new kind of reader with this collection of essays that run from insightful to opinionated, funny to wise. Hall ponders subjects as diverse as his own love affair with Florida which began on a trip after college from which he never returned, to his equally passionate romance with books. He ponders the nature of summer heat, the writing of Hemingway and James Dickey, television, teaching, politics, fatherhood and much more. In the vibrant and elegant prose which characterize his fiction and poetry, Hall now proves himself a master of the essay as well.
He's probably not the spokesperson the South Florida tourism council had in mind, but his new collection of 40 brisk, witty essays proves that poet and crime novelist James W. Hall (Blackwater Sound) is one of the region's biggest and most thoughtful boosters. Hot Damn!: Alligators in the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History, and Other Dispatches from Paradise includes pieces on television, heat waves, hurricanes and, of course, the writing life, all set against the backdrop of his beloved adopted state. Hall confesses a deep-seated envy of Florida natives; traces the epidemiology of suburban sprawl in "Disney Virus"; and recounts his wife's violent carjacking. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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St. Martin's Press
June 15, 2003
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Excerpt from Hot Damn! by James Hall
Essays are about as sexy as donkeys. They slog along in the muck and mire, saddled with the tedious burdens that the finer animals in the stable would never be asked to carry. Who would write an essay to win the heart of another, or use the form to cry out in the hour of deepest grief? Poems are for that, lean muscled thoroughbreds racing with their minuscule load to some lyrical finish line. At least this was my belief for most of my adult life.
I suppose college composition classes are partly to blame for turning us against the essay form. Compare and contrast, analysis, argument. Four years of that and most sane humans would avoid essays for the rest of their natural lives. Who in their right mind would ever voluntarily sit down and write one of the things?
Not so with the other literary forms.
It is not unusual for a poet to write hundreds upon hundreds of poems that are never seen beyond the poet's family yet still keep writing. Successful novelists frequently write four or five failed novels before their first one is published, and there are some writers who are this day slaving away on their twentieth novel still without even a faintly positive rejection letter. No one is paying them to do it, no one is chumming the waters of their ego. They simply feel compelled. They feel a need, a drive, a desperate joy, and they forge on despite the rejection, despite the great odds against them. They write because the writing of a novel is the utmost challenge they know, an Everest that by golly they are determined to get to the top of, if for no other reason than simply to see the view from a structure four hundred pages high.
Do essay writers feel such rapture? Are they driven by an equal need? Or is it such a left brain activity, such a chore to create a logical and rigorously coherent construct, that no such bliss is biologically possible? For most of my life I religiously avoided the form. So when a young newspaper editor by the name of Dave Wieczorek called one day and offered me a job writing a monthly personal essay for their Sunday magazine, my first reaction was a derisive snort. He said I could write about anything I wanted. It should have a Florida orientation, but otherwise I was free to roam. And even the Florida thing wasn't chiseled in marble. Would I at least think about it? There was a nice chunk of change involved.