Monday, September 3, 2012

Not far from Dryden: A Collection of Columns by Charlena Chandler

In the heat of national elections, we seem divided into the right/the wrong, the good/the bad, the Republicans/the Democrats. But in reality, our political dispositions are such a tiny part of who we are, and we all have some undeniable things in common.

This issue came to mind as I put fingers to keys in my review of Charlena Chandler’s book Not far from Dryden: A Collection of Columns. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of columns written by Chandler (pictured) for the Odessa American, a newspaper that serves a vast area of West Texas with an unflinching grip on rugged individualism, anti-government, unpretentiousness, God and Country.

Poking a little fun at religion and other sacrosanct values, Chandler, not unlike Mark Twain or Will Rogers, performs a risky and entertaining ballet. But it is the topics to which we can all relate that I found especially endearing in Not far from Dryden – childhood memories, pride, fortitude, dogs, relatives, etc.  Although the author memorializes a lot about her country upbringing, you don’t have to have a history of ranching, horses, skunks or cabrito to relate to and appreciate writing like this:

The Pecos may not be much of a river, as rivers go, but it’s my river.
Sometimes I like to sit on its banks and remember things. I remember when it was cleaner and wider and deeper, but perhaps those are a child’s thoughts and I only pretend.
I remember swimming in clear pools beneath jagged bluffs, remnants of other geologic ages and massive floods eons ago.
I remember accompanying my father as he ran his trotlines and pulled wiggling catfish from the dark water and I thought childhood would never end.
I remember the river in cold winter dawn’s half light with a long ribbon of fog stretched over its flow, sparkling in the light of the rising sun.
I remember lying on a cot under the welcome branches of a sycamore shade tree during eternal summer afternoons, oblivious to the irony of reading “West of the Pecos” while the real thing lay just a little further than a good stones throw away.
I remember the smell of the river, the taste of the river, the feel of the river.

In fact, the scope of topics in the book reflect Chandler’s diverse history - working with the CIA, living in Peru, meeting James Dean during the filming of “Giant,” making Frito pies in a high school football concession stand. If you like writers whose words bring to life pleasurable memories long forgotten, or if you just love to read, you will enjoy Not far from Dryden: A Collection of Columns

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