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The Best of Pickering

Sam Pickering

Publication Year: 2009

Praise for Sam Pickering: "Pickering has all of Thurber's humor, and he writes as well as E. B. White. He writes with passion, wit, and a strange personal note of self-mockery; he is humanely educated, wise, and capable of a wide range of stylistic effects." ----Jay Parini ". . . he writes in the tradition of Montaigne hammering together a ramshackle affair of surprising nooks, crannies and additions-all under the same roof." ---The Oxford American "Pickering has the natural essayist's intimate yet distanced take on the world that combines a devotion to particulars . . . with a near-indifference to the status- and achievement-mongering that marks modern life." ---Publishers Weekly "Pickering writes with the sensitivity and craft of a poet, finding meaning in the commonplace and ordinary." ---Library Journal "Pickering's genre is unique, but I'm not sure anyone else can write this stuff. I can live with that, as long as Pickering himself continues to wend through the forests, classrooms, airports, billiards championships, hometown parades, and his inner world of Tennessee gags and characters." ---Hartford Courant His writing is as unique and recognizable as the music of Mozart, the painting of Picasso, or the poetry of Dickinson. Yet most Americans likely know Sam Pickering, the University of Connecticut English professor, from the movie Dead Poets Society. In the film, Robin Williams plays an idiosyncratic instructor---based on Pickering---who employs some over-the-top teaching methods to keep his subjects fresh and his students learning. Fewer probably know that Pickering is the author of more than 16 books and nearly 200 articles, or that he's inspired thousands of university students to think in new ways. And, while Williams may have captured Pickering's madcap classroom antics, he didn't uncover the other side of the author-Sam Pickering as one of our great American men of letters. The Best of Pickering amply demonstrates Pickering's amazing powers of perception, and gives us insight into the mind of a writer nearly obsessed with turning his back on the conventional trappings of American success-a writer who seems to prefer lying squirrel's-eye-level next to a bed of daffodils in the spring or trespassing on someone else's property to pursue a jaunt through joe-pye weed and goldenrod. Indeed, Pickering's philosophy, at least on paper, may very well be "Now is the only time." If you haven't met Sam Pickering before, prepare to be surprised and delighted by these wry and sometimes self-deprecating essays that are witty and elegant and concrete yet wander widely, and include Pickering's well-trod fictional Southern town of Carthage, Tennessee, full of strange goings-on. This definitive collection of the best of Pickering is a must for Pickering fans and a fine introduction for the uninitiated to one of our greatest men of letters.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

Sam Pickering counts among the handful of contemporary writers who practice, with aplomb, the art of the essay. This genre is, in many ways, our most native accomplishment, and Pickering’s work stands firmly in the line of essayists from Thoreau and Emerson through Mark Twain, E. B. White, Robert Benchley, ...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-10

When Edward, my younger son, was in high school, dinners were silent. One cold night his junior year, he said a single word, “Grapefruit,” this in response to the six-word question, “What do you want for dessert?” After Edward left the table, Vicki and I subjected his silence to paragraphs steamy with crisp verbs and tart nouns. ...

Part One: Dead Poets Stuff

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pp. 13-26

Twenty years ago my father attended the Swan Ball, a dance held to benefit Cheekwood, a center for the arts in Nashville, Tennessee. Arriving shortly before Father, a newspaper reporter and an accompanying photographer settled into place at the foot of the long spiral staircase near the entrance to Cheekwood. ...

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pp. 27-38

“Neil,” i said, shivering under a pile of blankets, “I have been bitten by the flu, not the political bug.” “Sam, all I know is what I read,” he answered. “The Hartford Courant says that among ‘those now being mentioned’ as Republican candidates in the Second Congressional District is ‘University of Connecticut Professor Samuel F. Pickering, Jr., of Storrs, ...

Part Two: Messing About

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Messing About

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pp. 41-50

At the beginning of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Water Rat said to his friend Mole, “there is nothing— absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Instead of sculling through experience in hopes of exploring new psychological lands, the animals played. ...

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Near Spring

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pp. 51-63

On the first day of March I walked through the woods in the back yard and turning south followed the cut for the telephone wires down to the small marsh next to the high school baseball field. Cattails and bulrushes grew along the third base line, and behind home plate I found horse-balm, water horehound, ...

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Getting It

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pp. 64

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pp. 75-93

When Hornus Roebuck’s chimney began to smoulder, he didn’t telephone the fire department. Instead he ran out the back door, leaped over the fence, crossed Grace’s pasture, and burst into Noonday, Mother Noon’s store on Straddle Street. Mother Noon was Beaver River’s conjure woman, ...

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pp. 94-108

A heavy gate blocked the dirt road. Made from pipes painted white and banded with red warning stripes, the gate hung on two iron bars. Bolted to the middle of the gate was a white metal sign stamped with black letters.STATE PROPERTY, it read, NO TRESPASSING. ...

Part Three: School Matters

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Pedagogica Deserta

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pp. 111-129

“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Pikring pleas don’t get out to day after 5 in the evening.” My wife and I found this note on our door one day in March after we returned from the market. Again rumor predicted trouble in Latakia and we had been warned. We stayed in our apartment that night. This, though, was nothing new; ...

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At Cambridge

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pp. 130-150

“We take Americans for many reasons. Either they are scholars, which you are not,” Tom Henn began after I had been in Cambridge four weeks. Tom was right. I had not come to Britain to study. I had been a student at Sewanee, so disciplined that classmates called me “Machine” ...

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Occupational Hazard

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pp. 151-153

Like the indiscretions of youth, some ailments are too boring to be bandied about in medical journals. While a thousand scalpels would leap from operating rooms to preserve the honor of cholera morbus, hardly a lancet would be raised in defense of tennis elbow or housewife’s knee. ...

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From My Side of the Desk

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pp. 154-168

Not many children studied Latin at the Male and Female Select School in Smith County. To get enough students for the first-year class Quintus Tyler visited Sunday schools around Carthage. Some of Jesus’ best friends, Quintus told Sunday scholars, knew Latin well. ...

Part Four: Bookish Matters

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Book Tour

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pp. 171

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Road Warrior

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pp. 181-202

At 6:30 I dropped Edward at the Dorrs’ driveway so he could ride to Loomis-Chaffee with his friend Geoff. The Gurleyville Road curved around Valentine Meadow like a hard rib. In the meadow mist pillowed fatty, near the lip blowing in straps. Along Route 44 fog whitened hollows, forcing me to drive slowly. ...

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Split Infinitive

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pp. 203-207

“Pr. Pickering,” the reporter from the Hartford Courant began, “the new edition of the Oxford American Desk Dictionary accepts the split infinitive. What’s your reaction?” When the reporter telephoned, I was pushing my foot down the left leg of a battered pair of trousers. ...

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Selecting a Past

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pp. 208-222

My right arm has become weak, and recently I have spent many hours in Boston undergoing tests at Massachusetts General Hospital. As I sat in waiting rooms, the names of diseases spinning through my mind, I realized that I had little control over my future. ...

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Composing a Life

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pp. 223-229

Last month I received a letter that began, “Are you the Samuel Pickering that went to Sewanee twenty years ago?” I did not know how to answer the letter. A boy with my name once attended college at Sewanee, and although I knew him fairly well and think I liked him, that boy had long since disappeared. ...

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Picked Up

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pp. 230-244

Pod Malone was the worst stutterer in Smith County, Tennessee. One evening after a meeting of the Knights of Pythias, Dr. Sollows, who had just read about a new treatment for stutterers at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, met Pod outside Read’s drugstore. “Pod,” he said, “have you ever attended a clinic for stutterers?” ...

Part Five: Familial Essays

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Faith of the Father

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pp. 247-257

On weekdays Vickery’s Store was the center of life in the little Virginia town in which I spent summers and then Christmas and occasionally Easter vacations. The post office was in a corner of the store, and the train station was across the road. In the morning men gathered on Vickery’s porch and drank coffee while they waited for the train to Richmond. ...

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Son and Father

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pp. 258

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Still Life

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pp. 275-286

A still life has always hung over the sideboard in my parents’ dining room. When I was small the painting frightened me, and I wouldn’t look at it. The varnish over the oils had aged and turning dark hid the fruits in a pall of shadows. Like creatures from a troubling, half-remembered dream, ...

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pp. 287-297

“John,” the letter from the Dean began, “if you are going to jog during the day, two pm., 3/8/86, don’t do it where you will be seen (Route 195). It presents a very negative view of university to the public.” My friend John is a neat, orderly man. Although his running shirts usually have something like “Tony’s Pizza” ...

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pp. 298

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After the Daffodils

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pp. 313-325

Not long after Samp Griggs moved to Carthage and opened an accountant’s office beside Read’s drugstore, he got a sty on his eye and went to Dr. Sollows. “Now Sollows,” he said after the sty had been lanced, “what sort of people live in this burg?” “You’ve just come here from Lebanon,” Dr. Sollows answered. ...

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The Traveled World

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pp. 326-338

The last Saturday in may Francis drove me to Hanover, New Hampshire, and we looked at Dartmouth College. Thirty years ago I taught at Dartmouth. Not much had changed. In the middle of the green, men and women in Bermuda shorts practiced fly-fishing. Students were blond, and if not six feet two or three inches tall, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024346
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113781

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2009

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