Saturday, January 05, 2008

Holding On

Finished a very good book today called Holding On : Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics and Other American Heroes by David Isay and Harvey Wang. Isay travelled around the US for three years (around 1991-93) interviewing these people, and Wang took their photographs.

I only found out about this book because I saw the obituary of Robert Shields in the Sydney Morning Herald. He was a guy who took diary-writing to an extreme, and he is featured here along with many other wonderfully unique individuals.

Miles Mahan is the creator of Hula Ville, a dusty theme park on the edge of the Mojave Desert. His inspiration came from a wooden cutout of a hula girl he salvaged from a Hawaiian restaurant in 1955.

Father Louis H. Greving is continuing the work of Father Paul Dobberstein who began building a Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. The grotto consists of eight caves connected to one another by stone paths and winding stairways. The entire structure has been covered with millions of tiny shards of stone and shell pressed into concrete and arranged into intricate patterns and pictures depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

Dewy Chafin and his mother, Barbara Elkins handle serpents (chiefly rattlesnakes) in their small church in Jolo, West Virginia. Scientists have not figured out how more of these people do not die from their occasional snakebites.

Jim Searles is the President of the Brooklyn Elite Checker Club. All the members are in their seventies and eighties, with minds sharp as tacks from their passion for checkers.

Dugout Dick Zimmerman was a hermit who settled in a remote Idaho cave. People came by and told him they wanted a cave too, so he began excavating other caves, so now he rents caves for two bucks night. "The rooms are surprisingly pleasant, even cosy. Each has a wood-burning stove made from a trash can, and a box-spring mattress. The more deluxe rooms have an old school-bus seat fro a couch, and an empty icebox in which to hang clothes.

Stanley Killar from Klamath Falls, Oregon is a record collector who has collected so many records his house is buckling under the weight.

And that's only a handful. There are 43 more. This book is so wonderful. It's one of those books that is hard to quit reading. Each profile is from two to six pages, so it's very easy to read 'just one more'. And it's the kind of book you will go back to, maybe when your life seems grim and robotic, depressing, or utterly meaningless. Books like these show us that it's never too late to get a life.

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