May 7 2012

Thanks to John Sledge of the Press-Register for this nice book review published in the Mobile newspaper. Mr. Sledge always does a great job. In my case I think he really “got it” concerning what I had written and why.

MOBILE, Alabama — A rich medley of local voices contributes to and enlivens the local literary scene. Two of the more recognizable and accomplished of these individuals have just released short books sharing the best of their experience and wisdom. Kevin B. Lee and Jim Lee (no relation) each has his following, Kevin Lee through his regular contributions to Lagniappe and the online blog Mod Mobilian and Jim Lee through his meditations in the Eastern Shore glossy magazine This That and the Other. Both men are evangelists — Kevin Lee for jazz, the arts, Mobile and, more broadly, tolerance; and Jim Lee in the more traditional sense, as a preacher wrestling life’s profundities and relaying the lessons. Both men write well, with honesty, and from the heart, sharing their humanity, shortcomings, strengths and passions. Though their sensibilities are different, each of them deserves attending.

In “Broken Roads to Grace” (Lost Key Publishing, paper, $14.95) Jim Lee presents a series of inward-looking meditations. A self-described “formerly fundamentalist preacher who spent most of his ‘ministry’ thinking that he had to get it right and to be right and to live right,” he has come to a softer view of himself and his flaws. In his friendly, simple, short pieces, he writes of “being found by grace” and offers “reflections and insights on life as I have come to understand it now.”

Recognizing that the best lessons are bound up in stories, Lee embeds his insights into pithy little set pieces that are by turns funny, heartbreaking and deep. He’s not worried about looking silly, as when he shares his outrage over a well-dressed woman landing a 40-pound grouper on her first cast in contrast to his own futile efforts to reel in anything over three pounds. “From the moment I saw that grouper I began to develop what some people call a ‘slow burn.’” Eventually consumed by jealousy, he asks God why, and then it dawns on him. He imagines God laughing at him and saying: “It’s my ocean, son, and they are my fish. I can do what I want with them, and you’ll just have to deal with it.” As in the story of the prodigal son, grace befalls the “undeserving, the unqualified, the unrighteous” all the time. But, then, who are we to judge? And fortunately for humanity, grace is a gift, not a reward for hard work. That miracle is Lee’s theme throughout.

Two voices, two sensibilities, two approaches, two books. One about the arts, one about the soul but, ultimately, each seeking a better life in this special place we call home.

Posted in Uncategorized