Balancing Man and Nature at Cumberland Island






Historic American Buildings Survey Philip E. Gardner, Photographer April 1958 COPY OF ARCHITECT'S WATER COLOR OF SOUTHWEST ELEVATION c. 1880 Dungeness, Cumberland Island, Saint Mary's, Camden County, GA  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

We each bring our own baggage to every book.  

This biblio-mantra is packed and ready to go this week for our discussion of Charles Seabrook's Cumberland Island, Strong Women, Wild Horses. The non-fiction narrative ferries readers to a small island just north of Jacksonville. Although a tiny piece of our nation's eastern seashore, Cumberland Island's history as explained by Seabrook stands as a metaphor for the larger environmental conundrum of finding a harmonious balance with man and nature. Spoiler alert: rarely does this alchemy ever succeed. 

In Strong Women, We shall hobnob with the Carnegies and glance over the Tumucuan. We shall stroll Live Oak-lined natural trails and shoot, sometimes kill, intruders. Lindbergh, Lee, Hamilton and Burr, Kennedys, Kingsley and Coca-Cola all cross roads on this 18-square mile swath, barrier island, playground of the rich, resting place of the indigenous dead. 

The book details the mourning of mansions and equine mauling of native Spartina alterniflora. Alcoholism, cronyism, slavery, electric cars  and environmentalism fuel the island's history. Riding loggerheads, planting invasive Tung, dreaming in titanium and Sea Island lux leisure fill the pages as Seabrook unpacks and exhibits the dilemmas of preservation, conservation, inheritance and rights of some selected humans and horsey habitation. 

Perhaps you've visited this National Park. Maybe you've overnighted at the Greyfield Inn or own jewelry fashioned from raccoon vertebrae. Do you enjoy Dr. Pepper or drive a Prius, detest tree huggers, love Hilton Head, sleep on cotton sheets or have heard of Standard Oil? If so, than you, too, are connected to the conundrum of Cumberland.  

Grab your biblio-backpack, Vuitton valise, rough-rider rucksack, book bag or just bring your brain, whatever your baggage, I look forward to discussing Cumberland Island, Strong Women, Wild Horses in the weeks ahead. 


In Author We Trust


When we read a biography, a memoir or autobiography, our instinct is to deposit a certain amount of trust to the story that unfolds, page after page.

This genre is backed by indexes, bibliographies, epilogues and footnotes. Photos have cut lines. Maps and figures are labeled. Attribution is usually a big co-signer. The graphic novel genre layered atop an autobiography lends toward ambiguity.

Drawing from  Persepolis  at

Drawing from Persepolis at


This month, I facilitated several great discussions of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Our groups discussed the evolution of the graphic novel genre. We explored Iran’s history and complicated political revolution. Women’s rights, sequential storytelling, class, geography. All these wonderful topics were surveyed and digested.

Luckily, our book discussions do not end when we leave the table. That is where the true mojo of our discussions begin. Over the past ten years, I consistently receive emails, messages and links and phone calls-remember this has been going on for ten years, aka Ancient Time- from those who attended who have researched further, looked wider and delved deeper into our books.

Hence fair warning about our time spent

The veracity of Persepolis was discussed with each book group.


It appears autobiographical…ish. According to the documentary about the making of the film based on the books, Satrapi comments that all non-fiction incorporates fiction for the purpose of good storytelling.

Sign me up for Ambiguity 101.

Sam, from our Wednesday evening group, noted the definition of our author’s last name Satrapi. Satrap means a provincial governor in the ancient Persian empire. Hmmm…digging a bit more, he also provided this link that exposes, libels, reveals, explains (you pick the verb, depending on your baggage) Satrapi’s identity and it's investigation of a politicking machine that allowed for the creation of our award-winning, high-school-required-reading-list Persepolis.

Irene Nemirovsky. Patricia Highsmith. T.S. Eliot.

Is it possible to love the book and distain the author? Is it literarily alright to deceive the reader, if the reader exits the book left satisfied with the experience? As a book discussion facilitator, as someone who discusses literature on air, with the listening public, is it okay to promote a potential puppet of deadly politics or a bigot or a big fat liar?

I’ve said it before; we all bring our own baggage to each book. Critics of Persepolis have their baggage. In awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel folks certainly have their own, too. We can never know the true identity of an author. It is not possible to ever feel confident in the veracity of their words.

When reading, we have the option to either deposit our trust with guarded fair warning or reckless enjoyment. The beauty is paginated in the never-ending experience to enjoy and discuss the power of the written word.

Listen to the discussion that aired  Tuesday, 9:30, Nov. 9 on NPR WJCT 89.9 FM’s First Coast Connect Book Club.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @ChapterEndnotes.