Nonfiction on the Classic Maya and Southern Women Who Sin | Xpress Reviews

Week ending May 16, 2014

Houston, Stephen. The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence. Yale Univ. 2014. 195p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300196023. $50. FINE ARTS
Houston (Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology and archaeology, Brown Univ.; 2008 MacArthur Fellow) draws upon his broad research in art, linguistics, scripts, and ethnographic accounts to present a theory of the classic Maya (250–850 CE) and their belief system. Houston is prolific in his publication (including The Classic Maya, with Takeshi Inomata, 2009). His subject in this small but amply illustrated volume is how the qualities of energy, change, and permanence are embodied in matter. In the Mayan worldview, humans can corral the energy of spirit and substance and make it permanent through art. Through their art, the classic Maya counteracted the decay of all living things—the best art transforms mere material with vitality and enduring life force. Houston’s meticulous exposition is convincing and erudite, characteristics one expects from an individual with his academic qualifications. His arguments here are thoroughly substantiated by extensive notes.
Verdict Houston’s prose is academic but clear and precise. The monograph will be of greatest interest to scholars of Mesoamerican culture.—Nancy B. Turner, Temple Univ. Lib., Philadelphia

Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly. In Fact. 2014. 254p. ed. by Lee Gutkind & Beth Ann Fennelly. ISBN 9781937163105. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781937163112. ESSAYS
southernsin051614This collection of essays by Southern women, edited by Gutkind (editor & founder, Creative Nonfiction magazine) and Fennelly (director, MFA program, Univ. of Mississippi), are funny and touching, sad and sexy. The candid confessions from women from all walks of life discuss how they dealt with major life events. One memorable story recounts a woman’s difficult divorce and how she decided to rent out a room in her house to an adulterous older couple. Another is the tale of a man whose manic episode culminates in a wild three-week affair involving tattoos, drugs, and public sex. While there is much emphasis on the sultriness of the South and the torrid behavior of the storytellers looking for love in a warm climate, the gist is that many of these women are lonely, tired, looking for adventure, and seeking experiences to make them feel whole again. Some are successful, some learn new things about themselves, and others simply end up back where they started. If you’ve ever felt bad, this collection is here to remind you that you are not alone.
Verdict Fans of memoir and essays about people who can’t resist giving in to bad behavior will relish this collection.—Caitlin Kenney, Niagara Falls P.L, NY