Sunday, March 20, 2005

Review: "New Seasons" by Wiley Hilburn

I grew up reading Wiley Hilburn's columns. They were a big part of what made me want to go into the newspaper business. (Little did I know then that if you're lucky enough to be able to write a column like Wiley's, it's only a very small part of the job.)

Even after I began studying the business, his columns still inspired me. As I was dealing with the "just the facts" lessons that were stifling to a college student with big dreams of being a novelist, Wiley showed me that you could be creative and have fun in the journalism business. That's why I eagerly dug into "New Seasons" ($24.95, Jack Dog Press), Hilburn's latest collection of columns from over the years.

The book features columns from January 1989 through 2004 and covers a wide variety of topics from local folks to childhood stories to history and politics.

While he's right at home writing about history and politics, it's the stories of life that stick with me. I remember a column he wrote only a few years ago about sneaking down to a pond when he was a child to go fishing. It really struck a chord with me because my brother and I did that very same thing so often - and well after we were old enough to know better. Unfortunately for me, that one didn't make the cut for this book, but a similar and just as engaging story about rediscovering Corney Creek from 2003 did.

That's the appeal of Wiley's work for me. Even though he and I grew up generations apart, we had a lot of the same experiences on the backroads of northeastern Louisiana, and I bet a lot of other people can relate as well. He tells stories about life, about places we've all been. While I've never been locked out of my vehicle by my dog, as Wiley relates in "Car-Jacked," I've certainly been in situations just as strange and embarrassing.

In the 205 pages and 70-plus columns, you'll meet people that you didn't know lived next door and you'll travel to places that you didn't know existed in northeastern Louisiana. You'll find funny tales, tragic tales and heartwarming tales, all told with a down-home candor that makes you feel like you're sitting across the table from him at the Huddle House.

The book takes you from a rollicking misadventure of childhood in "The Great Cap-Gun War" to a somber, yet fitting end as he remembers a long-ago fishing trip with his father, Wiley Hilburn Sr., following his death in 2003.

I have to admit that one of the most daunting things when I came to work as a copy editor in the Accent department at The News-Star in 1999 was the fact that I'd be editing Wiley's column. I'd have to edit a man that I'd read for a good portion of my life, a man that taught me at Louisiana Tech. Even in that, I learned something from Wiley - that no one is perfect, and even the teachers make the occasional mistake. (Though, if he asks, you didn't hear that from me.)

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