Wednesday, February 22, 2012

501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine

501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine is a slender book of essays by a fellow who drifted from job to job across the United States and into Mexico, occasionally sinking into addiction while spending his off-work hours writing up a storm and trying to find his place in the world. The title is a just a tiny bit misleading; it's not a book about seeking Christ, although he has his spiritual moments. "501 Minutes to Christ" is the title of one of the essays and it has to do with a sign the author saw someone holding.

It's been quite a while since I finished 501 Minutes to Christ. I was extremely impressed with Poe Ballantine's writing but I've forgotten enough that I think it would be best to share a few quotations and note why I marked them.

I estimated a mile to Royal Street when the clouds just let go. It was that famous green New Orleans rain, like someone turning a lake upside down on your head. I dashed across the street and took cover in the doorway of a shoe-repair shop. The rain came with a vengeance, dark Gulf rain with shots of silver in it. The gutters swelled. The street shone like a river stippled by sweeping drifts of falling water.

~p. 26, from "World of Trouble" in 501 Minutes to Christ -- My note: I marked this passage because I can relate. I call that kind of rain, "God kicked over the bucket rain" and I haven't experienced it anywhere else but the Deep South. We have the most soaking, drenching, deeply uncomfortable rain, down here. The author had found himself stranded in New Orleans with no money; and, his experience when he reached the upscale restaurant he'd been invited to by a fellow who had a soft spot for the homeless is at once horrifying, sadly entertaining and thought-provoking.

She drove a Chrysler Cordoba the color of a Martian dust storm.

~p. 44 from "My Pink Tombstone" - My note: This sentence stopped me in my tracks. It's such a great description of color! It was in Poe Ballantine's descriptive power that I felt myself dying for more. When I'm off my book-buying ban, I'll look up more by Ballantine.

I walked down the main stretch, which went about sixteen or seventeen blocks. Too spread out. Not a good place to live without a car. The usual fast-food-and-RadioShack facade, plastic armature concealing the real town in a psychological experiment to see how long it takes before people start killing each other. The only thing that set it apart from any other place in America was a ranching supply company called BAR-F, except instead of a hyphen there was a tiny diamond between the R and the F. How much thought had gone into this name I couldn't guess. Also, I finally saw the famous Hale-Bopp comet, streaking across the firmament dragging the souls of the tool worshipers behind it.

~p. 78, from "Conspiracy and Apocalypse at the McDonald's in Goodland, Kansas" - My note: If that doesn't make you want to read more Poe Ballantine, I can't think what will. I want to go back and read the essay to remind myself what it's all about.

I can't count the number of times I have officially assembled the equipment to take my life: a knife, a handgun, a plastic bag, a bottle of codeine and a fifth of vodka. My motivations are never quite clear: perception of failure, futility, a sense of irremediable isolation, MTV--nothing everyone else hasn't suffered through. Yet I tend to magnify my gloomy outlook into a drive-in picture of the end of the world. I can't seem to remember that despair is a temporary state, a dark storm along the highway; that if I can just stick it out, keep the wipers going and my foot on the gas, I will make it through to the other side.

~p. 87, from "Advice to William Somebody" - My note: This is followed by a very touching conversation and more chatter about times the author felt suicidal. That little bit of dialogue reminded me how much a tiny bit of kindness can impact an anonymous stranger. The entire book of essays made me feel grateful for my life in too many ways to list.

The television leaks its steady treacle of prurience, gross sentiment, concentrated doom, and pathetic idealism until we are vacant and numb, then promises relief and fulfillment through the consumption of three-day erection tablets. An impossibly high standard of living can only translate into an impossibly high level of stress. Factor in the tremendous triumphs of technology, which have given many of us not only a mistaken assumption that life should be easy and pain-free but also an illusion that we are now the captains of our fate--spiritless primate voyagers spinning through a cooling gaseous accident with nothing better to do than nibble on Pringles potato chips and read Self magazine until the nonsensical end--and it is no wonder that we are the most medicated people on earth.

pp. 90-91, "Advice to William Somebody" - My note: Yep.

I arrived at the discipline late, at the age of twenty-nine, in part because I needed material, but mostly because I boarded a train called the Romantic Debauchery in the mistaken assumption that it would somehow get me to my destination quicker than the ones marked Hard Work and Paying Attention. Hundreds of wrong trains and many lost years later, I have learned that, despite the jovial public legends, inebriation and lucid expression are at odds with each other. If I am to write with spiritual integrity, I cannot be a drunken butterfly.

p. 96 from "501 Minutes to Christ" - My note: I've heard similar from a writer friend who found that alcohol and writing did not mix. I just thought this was beautifully put. However, 29 seems young for getting a serious start on one's purpose, to me. I must be getting old.

Highly recommended, but be aware that the author made some very poor choices that took him to seedy places and in and out of addiction. There are some graphic descriptions of sex and drug use. I appreciated the fact that the author (although it took him quite a while) eventually did manage to clean up his life; it's gratifying to read about his success, toward the end.

Many thanks to Andi for the recommendation!!!

I haven't mentioned arrivals, lately. Here's everything I can find that has recently walked in my door:

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez - surprise from Algonquin Books
The Receptionist by Janet Groth (memoir) - surprise from Algonquin Books
The New Republic by Lionel Shriver - from HarperCollins
The Auroras by David St. John - (poetry) from HarperCollins
Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream - from HarperCollins
Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole (memoir) - from HarperCollins
Fairy Tale Interrupted by Rosemarie Terenzio (memoir) - Twitter prize win from Gallery Books
The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene - from Paperback Swap

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Sounds like a good read! Enjoy your new books!

    1. I don't think I managed to capture how awesome Mr. Ballantine's writing is, in spite of all those quotes. 501 Minutes to Christ is great. Thanks!

  2. This does sound rather interesting, and though the title is a bit misleading, I can imagine that this would be a really gritty book that would be hard to put down. Excellent review today. I liked that you shared so many quotes so that I could get a feel for the writing.

    1. It's definitely both gritty and hard to put down. I think one of the things that kept the pages turning was my eagerness to find out if he was ever going to pull himself out of addiction. Since this was not his first book, toward the end there's an essay in which he talks about his success and how he planned to punch John Irving to get attention at some sort of writer/publisher event (fascinating how that turned out), so you do get to read about his post-drifter life and it's very satisfying. I'm glad you liked the quotes! I waited way too long to write about this one, but the more I think about it, the more it comes back to me.

  3. I go the Alvarez and Groth books too. The Groth book looks really interesting!!!

    Life by Candlelight

    1. They both look good to me, but I admit to crossing my fingers when I heard someone else had gotten that Groth book in a mailing from Algonquin and squealing a little when I opened my box! :)


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