REVIEW - ASHLEY HOLT, A BLACKBELT IN QUITTING The Non-Virtue of Positive Inaction
Updated: May 16
Ashley Holt, mild mannered ex-librarian of a great metropolitan university, is fighting a never ending battle to explain himself and his heroically un-committed, transitional generation to everybody, while deconstructing pop culture with surgical wit. He sent me an anthology his most recent ruminations, a neat, slender copy of “A black belt in quitting”
The center of Ashley Holt’s world, as Ashley will squander no shame in telling you, is Ashley Holt. But unlike many folks who stand forever at the crossroads of their own existence, Ashley is never an arrogant, one dimensional bore. Ashley is usually the butt of his own considerable wit and he talks directly to you about things that are pretty relatable. The sudden awareness of being stupid, the nazification of your pre-teen idol, the painful search for a thing to call your generation and the cruel sartorial demands of dressing the part, deconstructing Al Hurt, putting up with getting your ass kicked, the non-virtue of taking positive inaction, and a child’s dark impulse to run the 100 yard dash with an open pair of scissors. “Why would I want to run with scissors? Am I really going to be in that big of a hurry to get back to my construction paper Easter Bunny college? Notice how I didn’t bother to run with the glue?”
Like Ashley, I’ve been to all of those places. Ashley is a hell of a good guy to go back with.
Like Ashley, I’m a sometime professor of higher ed. I’m compelled, indeed paid, to slug it out with some of the worst writing ever inflicted upon a more or less innocent human being. My students hand me writing that is so bluntly awful it’s almost amusing as it is painful. The job of being loathsome, self-righteous, black-hooded inquisitors of linguistic torture I leave to my fellow academicians. Reading their top-lofty gibberish is like walking hip-deep in sucking mud. A very brief example goes like this - “This intellectual and social movement and loosely organized paradigm or framework of jurisprudence and legal analysis, is constructed over a premise that poly-cultural ethnicity is not a biologically disposed inventory.”
Death is mercy.
The first thing that impressed me about Ashley’s jazzy, pocket-sized rants is that reading them demanded no effort. If writing has ten Commandments the first item is this. “If a thing can be read with little effort, it was written with great effort. A thing written without effort is read without pleasure” - Poncela
Ashley Holt is read with great pleasure. No small part of that is his forward momentum. He vaults nimbly from one idea to the next without stopping to check the Thomas guide. Ashley’s writing moves. If a thing don’t move, it’s dead and Ashly knows it. Ashley doesn’t stop to watch the sea gulls or count the stars, (though an exception is made for an exploding Volvo next to the highway). There is a breathless, compressed, comic rhythm in Ashley’s language. He tells you as much as he can fast as he can, and yet by some alchemy, he still comes off as relaxed and convivial.
I bet it has something to do with being raised a southerner.
Ashley is pithy. He gets in, makes his points and the deed is done. I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I’m one of those grumpy, wet cigar chewing editors who thinks a stop sign could stand a few cuts.
Ashley has much to say, but he ticks it off with brisk efficiency. He loves to make a listed inventory of the things that defined his life or his situation at any given moment, with a Machiavellian twist here and there-
“It should come as no surprise that I’m a bundle of nerves, I was raised by a bundle of nerves. Life, according to my father, consisted entirely of electrocution, puncture wounds, rattle snake bites, and vehicular homicide. He saw his children’s activities as nothing but preludes to hospitalization. He saw the world as nothing but a mass of rusty nails and combustible liquids, and his offspring as a gaggle of hyperactive mental defectives who would swallow fish hooks… .”
Ashley is also in full possession of two things the immortal gods either grant or ruthlessly deny a writer, a unique literary voice, and that ironic, unexplainable turn of mind that makes it funny.
The fine art of being funny in ice cold print is gift given to few. You can’t make goofy faces or do cartoon voices or take a pratfall on a banana peel with words. You have to transcend the straight-jacketed abstraction of the printed page with something that died the day text messaging was born, an athletic, functioning vocabulary and a knack for literary orchestration. Ashley knows his words, and how to arrange them so they slide down easy, go fast, and give his bon mots some punch. The art of the witty simile is the pointiest weapon in Ashley’s verbal arsenal, and nuggets such as “like eating pudding with chopsticks and dislocated thumbs” are alone worth the modest asking price of his book.
For Ashley, like myself, no rant is considered decent without a snappy complementary graphic. Any thesis without one is like running down the street with no pants on. Ashley’s graphics are much like his writing. Pithy, witty, ruthlessly edited and far more sophisticated than they let on.
Buy it here, least poor little Ashley, with large beseeching eyes rolled to heaven, go to bed with out supper... Again.