Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pretty Paper

Title:  Pretty Paper
Author:  Willie Nelson and David Ritz
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  073521154X / 978-0735211544

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a rough Christmas in a rough town."

Favorite Quote:  "So this is my way of saving myself. This is my writing. This is my way of staying sane. This is the story that, by telling it, can't do me any harm. I'm releasing it. I'm sending it up into the sky. I'm putting it out there so it no longer can put me down."

Crowded street, busy feet hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won't pass him by

Should you stop?, better not, much too busy
You're in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter he cries

So go the lyrics of the song Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson. The song tells the story of a vendor selling wrapping paper and pencils on the sidewalk during the holiday season. To attract customer attention, the vendor sings out the words, "Pretty paper."

The song, released in 1963, was based on an actual vendor Willie Nelson saw in Fort Worth, Texas. This book gives this vendor a name - Vernon Clay - and a fictional history. By including himself as a main character, Willie Nelson creates a sense of reality about the book. I want to believe that it's real.

Although marketed as a holiday story, Pretty Paper is really a story about friendship and about second chances. Willie Nelson is a young musician, working hard to support his family and waiting for his big break. He plays local restaurants and bars, basically anywhere to get his music heard. He sees Vernon Clay outside a department store one night. He notices several things about this stranger. Vernon has had his legs amputated. Not many people stop to buy his wares. Most of all, Vernon's sales pitch has a musical quality that impresses and attracts him. Vernon, however, invites no conversation and no inquiry.

Willie, however, is persistent, and over time, learns of Vernon's sad story. What follows naturally is,  of course, Vernon's second chance. This is a tried and true formula for a feel good story. Vernon is a man who has suffered hardship and is down and out on his luck. Helps comes in the form of Willie and other friends. Circumstances align, friends work, and it all evolves into a new beginning.

This particular one is set into the world of honky tonk and provides an interesting look into that music scene. It has its shares of good guys and bad guys and bad guys who turn out to be pretty goods guys when their friendships and their sense of justice is called into question. These characters add a needed humor and levity to this book for Willie has a tough life as a struggling musician and Vernon's story is a sad one.

The book is a quick and easy read. The very casual tone takes a while to get used to, but then the feel good party of the story takes over. The individual words fall away to the message and meaning behind the story. This is not really a moral story; it does not preach and teach you to be a better, more giving person. It is just about what happens when one person reaches out to help another. In a world full of sadness and divisions right now, this message is a powerful and heartwarming one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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