Of Bees and Boys: Lines from a Southern Lawyer
by Allen Mendenhall.
Red Dirt Press, 2017.

Paperback, 76 pages, $12.95.

“Are Lawyers Illiterate?” asks Allen Mendenhall in the title of one of the essays making up this collection of material previously published in various outlets. Regular readers of the University Bookman know that the answer is an emphatic “no,” at least in the case of Mendenhall himself. This young southern lawyer has established himself as a first-rate prose stylist, not least in the many reviews he has contributed to this publication over the years.

The topics of the nine essays in this collection range from reminiscences of warring against bees as a child and the battling of cancer in young adulthood to interpretations of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the implications of the “digital footprint” for scholarly research. Most are autobiographical, but they never descend into navel-gazing; pieces that begin in a lighthearted, innocent manner end as sober reflections on the nature of manhood or what it means to come to grips with one’s own mortality.

Bookman readers will especially appreciate the final essay, “To Educate in the Permanent Things,” which effectively channels the spirit of Russell Kirk and urges us not to put our hopes for educational reform in top-down programs originating in Washington, D.C. Rather, each one of us in our respective roles—“a homeschooling parent, a public school teacher, the leader of a local book club, or simply a curious-minded autodidact”—can take up the great texts and explore the permanent things ourselves and with those in our circle of influence.

William Bernhardt of “Ben Kincaid” fame contributed the foreword to this volume, and I can think of no better words than his by way of recommendation: “This is a book for everyone who likes to think, who wants to contemplate the great questions of life, and most happily, for people who like to read.”  

Jason Jewell is a professor of humanities at Faulkner University. He blogs at the Western Tradition.