Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Bicycle Diaries

Over the holidays, I've been reading like crazy. Yesterday I finished David Byrne's (of Talking Heads) The Bicycle Diaries. I had heard about it through USA Today, which is where I get many ideas about what I should be reading. I guess I assumed too much. I figured that Byrne, who has been using bicycles as his main form of daily transportation since the 80s, would preach about the benefits of biking over driving, and offer insight on all those things you can miss seeing and hearing if you're in an automobile instead of riding in open air. Not so.

Byrne covers cities all over the world and gives interesting facts about each. There is, however, a huge disconnect most of the time between the cities and their info, and how biking fits into this new-found knowledge. Byrne talks about all sorts of things, but they are things that I should think you could know about from visiting a city no matter what form of transportation you used while you were there.

Finally, he stops the jibber-gabber near the end of the book and gets around to talking about his work to make cities more biking-friendly. He's apparently pretty active in this movement in New York City, a place he says is getting better and better for bike riders all the time.

Typically I love reading memoir and especially when the writer covers places he or she has traveled. This time, though, it was a bust.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains

For my birthday in November, my best friend got me a great gift, a book called, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook. Lucky for me, I'll get to use it this week as I head to Asheville with my family to celebrate my parents' 35th wedding anniversary.

Back in September, I visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial House and Carl Sandburg's home, Connemara. There is much more in the way of literary sites still to see in the Asheville area.

Check back at the end of the week for more!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Besides finishing Cleaving today, I’ve also read Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation by Gregory Maguire. Sendak is the author and illustrator of my favorite children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, and the author and illustrator of many more books published in the last 50 or so years.

Maguire, author of Wicked, recently published this book to honor Sendak and his contributions to children’s literature in the past several decades. (Side note: Did anyone else try to read Wicked and have to put it down? I almost never do that, but I just couldn’t make it through. Should I give Wicked another try?). Maguire’s book comes out of a lecture he gave to the American Library Association to honor Sendak. I have always loved Where the Wild Things Are, but this book helped me see all the other books Sendak has worked on too.

To learn more about Sendak, check out:

Caldecott and Company by Maurice Sendak (essays)
The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma Lane
The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to Present by Tony Kushner
Angels and Wild Things by John Cech
Article from the New York Times
Article on PBS’s web site

And just for fun, here is a picture of my Where the Wild Things Are Christmas ornament, on one of my trees at home.



Happy holidays!

Cleaving

Marriage isn’t easy. If you didn’t already know this and are thinking of one day being married to someone, you should try reading Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell. The book was published this year as a follow-up to Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, the memoir (about a blog) that combined with Julia Child’s autobiography, My Life in France, turned into a movie, Julie & Julia. That movie turned out to be the most fun one I’ve seen all year.

Julie and Julia gave us such a rosy picture of marriage. Julie’s husband, Eric, though he didn’t completely understand why his wife would want to cook her way through a Julia Child cookbook in a year, supported her decision. Probably spending a year eating all of that wonderful food helped just a little. In the movie, the actor cast as Eric, Chris Messina, was a wonderful depiction of the Eric I enjoyed in the book version. I also thought Amy Adams was a great choice, though I was well aware of how wholesome she was compared to the Julie in the book version.

I was thrilled that Powell had published another memoir to follow up her first one, and I just finished reading Cleaving this morning. It doesn’t take long before you know first that Julie has been having an affair with someone and then you learn that Eric has been too. Each knows the other is seeing someone outside of the confines of their marriage, but they almost never talk about it, they just keep growing further apart.

Then Julie embarks upon a two-part journey that involves learning to become a butcher, first spending six months as an apprentice two hours outside of New York City, and second, traveling to South America, Africa and Asia to learn more about how butchery is done in other parts of the world. She undergoes a personal transformation during her travels alone, and though it is no Eat, Pray, Love, it is enough for she and Eric to decide after she returns to New York that their marriage is worth saving. It’s a good thing. I have to say I like them together.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Last night I didn’t go to bed until I had finished Pat Conroy’s South of Broad. I think Conroy is a fantastic writer, and I think I enjoyed South of Broad even more because I’m only about four months out from having finished Beach Music, and it is still pretty fresh in my head. I’ve read a LOT of books, but I feel comfortable going out on a limb to say that Beach Music is one of the best I’ve ever read. As in top five for sure.

I enjoyed South of Broad almost as much. Both books and The Prince of Tides (the only other Conroy novel I’ve read so far) all have a lot in common: South Carolina, racial and class divisions, mental illness, family (those functioning well and those not), old friends, high school, and honor. I found South of Broad to have many of the things going on in it that were in Beach Music, but it wasn’t so much that I had to put the book down from time to time for a break from it. I had to do that a few times with Beach Music. There is a lot of heavy subject material in that book.

I think part of the reason I liked South of Broad so much is because I love Charleston. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot in the past 10 years or so, and it’s a wonderful place to spend some time. I love the harbor, the food, the market, Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, and I love looking out from the Battery and seeing Fort Sumter. So while I read South of Broad, I could pull up mental images of The Citadel and the College of Charleston, the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and King Street.

This was the first time I’ve ever read an account of Hurricane Hugo that wasn’t in a newspaper or online. This massive monster of a storm showed up with only 60 pages to go in South of Broad. I was in fifth grade when Hugo hit and I remember it. I’m a North Carolina native, and I can remember most of the hurricanes that have hit North Carolina during my lifetime. Though my family and I didn’t take a direct hit by Hugo in 1989, my extended family members in South Carolina did.

I wrote my graduate school thesis about my great-grandmother. One of my favorite stories about her was what she did the night Hurricane Hugo came through her town, Sumter, SC. I told that story to show what kind of a person my great-grandmother was right from the get-go in Chapter One. (If you want to read it in its entirety, Google “Betsy Rhame” and “Sumter.” Pull up the PDF and see page 12.). The Washington Post wrote that “Hugo’s eye was described as very large, at 40 miles wide, and hurricane-force winds extended as far as 140 miles from it. Tropical storm winds of about 50 to 60 miles per hour reached 250 miles from the eye.” Sumter is home to Shaw Air Force Base, where they clocked wind speeds the night of Hugo at 109 miles per hour. People in Sumter still talk about what it was like the night Hugo came through in much the same way that I can recall everything that happened the nights of Fran and Floyd in Raleigh, NC.

I’ve been doing a thorough cleaning of my home office and last week came across several undergraduate English papers that I had gotten back from my professors. On one of them, my professor wrote, “I think readers who continually see connections between what they read and what they have lived are the readers who get the most satisfaction and pleasure from reading. Welcome to the club.”

Really, that’s what this blog is all about. It gives me great pleasure to read a Faulkner novel and then visit his home, to remember what stage of life I was in when I first read a particular novel, and to read a Conroy novel and know all the places he’s talking about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

When I went to Italy in 2004, it seemed as though half the people in our group of 50 were reading either Angels and Demons or The DaVinci Code. The DaVinci Code was published the year before, and Angels and Demons had appeal to our group since the action took place in Rome, the last stop on our itinerary. At the time, I was too deep into my third semester of graduate school, consumed by The Victorian Novel to have any idea what was all the rage in the publishing world. As I remember, I worked my way through Lady Audley’s Secret during downtime on the plane and tour bus. As soon as the semester ended, though, I borrowed the audio version of Angels and Demons from the library and enjoyed every minute of it. Later when I read The DaVinci Code, I still preferred Angels and Demons since when I read it I had just visited many of the landmarks in the novel. Typically, I am not much into reading mystery and suspense novels, but I enjoyed these because they were compelling and everyone else was reading them too. It won’t surprise anyone that I like to discuss what I’m reading with anyone who’s read the same thing.

As soon as The Lost Symbol was published I got on the waiting list for it at the library. When I first signed up, I was number 141 on the waiting list. Miraculously, it only took four months for my name to come up. I just finished the novel over the weekend and I enjoyed it. I just wish I remembered a bit more about my trips to Washington, D.C., at ages 10 and 12. I didn't know, of course, to be on the lookout for Masonic symbols then! I'll pay more attention one day when I visit again. I liked that it was less predictable for me than I thought it might be. I actually was surprised by a couple of things, and that was good.

One of the things I found most intriguing about reading The DaVinci Code was the stir it caused in some religious circles. I personally thought the nontraditional angle was interesting, and it gave me pause for sure. I haven’t heard near as many grumblings from the Masons, nor do I think I will. I have found, however, an interesting article on National Geographic's web site that brings to light some of the untrue Masonic myths that appear in The Lost Symbol.

I'm not in the habit of seeing all the movies I want to in the theater. I think it costs too much, especially considering how quickly movies get released on DVD these days. I’m a Netflix subscriber, and I think it’s a fabulous way to see movies on the cheap. I have seen The DaVinci Code, but I still haven’t seen Angels and Demons. At some point I will, and then I’ll be interested to see the movie interpretation of The Lost Symbol when it comes out. Have you read these books and seen these movies? What do you think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Georgia music alive and well in Macon

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame has been hit hard by the economic downfall. The museum opened in 1996 in Macon. The facility has had financial difficulties this year as budgets and full-time staff members have been cut, and museum attendance has dwindled. Membership of the Music Hall of Fame, however, has grown this year, and the staff is optimistic for a better 2010. The museum will stay open until at least June 2010, and a $15 million fundraising campaign will also be launched next year.

One of the most well-known Georgia bands is the Allman Brothers, and they are featured in Macon’s Hall of Fame as 1998 inductees. The band occupied a mansion in Macon where many of their most well-known songs were written. They recorded at Macon’s Capricorn Studios, and member Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in town.

The mansion where the band congregated is located at 2321 Vineville Avenue, and the house has undergone extensive renovations in the last few years. It opened to the public December 5, 2009, as an Allman Brothers Museum called The Big House. In collaboration with The Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the two will promote events together and have committed to educating the public about Georgia music.

To visit these two musical Macon museums, check out their web sites. To find out more about becoming a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, visit their web site. I visited the museum myself back in July and enjoyed it enough to consider going back next time I'm in Macon. Read about my first visit here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peacocks and Prizes

According to Flannery O’Connor biographer Brad Gooch, the late writer identified with the nearly 40 peacocks she bought while living on her family’s farm. Gooch said in a CNN interview in 2009 that she “made an effort to make the peacock her own personal logo.” A peacock feather is part of the cover art on Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor published this year. A peacock and its feathers are also draped across the cover of my well-worn copy of The Complete Stories.

This summer when I visited Andalusia, O’Connor’s farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, the director of the historic site, Craig Amason, told me a secret. The farm would soon again be home to peacocks. I was excited to hear the news and promised not to let the cat out of the bag. The peacocks have now arrived. To read more about this, visit Andalusia’s blog.

While we’re on the topic, in case you haven’t heard, The Complete Stories, which won the National Book Award in 1972, beat out five other writers (including two of my other favorites, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty) to win Best of the National Book Award Winners. Read more about the National Book Foundation here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Gift of Reading from My Grandmother

I’ve talked quite a bit about my paternal grandmother, Dot, here, here and here in this blog. I can credit her more than anyone else with developing my love for books and reading. Over the years we’ve discussed book after book after book that we’ve both read.
She was diagnosed in September 2007 at age 82 with breast cancer and decided to fight it. She was the oldest patient her oncologist had ever had. She was a yellow dog democrat, and told her oncologist during one of their initial meetings that he needed to keep her alive long enough to see a democrat in the White House. He did. She managed to live with the breast cancer through both good days and bad days for more than two years. A year ago, she even felt good enough to have my father drive her from Greensboro, NC, to Atlanta to visit me for the weekend.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer on Tuesday, October 20 and died peacefully on Saturday, October 24. Even the day before she died we were talking Flannery O’Connor and looking through my Savannah pictures in her hospital room. She loved hearing about all the literary trips I’ve been taking this year, and she was thrilled that I was three weeks away from visiting Rowan Oak. If she had lived until I had gotten back from that trip, no doubt she would have wanted all the details and to have a look at the pictures.
The real kicker to all of this is that my maternal grandfather passed away less than four weeks before my grandmother, so my family had experienced two deaths almost at the same time. Though their children, my parents, married in 1974, my four grandparents had been close friends for years before that, and it was an added bonus to have their children marry each other. My grandfather and grandmother lived their last months on the same hall of an assisted living facility and died in hospital rooms next door to each other. Here is a picture of me with these two grandparents on my third birthday in 1981:

I have many, many pictures of me at all ages with all my grandparents, but for the purposes of this blog, here is one of my favorites with Dot on our Italy trip. We’re in Juliet’s Garden in Verona with her statue. That year it was my Christmas card photo.

For lack of a better place to mention this, and while I’m on the topic of the Italy trip, while we were in Rome, I visited the Keats-Shelley House just to the right of the Spanish Steps (my grandmother checked out the Steps instead while I went in the House). Here are a couple of photos from that, and here is an excerpt from my travel journal from that day (March 10, 2004):

“After lunch we visited the famous Spanish Steps and had some time on our own. I broke away from the rest of my group members to visit the Keats-Shelley House, a small museum dedicated to the British and American poets, novelists and artists of the Romantic period who spend time in Rome during the first half of the 19th century. I actually stood in the room where Keats died from consumption at the young age of 26. It was thrilling!”

So my excuse for nearly abandoning my blog for the month of October is, I hope, warranted. I have a lot in store for the blog in the next few months, so please keep reading.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Visit to Faulkner's Oxford

"...I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it..." - William Faulkner (1958)

The trip to Oxford and Tupelo, Mississippi, was a success. My husband and I had a lot of fun exploring these two towns.

Rowan Oak was fascinating, of course. I enjoyed the peaceful setting and seeing the house very much as it was when Faulkner was living there and writing prize-winning literature. My one (small) disappointment was that there was no gift shop. When I visit important literary sites, I love to come home with a small memento. This time, I'll just have to settle for the pictures.



Rowan Oak from the front walk.


The front parlor of the home. Faulkner's funeral was held here.

Faulkner's office. Notice the outlining he wrote directly on the walls!

The Faulkner statue in front of City Hall in Oxford.

I've visited Elvis Presley's birthplace in Tupelo once before, but while I was there, I had to go by again. Here are two photos of the historic site.




Monday, November 9, 2009

Rereading a Classic: As I Lay Dying

I love to read things that correlate with places I've just been or am about to go. I'm so thrilled about this weekend when I'll be visiting Oxford, Mississippi, that I decided I better reread some Faulkner. The highlight of my weekend, of course, will be a visit to Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home. The highlight of my husband's weekend will be watching his Tennessee Vols take on Ole Miss.

My first exposure to William Faulkner happened at a time in my life when I needed reassurance that I had made the right decision. I was a sophomore in college and had a terrible time choosing a major because I just wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. Over Christmas break I decided on English because I'd always liked the courses and teachers, and had always done well in the classes. I was under the gun, maybe the last of my friends to declare her major. I picked it because I knew I'd enjoy it and decided to figure out a specific career path later. As it turns out, I loved majoring in English so much that I did it again in graduate school and I love my job as a freelance writer/editor. And, would I be writing a blog if I had majored in psychology, speech communication or fashion merchandising? Probably not. Or at least not quite like this. So, see, it has turned out well.

But when I came back from Christmas break my sophomore year, I rearranged my class schedule to drop classes from a discarded major and add two English courses: Survey of British Literature and Survey of American Literature.

I knew American literature would be my all-time favorite when I read my first Anne Bradstreet poem. I just didn't know how much I would love American lit until a few weeks later when the class began reading Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Really, I think this novel is responsible for a lot of things where I am concerned, so here I am, 10 and a half years later, rereading it.

There is something about reading a book for the first time and loving it, but it is something else entirely when you revisit it after a long time and the plot and characters come back to you and it feels so familiar.

Check back later for more on my visit to Oxford.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Sale to Benefit Forsyth County Public Libraries

The Forsyth County Public Library Friends & Advocates is hosting their Fall Book Sale on Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18 at the Cumming branch. The sale will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 4 p.m.

All children’s books are $.25 each. Most hardback books are $1 and paperbacks will range from $.25 to $.50. Multimedia items and CDs will also be for sale.

Members of the Forsyth County Public Library Friends & Advocates have the opportunity to shop on Friday, October 16 from 2 to 5 p.m.

The Cumming branch is located at 585 Dahlonega Road.

All proceeds from the sale will benefit Forsyth County Public Libraries.

For more information on the book sale, visit www.forsythfol.org.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Celebrate Georgia Archives Month

I love genealogy and family history. Hearing stories about and researching my own family over the years has been a lot of fun for me. As it turns out, October is Georgia Archives Month, and there are plenty of ways to celebrate it in the Atlanta area.

- Visit your local library to have a look at historical documents in their collection.
- Attend a genealogy class. The Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties is holding classes on Mondays from October 12-November 9. For more information, call 770-954-1458. The Athens-Clarke County Library is hosting “Getting Started with Genealogy” on October 15 from 2-4:30 p.m. For more information, call 706-613-3650 ext. 350. Check with your local library for an event near you.
- Check out U.S. Census records online at www.ancestry.com, and if you have ancestors from the United Kingdom, visit www.1911census.co.uk.
- Take a look at old maps in the American Memory Map Collection at www.loc.gov or the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia at www.libs.uga.edu.
- Visit the “Wish You Were Here…Postcards from the Past” exhibit at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw. The exhibit is on display all month.
- Take your home movies on 8mm, Super8 or 16mm film to Home Movie Day, held worldwide on October 17. To find a host location, visit . The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History is hosting Atlanta’s Home Movie Day.
- Visit the Southeast’s regional branch of the National Archives in Morrow, which houses records from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vote for your favorite National Book Award winner

The National Book Foundation has chosen 77 books over the past 60 years to win the prestigious National Book Award. To celebrate the organization’s 60th birthday, you can vote online for your favorite National Book Award winner from six finalists. The choices are:

John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever
Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
William Faulkner, Collected Stories
Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity Rainbow
Eudora Welty, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

To vote, click here before October 21.

To learn more about the National Book Foundation and its National Book Award, visit their web site.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alice Walker Exhibit

“People are known by the records they keep. If it isn’t in the records, it will be said it didn’t happen. That is what history is: a keeping of records.” – Alice Walker

In 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker chose Atlanta’s Emory University to house her papers, photographs and other items. It is all part of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library’s (MARBL) African American Collection. To highlight Walker’s gift, the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory displayed an exhibit called “A Keeping of Records: The Art and Life of Alice Walker,” which ended September 27. The exhibit highlights Walker as a poet, short story writer, novelist, activist, essayist, children’s book writer, and lover of African American art and literature (especially by Zora Neale Hurston). Such items are exhibited as enlarged pages from a draft of The Color Purple, playbills from the Tony Award-winning musical, props and a directors clapboard from the film production, photographs of Walker at all ages, letters from Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg and Langston Hughes, and pages from her Spelman College scrapbook.

I was happy to have done the Alice Walker Driving Tour in Eatonton, Georgia, prior to visiting the exhibit because it answered a couple of my questions. For instance, Walker’s mother, Minnie Lou Grant Walker was photographed standing in front of their simple church, Wards Chapel A.M.E. Church, and the church was whitewashed and in great condition, so unlike its current state. Also, there were two pictures of Walker’s childhood home, which I can say must no longer exist on the property¸ where it seems picnic grounds of some sort are now.

It is truly a wonderful gift that Walker chose to house her archives at Emory University. Though the exhibit is now closed, Walker’s materials are open to the public and are housed on the 10th floor of Emory’s Woodruff Library, “a place,” Walker said, “where my archive can rest with joy in the company it keeps.”

Here are a few more links of interest to admirers of Walker’s work:

http://www.alicewalkersgarden.com/alice_walker_welcom.html
http://www.emory.edu/alicewalker/
http://www.emory.edu/home/academics/libraries/alice-walker.html

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Celebrating Banned Books Week

The American Library Association is celebrating Banned Books Week from September 26 to October 3. Most of my favorite books have either been banned or challenged at some time somewhere in the United States. Some of my banned book favorites include:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (my all-time favorite)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My Antonia by Willa Cather

To learn more about Banned Books Week and to see a full list of challenged and banned classics, visit the ALA web site.

Which banned book is your favorite?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thomas Wolfe and Pat Conroy

Much of the time I make my reading coincide with travel I’ll be doing or that I’m just back from, and movies or books about to be released. I read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice immediately after my return from Italy a few years ago. I read Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor on my trip to Savannah earlier this year and just before a trip to her farm, Andalusia. Recently, I read Devil in the White City during my trip to Chicago.

However, I’ve just recently enjoyed a serendipitous combination of two writers, a trip and a book release. It has all fit so nicely together and I didn’t even plan it!

I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides two summers ago. When I began hearing buzz about his latest novel, South of Broad (I’ve read numerous reviews of South of Broad and two of the magazines I subscribe to, Garden & Gun and Southern Living, have also promoted the highly anticipated novel.), I promptly got on the waiting list for it at the library (I’m currently number 142 in line – it will be a while) and started reading Beach Music which as it turns out, is the most perfectly crafted novel that I can remember reading in a very long time. Beach Music is 800 pages long. Even though I read all the time, it took me a few weeks to get through it. I was about a third of the way through when I camped over Labor Day weekend near Asheville, N.C., hometown of Thomas Wolfe. All of it fit together so nicely, and I was pleased to know that Thomas Wolfe is one of Conroy’s favorite writers. Even Jack McCall, the main character in Beach Music sings Wolfe’s praises when he says,

“Taking out Look Homeward, Angel, I read the magnificent first page and remembered when I had been a sixteen-year-old boy and those same words had set me ablaze with the sheer inhuman beauty of language as a cry for mercy, incantation, and a great river roaring through the darkness. ‘Hello, Eugene. Hello, Ben Gant,’ I said quietly, for I knew these characters as well as I knew anyone in the world. Literature was where the world made sense to me.”

I read Look Homeward, Angel about 10 years ago, but it was as though I had just read it before visiting the Old Kentucky Home, the Asheville boarding house where Tom, the youngest of eight children, was raised by his mother, Julia, a businesswoman far ahead of her time. Scenes that I remembered reading in Look Homeward, Angel came to life for me during the tour of the 29-room house (all but just a handful were bedrooms for the boarders). The tour guide did a wonderful job of telling all about Tom’s childhood there (he based much of Look Homeward, Angel on growing up in the boarding house and his college years at the University of North Carolina). The tour guide balanced stories of Tom and his family with tidbits about what life was like in a Southern boardinghouse. It was really fascinating. Photos inside were permitted, so I took full advantage both there and outside the house.


52 North Market Street, Asheville


A pair of Tom's shoes have been bronzed and are between the house and the street.


Tom's favorite place to sleep at the Old Kentucky Home, the upstairs sleeping porch.


The bed where Tom and his seven brothers and sisters were all born to Julia.

The dining room, which was heavily damaged in a fire in 1998.


I bought another of Wolfe’s famous novels, You Can’t Go Home Again, in the gift shop. I’m looking forward to reading it just as much as I’m looking forward to getting my turn with a copy of South of Broad from the library (if I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d be more than broke). I’m particularly excited to read it as Charleston, S.C. is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Here is a picture taken by me from a boat in the Charleston Harbor a few summers ago.




Friday, September 11, 2009

Carl Sandburg's Connemara

I like to think of myself as an organized person. I’m an obsessive list maker. I plan things so far ahead that my husband, who prefers the “fly by the seat of your pants” method most of the time, can’t help but shake his head. I always have Plan A, but Plans B and C are ready to go in case A falls through.

I have my own way of organizing things. To me, it’s more important that a particular thing has a specific place where it lives, so I can always find it when it’s needed. It’s less important to me what the thing and all the things with it look like together in their place. If it happens to look orderly, that’s a bonus. If it looks like a jumbled mess to the untrained eye (anyone who’s not me), that’s OK too. The bookshelf at our house looks atrocious (99.9 percent of them are mine). My husband questions me all the time about the state of the bulletin board in our office (“Do you really need that hotel receipt from a wedding we went to three years ago?” YES!).

There are books I bought years ago, newspaper clippings and magazines all over the upstairs of our house that I need to look at. My intentions are always good, but sometimes the clippings get recycled or the National Geographic gets passed on down the line before I’ve read it.

Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, N.C. When Sandburg and his family moved there in 1945, he had already published poetry, nonfiction, and six volumes of his Abraham Lincoln biography, and won the Pulitzer Prize for history and various other awards. Yet, Sandburg chose to live simply in this old house with his family. His wife, Lilian established her own successful goat dairy on the property as well.

With the tour group, I entered the house’s living room first. To my amazement and delight there were books everywhere! Then, we moved into Sandburg’s business office where there were – gasp – piles of National Geographics! There were bookshelves on every wall filled completely with volumes and other knick-knacks. Then, upstairs in Sandburg’s bedroom was perhaps the best part: newspaper clippings were tacked directly to the wall! No need for a bulletin board there. Room after room contained books, magazines and newspaper clippings. Our tour guide told us that when the Sandburgs moved here, they brought with them 17,000 books. Today 13,000 remain. They subscribed to 50 magazines, and the issues were all over the house. I don’t mean for it to sound messy. Though reading material was everywhere, it was in an orderly fashion (just as it is at my house).

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the home and peaceful grounds where Sandburg penned a third of his writings. Here are a few photos from my visit.









Monday, August 31, 2009

John Adams and Ted Kennedy

I watched Sen. Ted Kennedy’s funeral on Saturday and watched the last episode of HBO’s John Adams miniseries last night. Interestingly, I found a correlation between the two. While I watched Kennedy’s funeral, I was reminded of the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were both political allies and rivals. Several of Sen. Kennedy’s eulogists spoke of the Senator working with Republicans closely to get things done.

At Kennedy’s wake at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, several speakers talked of Sen. Kennedy’s work with members of both parties. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch said that Kennedy had a “strong working relationship with and love for the man I came to fight.”

Arizona senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain said Kennedy “was the most reliable, the most prepared and the most persistent member of the Senate. He also said that Kennedy “taught me to be a better senator.”

It seemed appropriate that last night when I watched the seventh episode of John Adams that it would spend so much time outlining the long friendship between Adams and Jefferson. Adams, the United States’ second president, and Jefferson, the third, sustained a friendship for over 51 years. They often had differing opinions on political topics, but they were still able to maintain a long-lasting relationship. They even died hours apart on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day that they both signed the Declaration of Independence.

I highly recommend John Adams, both the miniseries and the book by David McCullough, which I read about a year ago. Both are extremely interesting. There was a lot about Adams that I did not know, and now I am so glad I know more. He was a pretty interesting guy.

For more on Sen. Kennedy’s funeral and wake, visit CCN.com.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Upcoming Atlanta Book Events

There are two upcoming book events in the Atlanta area worth checking out.

The Decatur Book Festival is September 4-6 on historic Decatur Square. Over 150 authors will read and sign books. For a full schedule of authors and activities (including food, wine, demonstrations and live music), visit the festival’s web site.

Sir Harold Evans will deliver the event’s keynote speech Friday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. at Presser Hall on the Agnes Scott College campus. To purchase tickets for the speech, visit the web site.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Caroline Herring, Kate Campbell and Claire Holley will celebrate author Eudora Welty and the 100th anniversary of her birth with a performance Saturday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. in Presser Hall. Tickets to the event can be purchased by calling Agnes Scott College at 404-471-6430.

The Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center will host its annual book sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on September 9. All proceeds will benefit the Kenan Research Center and its programs. Admission to the sale is free. Visit the Atlanta History Center web site for more information.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Julie & Julia

This weekend I went to see the film, Julie and Julia. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for months. This spring, I listened to My Life in France, Julia Child’s autobiography, and read Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. My Life in France was nominated by a fellow book club member for our 2009 list, and we’ve now all read it. The book version of Julie and Julia was one of the things that really got me thinking about starting up a blog.

One of my favorite things about My Life in France was Julia’s husband, Paul. So often when I read a book and really take a liking to a particular character, I am disappointed in the casting later when I watch the movie version. I already believed Meryl Streep was up to the task of playing Julia after reading The Devil Wears Prada and then seeing Streep’s spot-on interpretation of Miranda Priestly, a role which won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2007. I have to say, though, that I was nervous about Stanley Tucci, the actor who plays Paul Child (Note: Tucci also played in The Devil Wears Prada as Nigel, the fashion assistant.). I thought he was wonderfully supportive of his wife’s hobby-turned-profession, and he just seemed perfect for Julia. Now that I’ve seen Julie and Julia, I can’t imagine a more perfect Paul. He was just as I hoped he’d be!

I think Amy Adams was also wonderful in her role as Julie. She was a cleaner version of the Julie who wrote the book, and I liked both versions of Julie. In the movie, I particularly liked the portrayal of Julie’s office life, and what a wonderful release it was for her to go home from it every evening, crack open Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and make something wonderful.

Overall, I really thought the movie captured the best of both books and wove them seamlessly. Plus, the movie was just a lot of fun.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Recommended Reading about Chicago

The Devil in the White City (published in 2004) won the National Book Award, the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and was a number one national bestseller. I’ve heard rumors that a movie is in the works, and I’m hoping that’s true.

The book centers around two men, Daniel Burnham and Dr. H.H. Holmes.

Burnham is the architect responsible for cleaning up Chicago in the late 1800s. He and his partner, John Root, were well-known Chicago architects who designed the buildings for the 1893 World’s Fair.

Dr. Holmes was a pharmacist, entrepreneur, con artist and serial killer who built a hotel for the World’s Far and was responsible for the disappearances of several hotel guests and other acquaintances before, during and after the Fair.

Devil in the White City weaves together the stories of these two men with relation to the anxiety, grandeur and excitement of the Chicago showcase.

I read the majority of this book on the plane to and from a wedding in Chicago last weekend. The book is completely fascinating. Though nothing else I did in Chicago was literature-related, I hope to return in the future to tour what’s available from past authors who wrote while living there such as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, L. Frank Baum, Richard Wright, Harriet Monroe, Edna Ferber, Nelson Algren and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend in the Windy City.

American Gothic Statue on Michigan Avenue

Millennium Park

The view from the top of the Sears Tower


The view from the bottom of the Sears Tower


Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs



Saturday, August 1, 2009

Venice

Several years ago, my grandmother and I spent 10 days in northern and central Italy with about 200 other Methodists from central and western North Carolinia. We had a wonderful time in a beautiful country that I want to revisit again someday. My grandmother is an avid reader like me, but she particularly enjoys mysteries, and I'm not that fond of them. I took her advice, though, and started reading Donna Leon's mystery series set in Venice. I just finished the first book, Death at La Fenice, and really enjoyed it. I'll be getting the second one in the series, Death in a Strange Country, from the library soon.

After I finished the book, I went looking for my photos from the trip. Here are a few of my favorites of Venice. Enjoy!






Wednesday, July 29, 2009

100 Best Beach Books Ever

Recently, over 16,000 people voted in National Public Radio's online poll, "100 Best Beach Books Ever." Today, they revealed the results. I've read 38 of the 100, and many that I haven't yet read are ones I'd like to read.

I've done a lot of beach reading myself and here are a few of my favorites:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch
A Painted House by John Grisham
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Monday, July 20, 2009

Author News: Frank McCourt

During my junior year of college I took an Irish literature course. We read Lady Gregory, J.M. Synge, James Joyce and others. When the semester ended I took with me a much better understanding of the Irish, their history, their movies, their religion, their weather, their cites and towns and their tension with England. Having the professor’s British husband audit the class benefited us all, as he often weighed in with his perspective on the Irish.

Two years later I read Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes, and was absolutely sucked in by the telling of the story from a little boy’s perspective. When I read the first page, I was hooked:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived it all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all – we were wet.

Angela’s Ashes was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Award. McCourt later published ‘Tis and Teacher Man about his adult life in New York City. He stopped at Meredith College during his Teacher Man book tour in 2006.

That same year I watched the film adaptation of Angela’s Ashes. I don’t think I will ever forget the scene where McCourt’s father carried a small coffin carrying the body of one of his children into a bar to rest his pint glass on while he indulges his desperate need for alcohol.

Frank McCourt died yesterday in New York. He was 78.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Recommended Author: Josh Hamilton

I’m planning to watch the MLB All-Star Game this evening, and I’ll be looking out specifically for the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton. He recently published a memoir that I’ve read entitled, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back. I was interested in the book because Josh, a couple years younger than me, and I are from the same place (Raleigh, NC), and I remember the buzz he created while he played baseball at Athens Drive High School.

He was drafted right out of high school by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 and he spent time playing minor league ball before an addiction to drugs helped him blow his several million dollars and sent him to rehab eight times. He was suspended from playing ball for several seasons while he tried to stay sober before he was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds.

When I read Beyond Belief, I simply couldn’t put it down. He narrates in an honest voice that really hooked me. He says the only reason he quit his drug addiction was because he relied on his religious faith to pull him through.

And he traveled a long journey to get where he is today, from a low point of selling his pregnant wife’s wedding ring to buy drugs, all the way to hitting a record-breaking 28 homers in last year’s Home Run Derby.

I can’t wait to watch him play tonight.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame


Some of the United States’ best musicians hail from Georgia. Otis Redding, James Brown, The Allman Brothers, Tricia Yearwood, Usher, Johnny Mercer, REM, The Indigo Girls, Lena Horne, Gladys Knight, Little Richard and the B-52s all call Georgia home. These are just a handful of the musicians inducted in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, nicknamed “The Song and Soul of the South.”

Visitors to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame will see permanent exhibits featuring all of the inductees and many genres of music. The latest temporary exhibit, Johnny Mercer: Too Marvelous for Words, runs July 18, 2009 to June 6, 2010.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Margaret Mitchell's Playhouse and the Antique Funeral Museum

Margaret Mitchell grew up visiting her grandparents in Jonesboro, Georgia. This is her playhouse that was in their yard. Today it is on the property of Pope Dickson & Son Funeral Home in Jonesboro, along with a drive-thru Antique Funeral Museum, complete with a horse-drawn hearse and child-sized casket from the Civil War era. Interesting combination, huh? Here are pictures of both:








Movie Scene: Fried Green Tomatoes


In Juliette, Georgia, about 15 miles from North Macon, is the Whistle Stop Café, the restaurant from the 1991 movie, Fried Green Tomatoes. I’ve heard that the café that inspired the novel that inspired the movie is actually in Alabama, but the movie was filmed on location in Juliette. The building was built in 1927 as a general store, and was several other things before it was used for filming the movie. After the movie wrapped, it stayed the Whistle Stop Café and opened for business to the public.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the movie (though I won’t get rid of my VHS copy), the inside of the restaurant looks exactly like the movie.


Of course we ordered fried green tomatoes as an appetizer.



My husband ordered fried catfish for dinner and I had a barbeque sandwich. I just had to order it, remembering from the movie when Sipsey declared, “The secret’s in the sauce!”

The food was good, and if you liked the movie, you’ll love eating here. A word of warning, though: it was 102 degrees outside when we entered the restaurant and discovered that they don’t have air conditioning. It was sweltering in there, and we weren’t sitting anywhere near the kitchen, which I’m betting was even hotter. Also, we went early (about 5:45 on a Saturday night). As we finished dinner, the line waiting to get in was lengthy.

There are a few movie-related gift shops on the same street, but they close early, so I can’t say if they’re worth going to or not, but my suspicion is that they are. Basically, if you want to eat at the Whistle Stop Café, my advice is to go early in cooler weather.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Andalusia

As a follow up to Flannery O’Connor’s Childhood Home in Savannah, during my recent jaunt through Middle Georgia, I was most looking forward to visiting Andalusia, home to O’Connor for the last 13 years of her life, and where she wrote many of her most important works. O’Connor joined her mother at the farm in Milledgeville after being diagnosed with lupus, the disease that also took her father’s life. Living on the farm turned out to inspire many of the settings and characters in her novels and short stories.

Though she did take time out to eat lunch in town with her mother, attend church and social events, and give speeches, O’Connor focused a great deal of her time writing stories on her typewriter at her desk in her front parlor-turned bedroom. It’s almost like her diagnosis made her focus on what was most important, her writing. Aren’t we lucky because of that?


I was so struck by my surroundings that it was hard to imagine that O’Connor fought a terrible disease here. If it weren’t for her crutches propped up in her bedroom, I might have almost forgotten.

I think Alice Walker put it best when she described her visit to Andalusia in her essay, “Beyond the Peacock: The Reconstruction of Flannery O’Connor.” She wrote, “Standing there knocking on Flannery O’Connor’s door, I do not think of her illness, her magnificent work in spite of it; I think: it all comes back to houses. To how people live.”

Andalusia is still peaceful and beautiful today, all 544 acres of it. The first floor of the home has been left much like it was when O’Connor and her mother, Regina, lived there. There’s a wide screened in porch on the front of the house and trees that shade most of the yard. A conversation with the director indicated, though, that keeping up Andalusia is a financial struggle. Admission is free, though they appreciate a donation of $5 per adult. There is a small but nice gift shop. (I couldn’t resist buying the bumper sticker that said, “A Good Man is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor said it best”). If Andalusia isn’t in better financial shape soon, its governing foundation may have to start selling off some of the land to keep the house running. To find out more about how you can help, visit www.andalusiafarm.org.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Uncle Remus Museum


I recently visited the Joel Chandler Harris home in Atlanta knowing that the following weekend in Eatonton, Georgia, I’d visit the Uncle Remus Museum. It’s in two adjoining log cabins at Turner Park a few blocks south of downtown on the main drag. The cabin is representative of the cabin Harris visited often as a child on a nearby plantation. There he first heard the stories from the slaves that he later wrote down and published as the Uncle Remus tales.

The museum charges $1 per adult for admission, and a docent knowledgeable about Harris’ childhood can give information and answer questions. The first room has a small gift shop area and prints from Disney’s movie interpretation of the stories, Song of the South. Also in the first room are carved wooden characters representing several of the well-known stories.

The second room is filled with household items from the Civil War era. They are labeled with what they are and in some cases, the name of the person who donated or loaned the item. The items are varied and include such things as old letters, a corncob pipe, a pair of children’s shoes and a carriage lantern. While these items are all interesting in their own right, what is obviously absent are the connections these items have with Harris’ childhood on the plantation. Clearly, many of the items were not used by Harris, though he likely would have used some like them. Are the items simply there to show what would have been available for use at a typical Georgia plantation home? Without helpful information posted visitors will never be sure.

If you must pick only one of the two Harris museums in Georgia, spend $8 and visit his home in Atlanta. The authenticity is what really impressed me. The detail that your tour guide will go into about Harris and his home and family is all extremely interesting and worth listening to. If you’d like a bit of plantation history and to see Civil War-era items, then stop in at the Uncle Remus Museum.



Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding Alice Walker

In 1972, Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple and other works, came back to her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, for a visit. She, her parents, and her seven brothers and sisters had lived in this Middle Georgia town for about a year. Walker was born in nearby Eatonton and grew up there, minus the year in Milledgeville.

The Walker home in Milledgeville was just a short distance away from Andalusia, a dairy farm and home to novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor from 1951-64.

Walker enjoyed O’Connor’s fiction and the fiction of other American writers, but was frustrated that in her literature classes, she wasn’t learning the works of the African American writers who came before her.

Walker and her mother went by the site of their former home to find it rotting away. At Andalusia, Walker found O’Connor’s family home to be very much intact. Though vacant, a caretaker lived on the property. Walker described the experience in her essay, “Beyond the Peacock: The Reconstruction of Flannery O’Connor.” She wrote:

“My bitterness comes from a deeper source than my knowledge of the difference, historically, race has made in the lives of white and black artists. The fact that in Mississippi no one even remembers where Richard Wright lived, while Faulkner’s house is maintained by a black caretaker is painful, but not unbearable. What comes close to being unbearable is that I know how damaging to my own psyche such injustice is. In an unjust society the soul of the sensitive person is in danger of deformity from just such weights as this. For a long time I will feel Faulkner’s house, O’Connor’s house, crushing me. To fight back will require a certain amount of energy, energy better used doing something else.”

On a recent trip through Middle Georgia, I also tried to find Walker’s stomping ground. Eatonton’s Chamber of Commerce web site offers up an Alice Walker Driving Tour, with all stops being on Wards Chapel Road a few miles out from town.

The first stop was Wards Chapel A.M.E. Church, where Walker attended with her family and was baptized. Before I pulled up, I was envisioning it to be a nearly exact replica of the church in movie version of The Color Purple. Instead, I found a building in sad dilapidation, but with a sign out front announcing efforts to restore it.


Down the road were the sites of two homes, one where Walker was born and one where she grew up. Where she grew up had a structure that looked like a picnic shelter and gold panning set up than it did the home of a family of sharecroppers. No sign marked what it really is.

No house stood on the lot where she was born.


Years ago, Walker expressed anger at the disrepair of her former home, so I wonder what she thinks about her old home places now. Nearly four decades after she wrote “Beyond the Peacock,” signs mark the important places in her early life, but the same holds true for the buildings as during her visit in 1972. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
If you’d like to contribute to the restoration of Wards Chapel A.M.E. Church, call 706-473-1781.

Monday, June 22, 2009

House Museum: Joel Chandler Harris

The name Joel Chandler Harris may not be as familiar to some as the characters he immortalized. For over a century, Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and the Tar Baby have played tricks on each other, visited the Laughing Place and generally cut up and carried on as told by Uncle Remus. The stories appeared in newspapers, storybooks, a Disney film and in oral tradition. Though the stories about this cast of characters originated on Southern plantations and were the stories slaves told their children, Harris, then an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution, began writing the stories down and publishing them.

The Uncle Remus tales are considered by some to be outdated and politically incorrect by today’s cultural standards, but all that aside, the stories are just plain entertaining.

The Harris home, nicknamed The Wren’s Nest, is located in Southwest Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. It is Atlanta’s oldest house museum. The furniture in the home was used by Harris, his wife, and their six children. On a tour of the house, visitors learn all about the family and their time at The Wren’s Nest and Harris’ writing career.

The house is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. If you can, try to make your visit coincide with Saturday’s storytelling, which begins at 1 p.m.

For more information on Harris, the Uncle Remus tales and The Wren’s Nest, visit www.wrensnestonline.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paul Green and "The Lost Colony"


Paul Green (1894-1981) grew up in Harnett County, N.C., and spent much of his adult life split between it and Chapel Hill, N.C. This playwright and teacher won the Pulitzer Prize in 1927 for his play, In Abraham’s Bosom. Green attended Buies Creek Academy, now Campbell University, before studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For North Carolinians, history buffs and visitors of the Outer Banks, Green is better known for writing The Lost Colony, an outdoor drama on Roanoke Island that has been performed every summer since 1937. It is the country’s longest-running outdoor drama.

Millions of people have seen the play during its run. The home of The Lost Colony, Waterside Theatre, is located on the site where the English settled in 1587.

Nearly two years ago, a fire at the theatre destroyed the costume shop, which housed 70 years of costumes, fabric, notes and other items. Costume designers recreated over 1,000 outfits in just a few months to prepare for the 2008 season.

The 72nd production season has just started and will run nightly Monday through Saturday until August 20.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Reading Programs

Many incoming college freshman will have required reading this summer even before classes begin. Currently, I'm reading Unbowed by Wangari Maathai, the Summer Reading Program selection for 2009 for Meredith College freshmen. Here are what other colleges and university rising freshman are reading this summer:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A Home on the Field by Paul Cuadros
Indiana State University: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Appalachian State University: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Clemson University: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
Queens University: In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro: My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan
Texas Tech University: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

What will you be reading this summer?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards' Resilience

I’m a native North Carolinian, and I loved John Edwards and believe in many of the causes he believes in. I discounted the National Inquirer’s claim at first because I believed John Edwards was different from many of our politicians. When I found out the Inquirer was right, I was so disappointed in him.

I saw Elizabeth Edwards’ interview with Oprah and other media reports before I read her book, Resilience. John’s affair has been the subject of such interviews in light of Elizabeth’s new book. Eventually, I think people forget about the bad behaviors of people in the media spotlight. I wondered if America was just to the point of forgetting it happened when she brought it all back up and again focused attention on back to her husband’s infidelity. Then I started reading the book.

I thought John’s affair would take up more of the book that it did based on the attention the affair was again getting. Elizabeth didn’t start talking about the affair until page 169, and there are only 213 pages in the book. She spent many more pages talking about the grief she experienced in 1996 when their oldest child, Wade, was killed in a car accident. I had read Elizabeth’s first book, Saving Graces, when it came out two years ago. In it she talked in great detail about her first bout with cancer and Wade’s death. Based on her two books, I’d venture to say that Wade’s death has been the biggest roadblock in her life, bigger than her parents’ failing health, terminal cancer, or being betrayed by her spouse.

She wrote that she wasn’t as scared as she might have been when she was rediagnosed with terminal breast cancer that had spread to her bones. She said both, “it wasn’t as tough as Wade’s death, so I could do it,” and “death looks different to someone who has placed a child in the ground.”

So maybe her husband’s infidelity is not what she wants to focus on for whatever time she has left.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Reading

Memorial Day is the first day of summer vacation for schoolchildren in Metro Atlanta, and the start of summer always makes me think ahead to what I’ll be reading this season. Several years ago, an English major friend and I began creating a summer reading list. Our reading group has grown and here are the 12 books we’re reading this season.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Irish Girls About Town by Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly
My Life in France by Julia Child
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton
Knit Two by Kate Jacobs
Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice by Maureen McCormick
Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Midnight in Savannah

At my tour guide’s recommendation, I borrowed the A&E production Midnight in Savannah for a more balanced representation of the events described in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Many Savannians were interviewed and weighed in on the spotlight put on Savannah after the alleged murder of Danny Hansford by Jim Williams. The documentary was released after the book’s publication and before the film came out.

The Savannanians who were interviewed seemed to agree to two things: that they don’t like change and they appreciate their privacy. Many of them look unfavorably on the tourism boom in their city that has resulted from Berendt’s book. One resident said it emphasizes the negative rather than the positive about Savannah. Another said that many of Savannah’s old families were upset with Berendt for writing the story and using his own creative license. Berendt, who was also interviewed by A&E said, “Savannah was shocked and mesmerized by [the murder],” and that his book is so compelling because the story is true.

Though some Savannians wish the tourists had never discovered their beautiful city, some residents are cashing in on all the visitors and publicity. As Historian John Duncan put it, “It’s easier to pick a Yankee tourist than a bale of cotton.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rereading a Classic: The Great Gatsby

The National Endowment for the Arts has selected F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as one of its selections for the program, The Big Read. This inspired me to reread it earlier this week. I had forgotten how concise but dense the novel is, as I read it in one day at the beach, around time with friends and family, a jigsaw puzzle, and reading a magazine I picked up in Savannah last weekend.

This was my second time reading the 1925 classic, the first having been in 1995 for a high school English class. I remember pondering the question of Gatsby’s greatness then. I think I argued against it based on his failure to win Daisy Buchanan’s heart, and his tragic death. I think I can still agree with my earlier answer, but I have to say that I marvel at how well Gatsby had his partygoers and other West Egg residents convinced of his greatness. I know, though, that everything fell apart in the end. I can think of a few celebrities and politicians who have accomplished a similar feat, only to have it all come crashing down. I’m going to keep this in mind as I begin Elizabeth Edwards’ Resilience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” – Flannery O’Connor

I discovered Flannery O’Connor my junior year of college when I took Seminar of American Women Writers, which turned out to be one of my all-time favorite classes. No one captures the South or paints characters in exactly the same way O’Connor does. I still laugh out load nearly every time the grandmother and June Star open their mouths in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I feel a little ashamed of myself for being amused at the Bible salesman in “Good Country People.” I’m still stunned at the end of “Everything that Rises Must Converge” when, well, I won’t ruin the end for you. Just go read it if you haven’t already.

I think many writers spend their whole careers extracting memories and small bits of information from their lives, and in particular, their childhoods. So it was simply a must that I visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home on Lafayette Square in Savannah.


The tour includes two of the four floors of the house at 207 E. Charlton St. where O’Connor and her parents lived from 1925 to 1938. Most of the furniture was actually in the house while the O’Connors lived there. In the double parlor is the radio where O’Connor and her friends would gather on Saturday mornings to hear a radio show called, “Let’s Pretend.” I was not surprised to learn that she was such an imaginative child.



O’Connor really came to life for me while I walked through the house where she lived, played, and first began to create her own stories.

On the way back from Savannah, I began reading Brad Gooch’s new biography of O’Connor’s life, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. So far, it’s excellent.




Sunday, May 10, 2009

"The Book": Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, 'What's your business?' In Macon they ask, 'Where do you go to church?' In Augusta they ask you your grandmother's maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is, 'What would you like to drink?'" - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The Mercer-Williams House, the location of the murder in the book and movie.

A high-society murder. A drag queen. A New York journalist in the South. A gay millionaire/historic preservationist. Antiques. Any one of these in a story would make me want to read it. Put of all of these and more into one story and you’ve got Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. First, it was a nonfiction novel by John Berendt, but some say it’s somewhat embellished. Well, as Emily Dickinson said, “tell the truth, but tell it slant.” It’s about a murder in 1981 in Savannah, Georgia. The book version spent 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. A movie was later produced starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack.

I read the novel about a year ago and watched the movie recently in preparation for a trip to Savannah with my husband.

While in Savannah, we took a walking tour with a native Savannian who had been showing tourists around for 37 years. At the end of the tour, he was asked why he hadn’t mentioned anything about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He cleared his throat and diverted his eyes much like someone might who was just asked how much he paid for his vacation home or what kind of cosmetic surgery she’d just had done.

He said the movie was horrible and the book not much better. I hope my face did not reveal that I liked both. He recommended a show that A&E produced called Midnight in Savannah because it was a better representation of the real story. I’m planning to watch it. Next time I’m in Savannah I won’t mention to any of its residents that I know anything about “The Book.” I don’t want to seem impolite or unappreciative in the Hostess City of the South.

Forsyth Park, which appears in several scenes in the book and movie.