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


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