Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sidney Lanier

After I left Milledgeville the other day, I headed to Macon, Georgia, to check out the Sidney Lanier Cottage, birthplace of the Civil War-era poet (I've previously written about Lanier here and here). I was toured around by Sidney Lanier scholar and historic interpreter Marty Willett. You can see him and a shortened version of the house tour in this video.

I learned all sorts of things like the importance Lanier's wife played in exposing his poems to the masses, Lanier's musical life, and all the places that honor Lanier, many of which are practically in my backyard, including a monument in Atlanta's Piedmont Park; a statue in Duke Chapel in Durham, NC; a library and literary society in Tryon, NC; a literary society at East Carolina University; and a place in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Return to Andalusia

Last week I made a return visit to Andalusia, the final home of author Flannery O'Connor in Milledgeville, Georgia. I went last summer too (you can read about that here), and much progress has been made it little over a year.

First, an aviary has been built just behind the farmhouse for several peafowl. O'Connor raised the birds herself when she lived here, and a special project brought peafowl back to Andalusia. It's something the staff there are really excited about, and they keep the public updated on the birds and other things via their blog.

I spoke with Craig Amason, the director, who said the next project on the table is to save the Hill House, which was the home of the family who helped the O'Connors run the dairy farm at Andalusia. The Hills were mentioned in several of O'Connor's letters, published in The Habit of Being. Their house is thought to predate the main home where O'Connor lived with her mother. $75,000 is needed to stabilize the structure, and $200,000 is needed to fully restore the home. The Andalusia Foundation is working to raise the funds needed to make this house what it was when O'Connor lived here, as it was an important part of farm life at Andalusia. To learn more about how you can help, click here.

Inside the farmhouse, I got a picture of O'Connor's bedroom, one of the home's front rooms where she did her writing. Notice the crutches that she used as her lupus worsened.

After I left the farm, I visited the nearby campus of Georgia College and State University, where O'Connor was once a student and where some of her personal effects are on display. Here is the desk and typewriter where she did all of her work, which was, during her lifetime, in her bedroom at the farmhouse.

To read more about the College's O'Connor collection, click here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Celebrating 50 Years of Greatness: To Kill a Mockingbird

I know I keep talking about my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Fifty years of greatness, and I'm celebrating all year. I think this will be my last post on the topic (at least for now), so if you're ready to be reading about something else, hang tight.

Two of my favorite southern magazines, Southern Living and Garden & Gun, have had articles about the novel this summer. You can read the full articles here and here.

I've also recently finished reading Mary McDonagh Murphy's Scout, Atticus and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird. It gives good context on the book and movie, with information about the time, political and social climate of the early 1960s. Then, the majority of the book is filled with short essays by notable people about how the book and/or movie affected them. Some of the essayists include Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Mark Childress, Diane McWhorter, James Patterson, Andrew Young, Richard Russo, Lee Smith and others. Good stuff.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Debate over E-Books

A few weekends ago I was in North Carolina and had a chance to stop by my very favorite book store, Quail Ridge Books. I'm always able to pick up a paperback there that I haven't yet heard of to enjoy later. This time, Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future caught my eye. I just finished reading it the other night.

I expected the book would talk more about how e-readers are changing and will change the face of libraries and the needs of their patrons, and the publishing and bookselling industry. I made this assumption because there is a picture of an e-reader on the book's cover. However, Darnton talked a lot more about how Google's e-book bogarting has brought about lawsuits, and particularly how university libraries and the academic world will be affected (good and bad) by making more books accessible online. So, interesting, yes, but not exactly what I expected.

So far I've resisted purchasing an e-reader for several reasons: 1) They cost a lot and a library card is free, 2) I like to hold books in my hand, 3) I like the way books smell, 4) I like the way books look on the shelf of my library, and 5) I almost never buy books.

Earlier this summer, my husband did ask me if I wanted an e-reader. I answered that until I was able to borrow library books via an e-reader, it was of little use to me. Well, recently my home county's library system in North Carolina started this, and each week they are growing their downloadable e-books. The library system is looking at this as a way to stay current with changing technology and save money. The library system also lowers the risk of losing loaned physical books, a great thing since the cost of replacing books adds up fast.

Attention, Fulton County, Georgia: Where is your e-book program? If you get one, I might consider purchasing an e-reader, especially since they've recently come down significantly in price. Here's hoping you'll have a program soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Girls Who Read the Stieg Larsson Trilogy

About a month ago I borrowed Stieg Larsson's runaway bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, from a friend. I read the book mostly in two sittings during a weekend, unable to put the book down. Both of the book clubs I've recently joined selected the book for discussion in August. I've now sat through two discussions of this book, and I have Larsson's second of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, sitting on my nightstand, and I'm ready to begin reading it. Yet, I'm still struggling with how I feel about the first book.

In both book clubs, there were those who loved the book and those who didn't like it enough to even finish it. I liked it, but I thought it was difficult to read in parts due to the violence and misogyny. I'm fascinated by Lisbeth Salander, as I think she's the most complex characters I've ever read about, but I thought Mikael Blomkvist came up a bit short. Perhaps my thoughts on him will change as I read the second and third books.

Have you read it? What did you think? Will you read the rest of the trilogy?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert Reading

I happened to have had two things happen in the same week: I went to see the new movie Eat Pray Love and I read author Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow up to the book of the same name, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

The book was one of the kinds I like best: mix a memoir (lots of personal experience description) with social issues and include plenty of surprising statistics (some recent favorites include Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, both by Greg Mortensen). This was one of those books.

Gilbert writes about her relationship with Felipe, the man she met in Bali near the end of Eat Pray Love. Both survivors of bitter divorces, neither ever wants to be legally bound to anyone again. However, due to U.S. immigration restrictions and the rules for non-married and non-American frequent U.S. visitors, the pair was forced into tying the knot in order to settle down together and have a home in the U.S.

Here are some of the most fascinating things I learned from Gilbert’s extensive research on the institution of marriage:
  • The 50 percent divorce rate that everyone has heard of can be further broken down, and the age of the couple when they got married is the most important factor in determining whether the marriage will last. Gilbert says, “You are astonishingly more likely to get divorced if you marry in your teens or early twenties….eighteen-year-old newlyweds…have something closer to a 75 percent divorce rate (p. 123).” Couples have a better chance of staying married if they marry after age 26.
  • By 2004, “unmarried women were the fastest growing demographic in the United States. A thirty-year-old woman was three times more likely to be single in 2004 than her counterpart in the 1970s….The number of households in America without children reach an all-time high in 2008 (p. 149).”
  • Two and a half percent of all stay-at-home parents are dads.
Fascinating stuff, really.

As far as the movie goes, I was happy to have seen it on the big screen. The scenery is gorgeous, and so many of the shots in Italy were things I saw when I went several years ago. Bali is beautiful too, and India was loud and colorful (two good things, I think). Now that I have a visual on the movie version of Felipe, I like him even more than I did in the books. I have to say, though, that as much as I enjoy Julia Roberts movies, I wasn’t quite sure she was the right choice to play Elizabeth Gilbert (I was wrong; I thought she was lovely), much in the same way I thought Tom Hanks wasn’t right as Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code (I still have that opinion). Overall, I enjoyed the movie very much. It was a great way to spend a couple hours on a hot Sunday afternoon.

So I enjoyed both of these books, though one really shouldn’t expect Committed to be as beautifully written, to have much (if any) spirituality included or be much about a deep, personal journey. What I’d really love to read is a third that shows how the marriage is going for Gilbert and Felipe, the anti-marriage married couple. I hope that’s what’s up next for Gilbert.

(**My apologies - I'm not sure what's going on with my font!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I’ve just recently finished listening to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and followed those up by watching Tim Burton’s recent film, Alice in Wonderland.

I went to Meredith College for undergrad, and as part of a long-standing tradition, once every four years, faculty and staff members put on the Alice in Wonderland production for students. That was one of my favorite things from college. As I listened to the stories on my iPod recently, I could remember exactly which professor played which part in the 2000 production, so that made my reread even more fun.

I’ve always loved both of the stories, mostly because of the memorable lines that are complete nonsense.

Some of my favorites:

Alice in Wonderland

Alice: "Curiouser and curiouser!"
The Cat: "We're all mad here."
The Queen: "Off with her head!"
The Queen: "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards."
Alice: "You're nothing but a pack of cards!"

My very favorite, though, is from Through the Looking Glass:

Alice laughed, "There's no use trying," she said, "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I have to confess that though I enjoyed the movie version, I didn’t much “get” it. I was about three quarters of the way through before I realized why Alice was about 20 years old. Because the whole movie was like a sequel to the real Alice in Wonderland story. Wonder why they didn’t call the movie something else?

KIPP Scribes and the Decatur Book Festival

I've mentioned before about the great experience I've been having with The Wren's Nest and KIPP Strive Academy on the collaboration newly named KIPP Scribes. Well, the book cover has been unveiled and the students get to hog the spotlight at The Decatur Book Festival Labor Day weekend. I can't wait to get my hands on the final version and see my student's story in print. He's been such a great, talented guy to work with. It's really amazing how focused he is on including good detail and dialogue. That's something all writers struggle with, so I'm so impressed and proud of my student who is only 11.

If you're headed to the Decatur Book Festival, stop by and visit The Wren's Nest booth, as well as the Write Choice Services one. There will be a brand-new book for sale there written by my colleague, Tim Morrison, called Writing Secrets: Essential Steps to Discover How to Start.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Contest Winner!

I have "liked" Algonquin Books on Facebook and I'm following them on Twitter (@algonquinbooks). They are a publisher out of New York City and Chapel Hill, NC, committed to printing Southern literature. Yesterday on Facebook I entered a contest to win New Stories from the South 2010, which is edited by Amy Hempel. I never win anything, yet I managed to get chosen via random selection and won a copy, which is now on its way. I can't wait to start reading it, and I'm sure I'll have a lot to blog about as I do.

They are giving away three more copies of the book today, tomorrow and Friday. All you have to do is find them on Facebook and comment under the contest status update. Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Laura Bush Memoir

I just realized it's been over a week since I've posted. Probably that's because I've been pretty busy (but in a good way) with work, and I haven't been flying right through my reading as usual. I have, however, spent almost four weeks enjoying Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken from the Heart. I've always thought she was an interesting, classy lady, and her book confirms that (Thanks, Kaye, for letting me borrow the book!). It's no page turner, but interesting and worth a read just the same. I particularly enjoyed reading about her early life in Texas and what it was like to be the President's wife and live in the White House in the days and weeks and months after 9/11. Must have been terrifying. She, as a former teacher, has a particular love for reading and has worked hard to create literary festivals in the U.S. and has encouraged others (particularly young children) to read. Check it out if you get the chance!

Now, I've got a few interesting reads on the horizon that I'm excited about. You'll be hearing more from me soon!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Abandoned Allies

Over this past weekend, my friend, Camden Watts, took some headshots of me for my website (coming soon). It's always fun to catch up with Camden and hear about the projects she's working on. Right now, most of her attention is focused on her upcoming documentary film, Abandoned Allies, which is in the screening stage. In it, she has captured a fascinating and often forgotten group of people who were loyal to the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, the Montagnards. I've had the opportunity to write a bit for Camden as she's been putting it all together. Check out her blog and the film's website to learn more.