Monday, January 31, 2011

Eudora Welty Exhibit

One of my favorite classes in graduate school was the memoir. In it, for the first time I read One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, which I loved. I was also exposed to Welty's photography. As a government employee, she traveled the South during the Depression photographing country folks in Mississippi, her home state. They are beautiful, if sometimes haunting, photographs. I'm so excited that an exhibit of her photography work is opening at the Atlanta History Center this weekend, running through May 8. I can't wait to check it out.

Buckhead Book Club

I have mentioned from time to time the book clubs I'm in. I love reading a book at the same time as someone else, and being able to dig in and discuss it when we've finished. There is a great deal of community to be found amongst readers, and since reading is a pretty solitary activity, I think that's great. Recently, I had the good fortune of gaining a freelancing gig with the new Simply Buckhead magazine. It comes out six times per year, and in each issue I'll be writing a story that is both Buckhead- and book-focused. The January/February issue was published last week and my first story ran about a book club in Buckhead that was formed about 45 years ago. It was fun to talk to the club's coordinator who has been around since the beginning.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snowed In: What I Read

Last week Atlanta had the biggest winter weather event since, I hear from those who have lived here for a while, 1993. At my house we were covered in six inches of snow with ice on top. I didn't leave the house from Sunday to Thursday. I had some editing to do of an academic journal, but was also able to get in a lot of relaxation, hot chocolate, watching Lost episodes on Netflix and, of course, reading. I caught up some on my stack of magazines, read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a book I picked up in London called The Lady’s Book of Manners (no author, Copper Beech Publishing). All in all, a good week. 

If you were snowed in, what did you read? 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Remarkable Creatures

Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures made my top 10 list for 2010. It was fiction based on fact about a pair of female archaeologists in England finding fossils in the early 19th century, the struggle to be a female scientist, and the excitement of scientific discovery. The story takes place in Lyme Regis, the town where Jane Austen's Persuasion took place. I've done a little more research on the area.

Lyme Regis webcam  
Lyme Regis walking tour 
A fossil hunting company 
Lyme Regis Museum
The Natural History Museum in London
The Natural History Museum in London, Mary Anning exhibit
Dorset County Museum
The Dinosaur Museum
Oxford University Museum of Natural History 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Westminster Abbey

While in London, I got to visit Westminster Abbey twice - once for a tour, and one for a service. Both were wonderful. If you haven't been to Westminster, anything I told you about its magnificence still wouldn't do it justice, so just take my word for it. Of particular interest to me here was the Poets' Corner, where over 100 writers are buried and/or celebrated. I was most interested in seeing the Williams (Shakespeare, Blake and Wordsworth), Chaucer, Burns, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Austen, Byron, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Henry James. It was really overwhelming to see so many important literary contributors all mentioned together. Luckily, I had been able to study up on everything before my visit, thanks to a book Teresa bought for me on the Poets' Corner during her London trip three years ago. What fun!  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jane Austen

Reading all of Jane Austen's novels, seeing many of the movies, and finally, visiting Bath, wasn't near enough to satisfy me. I'm still obsessed with all things Jane Austen, and as evidenced by a book I picked up in the gift shop of the Jane Austen Centre, so is everyone else in the world. The book is called Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman. I read it over last weekend (I still have a long way to go to get through the large stack of books I brought back from England!), and enjoyed it. Part biography and part listing of all the places in pop culture that Jane Austen has influenced, the book was a fun read and only made me add to my list of books and movies that relate to Jane Austen that I must now read and see. Jane really is everywhere, still seeping into our lives over 200 years later. 

The book details interesting facts such as how hard Austen's family members worked after her death to see to it that she got the credit she deserved for contributing to English literature. It also discussed Austen's contemporaries who did not see the value of her work, and those who later did (Rudyard Kipling was one of many fans).

Besides this book, one of the Jane-related things I've really enjoyed lately is the movie Lost in Austen, which is apparently a takeoff on a BBC television series (or maybe the series is a takeoff on the movie - either way, they are related). In it, a modern-day Austen fanatic switches places with Elizabeth Bennet, who becomes a nanny in London while the main character, Amanda, ends up in Pride and Prejudice, and spends every second trying not to derail the plot of the book, while its characters have no idea they're even in the book. This movie got a lot of chuckles out of me, and I loved how the characters could jump back and forth between modern times and centuries ago. 

Just do a search on YouTube for movie trailers, spoofs, tours of Bath and Chawton Place, and many other Jane Austen gems. If you're in the mood for a laugh, be sure to check out the Jane Austen Fight Club videos. Very funny.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jane Austen's Bath

One of the things I was most looking forward to doing while in London was taking the train to Bath to visit this town where Jane Austen spent a few years, to walk the streets she walked, trying to imagine what life in Bath was like around 1800. The day of our scheduled excursion, we bought a round-trip ticket from Paddington Station to Bath, but needed the help of two train system employees to un-confuse us and make sure we made it to the right platform and on the right train. Not an easy task in this busy, busy place. Once we comfortably on board, however, the scenery once we got out of London was just beautiful, and it was so nice to see a few towns besides on the way, and some rolling country hills.

Even after all I had built Bath up to be, I wasn't disappointed. It is a lovely place, very walkable with beautiful homes and gardens, and folks a bit friendlier than those in London. We walked from the train station to the Jane Austen Centre right off, and toured this museum a few doors down from the home Austen and her family inhabited for some of the five years they spent in Bath. The museum gave lots of helpful and interesting biographical information on the author and her family, and Jane's feelings on living in Bath (she didn't much care for it, and didn't do much writing there). The Centre did a great job helping visitors know what it would have been like to live in Bath around 1800. 

For lunch that day we ate at The Pump Room, a restaurant that appears in Northanger Abbey, and the food was very good. While we ate, tourists kept coming in to take a taste of "Bath water," which is from the town's natural waters and the reason Bath had so many tourists in centuries past (the water has healing properties). We didn't see one person who appeared to enjoy the taste of this water, and overheard several say it tasted like sulphur. So, instead, we opted for soups and sandwiches with Cokes to drink.

Following our lunch we took a walking tour with a jolly fellow, volunteer and resident of Bath. We walked all over town and he must have told us practically everything he knew about the place, as he barely took a breath during the whole two hours and kept us very entertained. We learned about the old town of Bath, the spas, royal visitors, architectural details and many other interesting tidbits.

Later, after visiting The Georgian House Museum, we walked down the path that appears at the end of Sense and Sensibility, a street over from Gay Street where Austen lived (above), and spotted a Georgian Garden open to visitors (below). I may need one of these in my yard one day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

James and Wharton

Recently I've enjoyed rereading Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and Daisy Miller by Henry James. Just over a year ago, I visited Asheville, NC, and the Biltmore House with my family, and I was fascinated to read in Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook that both Wharton and James were friends of the Vanderbilts and visited them at their mountain home. The Biltmore House is so over the top with rooms much bigger than my entire house, rich furnishings and a view to die for. It made me imagine what it was really like to get invited to visit them in the lap of luxury. Considering this, it was interesting to imagine Wharton and James writing their novels about those in a similar lifestyle to the Vanderbilts, and living this kind of lifestyle themselves. After reading these two books, I watched both the movies of Age of Innocence and Daisy Miller, as well as The House of Mirth, a movie based on another Wharton novel. Click here to review my post on the Biltmore House.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Review: Chattahoochee by J. Randolph Cooper


Published on: November 2010
Page Count: 275
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller (Fiction)
My Reading Format: PDF provided by the author
Available Formats: E-book for Kindle

Atlanta native, food critic and first-time author J. Randolph Cooper has recently published Chattahoochee, a mystery novel with Georgia's best-known river as a central character. Cooper calls it a "watery serpent...unconcerned with its destination yet savoring the journey." As each chapter unfolds, it is only the river that knows who murdered several young women.

Detective Craig Dvorak is part of the team searching for the killer, and as the story progresses, his search for a better life is in full swing too. Dvorak is an interesting, multi-dimensional character, foiled well by his detective partner, Tyra Washington, who never deviates from the straight and narrow. Though Dvorak isn't the kind of person I'd personally be interested in spending a whole lot of time with, he has one big quality that I found admirable: his honesty. He's both haunted by the female victims he investigates and all over the place on how he feels about women who are living (his mother, his sometimes-dating partner, his psychologist, his partner at work). Does he love women or hate them? It seems like both to me, yet that didn't bother me as a reader. Aren't humans all this confused and hypocritical?  

Besides Dvorak, Cooper has developed an interesting array of characters representing different races, nationalities, gender preferences, career paths and other demographics. Cooper is particularly skilled at writing dialogue that provides insight into characters (Dvorak's lieutenant is a New Yorker, Father O'Connor is an Irishman).

Though in places I found Cooper's writing style to be abrupt, which was sometimes jarring to me as a reader, I realized partway through the book that Cooper's writing style matches perfectly the personality of his main character. Though Dvorak is brash, rude, sexist and sex-starved, he also is quite human. He desires his life to be as good as it can be, he wants the best for his son, and he wants to be a good person. What Dvorak wants out of life is little different from what we all want out of life.