Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy 85th birthday to Flannery O'Connor!

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 25, would have been Flannery O'Connor's 85th birthday. The folks at Andalusia, her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, will be celebrating in a big way. The mayor of Milledgeville will declare it "Flannery O'Connor Day" and visitors to the farm will be able to enjoy a peacock birthday cake. If you're able to make a visit there tomorrow, check out Andalusia's web site for directions and other information. To read about my visit to Andalusia and O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah last year, visit here and here.

I'm having my own celebration today by wearing a T-shirt I picked up at O'Connor's childhood home that says, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." Indeed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Complicated Issues in "The Help"

Yesterday I finished reading a book I feel like I've been on the waiting list for at the library forever, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The story is amazingly compelling, and I wanted to do nothing but read it until I'd gotten all the way through.

Racial issues are always complicated. If anything, Stockett does a wonderful job of showing how many black maids were stuck between a rock and a hard place as domestic workers in the South in the early to mid-20th century. Since I wasn't born until the late 1970s, I really have no personal experience that can be applied here, except I examined such relationships and social issues and norms in the writing of my thesis a few years ago. After interviewing family members who'd had domestic workers, and even a domestic worker who was once employed by someone in my family, I was convinced that the issues were even more complicated than I'd even imagined. I still stand by that it's a sticky situation after reading The Help.

People all over the country are reading the book, and it's been reviewed in who knows how many publications. It will probably be one of the most popular books of 2009-2010. The critics have weighed in on this book from previously unknown Stockett. Read the reviews for yourself, and for heaven's sake, read The Help.

New York Times
California Literary Review
Huffington Post
USA Today
The Book Lady's Blog

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

A recent article in USA Today made me realize how many authors are jumping on the bandwagon merging a classic novel with a terrifying monster. My recent read, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, isn't all that's out there. (To read the article, click here.) I enjoyed my recent foray into this genre, but can't say that I plan to spend much time in it. This is the kind of thing that could wear on me after a while. I will say, however, that I'm tempted to get my hands on Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand, due out May 4. I can just imagine what Jo would do with a werewolf!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Las Vegas and Donna Leon

This week on the plane to Las Vegas, I read Donna Leon's second Guido Brunetti mystery, Death in a Strange Country. I was anticipating my visit to the casino I was most looking forward to seeing: The Venetian. I enjoyed the mystery and I'm looking forward to some time reading the third in the series. Vegas, in all its glory, was a lot of fun. It was great to see how over the top each casino could be. I enjoyed the Venetian and thought it was overall a good representation of the real Venice. It hits the highlights for sure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Celebrating Women's History Month

Last month, I listed suggested reading to celebrate African American History Month. I'm a little behind in getting this posted, but in celebration of March being Women's History Month, here is some recommended reading that celebrates the female experience:

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
Anne Bradstreet poetry
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
A Lost Lady, O Pioneers!, and My Antonia, all by Willa Cather
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Road to Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope by Shirin Ebadi
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (You didn't really think I'd leave this one out, did you?)
The Last Girls by Lee Smith
The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Stone Diaries by Joyce Carol Oates
Anne Sexton poetry
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

Rereading a classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

I read Zora Neale Hurston's masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for the first time as a junior in high school. I read it for the second time last weekend as a participant in the National Endowment for the Arts' program, The Big Read (see my post on last year's - The Great Gatsby - here). It's the largest reading program in the country. I enjoyed it very much 14 years ago, and so much more this time. This novel has several good things wrapped into one story: coming of age, a journey for love, a woman's struggle for independence, strong family relationships and female friendship.

What resonated with me the most during this reading is that most of the book is Janie Crawford's attempt to catch her friend, Pheoby, up on where she's been since they last saw each other. I could identify so well with this.

I'm lucky in that I have five very best friends: one from childhood and four more from college. None of them lives in Atlanta like I do, so we email each other daily, talk on the phone some and are connected on Facebook. We always save our best and longest stories for when we see each other in person. Isn't a story from an old friend always told best in person? When we get together, a lot of what we do is catch up, and it's usually over a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Like Janie, I've gotten accustomed to condensing a lot of information into a story told to an audience of from one to four girlfriends. I can imagine that Janie felt, as I often do, that telling stories in such a setting gives the storyteller both relief and perspective. Thank goodness for girlfriends.

Alice Walker is one of the few people who deserve credit for a resurgence in Hurston's popularity. You can read more about what I've written about Walker here and here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This morning I finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Sethe Graham-Smith. I have to say I was a little unsure before I started about how I'd feel about Pride and Prejudice, a novel I love, being updated by another author. Graham-Smith did a great job. It is certainly an interesting way to merge a classic novel with modern pop culture. I wonder how many people will become familiar with Austen for the first time because they like to read zombie novels?

Here are some of my favorite lines, and some of them even got a laugh-out-loud response:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." (p. 13)

"[The unmentionable] rushed at Elizabeth, her clawed fingers swaying clumsily about. Elizabeth lifted her skirt, disregarding modesty, and delivered a swift kick to the creature's head, which exploded in a cloud of brittle skin and bone." (p. 38)

Mr. Darcy's description of an accomplished woman: "A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages; she must be well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the modern tactics and weaponry of Europe." (p. 45)

"No ninjas! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without any ninjas! I never heard of such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your safety." (p. 144-5)

If you can't tell by these quotes, this is a fun book. If like zombies or Austen or both, it's worth a read.