Monday, March 21, 2011

Frances Mayes and The Georgia Center for the Book

I mentioned last week that I'd be going to hear Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and other books. It's been quite a while since I've been to hear an author speak and I quite enjoyed it. She's got a soft yet wonderful Southern accent, and she read to the audience for about 40 minutes before taking questions. It seems quite a few people are interested in visiting her in Italy. She was very good at deflecting their directness. I imagine she deals with her readers' boldness all the time.

Mayes is on a tour promoting her latest book about life in Italy called Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life, and it's just out in paperback. I don't yet have a copy of it, but I imagine I will soon. I'm really hoping her next book will be something along the lines of the one I enjoyed so much on the plane back from London, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller, which wasn't about Italy much at all. 

One interesting thing Mayes mentioned is that her publisher has talked her into writing a blog, and you can find it here.

This event and many others, including the To Kill a Mockingbird lecture and dramatic reading I attended last year, is all thanks to the Georgia Center for the Book, which keeps bringing those of us in the Atlanta area program after program of book-related fabulousness. You can view their upcoming schedule of events here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Making Connections

The other night while watching Jane Eyre, the thought occurred to me that young Jane Eyre, while in boarding school, reminds me very much of another heroine I've just read about. Last week I finished reading Lee Smith's On Agate Hill, a book that begins on a worn-down plantation home in North Carolina during Reconstruction, and is the diary of a spunky young girl named Molly. Molly, like Jane is an orphan and is sent to a boarding school to be educated and get out from under foot. While in school each girl makes one very good friend, and each friend comes down with an illness and passes. Particularly sad, I think, for these two girls who have already lost so much in life. The good new is, however, both heroines find love, happiness and purpose later in life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jane Eyre Movie

I've been pretty excited about the Jane Eyre movie coming out. I've been looking forward to it for months and I've done several things to get prepared. First, one of my book clubs chose it as the March book, so I reread it a couple of weeks ago. Second, Goodreads has been promoting the movie as well by holding a contest where you read the book, take a quiz and register to win free movie tickets. Well, guess what? I won two tickets to the premiere which was last night, and took a friend with me.

As I reread the novel, I enjoyed it so much more than when I read it for school (both in high school and graduate school I think) - very much like my reread of Age of Innocence, The Great Gatsby and other classics I've reread in the past couple of years. I had a hard time putting it down, which worked out well since the second half of the book was read while I was on vacation and I had some extra time to devote to reading.

Finally, I went to see the movie last night and was very satisfied with the way it was done. I like the creative license taken with the arrangement of the movie - the movie opens near the middle of the book. And, a long book was condensed into a two-hour movie. Though some things, like Jane's relationship with the Rivers family, was glazed over, nothing was left out so much that I felt the book wasn't being done justice. And, even with being shortened everything still made sense. The ending was done a bit differently from the book but worked I'd say. And even though I've just reread the book, it took seeing the movie to remind me what a creepy story it is (old creaky house, storms, crazy lady in the attic, etc.). 

I'll be seeing it again with my book club Monday night, followed by a discussion of book versus movie. Good thing I liked it as much as I did!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Stories from the South 2010

Novels have always been my thing. I've never been crazy about all the poetry I studied over the years, and I tend to like short stories only a little bit more than I like poems. I think it all has to do with character development and my attachment to characters as a I read a book. Many times I've felt like I just didn't have enough time to get to know someone I suspect I'll really like before the story ends. It's kind of like making friends with a neighbor who has lived near you a long time, but you don't start to get to know each other until one of you is just about to move. I've recently read two short story collections that are about to make me change my mind about short stories and their characters.

I've been working my way through a book I won on Facebook, New Stories from the South 2010, published by Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill, NC. The 25 stories in this book feature memorable, hilarious, haunting, dramatic, crazy characters doing great things, dumb things and every kind of thing in between. They are in situations familiar to many of us, and those we should hope to never be in. Overall, the collection is a heavy one, so if you're planning to pick this up to read, pace yourself. Read one story at a time and take a break. Let the characters and their words, situations and actions sink in before you move on to the next one.

I also won the other short story collection through a Goodreads giveaway. It's called Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus (bonus: she personalized and autographed my book!). It's a short read - just seven stories - but the stories also deal with big issues and require reflection on the reader's part. But my very favorite thing about this collection is that the seven stories are related to each other because the characters in each story are related to one another. I won't give it all away but once I figured out what was going on, it was fun to discover the connection each story had to the rest in the collection. All are beautiful tales of Jewish life: Berlin under Nazi power, an American Jew supervising German prisoners at a POW camp and the descendants of concentration camp survivors in New York City are just a few.

Like I said, these two short story collections have shed new light for me and I'm looking to find more good short stories to dive into. Any recommendations?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ian McEwan Novels

Years ago my grandmother asked me if I'd ever read any of Ian McEwan's novels. When I told her no, she came back with something along the lines of, "Well, you'd better." Jump ahead a few years to the release of the movie Atonement. I read the novel in preparation and then saw it with two friends. I enjoyed both immensely, and this one is right up there in the plot-twists-I-never-saw-coming category.

This year I nominated another McEwan novel, Saturday, as a book club pick for one of the groups I'm in, and the book didn't get chosen. It's still on my own list to read though. Then, at a recent used book sale at the Decatur Library, I found Amsterdam for 50 cents (winner of the Booker Prize in 1998). It's less than 200 pages and I breezed right through it in a couple of sittings. The plot in this one's twisty too, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But then again, I seem to love any story that involved ethics decisions in journalism (Almost Famous, All the President's Men, etc.). Read and enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Where One Writer Began

Eudora Welty once wrote, "Location is the ground conductor of all the currents of emotion and belief and moral conviction that charge out from the story in its course." Last week I spent four days in Mississippi with my parents and one of the highlights for me was seeing Welty's home in Jackson. I mentioned recently that I loved One Writer's Beginnings when I read it in graduate school. Even though it's been several years since reading her memoir, much of it came back to me upon visiting her hometown.

Here is the home she lived in from age 16 until she dies in 2001 at age 92. Much like Carl Sandburg's home in Flat Rock, NC, Welty's home has been left just as she had it in the 1980s when she was doing lots of writing and traveling. It's sunny with large, comfortable, functional rooms and ordinary, every day furniture. It looks like the kind of house anyone could live in. What I enjoyed most about the house were the books she had everywhere and her typewriter upstairs in her bedroom. I also loved that she spread her manuscripts out on the dining room table so she could view the piece as a whole, and often physically cut and pasted parts of pages together to rearrange the order of her stories.

As we were wrapping up with our tour guide, we had the pleasure of meeting the former director of the home and Welty's niece, who favors her aunt for sure.

This was the first time I have visited Jackson, and I particularly liked two downtown landmarks that are associated with Welty. First, the Lamar Life building (below with the clock tower) was her father's insurance company. After reading One Writer's Beginnings, I know Welty associated clocks and time with her father, so it was wonderful to see that his building boasted a clock. 

As a child, Welty often roller skated to the library from her childhood home near downtown Jackson. In her path was the Capitol Building, and she usually skated right through the lobby.

Just before leaving town, we drove to her childhood home (it looks like it's a private residence today). I tried to snap a good picture but this is all I could get. The house is just down the street from an elementary school that was letting out. There were parents' cars and buses everywhere, and a police officer told us to move on. 

All of this helped put Welty in perspective for me. I think it's time to do some rereading!
I recently received a press release from an organization working hard to curtail childhood obesity. I promised I'd help spread the word, so here goes. It's for a great cause and involves writing. 

NFL’s Buffalo Bills #99 Marcus Stroud and Team Tiger Foundation Announce “Sacking Obesity Children’s Essay Contest

 More than 200 Kids’ Winning Essays Will Be Selected to Attend ‘Sacking Obesity’ Sports & Wellness Camp for Kids Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Georgia Dome
Atlanta, GA  Childhood obesity continues to plague our nation as the number of adolescents and children designated as overweight or obese rises to epidemic proportions. According to Georgia Children’s Health Alliance, a 2005 study showed more than 43 percent of Georgia’s third-graders are overweight or obese. To help combat this epidemic, NFL’s Buffalo Bills #99 starting defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and Team Tiger, a non-profit organization founded by 12-year-old Alpharetta resident Tiger Greene, have teamed up to present ‘Sacking Obesity: Sports and Wellness Camp” – an exciting sports and wellness camp for kids on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Georgia Dome.  
Contest rules and essay entry forms can be downloaded at or Students, ages 7 to 15, that fall into the national criteria for childhood obesity are eligible to enter the essay contest. Entrants will be asked to complete the official entry form along with an original essay of 75 words or more explaining why they want to attend the Sacking Obesity Wellness Camp.  Winning entries will be judged by the board of Team Tiger organization. Deadline for entries is March 10, 2011. Winning entries will be notified on March 15, 2011. 
On Friday, April 15, 2011, Marcus Stroud and Team Tiger will host the Marcus Stroud Charitable Foundation’s 2nd annual Ball: “Casino Royale: Sacking Obesity at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta. All proceeds from the Gala, including ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and silent auction donations, will help provide camp scholarships for more than 200 kids selected with winning essays to participate in the Sacking Obesity camp to be held the following day at the Georgia Dome.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Author Reading: Frances Mayes

It's been a while since I've attended an author event, so I'm particularly excited that I can go to one this week and see an author I'm crazy about. Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany and A Year in the World, will speak at First Baptist Church in Decatur on Tuesday, March 15 at 7 (doors open at 6 and it's free). She has a new book out that I haven't purchased or read yet called Every Day in Tuscany, but I can't wait to get my hands on it. Under the Tuscan Sun is on The Georgia Center for the Book's list of Books all Georgians Should Read 2010.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


As I've mentioned before, food ranks right up there for most of us. I consider barbecue from my home state, North Carolina, to be just about the best thing there is. We had it at the rehearsal dinner before my wedding, and I can't even start to count how many weddings, rehearsal dinners, graduation parties and birthday parties I've been to over the years where we took the pork for our sandwiches right off the hog. I was awfully excited when I got the opportunity to explore Georgia barbecue in a 12-county area east of Atlanta for Georgia Connector Magazine. I tried some fantastic barbecue and found it to be much like the Eastern North Carolina pulled pork I'm used to. Don't worry; I like Western North Carolina barbecue just as much, and while I've been watching the ACC Tournament this weekend in Greensboro, I keep thinking about one of the best places there is for that kind: Stamey's which is right across the street from the Greensboro Coliseum where all the hoops are happening.

Here are a few of my other favorite places:
Clyde Cooper's, Raleigh, NC
Ole Time Barbecue, Raleigh, NC
Red Hot and Blue, Raleigh, NC (Memphis style)
Jackson's Big Oak Barbecue, Wilmington, NC
Stamey's Barbecue, Greensboro, NC
Fox Brothers BBQ, Atlanta
Daddy Dz BBQ Joynt, Atlanta
Rendezvous, Memphis

Friday, March 11, 2011

World War II Books

Recently I had the pleasure of reading a new book from a first-time author called Grayton Beach Affair, and then interviewed the author, James Harvey, an Atlanta area resident, for a story in Simply Buckhead Magazine. It's a love story set during World War II in the Florida Panhandle, Atlanta, Germany and France. I enjoyed reading the book, interviewing the author and now, seeing the story in print. It had quite a few of the things I like to read: a strong central female character, both internal and external conflicts, a sense of place and something I don't want to put down.

It was the perfect transition into the additional reading I've been doing. I've always been interested in reading about that time period, likely thanks to Anne Frank, and I've only grown more interested after visiting Churchill's War Rooms in London. I promise there will be no more Jane Austen posts for now; I'm going to move on to the theme of war and will be reading some fiction and nonfiction books from the World War II and Civil War eras over the next little while. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!