Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: Head Over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy by Chris Harrison

Head Over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy 

Published by: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Published on: October 18, 2010
Page Count: 321
Genre: Nonfiction
My reading format: Advanced reading copy in Adobe Digital Editions from NetGalley
Available Formats: Paperback

Italy is one of the few places I've been outside the United States, and anything having to do with it always catches my eye. Also, when I went the trip covered nothing south of Rome, so until I can visit Southern Italy myself, I'll just have to read about it.

Thanks to this book, any pipe dreams that may have ever crossed my mind about possibly living abroad now do not include Italy. Head Over Heel was a wonderful read, but if anything, it made me realize how frustrating it can be to live as a foreigner in another country. Customs, food and all ways of doing things can be vastly different from what one is used to in her native land. A Type-A rule-follower myself, I know I'd have a hard time with all the bureaucracy involved in getting anything done at all. Most of us just aren't accustomed to spotty postal service and not bothering to report a crime because the police force will never bother to assist you anyway.

In the first chapter, Harrison, an Australian used to an ordered life, remarks that Italians would rather complain about something than take steps to fix it. However, somewhere in the second half of the book, as Harrison is both frustrated and sucked in by the Italian way of life, he realizes that to survive and thrive in his adopted country, he will need to suck it up, bending and breaking a few laws where necessary to accomplish things like obtaining a drivers license, marriage license, functional plumbing and any other number of basics. Things get so overwhelming at one point that he decides he must go back to England to regroup for a bit but the trip is short-lived. He comes to realize during the 24-hour stay in England, that his life there is too ordered and he enjoys more freedom and a laid-back lifestyle in the home country of his lover, Daniela. Then he has another important realization: England isn't what has changed, he is. It is at this point that he comes to terms with his love-hate relationship with Italy and returns to it just as fast as he can.

Harrison is an excellent writer, very talented with putting something down on paper just right. He is very witty, which makes viewing Italy through his eyes wonderfully entertaining.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gone With the Wind Turns 75

2011 marks the 75th birthday of the award-winning novel, Gone With the Wind (see what USA Today said about the celebration). To celebrate, Atlanta's Margaret Mitchell House has events planned this summer (see the schedule here). My book club has chosen to read it (or for most of us, reread) for our August meeting (we're even taking July off from meeting so we can all get finished with the 1,000 pages in time). In honor of both occasions, I've ordered a new copy of GWTW that I can dig deep into and mark the pages up (I'm afraid to do that with the copy I have from my grandmother's house). The version I now have is the 1996 edition, written with a preface by another one of my favorites, Pat Conroy. I'm hoping to make a visit to the Margaret Mitchell House this summer as it's been renovated since I last visited several years ago. And I'm most excited about rereading this novel. I've only read it once before and that was the summer after eighth grade. Since then I've just seen the movie about a million times. Happy birthday, GWTW!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

O'Connor's Hill House Restoration

A few months ago after a visit to Flannery O'Connor's farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Ga., I wrote a post on the proposed restoration of the Hill House. This structure is on the farm behind the main home where O'Connor and her mother lived, and housed Jack and Louise Hill, caretakers of the farm, and a boarder. The home has been in sad disrepair, and in February Andalusia received grant funds to begin restoring it. It's the largest grant ever to be awarded to the farm. The project has begun (read about it here). I can't wait to go back for a visit and see the Hill House once it's back to its original self.

Speaking of O'Connor, my book club has chosen one of her short story collections, A Good Man is Hard to Find, for our June meeting. I'll be happily rereading these stories once my turn comes up for the book at my library.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Food Reading and Writing

Meals can be memorable. Years later, one can remember what was eaten at a special meal. For me, I love that my family eats North Carolina barbecue, slaw, potato salad and hush puppies for Christmas Eve dinner. I'll always remember my paternal grandfather's obsession with dessert (so I come by it naturally) and how he once ate three HUGE pieces of my maternal grandmother's strawberry cake after a very large meal. I can't look at a red velvet cake without remembering that that's the flavor my husband wanted for our wedding cake. I remember that when my grandmother died, all the neighbors brought over muffins. When my great-grandmother died, it was fried chicken. Life happens around a dining room table.

Jason Epstein recalls what he's eaten and cooked over the years in his memoir, Eating. In each chapter he recalls a meal shared with someone, the conversation that happened, what they ate and then gives recipes to recreate that meal. Though not all of the recipes he included appeal to my taste, I can very much relate to the fact that we associate certain dishes with the people who have shared them with us.

Food and drink are meant to be shared with friends and family. Two recent articles I've written center on this theme. Recipe developer Alison Lewis has a sandwich cookbook just out called 400 Best Sandwich Recipes: From Classics and Burgers to Wraps and Condiments, and her story appears in Julep, a new online Southern magazine. For Georgia Connector, I wrote an article about the home brewing scene in Athens, Georgia, where it's a pretty big deal to brew your own beer and have your friends over to try it.

All this talk about food, friends and family makes me want to throw a dinner party to try out new recipes!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Widow of the South

I've gotten really interested in the Civil War since this year marks the 150th anniversary of its beginning. I've done some reading on it, and recently read a book one of my husband's relatives sent me about a battle that took place near where she lives. The book is The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. It's a historical fiction novel about a woman whose plantation home was commandeered to be a hospital for Confederate soldiers wounded in the Battle of Franklin in Middle Tennessee. It was a fascinating story, and I enjoyed it even more knowing there is truth behind it. I'm now hoping I can sometime make a visit to Carnton Plantation in Franklin, TN, to see the home and the massive cemetery on the grounds there. To find out more, visit the website for the plantation and/or the book.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nashville, Tennesee

I love all kinds of music, but I have a particular affinity for country music. I listen to it often, love its TV specials (check out a great one here) and love to visit Nashville to experience country music first hand. Recently, I walked the Country Music Half Marathon with some friends and stayed a few extra days. Once I was back home, I had two books to read about country music. The first, Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music in America, is filled with short articles and lots of pictures, telling country music's story from its earliest days to the present. It would make a good coffee table book; it was so full of information it was a bit overwhelming. I enjoyed the second book much more: Composed by Roseanne Cash. This memoir was just beautifully written. I really liked Cash's style, and since I knew more about her famous father Johnny and her stepmother June, it was nice to learn about her and her life as a musician and mom in the country music business. I really hope she writes another book.

Here are a few photos from the trip to Nashville:

 Ryman Auditorium

 A statue of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff at the Ryman

 Elvis' star on the Music City Walk of Fame

 RCA Studio B

Part of the set from the TV show Hee Haw

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Even though I always gravitated toward language arts in school, two of my best high school classes were biology and anatomy, both taught by the same fantastic teacher. She made the science of life and the human body fascinating and accessible in a way I hadn't thought possible before. In college I took biology again, hoping for an experience similar to the ones I'd already had in high school. Sadly, I barely made it out of that class alive and most of my classmates had the same experience. Our professor, bless his heart, was not much older than most of us and looked absolutely terrified to be lecturing 60 women.

However, the college class notwithstanding, I'm still curious about the human body and the miracles that are possible within it. For my first graduate school class I was fortunate enough to get into an elective course just days before the semester began called Gender and Medicine. All semester long we explored women's access to and experience with receiving health care with regard to race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, geography, medical insurance status, mental capacity and many other factors. With a few weeks left in the semester, each student had to choose a disease or medical experience present for women and explore the topic for our final paper. I chose to cover forced and coerced hysterectomies, and never before had I been sucked into a research topic like this. I started to read everything I could get my hands on, and as the due date of the paper loomed closer and closer, I had to stop researching and start writing. The result was a paper that more than doubled the size of any I'd written for a rigorous undergraduate English program.

I imagine Rebecca Skloot must have been inundated with and overwhelmed by the information she uncovered when she began researching Henrietta Lacks, a young mother who suffered from an extremely aggressive case of cervical cancer in Baltimore in the 1950s. Without her knowledge or consent (or that of her family), her surgeon extracted cancer cells for research purposes, grew them in his lab and sold them to scientists all over the world before Lacks' children and husband found out just over a decade ago.

Skloot has written a fantastic book, certainly in top five of all I've read this year so far called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I think my favorite thing about this book, besides trying to understand the gall of some members of the medical community and patients' rights, was how Skloot inserted herself into the book. This made it a much more real story. There was no way after Skloot described the personality traits of Lacks and her family members, that this book would have worked if it had a clinical feel to it. And, Skloot's relationship with many members of Lacks' family are such a huge part of the story that it just seems a no-brainer that that stuff should be included.

Read this book. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Becoming Jane Eyre

I've recently finished reading another fictional book about the life of an author: Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler. It was an interesting book because it made me think about how an author may take his or her own personal experiences and shape them into a plot and characters in a novel. Though to the author there is correlation, it may be hard for others to see this connection. Another reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did is that I've recently reread Jane Eyre and saw the latest movie version twice in the theater. Plus, I'm not nearly as up on the Brontes' biographies as I am other authors, so it was nice to do a close read of the father of the Bronte sisters, as well as their ne'er-do-well brother. Here's what the New York Times had to say (I liked the book and this review of it!).