Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish

Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by: She Writes Press
Published on: May 23, 2013
Page Count: 192
Genre: Short stories
My reading format: Paperback mailed to me by author
Available formats: Paperback, Kindle e-book editions

My Review:

There are countless examples of literary families who love each other but show that in interesting ways: the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, the McCourts in Angela's Ashes, the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road, the Walls family of The Glass Castle and the Berglands in Freedom all come to mind. These are complicated people; many of them have good intentions. And we as readers enjoy a window into their world.

In 2011 Anne Leigh Parrish published her first short story collection entitled All the Roads that Lead From Home (see review). Its 11 stories featured many female characters searching for the missing piece from their lives, children in difficult situations and friendships. The last story in that collection, "Our Love Could Light the World" became the lead story in and the namesake of Parrish's most recently published short story collection. In this story the Dugan family moved into a new home on a street where they didn't get to know their neighbors too well. People living nearby watched from afar the five children, the mother who left for work each morning in a power suit and the father who didn't seem to do much of anything.

Beyond "Our Love Could Light the World," the following 11 stories followed this family chronologically but in some cases with several years elapsing between stories. In these vignettes of Dugan family life readers see a marriage fall apart and another one begin, children grow and develop, and new relationships formed.

Lavinia is the mother of these five children. In her marriage to Potter, Lavinia was in a tough spot: the family breadwinner and emotionally distant from her children. During her marriage to her boss Chip, they can afford for her not to work but she doesn't use much of her freedom to make up for lost time with her children. Like so many women, perhaps she just did the best she could. Her good character really shined through when she confronts daughter Angie's professor/significant other in a way that he knows she means business. Angie remains unaware and therefore unembarrassed about her mother's intervention. Lavinia, who was never much of a cheerleader for her oldest daughter, did a sneaky, wonderful thing for her daughter, showing the complexity of her character in the process.

Angie is perhaps the most intriguing character in the collection. We watch her evolve from a foul-mouthed, green-haired teenager to a young professional committed to helping others in bad situations while she struggles to maintain her own difficult romantic relationship at home. Potter intervenes with his adult daughter's relationship, exhibiting the concern for Angie that I'd been hoping for. Patty, the Dugan children's aunt, plays another important role, particularly in Angie's development as a young adult.  

Parrish has again created memorable, complex characters, but this time we're able to hang on to them even longer.

Four out of five stars

Many thanks to the author for mailing me a copy of her book. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DYI Redecorating on a Budget: Miss Mustard Seed

My husband and I are on plan B of living in our house a lot longer than we originally thought when we bought it in 2007. As it turns out, I can't imagine living on any other street. We've got friendly neighbors who have relocated from other parts of Georgia and all over the world. When I work with my office window open in the evening, I can hear children riding their bikes up and down our street and laughing. I know where I can go to borrow a cup of sugar (yep, I've actually done that), park an extra car or share a meal. As a result of living in this house longer than we thought we would, we've been in the process for over a year now to redecorate the living room. What felt like an easy project in the beginning has been slower going than I thought, but we're nearing the end of the journey. Only a few things (mostly pictures for the walls) are left to complete the project.

Knowing that, my in-laws gave me a book for Christmas that speaks to this process and how to do it on a budget (an important part of why it's taking so long to get it done). The book, Inspired You: Breathing New Life into Your Heart and Home, came out of a blog by Marian Parsons aka Miss Mustard Seed. It's full of great ideas for things to do, both big and small, to change up your living space from a DYI, budget-friendly way.

Here's what I most liked. Parsons makes no bones about the fact that yes, the pictures in the book are of her own home. That she lives in. All the time. With a husband and children. And, no, it's not that clean all the time. She's brave enough to include a few photos of how lived-in it looks when the art directors and photographers aren't around, and real life is happening.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: Manners in Emily Post's Digital World: Living Well Online

The Emily Post Institute, the authority on all things etiquette, has just published an up-to-the-minute guide called Manners in Emily Post’s Digital World: Living Well Online. In keeping with the times, it’s the first-ever e-book to come out of the organization. The book’s author, Daniel Post Senning, has been at the helm of technology at the Emily Post Institute for years, building their first website, figuring out analytics and e-newsletters, and a WordPress blog to answer etiquette questions from the general public, among other things.

In a relatively short book, Senning covers a lot of ground. The book effectively targets the social media/mobile device novice as well as the more experienced user. It suggests the right way to coexist with technology as well as the people you interact with offline: family, friends, coworkers and even store clerks. It discusses in-depth the circumstances under which it’s acceptable to play a game on your mobile phone in public (sometimes OK), take a phone call in a public bathroom (never OK), friend an ex or a coworker online (sometimes OK), or stir up trouble in a chatroom or forum (never OK) .

The book outlines the wonderful advantages of touting your business on Facebook and other social media platforms. It gives advice on determining a website’s credibility. It suggests ways you and your family members can make rules about turning off mobile devices in favor of quality time together.

Perhaps the most power takeaway from the book appears in Chapter 4: Facebook: “You can always delete something you decide you don’t want on your wall [or on Twitter, in an email, on a dating profile, etc.], but you can’t take back the impression it made while it was visible.”

You can follow the Emily Post Institute on Twitter @EmilyPostInst and see what others are tweeting about with the #etiquette hashtag.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?


This event is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey. Go check out her blog. Meanwhile, here's what I'm up to this week:

Currently reading: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (I'm completely engrossed)

Currently listening: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Reading this week:  

Charles Dickens by Simon Callow (this one keeps getting bumped back but it's next in the queue)
Anne Leigh Parrish's Our Love Could Light the World, a short story collection I'll soon be reviewing

Monday, May 6, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

I enjoyed every moment of reading Therese Anne Fowler's latest novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I had one course with her back in 2005 during our graduate studies at NC State University. Each week our class members read aloud from the larger project we were working on and gave feedback to our classmates. It was one of the best classes I've ever had because I developed a lot in a short time with my own writing, and fine-tuned my listening and editing skills. I tap into that all the time when I'm helping others through writing coaching services. (Elaine Orr, who has also just published a book, was our professor. I'll be reading her latest, A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa, soon.)

Therese's writing now is fiction and different from the creative nonfiction we were workshopping in that class. I thought what Therese was working on in that class was wonderful, and I'm hoping that one day she'll publish some her creative nonfiction work.

I'm a little obsessed with the Fitzgeralds right now since the latest movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby is about to be released, I've just listened to Tender is the Night in the car, read The Paris Wife (the Fitzgeralds appear in this book about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley by Paula McLain) and I'm thinking through the high school American literature course I'll be teaching in fall. The Great Gatsby is at the top of my list of novels my students will read.

Z is written from the perspective of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Montgomery, Alabama, socialite and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though Zelda was a talented dancer, artist and writer on her own, her talents were overshadowed by her husband's fame. The book chronicles the Fitzgeralds' courtship and marriage through both budgets and financial excess, home life and travel abroad, deep passion and disdain for each other, and the highest highs and lowest lows of their marriage. Their relationship started out beautifully: they were the perfect couple, well-known and deeply in love with each other. As the years progressed Zelda was pushed aside by Scott so he could focus on his writing career and his affairs with other women, some of which he barely attempted to conceal from Zelda.

Throughout the novel, Zelda struggles to support her husband, the breadwinner of their family, while raising their daughter Scottie and developing herself as an artist. Scott is often resistant to letting Zelda pursue anything that will get in the way of how he thinks Zelda should be spending her time.

This book is one of several that have come out in the past several years that give a voice to the wives of important men through historical fiction. Loving Frank (Nancy Horan) and The Paris Wife were two such books I very much enjoyed. Many of us know that the Fitzgeralds had a difficult marriage at times, and this books gives us a window into that relationship from the wife's perspective, something I'd love to see more of in fiction. I'm liking this trend. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Author Appearance: Jill McCorkle

Tuesday night I visited the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta to hear Jill McCorkle, who is on a book tour to promote her most recent novel, Life After Life. In case you missed my review, I absolutely loved the book. I'm always fascinated when an author can skillfully create so many voices in one book. I don't think I could ever keep all that straight.

I think books really come alive when they're read by their authors. McCorkle read from several passages, covering three or four voices at various places in the novel, giving those in the audience who haven't yet read the novel some background information and then intimate looks at several characters.

She took questions after she read her selections. That's also something I think is very brave. Opening up the floor to questions from strangers who love your work has to be a little nerve-racking. I remember a couple years ago I went to hear Frances Mayes talk. When she took questions, a woman went off on a tangent and practically invited herself to vacation with Mayes at her Italian home. Mayes graciously deflected by diverting our attention to other related topic. She was poised and handled it very well.

McCorkle didn't have any weird questions like that, but it was still fascinating to hear the questions she was asked and how she answered them. Some of those questions, like what inspired her to write the book and what her writing process is like, she's probably gotten a million times before, but other unusual questions still got an interesting answer.

I chatted it up with the woman sitting next to me who had not yet read the book. For all of you like her who haven't read it yet, do. It's wonderful.