Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blue and Comfort

I've read BLUE and looking forward to reading COMFORT. Blue spoke to me because I grew up in a place where we were forced to take polio naps in the heat of the day. And we were scared out of our wits of the disease, which had struck a classmate who lived on my street. Swimming pools and picture shows (that would be a movie theater to the uninformed) were closed. This is a terrific story, based on a true place, that middle readers will like.

Check out the book giveaway on author Joyce Hostetter's website. Here's the cover of the new book. Looks interesting, no?

Monday, April 27, 2009

April is Poetry Month, Pt. 2

One of the highlights of my library career was the Poetry Assembly. I got to be the MC and all the teachers led their little girls in wonderful poetry readings. We had poems in French and in Spanish. Poems with costumes and poems with action. It was a great day for all my students and I loved it. So I still think of April as poetry time and I've been trying to read a few poems here and there. I'm discovering Peter Meinke, a founder of the Writers in Paradise conference. I'm rediscovering Billy Collins. I'm enjoying a new poet, new to me- Jane Mayhall and this poem from my Poem-a-Day emails. Here's a part that tickled me from "Notes For Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary"

Lofty, but not above it.

How could anything so rash happen?

The Baptist ice-cream, and a pitiful living room.

The pastor in seersucker, red-faced,

bewildered as icons.

And Billy Collins, writing about Bathtub Families. Remember those little figures? They were originally made of wood, later of plastic. Often went down the bathtub drain, backing up, needing a plumber. What were they called? Well, I love what he says about them:

Bathtub Families

is not just a phrase I made up

though it would have given me pleasure

to have written those words in a notebook

then looked up at the sky wondering what they meant
I hesitated to buy it because I knew

I would then want the entire series of Bathtub Families...

Great fun, reading poetry. Especially the kind you can actually understand! Give it a try. It's Poetry Month. Soon it will be Poem in Your Pocket Day. You can't miss that one!

(NB: Aha! Found what I was looking for. Surely Mr. Collins means those little Fisher Price "People" = Bathtub Families)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What We Read Then/ What They're Reading Now

I ran across this post on the Horn Book blog recently. The mere mention of To Kill a Mockingbird caught my attention. Check this wikipedia source- it was published in 1960. Perhaps I read it as a Young Adult. But I know when I reread it recently, it sounded to me a lot like a book written for adults even if it's now mostly read by teenagers, and younger.

When I was in high school, there was a corner of our library--the corner nearest the street windows and the library check-out desk, that was labeled the Mississippi Collection. Mrs. Walker, my wonderful librarian there, frequently sent me in that direction to read Margaret Alexander and Eudora Welty and Wirt Williams. And many more, now forgotten. I gravitated toward historical fiction- maybe because my American history teacher gave us AN ENTIRE EXTRA POINT on our grade for each book completed and reported on. Man, was I ever a brownnoser in that department.

I digress...

But I also read a lot of trash, including my mother's hidden copy of Peyton Place (when I was in about 7th grade) and my senior high school English teacher's recommendation of a banned book: Forever Amber.

So what are high school kids reading now? Lots of "crossover" books. Edgy YA. The winners of the Printz Award? I just hope the words reading and high school kids continue to be used in the same sentence.

Here's what Horn Book editor Roger Sutton says about his own experience reading Mockingbird:
While having much to say about racism, societal strictures, and justice, what Mockingbird is mostly about is the difference between the way children and adults look at the world. At nine, I felt too allied with Scout to have any distance from her, and what flew over her head flew over mine as well. Does that mean I read the book at the “wrong” age? Nah — it only means that great books speak across time, both our own and the world’s.

Amen to that, wouldn't you say?

Friday, April 24, 2009

P.S. Write Soon

Sadly, I no longer write letters. I have proof that I once did. For a momentous birthday, my friend Patty presented me with a box of our correspondence. A decorated, beautiful box, tied with grosgrain ribbon. And inside were all the letters we'd written as new wives and young mothers. A treasure. I have other boxes of letters, saved over the years, mostly because I wanted to remember an event or a place or, most likely, the friend who wrote to me. My father wrote beautiful letters and I've saved some of those. I've tossed a few letters, too. I once burned a fat pack of love letters written on heavy parchment by an out-of-favor boyfriend, burned them away, standing tearfully in the alley behind my house with my best friend as witness.

So I love this post from the Novel Journey blog, about letters, penpals, writing. I like the quotes, including this from a letter published in a book my friend Joan gave me, Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis:

“If you are only interested in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about.”

Joan still writes the occasional note to me. But mostly it's email. I recently read an article about Facebook and Twitter. In the article, the defender of what many contend will be the end of "real" writing compared some of the abbreviated status updates and quick replies we've all come to love/ hate to the brevity of one of our most treasured writers:

This is my letter to the World/ That never Wrote to Me.

OK, none of my Facebook updates even come close to Emily Dickinson.

So you won't find me burning letters in my alley these days. I'll hang on to them as proof that letter writing once existed. But letters aren't the only way to stay connected with things to write about. We can count our modern day penpals- our email connections. Why else would writers save hundreds of their emails, squirreling them away into labeled folders with names like "good words," and "characters" and "quotes."

When was the last time you wrote a real letter, a long one, with a stamp and an envelope, nice stationery, C.S. Lewis-worthy?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Delta Ties

Here's another book on my "must read" shelf. Olive Kitteridge just won a Pulitzer for fiction. And our local newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times, won two! 

And while I'm claiming six degrees of separation-Have I mentioned that "my people" are from that part of Mississippi where everybody knows everybody. Actually, the whole state is mostly like that. But we also love to claim kin to anybody with a tie to The Delta. So here goes, from Delta News Online, which magically appeared on my Facebook page:

2 Pulitzer Prize Winners with Delta Ties!!


NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House."

His wife is Keith Smythe,formerly of Tribbett.

Atlanta Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, Douglas A. Blackmon, won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction: 
"Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from 
the Civil War to World War II" 
Mr. Blackmon is formerly of Leland.
Congratulations to these Pulitzer Prize Winners!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Indie Awards

Check it out! This is a great list. Be sure to scroll down and read some of the Honor Books as well as the winners. I'm probably the only person I know who hasn't read the "Best Indie Buzz Book" of fiction yet:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

But it's next on my list now.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Now?

I picked up a little book by Ann Patchett yesterday at our tiny, busy library. I'm a huge fan of her novels and this looked like something I could read while the drawbridge was up or I was stuck in traffic, which happens more and more frequently this time of year. (Spring breakers, go home! Just kidding, we need all the visitors we can get.)

But back to Patchett. I love her writing. One of my all-time favorite books, bar none, was Bel Canto. In this book-- WHAT NOW?-- based on a graduation address she delivered at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, she gives writers a piece or two of excellent advice. Toward the end of the essay/ speech, as she's explored how she came to the place she is now, she finally figures out What Now is always "going to be a work in progress. What now was never what you think it's going to be, and that's what every writer has to learn." She goes on to compare writing to duck hunting, an analogy my childhood amongst hunters allowed me to understand:

Fiction writing is like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dawn, wearing a little protective gear, then you stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog... But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens."

There's more. But I'll let you read it for yourself. It won't take long. Just long enough for a long line of cars to proceed through a backed up tollbooth, or for the drawbridge to let a few boats in. Just be sure to turn off the car and enjoy the sunshine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April is Poetry Month

OK, I think I already said that. But I loved my Poem-a-Day poem today- You're Beautiful, filled with funny things, and thoughtful things, and irony. Here's a taste, but go ahead, click on that link up there, and read the whole thing. While you're there, sign up for your own Poems Each Day, just for Poetry Month.

You’re beautiful because you can’t work the remote control.
I’m ugly because of satellite television and twenty-four-hour
rolling news.
You’re beautiful because you’ve never seen the inside of a
I’m ugly because I always ask for a receipt.

You’re beautiful for sending a box of shoes to the third
I’m ugly because I remember the telephone numbers of
ex-girlfriends and the year Schubert was born.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One Good Librarian

When I was growing up in a little town in Mississippi, not many of my friends' moms worked. They played a lot of bridge and did a lot of Good Works. They ran the churches--the auxiliaries, the choirs, the Sunday Schools-- and they took care of their children, their mothers and mothers-in-law and various other elderly relatives.

But my friend Ivy's mother, LePoint Smith, had a different plan. She did all the above, and then some. After her three daughters were old enough to pretty much take care of themselves, she went to library school and became the director of the Bolivar County Library. Among many other things. She died over the weekend and the library was closed in her honor. You can read an amazing tribute to her.

She, as well as her co-conspirator Anise Powell, the head of the Sunflower County Library, were my library mentors. When I went to Simmons to get my MLS- that would be Simmons in Boston, MA-- some of my classmates scoffed at my summer employment with the Sunflower County Library. Not too many, but some. I had a lot of defending to do back then.

So when I think about people like LePoint Smith and her friend Anise Powell, who pretty much ran the library show in my neck of the woods in the turbulent 60s and kept their libraries open when some had a different idea, I'm so proud to have known them.

I'm not sure we even realized what was going on in our small towns back then. Years later, when I read a book about Duncan Gray, the priest at our tiny Episcopal Church, another staunch defender of Civil Rights, my dad was mentioned as someone who defended him against his detractors. And I had no real idea about any of that.

But somebody must have been whispering in our ears, telling us what was the right thing to do. Telling us everybody needed to know how to read, and the library was the perfect place to learn.

2010 Addendum:
Since the above link to the tribute to LePoint Smith is no longer active, here is a bit from that newspaper article. I chose this part to share because not only did I work as a summer intern for Mrs. Powell in Sunflower County, I also got to meet some of our town's "Freedom Riders," courtesy of LePoint Smith.

“She was a beautiful lady and she was a tireless worker,” said Roosevelt Grenell, who has known Smith for a number of years. He said he will always remember her from the late ‘60s when the Freedom Riders, a group of college kids, came through town to assist in voter registration. Times were different then and a lot of people were not comfortable with them being in town.

However, Grenell said, not Smith. She was not hesitant to help them in anyway she could. They used the library and she never said a word, only offered support.
He also said that she was one of the reasons people continued to return to the library.
“She took her role at the library very seriously,” he said. “When you walked in the front door, there she was, always smiling. She made everyone feel welcome to visit the library.”

Frieda Quon, who knew Smith for over 40 years, said Smith was “a pioneer library woman.”
She said Smith took the small library and worked to make it grow.
“She was very intelligent, very literate and very aware politically,” she added. “She was a very take action-type person. She knew what was right and made sure her family was very civic-minded as well.”

Quon also remembers Smith as being ahead of her time, wanting equal rights for all people.
“She accompanied black officials during the ‘60s to Washington D.C. to establish the local Head Start program,” Quon explained. “Heads turned to see a white female with a black group. It meant a lot to her to have equal rights in Bolivar County.

“LePoint instinctively knew what was right and she fought for it,” Quon said. “She felt that integration of the library system was imperative. She knew how to make it happen and she did so in a smooth manner. She didn’t cause too many feathers to ruffle. She just had a way about her.”
Quon said that Smith and Anise Powell, the director of the Sunflower County Library, were frequent visitors of the Mississippi Library Commission in Jackson.

“Those two were sometimes called the Delta Mafia,” she added. “The commissioners once said, ‘We learned some things from LePoint and Anise. These two gentle Southern ladies would ask politely at the front door what they needed from us and if necessary they would go to the back door, occasionally through a window and if that didn’t work they would go down the chimney.’”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Circus Trains (and others)

Today's New York Times published an interesting article about the circus train, byline Secaucus NJ. Circuses and trains have always fascinated me. OK, no comments needed about cruelty to animals and the like. Circuses and kids just go together.

As a child, the "train they call the City of New Orleans" ran right through the middle of my hometown. But no trains run through Cleveland, MS, these days and the tracks have been planted with roses and turned into a walking trail. Quite beautiful but I'm glad they turned the depot into a Train Museum.

There's a marker on the site now, and the text is a story I never knew:

Four railroad depots have operated here since Cleveland was incorporated in 1886. The first depot - two Yazoo & Mississippi Valley RR cars tied together and parked on a side track - disappeared when a prankster hooked it to an outgoing train. A temporary depot was used until 1896 when a larger, wooden building was constructed. This depot burned in 1914 but was replaced the following year by the Illinois Central Railroad. The present structure, renovated in 2003 incorporates a portion of the 1915 depot.

Our dad, Dr. Jack Russel, was the "train doctor" for our little town. All that meant to us kids was that we could ride the train for free. And all he told us was that if someone on the train got sick, near Cleveland, the train folks would call him. Since everybody in town called him, night and day, this made sense. He never told us he might also get called in for a train wreck and the thought that a train would crash just never occurred to me, as a child.

THE FLOATING CIRCUS is a great kids' book about a circus boat. A circus, a riverboat. Excitement, sickness, the orphan train. Quite a good read. I wonder if there's a book that's as much fun to read, written for kids, about the circus train. Suggestions? Research needed!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blogging, facebooking, twittering- Real Writing or Not?

I happened upon my former Skirt! Magazine colleague Kelly Love Johnson's blog about what constitutes "real" writing, or not. I've not succumbed to twittering and don't waste time worrying with my facebook account (though it is fun to see what everyone's up to!). But blogging? Her comment about blogging vs. working on an essay for publication in Actual Print- worth consideration.

I guess I'm especially thinking about this today since my turn was up at the Southern Writers' blog where I'm surrounded by some very accomplished writers and would hate to look like a poor stepsister! So I spend a lot of time on those blog entries, which are often as long as an essay and heaven forbid if I left a typo-- or worse-- in that esteemed company.

So. What do you think? Leave me a comment, anonymous or not:
What makes writing legitimate these days?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Writing About Race

Food for thought in this School Library Journal article by Mitali Perkins. Be sure to read through the comments if you're interested in the topic.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

Wow. I'm reading two great books.

Laura Lippman's latest novel, LIFE SENTENCES , is one of her stand-alones. Complicated story structure makes it even more fun to read. There was one loose end I've yet to unravel so if anyone's finished this book, leave me a comment or shoot me an email so I can pick your reading brain.

The second is a collection of essays by some really great writers. I just received it to review for the Christian Science Monitor so you'll have to stay tuned to read my real review, due around Mother's Day. But wow is all I can say about EYE OF MY HEART: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother.

I think I'd better order this one for the newest grandmother in my family (Welcome, Baby Jake!).

OK, now back to reading.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Writing in Austin

OK, so we also did a lot of eating, talking, visiting this week with my New Jersey Writers, sans Leslie. And a little bit of writing. And we did a lot of talking about writing and reading and sharing thoughts about how we can stay connected. Lots of fun. Thanks, Lee. And in case I doubted Austin was living up to its weirdness? Lee showed us the flamingos. They have Easter eggs surrounding them now. But the decoration changes with the season. This flock seems to like pumpkins.

Pink Flamingos in USA

So now, back to work. Or maybe a nap...