Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Love for Lola

Photographer Susan Graunke shares her book, Nico and Lola. It's a simple story of kindness and was recently awarded first place children's book at the New York Book Festival. Autographed copies available!

I glomp Writing Group

Billy's writing a novel for young adults about the comic book club. I laugh out loud every week as he reveals the inner life of high school comic book clubbers. They have this whole anime/manga vocabulary with awesome words like glomp (google it). Bunny writes a lot but her best pieces and the ones I most love to hate are these southern goth short stories. I swear, you feel like you're listening to a young (totally bizarre) Flannery O'Conner. She conjures up this imagery that feels as wise and vivid as my grandmother. Don's new. He has phenomenal diction (Bunny used that literary word, so I thought I'd steal it). Marshall's an old Methodist minister (don't worry, he's ok with the old part because he hangs with the young so well). He's spinning a family history for his grandson. He has a strong, southern preacher voice and his words melt as he reads. And Laura writes to my soul. She's a yoga, meditation junkie. Her writing gives my spirit peace.

Who needs therapy when you have writing group? Every Tuesday at 5:30.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hurry up and wait for Conroy’s latest.

I can’t remember when I last anticipated a book release so much. And then Southern Living went and put an excerpt of the book in their latest magazine. My mouth is watering. It’s been 14 years since Pat Conroy has put out a fat, engrossing southern fiction novel. Reviewers are promising that it will be worth the wait. Set in one of the South’s favorite cities, Conroy’s beloved Charleston, the novel hits some of the heavy issues of Conroy’s previous books and the themes of so much southern fiction—privilege and prejudice. Pre-order your copy today. (Incidentally, the release date is August 11, one day after my birthday. Thanks, Pat.)

You gotta meet the girl with the dragon tattoo

Confession. I didn’t get to work until noon today. It’s not because I did that pile of laundry that is flowing out of our closet door. Or because I added an extra mile or two to our walk. It’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The girl is a hacking fiend,the best in Sweden. She’s a sliver of a girl who looks like an anarchist but happens to be working for the good guys. For the past week, I’ve found myself sneaking away each extra minute to see how she and the righteous journalist Blomkvist unfold a long-unsolved crime. The sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is out this week. Don’t wait. Read them both.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is there anything fancier than fancy little girls with fancy little pearls reading Fancy Nancy stories?

They came fancy.

or, as Fancy Nancy would say, dignified.
They perused (fancy for read) the books
They listened attentively (fancy way of saying listened closely)

They danced gallantly.

They made tiaras to crown themselves.
And they left fancy.

Finding the elegance in a hedgehog

I wonder if friendship can transcend class.

I know it seems obvious and the best-selling reads of the year say, “of course, here’s proof” as they document unlikely friendships that cross racial, class and religious barriers.

But I’m not so sure.

I think of the people I consider close friends. They seem diverse- there’s the black-skinned and brown-skinned, Jewish and gentile and atheist, gay and straight, 65 years old, 25 years old.

We’re bound by shared interests and what creates those shared interests? Shared experiences. And what creates shared experiences? Largely, I think, class. Despite the seeming diversity, they’re all upper-middle class, educated people.

They, like me, live comfortably and when there’s money left over, we travel. We like to eat out at non-chain restaurants and try way too hard to be socially aware.

Oh, and if you fit this typecast, you read the “it” books. Try Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It’s replete with typecasting. Barbery’s international bestseller (that’s the kind of generic, self-aggrandizing tag used by the type that likes this sort of book) follows the friendship between a 12-year-old rich tenant and a 50-something concierge in an uppity Paris apartment.

Paloma, the 12-year-old, tells us at the onset the she will commit suicide on June 16. Until then, she’s on guard for any reason to live. We read her story through her journals.

Renee (or Madame Michel as we know her) is the invisible concierge with a passion for Dutch still-lifes, Leo Tolstoy, and classical music.

They’re smart characters. It’s a smart book. You’re likely to be a little bothered by the overly stereotyped minor characters. But indulge yourself in the accuracy of her typecasts. My favorite is Paloma’s older sister, a philosophy major who dresses like she’s poor and raves about Italian villas.

Paloma and Renee are brought together by the remarkably intriguing Kakura, a new tenant with exquisitely simple tastes. The three are bound, not by their shared genius, but their shared appreciation for beauty.

That’s Barbery’s answer. A deep friendship between the classes is difficult but possible if they can find a shared interest. Chance has brought these three characters into the same physical place but it is their tastes that formed the bond.

Barbery’s prose about art and music and food, like it’s subject, stops time. That’s the beauty, so to speak, of beauty. It surely seems to transcend our cultural preferences. But is beauty enough to be a soul satisfying relationship? It requires seeing elegance in a hedgehog. But read on. Even if you can see the elegance, you’ll find that social class can be a dangerous barrier to cross.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A higher woodpile: Jack and Mary Collins' life of love

For the full story and pictures, see the latest issue of Thomasville Magazine

Drs. Jack and Mary Collins have always felt they should leave the woodpile a little higher than they found it.

Wood is stacked all around their cabin off Monticello Road. Jack Collins’ mom designed the unpainted heart pine home around two fireplaces. Though both Jack and Mary have enjoyed careers at the Harvard Medical Complex, several months of the year are spent here at Collinswood where they can look out the bay window in the living room and name the fox squirrels after Greek gods or marvel at the hummingbirds or listen to the symphony of rain on their tin roof.

Their careers alone would have left the woodpile stacked much higher. Jack, a premier heart surgeon, performed the first heart transplant in New England. At a time when China was largely isolationist, the country opened its doors to Jack so he could train their surgeons. Mary, a psychiatrist, works with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in combating depression during pregnancy in bipolar women and researches stress, anxiety and depression at McLean, the private psychiatric unit of Harvard Hospital.

“But the most important thing is him now,” Mary says, looking at her husband of 42 years. He looks different than he did on that first date when he asked Mary to marry him. He’s in a wheel chair now, his mouth slightly ajar. Advanced Parkinson’s disease has eroded his ability to move and left him unable to verbally communicate.

But you can see the dignity of a man who was a Reagan confidant, who golfed with Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus, who was always at the top of his class.

“I tell the children that his greatest accomplishment is in his illness,” Mary said, holding her husband’s hand. “It’s easy to be kind when you are young and successful. When you’re dealing with illness and you are still kind, that is extraordinary. Jack is always kind.”

Mary understands Jack. Though there are no words and he’s mostly paralyzed, she can read him through a blink or a hand squeeze or a mutter lost on other ears. Theirs is a romance that spans four decades and has produced four children- a lawyer, a doctor, a curator and a hedge-fund manager. And even between their careers and their children, “It was always like playing house. We had such a good time,” Mary said.

“The secret to our happiness was every night Jack came home for supper. There was never unpleasantness in the bedroom. There was never unpleasantness in the kitchen.”

Jack had plans to sail around the world when he retired. He would salmon fish, Mary would write a book. The title was to be Wildflowers in the Beautiful Places that Salmon Swim. Their plans were averted in 2001 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But the disease has not interfered with life.

“You can be happy and have a life of meaning and value with an illness,” Mary said.

Life is all around Collinswood. It’s in the heart-shaped clovers that Mary picks for Valentine’s Day in honor of Jack. “Please, let me show you all the tadpoles,” Mary says excitedly as she shows off the millions of tadpoles swimming in the pond. It’s the life that brings them and their kids, and now their grandkids, down to Thomasville every year.

But it’s also the history.

Jack grew up in a house called Recreation, now Allen and Allen Funeral Home. His dad started the radiology department at Archbold Hospital. Like so many Thomasville natives of his generation, he remembers Ms. Daisy Neel’s first grade class in what is now the Cultural Center. He treasures his trips to Al Dixon’s Menswear where his father was outfitted before him.

And it’s the future.

The grandkids were here for Easter. They are the fifth generation of Collins’ to retreat to the cabin amongst the longleaf pines. It’s just a small plot of land, 244 acres, a postage stamp amongst these large envelopes, Mary says. But the grandkids, “They will remember it as the best time of their life.”

As you leave Collinswood, Mary says, you will come to a fork in the road. “You’ll want to take the one less traveled.” She laughs as she quotes Robert Frost, “And that will make all the difference.”

But just before you leave, don’t miss the lean-to; it’s stacked to the brim with wood, piles and piles of wood.

Thomasville's Rite of Passage Read

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

“Long as you didn’t  hurt anybody, why shouldn’t you dance if you liked dancing, and marry again if you needed looking after, and go fishing or wear a floweredy dress if it might life your grief a little”

--   Will Tweedy 

If Thomasville has a rite of passage read, this just might be it (if, of course, you exclude anything by Bailey Junebug White). It’s been a standard on Brookwood Academy’s summer reading list. Pat Conroy calls it “one of the best portraits of small-town southern life ever written” and I reckon it is. Thomasville loves this book. And finally I see why.

It captures the eccentricities of people so bound by convention and reminds us not be too quick to judge.

Will Tweedy comes of age at a time where the automobile was just being introduced and the South was still licking its wounds from the War of Northern Aggression.

His story begins just three weeks after his Granny Blakeslee dies. Forgoing the conventional year of mourning, Grandpa Blakeslee marries the beautiful Yankee that makes hats for Grandpa’s General Store.

I’m not sure where the plot in this novel is, but with so much life goin on, who needs a plot? There are moments that are hysterical-- like when Will Tweedy releases a barrel of rats on crazy or when Aunt Loma’s Christmas pageant.  And moments that are tragic—like when Aunt Loma’s husband commits suicide. And there is plenty of slices of southern life in between.

On the surface, it’s a fun and easy novel. But for readers wanting more, there’s plenty to gnaw on. When Will Tweedy kisses a mill girl, the town’s class struggle between the townies and the lintheads is revealed. Like most southern novels, the race dynamics could be offensive if not seen through the lens of the time period. And, also like any good southern novel, religion has a central role.

Grandpa Blakeslee sets the moral tone for the novel as Will Tweedy mentor. His defying of social and religious conventions is done on strong conviction. He challenges Will to think about what worship should look like and questions how people pray. In doing so, Grandpa Blakeslee teaches Will how to deal with death, even his own. 

“When Jesus said ast and you’ll get it, He meant things of the spirit, not the flesh. Right now, for instance, I could ast, ‘Lord, please raise Grandpa from the dead,’ but it wouldn’t happen. But I can say, ‘Please, God, comfort me,’ and I’ll get heart’s ease. Grandpa said Jesus meant us to ast for hope, forgiveness, and all like that,” Will says. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another Blog is Born

I’ve avoided blogs for much the same reason as I’ve avoided babies.

  1. They’re consuming. I like to read. I like to write. That’s a liability when you find yourself with complete and free access to the world’s sharpest thinkers and wittiest writers. The world of blogging, like babies, takes time, energy, attention. Suddenly you find your days dwindling away as the world wide web of ideas inspire and virtual conversations transpire.
  2. It’s the thing to do. I like to stay the course. I don’t stray far from societal expectations . So, I went to college. I married a nice boy. I opened a Roth IRA. And well, you know what’s supposed to come next. It’s the same with blogs. You open a business. You get a following. You blog about it. All my hip, in-the know friends have been saying it for years—Get a blog. Have a baby.
  3. I don’t particularly like to talk about eating, pooping, and sleeping. (ok, that’s not always entirely true). I have this horrible stereotype of bloggers that they post irrelevant, often irreverent, details about their daily life. Since I don’t have profound thoughts on any kind of regular basis, I didn’t want to inundate the world with more irrelevant irreverence.

And yet I’m caving in. Just as our species must have babies to continue our lines, so must bookstores have blogs. Here's the wonderful thing: I find myself weirdly excited about the possibilities brought on by blogging. Yes, it requires time and attention and yes, there's some uncertainty. But, ah the joy. I suppose it's the same with babies.