March Books

In March, I almost doubled the amount of previously-unread books. Yay! I’m ahead of schedule now on reading 100 books this year, though I doubt I can keep up the pace. We’ll see.

17. No Telephone to Heaven, Michelle Cliff. For Caribbean lit. Not my favorite. In fact, we had to read the prequel to this, called Abeng, which I didn’t even finish. I don’t particularly care for Cliff’s style of writing.

18. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson. A snarky, engaging read about Bryson’s trip across America in search of the quintessential, perfect small town. It made me want to jump in my car and drive forever.

19. Flabbergasted, Ray Blackston.

20-22. The three books in Jane Yolen’s Young Merlin trilogy: Passager, Hobby, and Merlin. Awesome fact: the day after I posted a blog about this book, my blog was linked to Jane Yolen’s website, under reviews for the second book Hobby. I got quoted along with Booklist and other legit reviewers. Heck yes. πŸ™‚

23. Let Justice Roll Down, John Perkins. If it doesn’t rock your world…never mind. It’s gotta rock your world. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of books.

24. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Volume 6: Retreat, Jane Espenson. I liked this one a little better than some of the previous ones, but mostly because of some of the characters who show up.

25. The Sisters Grimm Book 1: The Fairytale Detectives, Michael Buckley. Such a delightful book! I can’t wait to read the rest of them!

26. Crossing the Mangrove, Maryse Conde. Another book for Caribbean Women’s Writing. One of my favorites, so far.

27. The Spike Omnibus, by lots of authors. A volumized graphic novel of one-shots and issues from several comic books featuring Spike from Buffy.

28. The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before, Ann M. Martin. Scholastic is re-releasing The Baby-Sitters Club! (Or at least the first three thus far.) They have new covers, and Martin (supposedly–most of the BSC was actually written by ghostwriters) has released a prequel to the series. At 24, my love for the BSC is mostly nostalgic, but they’re like old friends by now. I enjoyed this book far more than a grown woman should…and I have no problem with that. πŸ™‚

29. The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen. A powerful, heart-wrenching story about a young Jewish girl who time-travels to 1942 Poland and experiences the Holocaust firsthand.

30. Catalyst, Laurie Halse Anderson. A young adult novel with lots of conflict and tension. Anderson is a great writer.

#92: Andalusia

Yesterday, the Traveling Literati (Harvin, Ticcoa, and I) along with Michele and Stephen took a trip down to Milledgeville, GA, to visit Andalusia, the farm where Flannery O’Connor lived as an adult. All of her works were published while she lived on this farm with her mother Regina.

It’s about a three and a half hour journey to Milledgeville from Greer, so we were on the road by 7:30. We arrived at the farm a little before 11. What a beautiful place it is! The house is a two-story, white house with a red roof and a huge screened-in porch with rocking chairs, Southern and inviting (of course!).

Because Flannery had lupus and was unable to navigate stairs well, the front parlor was made into her bedroom. Inside, you can see the bed where she slept and some other original furnishings. There’s a desk and typewriter placed where they would have been when she lived there; however, because those original pieces were donated to the college in Milledgeville in the 80s, the desk and typewriter at Andalusia are period pieces and not Flannery’s.

The best part about Andalusia is the grounds. The house sits on over 500 acres of land still (though we didn’t see all of that, obviously!). There’s a pond at the bottom of the hill, and we walked around it, pointing out all the fish inside. We also looked at the outbuildings still there–a storing shed for milk from when Andalusia was a dairy farm in the 50s; an old house where a family named the Hills lived (which is falling apart–the foundation will soon be raising money to rescue the building from collapse); and various other farm-related buildings. Also, because Flannery is known for having raised peafowl when she lived there, the farm has recently build an aviary and acquired three birds: two females and a glorious peacock.

After leaving the farm, we headed into Milledgeville, stopped for lunch, and then drove to the cemetery where Flannery is buried. We found her grave rather quickly (much faster than when we explored for Thomas Wolfe’s grave in Asheville!), and then wandered around the cemetery. I love old, Southern cemeteries. This one had lots of trees, of course, as well as old gravestones of Civil War soldiers, and a meditation garden, with shrubs arranged in a six-pointed star (Jewish folk, perhaps?).

After leaving the cemetery, we headed downtown to find Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where Flannery attended. We first stopped at the visitors’ center, then walked down to the church. We found several antique shops and a comic book store on the way back, which we stopped in, and we also admired the lovely antebellum architecture. Milledgeville was once the capital of Georgia, before the capital was moved to Atlanta, and the town is quite proud of its history, naturally.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the awesomeness of Milledgeville around 3, in order to drive the 20 miles back to Eatonton, which is the birthplace of both Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker. One of the most visited places in Eatonton is the Uncle Remus Museum, which is composed of three old slave cabins. The tour guide who was working was named Georgia Smith, and she was as wonderful as Miss Nannie was at The Wren’s Nest. She told us the story of Joel Chandler Harris, writer of the Uncle Remus tales, and she gave us a lot of history of Putnam County, as well. For example, Putnam was the wealthiest county in Georgia pre-Civil War, but when Sherman marched through and burned all the cotton fields, all the wealth was lost seemingly overnight. No one even grows cotton there anymore because, as Miss Georgia told us, all the farmers are scared after the blight of the boll weevil. Understandable.

The museum also has a lot of history on the Turner family, who owned the plantation where J.C. Harris got his first job writing for a newspaper published by the plantation. At Turnwold, the teenaged J.C. Harris met the slaves who would tell him the critter tales that would later become the stories of Brer Rabbit and the rest of the gang.

The best part about yesterday is that it ended up being a continuation of previous trips. Last March, we visited The Wren’s Nest, which is still one of the best experiences we’ve had at a house-museum. The Wren’s Nest is the home where Joel Chandler Harris visited in Atlanta, so visited the Uncle Remus Museum was almost like getting the prequel to the story. And in January, we visited the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah. Also, as Flannery’s birthday was just this past Thursday, it was the perfect time to visit!

Happy Birthday, Mary Flannery!

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” ~ Flannery O’Connor

* * *

Today, had she not died of lupus a long time ago, Mary Flannery O’Connor would be 85 years old.

I’ve read quite a few of her short stories (my personal favorite being “Good Country People”), and I love the way she critiques Southern culture, the culture that I’m so familiar with. Reading her stories make me realize that not much has changed since she was writing decades ago.

When Harvin, Ticcoa, Jessie, and I visited the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah in January, we were all delighted with our docent’s stories of Mary Flannery. Visiting house-museums, particularly when we have good docents and tour guides, makes these authors seem even more real to us…as if we could run inside the house for tea with Flannery and make fun of all of her neighbors.

Flannery is one of the great Southern writers…she was snarky and feisty and an incredibly gifted writer. Happy Birthday, Mary Flannery. Thanks for your words!

I miss my pets.

Over the past two years, a menagerie of animals have adopted my parents. They now own two cats, two dogs, and seven puppies that are quickly turning into large dogs. It’s a zoo at my parents’ house, and I love visiting the animals almost as much as visiting my parents.

So when mental_floss posted several cute animal videos in their morning cup of links, I couldn’t resist watching.

This video from Pedigree is so adorable, and I want to drive to my parents RIGHT NOW to visit my puppies. I love dogs. πŸ™‚

Also, check out this adorable little cat:

Check it out!

So I posted a blog about Jane Yolen’s Young Merlin trilogy, and her website found it! I’m now quoted on the page for each of the three books under such reviewers as Booklist and School Library Journal.

Here’s the info page for Merlin, the last book in the trilogy. Scroll to the bottom and note my awesomeness:

Then I emailed Ms. Yolen, and she responded! Yay!

“John Perkins said it right”

I just finished Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins. It might be the most powerful book I’ve ever read. He is, indeed, revolutionary:

* * *

“God was showing me something, telling me something. There were blacks who had accepted our message. Who had embraced the gospel. Who now knew dignity. Who now walked taller than before.

And there were whites who believed in justice. Who lived love. Who shared themselves. Who joined our community.

I began to see with horror how hate could destroy me–destroy me more devastatingly and suddenly than and destruction I could bring on those who wronged me. I could try and fight back, as many of my brothers had done. But if I did, how would I be different from the whites who hate?

And where would hating get me? Anyone can hate. This whole business of hating and hating back. It’s what keeps the vicious cycle of racism going.

The Spirit of God worked on me as I lay in that bed [after Perkins had a heart attack]. An image formed in my mind. The image of the cross–Christ on the cross. It blotted out everything else in my mind.

This Jesus knew what I had suffered. He understood. And He cared. Because He had experienced it all himself. [ . . . ]

And when He looked at that mob that had lynched Him, He didn’t hate them. He loved them. He forgave them. And He prayed for God to forgive them. [ . . . ]

His enemies hated. But Jesus forgave. I couldn’t get away from that.”

* * *

“To develop the Christian community as a group that could show love within itself and to the world would be creating a new entity that was more than the sum of the individual Christians. The community’s existence itself, as a structure, would open up so many new channels of strength and witness. Individual heroism and suffering, though always needed at times of crisis, would not be able to inflict such terrible isolation on the individuals who lived and breathed in a brotherhood of intertwined lives.”

Young Merlin

At Jamboread, the library had tables set up where we could purchase books by the authors who would be speaking that day. I didn’t own any books by Jane Yolen, so I purchased a storybook about lady pirates and The Young Merlin Trilogy, a collection of chapter books that Yolen wrote about the legendary wizard as a young boy.

My copy of the trilogy contains all three in one volume, though they were originally published separately. Each title comes from a falconry term that somehow represents Merlin’s stage in life, so not only did I enjoy a good story that contains bits of Arthurian legend, but I also learned about birds and stuff. πŸ™‚

The first book Passager is about Merlin’s abandonment by his mother, who could no longer afford to care for him (think “Hansel and Gretal”). Merlin–who, at the time, is an unnamed character to the audience–is eight years old, and he lives in the woods for a year, slowing losing his civilized nature. Finally, he spots a falconer training a falcon, spies on them for a few days, and then follows the falconer home (after the falconer left an intentional trail). The falconer–named Robin–adopts the young boy and begins to civilize him and care for him. When Robin takes the boy out to see his hawks, he introduces the boy to the merlin, which is a small falcon that, despite its size, is rarely captured by predators. When the boy hears the word “merlin,” he, of course, recalls his own name, and symbolically becomes part of Robin’s family. The title of this first book is from “passager,” a falcon caught in the wild and trained, but not yet mature.

Warning: spoilers may follow.

The second book Hobby begins with a tragic house fire in which Merlin, now twelve years old, is the only survivor. He sets off with a cow and a horse, the only farm animals to survive, and heads into the woods towards a town, where he plans to sell the animals to buy food. Before he reaches the town, he comes across a set of ruins, where a scary, mean man who calls himself Fowler and his dog Ranger are. Though Fowler captures the young Merlin–who has begun to call himself Hawk–Hawk eventually escapes and arrives at a fair in town. Here he meets Ambrosius, a mage, or magician, and Viviane, a beautiful musician, who are traveling entertainers. (And both are characters that appear in Arthurian legend.) Hawk joins them after Ambrosius realizes that Hawk is a dreamer (and a dream-reader). He uses one of Hawk’s powerful dreams to entertain a certain duke and his lady, though Ambrosius incorrectly explains Hawk’s dream. After Hawk has been with the two entertainers for a few days, they send him back to the fair and escape, fearful of Hawk’s ability to dream and his interpretations of those dreams. It’s becoming evident in the plot that Merlin is very powerful, though he does not realize it. The story is written in such a way that even a young reader (mid- to late-elementary age) will be able to see how Merlin’s dreams are symbolic of the future. In regards to falconry (as I’m sure you’re all eager to learn about birds, too), a “hobby” is “a small, Old World falcon or hawk that has been trained and flown at small birds.”

[By the way, did you know that a falcon is merely a female hawk? And that a male hawk is technically called a “tercel”? I always assumed that falcons and hawks were two separate species. Then again, science was never really my strongest subject.]

The final book in the trilogy is called Merlin. In this book has fled from the town and is on the run again. Now, his power is becoming more evident, as his dreams while sleeping are now joined by dreams while he’s awake. He seems to become part of a pack of wild dogs even while they are chasing him; he swims with trout in a river though he sits on a rock, completely dry. He doesn’t yet understand why he has these experiences, but others older than he are figuring out that he’s quite powerful. One dream fascinated me–Merlin dreams of a bear wearing a golden crown, and though the bear should be frightening, it seems powerful yet gentle. I’m familiar enough with Arthurian legend that I realized this dream symbolized that Merlin was soon to meet the young Arthur (from artus, or bear), whose presence actually made this last book my favorite.

Soon after the dream, a great, bear-like, wild man saves Merlin from a pack of wild dogs. This man, one of the legendary “wild ones” that Merlin has heard about, takes the boy back to the camp. The people he meets are kinda scary; they’re semi-nomads who take in orphans and children otherwise abused or who have run away, and when they realize that the boy is a dreamer, they put Hawk-Hobby (which he is now going by) into a wicker cage and feed him food spiked with a drug intended to create more dreams. A lot happens in this last book, but the most important events are that Hawk-Hobby meets a young boy named Cub, who one day brings him a dead robin. Hawk-Hobby is able to breathe life back into the bird, realizing even more of his magical potential, and when he finally flees the wild people, Cub follows him, adopting him, in a way. When they return to camp, they realize that Hawk-Hobby’s one dream about the wild people has come true, and they have been slaughtered by an army led by Fowler, the bad man from the second book, who has died in the battle as well. The boys are now really and truly on their own, and Merlin takes the job of raising Cub, finally telling Cub what his true name is. Cub is such a wonderful little character, and the epilogue to the last book is an older Arthur reflecting on how Merlin changed his life.

This is a seriously long synopsis for three relatively short books, but they were quite good and I wanted to share. Yolen is a masterful storyteller, which I already knew, but I love how she integrates Arthurian legend and falconry into these stories. The legends of Merlin are so numerous, and each one tells a different side of the story that it’s impossible to know what aspects of the story are true, if such a man named Merlin really did exist. And even if Merlin only exists in our collective memory, I’m so glad that Yolen is adding to the lore.

The Lost Continent

Once, while on summer break from college, I pulled this book off the shelf at the Orangeburg County Library. Coincidentally, I turned to the page where Bryson describes driving through South Carolina. He was bitter and complained about the billboards on I-26, the only road he traversed in our state. I got angry, shoved the book back on the shelf, and decided I didn’t need to read a travelogue by someone who clearly hated my home state.

Hasty, I know. I’ve picked it up several times since then, mostly because of the cover. Maps, a realistic coffee stain design, roadside signs. I love traveling, and I love small towns, and I love sarcasm. I therefore loved this book (even though I wished he would have spent more time in South Carolina, rather than just stopping in Beaufort and Charleston and high-tailing it to North Carolina).

Essentially, it’s a whole book about a long, solitary road trip. Essentially, it’s the book I want to write about undergoing such a journey (though I’d like to have at least one other person with me).

Bryson is in search of the perfect small town in America. He quickly realizes that it doesn’t exist; he decides instead to search for the qualities that should be in a perfect small town, a town which he refers to as “Amalgam.” The first part of the book, about his travels around the eastern half of the country, contains most of his searching for Amalgam. He details the hotels he stays in, the tourist traps he visits, the food he eats.

The second half contains his trip a few months later across the western part of the country. Because of the different geography, people, and culture, the second half of the book is quite different from the first. Not as many small towns, mostly long stretches of solitary road and lots of natural wonders.

Whereas in the first half of the book, Bryson is sarcastic and often complaining about the places he visits, his attitude has started to change by the second half. He begins to appreciate much more the people and places he encounters. His reaction to the Grand Canyon is beautiful:

“Nothing prepares you for the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times you read about it or see it pictured, it still takes your breath away. Your mind, unable to deal with anything on this scale, just shuts down and for many long moments you are a human vacuum, without speech or breath, but just a deep, inexpressible awe that anything on this earth could be so vast, so beautiful, so silent.”

Bryson is a magnificent writer. His tone is conversational; his humor is unparalleled (I’ve never laughed aloud–literally–so many times while reading a book). He’s sarcastic, and he weaves his discussion of travel with social commentary that is hilarious and truthful.

I finished this book last night. The whole time I’ve been reading, I’ve been aching to pack my bags and start driving to some unknown destination. As if my wanderlust isn’t already bad enough. πŸ™‚

The best thing about this book, however, is his own transformation. He leaves his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, disillusioned. He’s lived in England for so long and finds very little value in any aspect of America. He begins his search for the perfect small town knowing it’s pointless, yet he leaves anyway. In the end, he returns to Des Moines, and his arrival reveals his renewed appreciation for his state:

“I drove on into Des Moines and it looked very large and handsome in the afternoon sunshine. The golden dome of the state capitol building gleamed. Every yard was dark with trees. People were out cutting the grass or riding bikes. I could see why strangers came in off the interstate looking for hamburgers and gasoline and stayed forever. There was just something about it that looked friendly and decent and nice. I could live here, I thought, and turned the car for home. It was the strangest thing, but for the first time in a long time I almost felt serene.”

This is a book that I’ll definitely re-read. It’s glorious and hilarious and wonderful.

#98: Meet Lois Lowry

Jamboread 2010 was held last Saturday at the Spartanburg County Public Library. While there were a variety of events held for kids, Becky, Ticcoa, Harvin, and I were really interested in the two major events: book signings and author/illustrator lectures. Who were the authors and illustrators, you might ask?

Jane Yolen (who has written 300 books, including fairy tales, and she’s also done work in fairy tale research. I used her as a source for my honors project three years ago.)

Paul O. Zelinsky (a wonderful illustrator of tons of children’s books–including Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw!– and winner of a Caldecott Medal)

LOIS LOWRY! (author of The Giver and Gossamer and tons of other beautiful children’s books)

The day involved lots of laughs as my friends and I excitedly waited to meet these authors and hear them speak. We had books signed by all three, and each gave an hour-long lecture that was truly astonishing. I had a really hard time deciding which lecture I enjoyed the most, so I’ll just say that they were all equally wonderful.

Yolen talked about the importance of storytelling and her unquenchable desire to tell these stories. She also read aloud from her picture book Owl Moon, which is marvelous.

Zelinsky talked about his experiences illustrating. He had a large pad on stage and drew example illustrations for us. He’s so incredibly talented! Here, Awful Ogre is staring down Rapunzel.

And Lowry talked about her childhood and experiences that made her become a writer and write the stories she does. Her mannerisms and style of storytelling made me wish Dr. Sepko could have been there with us…the two of them would be great friends!

Such a perfect day.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

~opening line of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

* * *

It’s been about two years since I read those lines for the first time, and I was awestruck by them from the first moment. Who was this man? Why was he facing a firing squad? And, for goodness sake, what does ice have to do with anything?

I began reading on a Friday morning. While in the writing center, I read the first two chapters (50 pages or so) and then left work to head to my parents’ house for the weekend. I could not stop thinking about that book. I wanted to pull off onto the side of the road to keep reading. I met my parents for dinner and carried the book with me, reading the first line to my mother in hopes that she would be as riveted as I was. She wasn’t. That didn’t diminish my excitement, however. I finished the novel Sunday night, and since then, I’ve regarded it as my favorite book.

Today is Garcia Marquez’s 82nd birthday. He started as a journalist before moving to novels and short stories, and he’s considered one the most prolific novels of the 20th century. In fact, my friend Myron and I had plenty of discussions about why One Hundred Years of Solitude should be considered the essential postmodern, much like Eliot’s The Waste Land was the epitome of the modern period. However, according to Wikipedia, Garcia Marquez stated, “Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.” Quite an interesting comment. At any rate, the novel is still one of my favorites, and one of the first that I recommend when asked for my favorite book.

Garcia Marquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer several years ago, and although he is still alive, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever publish any new material again. However, he has already gifted the literary world with so much.

If you only ever read one book by Garcia Marquez, choose One Hundred Years of Solitude. Nothing I’ve read by him since has compared to that first novel that I read. It’s complex (I constantly had to refer to the genealogy chart at the beginning of the novel), rich in humor and Latin American culture, and so beautifully written. In fact, I so very much want to read this book again; however, I have plenty of Caribbean writing beckoning to me. Perhaps soon, Gabo. Perhaps. πŸ™‚