Monday, December 31, 2007

License to Blog

Blogging: what is there about it that provides such an impetus? Who knew there were so many writers in the world? Do my words matter? A large majority of blogs are barely read. Is what I am doing here relevant to anyone?

Just today I was talking with a friend who is a printmaker and graphic artist about how good creative challenges can be. Contests for playwrights, photography competitions, haiku contests, etc. No matter how creative you are, a little jump start from an exterior direction can light a new fire. For me, blogging has been like that. I LOVE using mostly original artwork herein, and making the connection between whatever it is I want to say and whatever graphic I can provide. Often, I begin writing without really knowing where it will take me. I like jumping in. I like deciding whether a book I'm reading is one I want to write about. I enjoy revision. Joking around, I like to say I was born to blog! Maybe everyone feels that way?

I've been reading Emma by Jane Austen for book group and have decided she's not my favorite author. I can't seem to get into Emma's mannerly drawing room doings. Oddly, I fathomed some resemblance to the Seinfield tv show: not much happens in either world. Well, there is a lot of fuss over who's dating who. Both are microcosmic social comedies. They matter to somebody. They matter to readers or viewers who can relate to that milieu. But I like Seinfield better, perhaps only because I have connections to Manhattan and it is set in my century, or at least the one I was born into. Yet I am fascinated by the facts of Jane Austen's (short) life. She had no relationships with other writers, lived fairly simply, and remained a spinster. Many of her novels were published without her name on their covers. Clearly she had the major drive and passion required for serious art. Jane Austen was a woman ahead of her time.

I plan to continue with this blog, and keep it loosely related to my work as a public librarian and reader's advisor. I have only two or three years left till retirement. What else can I learn about web skills, libraries, books, authors, writing, art, etc. that might make for good content? How grateful I am to have this opportunity, this license to blog. Onward through the blogosphere!

Quotation: People need a false world because the real one is intolerable. It's the lesson of all literature since the Greeks. As T S Eliot put it, humankind can not stand very much reality. Hence we have religion, art, higher education. - Paul Fussell, Psychology Today, August 1998.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Homespun Appeal

One book I feel confident recommending for Christmas reading is A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. It's not too Christmasty, and has a certain homespun quality I seem to crave.

At the book's beginning, we meet Oswald Campbell who is a down and out character living in a shabby Chicago hotel. His doctor has diagnosed emphysema and tells him he has few months left to live. Pulling up stakes on a whim, Oswald moves to Lost River, Alabama to die in peace. A recovering alcoholic, Oswald surprises himself and becomes a bird watcher and artist, reaching for pencils and paint brushes instead of booze. Formerly a curmudgeon who hates children (not that he's known any), he befriends a young girl named Patsy, who like Oswald, is an orphan. One more orphan stirred into this colorful mix is a wounded redbird named Jack who Patsy adores. Fannie Flagg's book Standing in the Rainbow is also a favorite of mine.

I recently learned that Flagg's real name is Patricia Neal. Because she was aiming for a career in show business where there was already an actress with that name, she felt she had to change it. During the 1960s, Flagg wrote and co-hosted Candid Camera, and during the 1970s she appeared on many game show panels. Because she was dyslexic, and even though she loved making up stories, she never thought she could become an author. Her first novel, published in 1981, was Coming Attractions: A Wonderful Novel, followed in 1987 by the unforgettable Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. She seems to me to be a born Southern storyteller.

Here are some more novels with homespun appeal:

End of the Road by Tom Bodett
Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
Spencer's Mountain by Earl Hamner (basis for The Waltons tv show)
Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor
The Home Place by Wright Morris
Clover by Dori Sanders
Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White
The Train to Estelline by Jane Roberts Wood

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fiction Featuring Wills

Reading To My Dearest Friends by Patricia Volk, which revolves around the idea of two Manhattan women who meet because their names are listed in the will of a mutual friend, I began to think of other books related to wills.
There is a novella by J.P. Donleavy called The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms. It features a formerly wealthy Manhattanite whose husband left her for a younger woman. Reduced to near homelessness, she develops a true appreciation for that rare thing -- free, clean restrooms. How her penchant for cleanliness leads to an inheritance is the reward for our attention.

The Thin Woman: an Epicurean Mystery by Dorothy Cannell is a classic jolly good read. Featuring an overweight protagonist who stands to inherit money from her rich uncle IF she can lose the extra poundage, this title is one of "The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century" list created by Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

John Grisham's The Testament presents a bunch of greedy would-be inheritors who are thrown into shock when their sure bet multibillionaire relative leaves his riches to a female missionary in Brazil. Nate O'Reilly, an alcoholic lawyer fresh from rehab, is sent to find the missionary. Lots of action and great characterization.

In The Codicil by Tom Topor, a millionaire leaves half his wealth to the secret daughter he fathered during the Vietnam War; much action and suspense follow.

The Widow's War by Sally Gunning is set in colonial Cape Cod. Whaling widow Lyddie Berry loses control of her life and home when a bully son-in-law violates her husband's will. This novel portrays the sexism of its era, and gives us a defiant heroine to root for.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Best Books Read During 2007

I enjoy looking back and figuring out which books I most enjoyed every year. The lightest one was Keeping the House; just the thought of that book makes me smile. Darkest: Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison who I always think of as a real "man's man", but I've always enjoyed his writing none the less. Most commercial: the Laura Lippman thriller. Most well-written: The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Best first novel: Free Food for Millionaires. Most unusual: The Inhabited World. Here they are:

* Keeping the House by Ellen Baker. 1950: Pine Rapids, Wisconsin. Newlywed Dolly Magnuson compulsively breaks into a deserted house that once housed the prominent Mikelson family; she starts cleaning and taking care of it. And then what happens when a Mikelson turns up?

* Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison. A Chippewa-Finnish man prepares for his death from ALS; how his friends and family prepare for his departure; their grief and healing.

* The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. While her mother disappears into a deep depression and her father tries to make a go of their dusty Colorado ranch by teaching rich girls how to ride horses, young Alice Winters copes by developing some new obsessions.

* Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee. The life and times of a Korean American girl from Queens who goes to Princeton, but cannot continue to climb ever higher towards the American dream without selling her soul. An epic novel of class, society and identity

* What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. Two sisters disappeared from a Baltimore area shopping mall 30 years ago. A woman who was recently in a car accident claims to be one of the sisters – is she or isn’t she?

* The Inhabited World by David Long. A man who committed suicide haunts the house where it happened, trying to recall his own story. He also studies the life of his house’s present tenant. Not as depressing as it sounds!

* Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson. The healing friendship of two women in Sweden, one 20-something, one elderly.

* Truck: a Love Story by Michael Perry. A part-time EMT in small town Wisconsin, Perry remodels and rejuvenates his beloved truck, grows a backyard garden beleaguered by squirrels, attempts a love life and philosophizes from his "Scandanavian stoic" point of view. It's not (all) about the truck!

* The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Repercussions of childhood: what happens to two who stay in a small upstate NY town, and to one who leaves and finds fame in the international world of art. A caring tone, believably flawed characters, and many rich themes make this a deeply rewarding read.

* An Alphabetical Life by Wendy Werris. The memoir of a lifelong bookseller who got started in the trade quite accidentally.