Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Place (page 1 of 2)

Free MOOC Course from The University of Edinburgh – How to Read a Novel – Focus on Plot, Setting, Character, & Dialog

A MOOC or a Free University Class is a good way to keep your mind sharp and hone your skill in almost any field that might interest you. I have just begun the class How to Read a Novel, offered by The University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Because I teach a writing class and also monitor a book club, I am always looking for lists of great books and for tips to help improve my understanding in either field. I am excited that in the class How to Read a Novel, the class will be focusing on four books that have recently been published. Because I am from the South, I am extremely thrilled that the class will study The Sport of the Kings by C. E. Morgan.

The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan

A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction • From a Recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize • Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence • A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly • GQ  The New York Times (Selected by Dwight Garner)  NPR • The Wall Street Journal• San Francisco Chronicle • Refinery29  Booklist • Kirkus Reviews Commonweal Magazine

“In its poetic splendor and moral seriousness, The Sport of Kings bears the traces of Faulkner, Morrison, and McCarthy. . . . It is a contemporary masterpiece.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Hailed by The New Yorker for its “remarkable achievements,” The Sport of Kings is an American tale centered on a horse and two families: one white, a Southern dynasty whose forefathers were among the founders of Kentucky; the other African-American, the descendants of their slaves.

“It is a dauntless narrative that stretches from the fields of the Virginia piedmont to the abundant pastures of the Bluegrass, and across the dark waters of the Ohio River; from the final shots of the Revolutionary War to the resounding clang of the starting bell at Churchill Downs. As C. E. Morgan unspools a fabric of shared histories, past and present converge in a Thoroughbred named Hellsmouth, heir to Secretariat and a contender for the Triple Crown. Newly confronted with one another in the quest for victory, the two families must face the consequences of their ambitions, as each is driven—and haunted—by the same, enduring question: How far away from your father can you run?

“A sweeping narrative of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in the shadow of slavery and a moral epic for our time.” Amazon

You can register for the free course How to Read A Novel Here

Other book choices for the Course How to Read a Novel:

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

“From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

“Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.” Amazon

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction • A Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction • A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Taite Black Prize for Fiction • A Finalist the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • A Finalist for the Green Carnation Prize • New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by More Than Fifty Publications, Including: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times (selected by Dwight Garner), GQ, The Washington Post,Esquire, NPR, Slate, Vulture, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (London), The Telegraph (London), The Evening Standard (London), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Millions, BuzzFeed, The New Republic (Best Debuts of the Year), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly (One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)

“Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You appeared in early 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year….It is not just first novelists who will be envious of Greenwell’s achievement.”―James Wood, The New Yorker

“On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

“What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.” Amazon

The Lesser Bohemians by Elmear McBride

Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize
Shortlisted for the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Eason Novel of the Year

The breathtaking new novel from Eimear McBride, about an extraordinary, all-consuming love affair

“Eimear McBride’s debut novel A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING was published in 2013 to an avalanche of praise: nominated for a host of literary awards, winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the inaugural Goldsmith’s Prize, declared by Vanity Fair to be “One of the most groundbreaking pieces of literature to come from Ireland, or anywhere, in recent years,” McBride’s bold, wholly original prose immediately established her as a literary force. Now, she brings her singular voice to an unlikely love story.

“One night an eighteen-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to attend drama school, meets an older man – a well-regarded actor in his own right. While she is naive and thrilled by life in the big city, he is haunted by more than a few demons, and the clamorous relationship that ensues risks undoing them both.

“A captivating story of passion and innocence, joy and discovery set against the vibrant atmosphere of 1990s London over the course of a single year, THE LESSER BOHEMIANS glows with the eddies and anxieties of growing up, and the transformative intensity of a powerful new love.” Amazon

 

Book List to Celebrate the USA State by State

Once in a while on Facebook, I stumble across a bit of information that is truly worthwhile, like the list of 100 Books Across America: Fiction and Nonfiction for Every State.

For each of the states that are represented, at least one fiction, one nonfiction, and a popular or famous book is suggested. This is an excellent set of books for anyone to read, but this is particularly true for would-be writers who want to learn how to create a sense of place in their writing. Some of the books in the following list are by authors, like Annie Dillard and Barbara Kingsolver, who I consider to be the quintessential masters of developing a sense of place.

Books for Alabama

FictionFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg 4.5 Stars

“Female friendships aren’t a new thing in literature, despite recent high temperatures induced by Ferrante-fever. This classic of Alabama fiction centers on the unlikely relationship—a friendship built, more than anything, on storytelling—between an 86-year-old woman in a nursing home and an unhappy middle-aged housewife. But it’s also a portrait of a community, and addresses issues of violence, race, homosexuality and aging over more than half a century. Fun fact: when the book was adapted into a film in 1991, Flagg wrote the screenplay, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her work.

Image result for Fried Green Tomatoes movie

“The movie Fried Green Tomatoes is a 1991 comedy-drama film based on the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. Directed by Jon Avnet and written by Flagg and Carol Sobieski, it stars Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Mary-Louise Parker. It tells the story of a Depression-era friendship between two women, Ruth and Idgie, and a 1980s friendship between Evelyn, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny, an elderly woman. The centerpiece and parallel story concerns the murder of Ruth’s abusive husband, Frank, and the accusations that follow. It received a generally positive reception from film critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards.” Wikipedia

IMBd Rating 7.7/10

NonfictionSouth to a Very Old Place, Albert Murray

“Jazz critic, novelist and essayist Albert Murray’s lyrical memoir about growing up in Alabama in the 1920s and 30s is steeped in music and reflection—on race, on youth, on the nature of home.

. . .

The Famous OptionTo Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – 5 Stars

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south—and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Image result for to kill a mockingbird movie

IMBd Rating 8.3/10

Image and Text Credit for this Article to Lit Hub Here

Books for Alaska

Image result for book snow child

FictionThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 4.5 Strs

“In this adaptation of a Russian fairy tale, set in Alaska in 1920 (which is probably as much like Russia as America has ever gotten), a pioneer couple desperate for a child builds one out of snow—and in the morning, they find that she has come alive. Ivey is a native Alaskan, and she manages to evoke the magic and violence of the place in equal measure.

. . .

NonfictionThe Last Light Breaking, Nick Jans

“Nick Jans is a celebrated chronicler of Alaska, both as a writer and as a photographer; his first book is a collection of essays about the time he spent living among the Inupiat Natives in the small village of Ambler, Alaska, a culture of the past being confronted with the future.

The Famous Option: The Call of the Wild, Jack London 4.5 Stars

Jack London’s novels and ruggedly individual life seemed to embody American hopes, frustrations, and romantic longings in the turbulent first years of the twentieth century, years infused with the wonder and excitement of great technological and historic change. The author’s restless spirit, taste for a life of excitement, and probing mind led him on a series of hard-edged adventures from the Klondike to the South Seas. Out of these sometimes harrowing experiences — and his fascination with the theories of such thinkers as Darwin, Spencer, and Marx — came the inspiration for novels of adventure that would make him one of America’s most popular writers.
The Call of the Wild, considered by many London’s greatest novel, is a gripping tale of a heroic dog that, thrust into the brutal life of the Alaska Gold Rush, ultimately faces a choice between living in man’s world and returning to nature. Adventure and dog-story enthusiasts as well as students and devotees of American literature will find this classic work a thrilling, memorable reading experience.” Amazon

IMBd 6.9/10

Books for Arizona

FictionAlmanac of the Dead, Leslie Marmon Silko

“A marvelous tapestry of narrative and voice that tells multiple stories from multiple times but more or less centers on contemporary Tucson, and the woman who is translating what may be an apocalyptic Aztec prophecy. Drug-dealers, shamans, revolutionaries, deviants, psychics and crime-lords cross and recross one another to create a grim cacophony of Native American history, experience and anger.

NonfictionThe Devil’s Highway: A True Story, Luis Alberto Urrea

“A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and essential reading for anyone with any kind of a opinion about any kind of wall, this book follows the fates of 26 Mexican men who crossed into Arizona via “the Devil’s Highway”—which is called that for all of the reasons you think—and unpacks “the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border.”

. . .

The Famous OptionThe Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver – 4.5 Stars

[In my opinion, Barbara Kingsolver (The Poinsonwood Bible} is one of America’s most eloquent writers]

The Bean Trees is bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, now widely regarded as a modern classic. It is the charming, engrossing tale of rural Kentucky native Taylor Greer, who only wants to get away from her roots and avoid getting pregnant. She succeeds, but inherits a 3-year-old native-American little girl named Turtle along the way, and together, from Oklahoma to Tucson, Arizona, half-Cherokee Taylor and her charge search for a new life in the West.

“Written with humor and pathos, this highly praised novel focuses on love and friendship, abandonment and belonging as Taylor, out of money and seemingly out of options, settles in dusty Tucson and begins working at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires while trying to make a life for herself and Turtle.

“The author of such bestsellers as The Lacuna, The Poinsonwood Bible, and Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver has been hailed for her striking imagery and clear dialogue, and this is the novel that kicked off her remarkable literary career.” Amazon

Books for Arkansas

FictionThe Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, Donald Harington – 4 Stars

“Donald Harington is a perfect cult author—not very widely read, but when read, obsessed over, not to mention compared to Nabokov, Faulkner, and García Márquez. Most of his many novels are set in the fictional Arkansas town of Stay More, and The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks (TAO TAO) is a thesis statement of sorts on his entire oeuvre, a self-referential, wordplay-heavy, bawdy, post-modern portrait of Harington’s personal Arkansas and six generations of its settlers, told as an architectural investigation complete with hand-drawn illustrations of the town’s buildings.

. . .

NonfictionBoy Erased, Garrard Conley – 4 Stars

“In Conley’s 2016 memoir, he recounts his childhood as the son of a Baptist minister in a small Arkansas town—and what happened when he, at nineteen, was forced to undergo gay conversion therapy or risk losing his family.

The Famous OptionI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou – 5 Stars

Books for California

FictionThe Sellout, Paul Beatty · Pocho, José Antonio Villarreal

California, I’m (not that) sorry to say, is just too big—both spatially and in the American consciousness—to cover with a single book. It’s also too big to cover with a hundred books, but we all do what we can. Here, I’ll recommend two, beginning with Paul Beatty’s difficult and hilarious The Sellout, which took home a slew of awards last year, and for good reason—it’s the most effective satire in recent memory, a provocative explosion of prose and police and politics, and is likely to become a milestone novel of the decade. For an older classic, try Pocho, a landmark work of Chicano literature that tells the story of a young Mexican-American boy, the child of immigrants, coming into his own—with some difficulty—in Depression-era California.

NonfictionTake This Man, Brando Skyhorse · 4.5 Stars

When Brando Skyhorse was three years old, his parents—both Mexican—split, his father fleeing from his dysfunctional mother. His mother took on a Native American identity, changing her name and raising Brando to believe that he was the son of an imprisoned Native American political activist, while presenting him with stepfather after errant stepfather. Only at 30 does he discover his actual origins, and begin to edge closer to his real father and true identity. If you’re not in the mood for memoir, you might try The History of Forgetting, a multi-generic “anti-tour” of Los Angeles that looks specifically at erasure—of neighborhoods, of cultures, of history—and investigates the way noir fiction and Hollywood films have represented the architecture, both internal and external, of the city.

The Famous OptionThe Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck  – 4.5 Stars

“First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.” Amazon

 

IMBd 8.1/10

Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion – 4.5 Stars

“The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, decades after its first publication, the essential portrait of America―particularly California―in the sixties. It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.” Amazon

 

Books for Colorado

 

FictionPlainsong, Kent Haruf – 4.5 Stars

“A stark novel about the citizens of a tiny town tucked far away on the Colorado plains, and the way their lives unfold over the course of a year. But the sensations of place are as much the thrust of this novel as the characters in question—or perhaps it’s better to say that the prairie itself is a character, and one that binds all the others together.

NonfictionWhere the Water Goes, David Owen

“Water is our most important life-sustaining resource—and it’s going away. The Colorado River has shaped the American West for decades, geographically and politically, and the situation is deeply complicated. Owen’s exploration of the river, which takes him from Colorado to Mexico, examines the complex infrastructure, the water wars, the dangers, and the countless unanswerable questions about the future.

 

The Famous OptionThe Shining, Stephen King – 4.5 Stars

“Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.” Amazon

The 1980 movie of The Shining starred Jack Nicholson IMBd Rating 8.4/10

 

Books for Connecticut

FictionEdwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright, Steven Millhauser

“When I think of Connecticut, I think of Edwin Mullhouse—or rather, I think of a certain kind of semi-repressed, wholly-bored suburban childhood that could give rise to Jeffrey Cartwright, the kind of kid who would obsess over his supposedly-brilliant next door neighbor enough to write his biography after his untimely death, age eleven. Like much of Millhauser’s work, it’s both savage satire and nostalgic portraiture, and like all of Millhauser’s work, it’s completely brilliant.

NonfictionStone by Stone, Robert Thorson

“If you’ve spent any time in New England, you’ve seen them: old stone walls patterning the fields, sometimes in obvious places, between farms, and sometimes in stranger locales. This book, written by a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Connecticut, tells the story of the stones, their effect on the landscape, and their relationship to the history of the region.

The Famous OptionRevolutionary Road, Richard Yates – 4 Stars

“Hailed as a masterpiece of realistic fiction and as the most evocative portrayal of the opulent desolation of the American suburbs since it’s publication in 1961, Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright, beautiful, and talented couple who have lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.” Amazon

Image result for revolutionary road movie
“Revolutionary Road is a 2008 British-American romantic drama film directed by Sam Mendes. It was written by Justin Haythe and based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates. This is the second on-screen collaboration among Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates, who previously co-starred in Titanic. The performances of DiCaprio and Winslet earned them a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress respectively, and the film was nominated for a further three Golden Globes, four BAFTAs and three Oscars.” Wikipedia IMBd Rating 7.6/10

Books for Delaware

FictionThe Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez

“A rickety apartment building in Western Delaware. Nine families of new Americans. Teenagers in love. Or, as one character puts it, “the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”

NonfictionNever Let Her Go, Ann Rule 4.5 Stars

“Former Seattle policewoman Anne Rule’s true crime book—her best, as some would have it—tells the story of Thomas Capano, who was one of the most powerful men in Delaware in 1996, when Anne Marie Fahey, his mistress (as it turns out, one of many) disappeared. Or, put in headline terms: Charming Sociopath Destroys the Lives of Many.”

IMBd 6.0/10

The Famous OptionFight Club, Chuck Palahniuk [One of my Favorite Book-Movie Combos – A Multi-faceted Read that is heavy in psychological overtones and symbolism.]

“n his debut novel, Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist. Fight Club‘s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret boxing matches in the basement of bars. There two men fight “as long as they have to.” A gloriously original work that exposes what is at the core of our modern world.” Amazon

Image result for fight club movie

IMBd Rating 8.8/10

Books for Florida

FictionNinety-Two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane

“No place in America is weirder than Florida, and, despite his Montana roots, McGuane can weird it up with the best of them—particularly in this crazed, excess-soaked Key Westian narrative of family and fishing and feuding.

NonfictionThe Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean

“In this modern classic Orlean, takes the reader into the Florida swamps and the strange world of orchid enthusiasts. On this quest, we meet John Laroche, who is so fixated on the idea of finding and cloning the elusive ghost orchid that he sets off to steal samples from Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and lands himself in jail. A compelling study of place and obsession that makes it clear: flowers can be just as crazy-making as gold.place and obsession that makes it clear: flowers can be just as crazy-making as gold.

The Famous OptionTheir Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston – 4.5 Stars

“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

IMBd 6.6/10

Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Wonderful autobiographical account of Marjorie Rawlings living in Cross Creek, Florida, after moving from New York City in 1926. She tells it like it was getting along in the far south, trying to make a living by writing and growing oranges. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (August 8, 1896 – December 14, 1953) was an American author who lived in rural Florida and wrote novels with rural themes and settings. Her best known work, The Yearling, about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 and was later made into a movie, also known as The Yearling.” Amazon

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Cross Creek House

Cross Creek Cookery by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 4.5 Stars

The Classic Book on Southern Cooking
“First published in 1942, Cross Creek Cookery was compiled by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at the request of readers who wanted to recreate the luscious meals described in Cross Creek — her famous memoir of life in a Florida hamlet.
Lovers of old-fashioned, down-home cooking will treasure the recipes for Grits, Hush-Puppies, Florida Fried Fish, Orange Fluff, and Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie. For more adventuresome palates, there are such unusual dishes as Minorcan Gopher Stew, Coot Surprise, Alligator-Tail Steak, Mayhaw Jelly, and Chef Huston’s Cream of Peanut Soup.
Spiced with delightful anecdotes and lore, Cross Creek Cookery guides the reader through the rich culinary heritage of the deep tidal South with a loving regard for the rituals of cooking and eating.” Amazon

 

Cross Creek Movie Starring Mary Steenburgen  IMBd 7.1/10

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 4.5 Stars

“No novel better epitomizes the love between a child and a pet than The Yearling. Young Jody adopts an orphaned fawn he calls Flag and makes it a part of his family and his best friend. But life in the Florida backwoods is harsh, and so, as his family fights off wolves, bears, and even alligators, and faces failure in their tenuous subsistence farming, Jody must finally part with his dear animal friend. There has been a film and even a musical based on this moving story, a fine work of great American literature.” Amazon

IMBd 7.3/10

Books for Georgia

FictionCane, Jean Toomer

“A breakthrough in prose and poetical writing. . . . This book should be on all readers’ and writers’ desks and in their minds.”―Maya Angelou

“First published in 1923, Jean Toomer’s Cane is an innovative literary work―part drama, part poetry, part fiction―powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer’s impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets.”

“A touchstone of the Harlem Renaissance, this novel uses poems, drama and fictional vignettes to paint a portrait of life for African-Americans in the 1920s south. It’s a striking book, both formally and lyrically. Plus, the descriptions of the state are pretty phenomenal:

“Through a canebrake that was ripe for cutting, the branch was reached. Under a sweet-gum tree, and where reddish leaves had dammed the creek a little, we sat down. Dusk, suggesting the almost imperceptible procession of giant trees, settled with a purple haze about the cane. I felt strange, as I always do in Georgia, particularly at dusk. I felt that things unseen to men were tangibly immediate. It would not have surprised me had I had vision. People have them in Georgia more often than you would suppose.

“I should mention the excellent The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, which gives a fairly bleak view of the inhabitants of a small town in 1930s Georgia, and, for all you romantics out there, Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

NonfictionA Childhood: The Biography of a Place, Harry Crews

“A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews’ earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him―and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper’s cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grinding poverty, poor soil, and blood feuds, it was also a deeply mystical place, where snakes talked, birds could possess a small boy by spitting in his mouth, and faith healers and conjure women kept ghosts and devils at bay.

“At once shocking and elegiac, heartrending and comical, A Childhood not only recalls the transforming events of Crews’s youth but conveys his growing sense of self in a world “in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives.”

“Amid portraits of relatives and neighbors, Bacon County lore, and details of farm life, Crews tells of his father’s death; his friendship with Willalee Bookatee, the son of a black hired hand; his bout with polio; his mother and stepfather’s failing marriage; his near-fatal scalding at a hog-killing; and a five-month sojourn in Jacksonville, Florida. These and other memories define, with reverence and affection, Harry Crews’s childhood world: “its people and its customs and all its loveliness and all its ugliness.” Imaginative and gripping, A Childhood re-creates in detail one writer’s search for past and self, a search for a time and place lost forever except in memory.

“You’ve probably already read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so how about something a little more terrifying: Harry Crews’s memoir of his young childhood in rural South Georgia, which packs more incident and grotesquerie into the first six years than other memoirists do in a lifetime—not to mention what Dwight Garner called “the most indelible scene in American literary memoir,” the moment when Crews is burned neck to toes in a vat of boiling water. Crews is a wondrous literary madman, and this is the story of the people and places that shaped him.” Amazon

The Famous OptionThe Color Purple, Alice Walker 4.5 Stars

““I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way.” -Shug Avery from The Color Purple. The Color Purple by Alice Walker is an inspirational tale about a young woman named Celie overcoming the hand that life had dealt her: a sexually abusive father, a forced marriage with a husband she doesn’t love, and her sister heading off to be a missionary in Africa. Along her path of adversity, she meets a strong independent woman named Shug Avery. Shug shows Celie that life can be beautiful so long as you’re able to love yourself for who you are, and be free to live your life. Shug frees Celie through teaching her important lessons about God, and love, and gratitude.” Amazon

Image result for color purple

IMBd Rating 7.8/10

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 5 Stars

“Since its original publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the bestselling novels of all time—has been heralded by readers everywhere as The Great American Novel.

Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.

IMBd 8.2/10

 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt 4.5 Stars

John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been heralded as a “lyrical work of nonfiction,” and the book’s extremely graceful prose depictions of some of Savannah, Georgia’s most colorful eccentrics–remarkable characters who could have once prospered in a William Faulkner novel or Eudora Welty short story–were certainly a critical factor in its tremendous success. (One resident into whose orbit Berendt fell, the Lady Chablis, went on to become a minor celebrity in her own right.) But equally important was Berendt’s depiction of Savannah socialite Jim Williams as he stands trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, a moody, violence-prone hustler–and sometime companion to Williams–characterized by locals as a “walking streak of sex.” So feel free to call it a “true crime classic” without a trace of shame.

From Publishers Weekly

After discovering in the early 1980s that a super-saver fare to Savannah, Ga., cost the same as an entree in a nouvelle Manhattan restaurant, Esquire columnist Berendt spent the next eight years flitting between Savannah and New York City. The result is this collection of smart, sympathetic observations about his colorful Southern neighbors, including a jazz-playing real estate shark; a sexually adventurous art student; the Lady Chablis (‘ “What was your name before that?” I asked. “Frank,” she said.’ “); the gossipy Married Woman’s Card Club; and an assortment of aging Southern belles. The book is also about the wealthy international antiques dealer Jim Williams, who played an active role in the historic city’s restoration–and would also be tried four times for the 1981 shooting death of 21-year-old Danny Handsford, his high-energy, self-destructive house helper. The Williams trials–he died in 1990 of a heart attack at age 59–are lively matches between dueling attorneys fought with shifting evidence, and they serve as both theme and anchor to Berendt’s illuminating and captivating travelogue.
John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been heralded as a “lyrical work of nonfiction,” and the book’s extremely graceful prose depictions of some of Savannah, Georgia’s most colorful eccentrics–remarkable characters who could have once prospered in a William Faulkner novel or Eudora Welty short story–were certainly a critical factor in its tremendous success. (One resident into whose orbit Berendt fell, the Lady Chablis, went on to become a minor celebrity in her own right.) But equally important was Berendt’s depiction of Savannah socialite Jim Williams as he stands trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, a moody, violence-prone hustler–and sometime companion to Williams–characterized by locals as a “walking streak of sex.” So feel free to call it a “true crime classic” without a trace of shame.
IMBd  6.6/10

Books for Hawaii

FictionShark Dialogues, Kiana Davenport

“A semi-fantastical seven-generation family saga that doubles as the history of Hawaii, Davenport’s first novel centers on Pono, a woman with supernatural gifts, and her four granddaughters, who return home every year from where they have been far-flung, “as if some swerving structure in their cells warped them forever backward to this lush, forbidding matriarch,” to come to terms with their family story.

NonfictionUnfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell

“A history of the Americanization of Hawaii told in Vowell’s smart-ass, ironic, whirlwind style. “Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch?” the book begins. “Because the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor with the first boatload of New England missionaries bound for Hawaii in 1819. That and it’s Saturday.” This makes for a vivid and amusing—if not exhaustive—exploration of our country’s furthest reaches.

The Famous OptionHawaii, James A. Michener

Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959. As the volcanic Hawaiian Islands sprout from the ocean floor, the land remains untouched for centuries—until, little more than a thousand years ago, Polynesian seafarers make the perilous journey across the Pacific, flourishing in this tropical paradise according to their ancient traditions. Then, in the early nineteenth century, American missionaries arrive, bringing with them a new creed and a new way of life. Based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose, Hawaii is the story of disparate peoples struggling to keep their identity, live in harmony, and, ultimately, join together.

Image result for hawaii michener movie

IMBd Rating 6.6/10 [ would rate that movie higher]

Books for Idaho

FictionTrain Dreams, Denis Johnson

New York Times Notable Book for 2011
One of The Economist‘s 2011 Books of the Year
One of NPR’s 10 Best Novels of 2011

“Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions.

“Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime.

“Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West—its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge builders—the new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smokecaptures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

“If you ask me, Train Dreams is the best thing Denis Johnson ever wrote. It is more arresting than Jesus’ Son by miles. The story—all 116 pages of it—begins in familiar territory, with a laborer on the American frontier, and spirals into a devastating surreality that more or less sums up the American experience—at least for some. Throughout is Johnson’s well-crafted, existentialist descriptions of the land in question, like this one:

The wolves and coyotes howled without letup all night, sounding in the hundreds, more than Grainier had ever heard, and maybe other creatures too, owls, eagles—what, exactly, he couldn’t guess—surely every single animal with a voice along the peaks and ridges looking down on the Moyea River, as if nothing could ease any of God’s beasts. Grainier didn’t dare to sleep, feeling it all to be some sort of vast pronouncement, maybe the alarms of the end of the world.

NonfictionIn the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country, Kim Barnes

Poet Kim Barnes grew up in northern Idaho, in the isolated camps where her father worked as a logger and her mother made a modest but comfortable home for her husband and two children. Their lives were short on material wealth, but long on the riches of family and friendship, and the great sheltering power of the wilderness. But in the mid-1960’s, as automation and a declining economy drove more and more loggers out of the wilderness and into despair, Kim’s father dug in and determined to stay. It was then the family turned fervently toward Pentecostalism. It was then things changed.

In the Wilderness is the poet’s own account of a journey toward adulthood against an interior landscape every bit as awesome, as beautiful, and as fraught with hidden peril as the great forest itself. It is a story of how both faith and geography can shape the heart and soul, and of the uncharted territory we all must enter to face our demons. Above all, it is the clear-eyed and moving account of a young woman’s coming of terms with her family, her homeland, her spirituality, and herself.

In presenting Kim Barnes the 1995 PENJerard Fund Award for a work-in-progress by an emerging female writer, the panel of judges wrote that “In the Wilderness is far more than a personal memoir,” adding that it stands “almost as a cautionary example of the power of good prose to distinguish whatever it touches.” Indeed, In the Wilderness is an extraordinary work, courageous, candid, and exquisitely written.

“Poet Kim Barnes’s memoir describes her childhood in the isolation of an Idaho logger camp, and what happened when her father lost his job and turned the family towards fundamentalism. “Perhaps because I was so young,” she writes early on, “what remains with me about those camps is not the trees and mountains, not the streams pulsing with red as the days shortened; what remains is a sense rather than a memory of place, a composite of smells, sounds, and images: the closeness of my parents as they slept beside me when the temperature dropped below zero; my mother’s hair tightly curling around my fingers; cigarettes, coffee, sweat, diesel, the turpentine scent of pine.”

The Famous OptionHousekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Image result for housekeeping movie

IMBd Rating 7.3/10

Housekeeping is a 1987 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, and Andrea Burchill. Based on the 1980 novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, the film is about two young sisters growing up in Idaho during the 1950s. After being abandoned by their mother and raised by elderly relatives, the sisters are looked after by their eccentric aunt whose unconventional and unpredictable ways affect their lives.” Wikipediaa

Books for Illinois

FictionThe Coast of Chicago, Stuart Dybek

“Fourteen subtle stories about loners and strangers making their way through the Chicago streets; the second collection from Dybek, who grew up on the South side. These stories take moments of everyday life and elevate them into myth, and sometimes into magic, drawing out the dreamlike seams of experience. As a bonus, it includes the story “Pet Milk,” which is one of my all-time favorites.

See also: The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (ousted here in favor of a place in Texas), Knock on Any Door, by Willard Motley, So Big, by Edna Feber, and the Saul Bellow oeuvre.

NonfictionThe Book of My Lives, Aleksandar Hemon

“To be fair, this book is split between the two cities of Hemon’s heart: Chicago and Sarajevo, where he was born. But the Chicago essays in this collection are so luminous that I simply couldn’t put another book in its place. “Reasons Why I Do Not Wish to Leave Chicago: An Incomplete, Random List” alone would be enough to keep it here.

See also, please, Margo Jefferson’s excellent memoir Negroland.

The Famous OptionNative Son, Richard Wright

Books for Indiana

FictionCrimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill

“A brutal and bloody debut, interconnected stories that confirm and expand all your worst thoughts about what humans can do to one another—not to mention what Southern Indiana is like. Not for the faint of heart—but certainly possessed of its own kind of elegance and intelligence, and clearly the work of a great writer.

See also: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut and Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters

NonfictionA Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, Haven Kimmel

“A witty ode to a youth spent in a town with a population of only 300—a town that by some “mysterious and powerful mathematical principle,” had had a population of only 300 for decades. “Sociologists and students of history imagine they know something of the United States in the sixties and seventies because they are familiar with the prevailing trends,” Kimmel writes in the prologue, “if they drew assumptions about Mooreland based on that knowledge, they would get everything wrong.” Well, now they won’t have to.

The Famous OptionThe Friendly Persuasion, Jessamyn West – 5 Stars

“A quintessential American heroine, Eliza Birdwell is a wonderful blend of would-be austerity, practicality, and gentle humor when it comes to keeping her faith and caring for her family and community. Her husband, Jess, shares Eliza’s love of people and peaceful ways but, unlike Eliza, also displays a fondness for a fast horse and a lively tune. With their children, they must negotiate their way through a world that constantly confronts them-sometimes with candor, sometimes with violence-and tests the strength of their beliefs. Whether it’s a gift parcel arriving on their doorstep or Confederate soldiers approaching their land, the Birdwells embrace life with emotion, conviction, and a love for one another that seems to conquer all.
The Friendly Persuasion has charmed generations of readers as one of our classic tales of the American Midwest.” Amazon

Image result for friendly persuasion movie

IMBd Rating 7.5/10

“Friendly Persuasion is a 1956 Civil War film starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton and Phyllis Love. The screenplay was adapted by Michael Wilson from the 1945 novel The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West, and was directed by William Wyler. The film tells the story of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the American Civil War and the way the war tests their pacifist beliefs.” Wikipedia

Books for Iowa

Cover of Gilead

Iowa

FictionGilead, Marilynne Robinson

The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel
New York Times Top-Ten Book of 2004
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

“Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel “as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering.” Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart.”

“Marilynne Robinson is a national treasure, and Gilead is the first in her trilogy about the eponymous town of Gilead. The novel centers on Reverend John Ames, who is one of President Obama’s favorite literary characters, by the by—in a conversation the two had in Des Moines, the President called him “gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family goes through. And I was just—I just fell in love with the character, fell in love with the book, and then you and I had a chance to meet when you got a fancy award at the White House.” Gilead won both the Pulitzer prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2005.

“For another direction entirely, you may want to try Universal Harvester, by John Darnielle, a modern work of techno-horror, also quite good.

NonfictionThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

“From one of the most affable writers around, a memoir of growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s, aided by one very specific persona (I bet you can guess).

The Famous OptionA Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

“This powerful twentieth-century reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear centers on a wealthy Iowa farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. Ambitiously conceived and stunningly written, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride—and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.” Amazon

Books for Kansas

FictionIn Cold Blood, Truman Capote

“At this point, Capote’s “nonfiction novel” is about as famous as The Wizard of Oz, but I’ve made an executive decision here and counted the latter below. The book tells the story of the brutal 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and is based on Capote’s investigative work (Harper Lee came along), but also contains quite a number of changed facts, invented scenes, and literary liberties—hence its location in the fiction section.

Image result for movie in cold blood

IMBd Rating 8.0/10

NonfictionAnd Hell Followed With it: Life and Death in a Kansas Tornado, Bonar Menninger

“In case you’d like to know what happens to those who don’t get magically transported to Oz when the tornado hits.

The Famous OptionThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Image result for wizard of oz

IMBd Rating 8.1/10

Books for Kentucky

FictionThe Sport of Kings, C. E. Morgan

“This is what happens when you get complacent,” one character tells another in Morgan’s phenomenal, Pulitzer-finalist novel, “when you don’t have the courage to dream big or grab the opportunities that are right before you. I mean, Tennesse Walkers? Give me a break. This is Kentucky—this land is destined for Thoroughbreds.” This is the best horse-racing novel in recent memory, for sure, but also a multi-generational epic of two Kentucky families, a novel about the history and present of racism in America, and a story of fate and future.

NonfictionClear Springs, Bobbie Ann Mason

A memoir of growing up on a farm in western Kentucky from novelist Bobbie Ann Mason, and an in-depth exploration of both three generations of her family and her own small corner of America:

The farm is one field to the east of the railroad track that used to connect New Orleans with Chicago. The track runs beside Highway 45, an old U.S. route that unites Chicago with Mobile, Alabama. Highway 45 goes past Camp Beauregard, a Civil War encampment and cemetery, and leads toward Shiloh, a Civil War battlefield, and continues to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis Presley was born. On this highway when I was about ten, my dog Rags was killed, smashed flat, and nobody bothered to remove his body. For a long time, it was still there when we went to town—a hank of hair and a piece of bone. It became a rag, then a wisp, then a spot. It’s hard to explain the indifference of the family in this matter, for my heart ached for Rags. It had something to do with the immutability of fate. To my parents’ way of thinking, there was nothing that could be done to bring Rags back to life, and besides they were behind on the spring planting or perhaps the fall corn-gathering. There was always something.

The Famous OptionUncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Books for Louisiana

FictionA Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

“Sexton’s wonderful debut traces a family through three generations in New Orleans—from a star-crossed romance in the 1940s to the crack epidemic of the 1980s to the unfathomable changes wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Injustice, hope, ambition, and the history and truth of New Orleans are the underlying subjects of this novel, explored through the stories of these well-drawn characters.

“For a less-contemporary but also-great classic, you might try The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy.

NonfictionFive Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

“A harrowing book that describes five days in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—five days in which the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans was without power and staff was forced to create a system that prioritized some patients for evacuation and doomed others to death by euthanasia. The story here is gripping, but the moral questions it raises are even more so, and those will stick with you for a long time.

See also: Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans, edited by David and Bruce Rutledge

The Famous OptionA Confederacy of Dunces, James Kennedy Toole

[All the King’s Men]

Books for Maine

FictionOlive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

“A Pulitzer Prize-winning linked collection of stories (or a novel-in-stories, if you prefer) set in the coastal town of Crosby, Maine, anchored by the large and fairly rude personage of Olive Kitteridge. One of those books that takes regular people in a regular place and makes them feel like epic characters in the story of all our lives.

Image result for olive kitteridge movie

IMBd Rating 8.4/10

NonfictionWe Took to the Woods, Louise Dickinson Rich

“The very charming reflections of a woman who picks up and, well, takes to the woods—the woods of northern Maine, where supplies are as scarce as neighbors, but grit and humor are stocked in full.

The Famous OptionThe Cider House Rules, John Irving

Image result for cider house rules movie

IMBd Rating 7.4/10

Books for Maryland

FictionThe Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth

“A fictionalized history of Maryland, or a satirical send-up of the historical novel, or a darkly comic postmodern epic, or a maddeningly complex exercise in esoterica, or (and you knew this was coming, didn’t you, you brilliant reader, you) all of the above.

NonfictionThe Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates

“If you’re looking for some insight into one of America’s leading public intellectuals in your Maryland reading, try Coates’s memoir of growing up in West Baltimore with his father, an intellectual ex-Black Panther with a strict sense of discipline and a lot of love, who drew “a bright circle around 12 through 18. This was the abyss where unguided, black boys were swallowed whole, only to re-emerge on corners and prison tiers. Dad was at war with this destiny.”

The Famous OptionThe Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson

Books for Massachusetts

Fiction: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

“I know it’s not cool to like Infinite Jest anymore, but I still love it in all its enormous, cerebral absurdity, and I love the weird version of Boston it illuminates/invents. I’m not alone, either—here’s a detailed map of the area with markers for where moments in the book take place (or are referred to).

Nonfiction: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn

“I admire Flynn’s poetry (his debut, Some Ether, is remarkable), but I first came to him through this memoir, which I picked up because of its top-notch title. The memoir centers on Flynn’s relationship with his father, whom he met for the first time at a homeless shelter—Flynn Jr. working there, Flynn Sr. sleeping there. The book is grim and hazy, the prose experimental at times and wrenching at others. Not a lot happens, despite the hysterical premise, but isn’t that just like a life?

The Famous Option: Walden, Henry David Thoreau

The Famous Option I Add: Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane

Gone Baby Gone – 4.5 Stars

“Powerful and raw, harrowing, and unsentimental.”

Washington Post Book World

 

“Chilling, completely credible….[An] absolutely gripping story.”

Chicago Tribune

 

“Mr. Lehane delivers big time.”
Wall Street Journal

 

“In Gone, Baby, Gone, the master of the new noir, New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), vividly captures the complex beauty and darkness of working-class Boston. A gripping, deeply evocative thriller about the devastating secrets surrounding a little girl lost, featuring the popular detective team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Gone, Baby, Gone was the basis for the critically acclaimed motion picture directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman.

“Cheese Olamon, “a six-foot-two, four-hundred-and-thirty-pound yellow-haired Scandinavian who’d somehow arrived at the misconception he was black,” is telling his old grammar school friends Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro why they have to convince another mutual chum, the gun dealer Bubba Rugowski, that Cheese didn’t try to have him killed. “You let Bubba know I’m clean when it comes to what happened to him. You want me alive. Okay? Without me, that girl will be gone. Gone-gone. You understand? Gone, baby, gone.” Of all the chilling, completely credible scenes of sadness, destruction, and betrayal in Dennis Lehane’s fourth and very possibly best book about Kenzie and Gennaro, this moment stands out because it captures in a few pages the essence of Lehane’s success.

“Private detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, who live in the same working-class Dorchester neighborhood of Boston where they grew up, have gone to visit drug dealer Cheese in prison because they think he’s involved in the kidnapping of 4-year-old Amanda McCready. Without sentimentalizing the grotesque figure of Cheese, Lehane tells us enough about his past to make us understand why he and the two detectives might share enough trust to possibly save a child’s life when all the best efforts of traditional law enforcement have failed. By putting Kenzie and Gennaro just to one side of the law (but not totally outside; they have several cop friends, a very important part of the story), Lehane adds depth and edge to traditional genre relationships. The lifelong love affair between Kenzie and Gennaro–interrupted by her marriage to his best friend–is another perfectly controlled element that grows and changes as we watch. Surrounded by dead, abused, and missing children, Kenzie mourns and rages while Gennaro longs for one of her own. So the choices made by both of them in the final pages of this absolutely gripping story have the inevitability of life and the dazzling beauty of art.” Amazon

Image result for gone baby gone movie

Gone Baby Gone IMBd 7.7

Books for Michigan

FictionThe Turner House, Angela Flournoy

Flournoy’s recent debut—a finalist for the National Book Award—is a portrait of a family but also a portrait of their city: Detroit. The family home—and what to do about it—is the center of the novel, but the joy of it comes from the many characters, the matter-of-fact magic, and Flournoy’s excellent writing.

NonfictionDetroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis, Mark Binelli

A series of essays about Detroit that moves past the flashy narratives and digs into the truth—both good and bad, both new and old—of the city.

The Famous OptionThe Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

Books for Minnesota

FictionHistory of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

Here’s another recent one: a novel about a 14-year-old girl who finds herself more or less alone, untethered by her ex-commune-member parents, in the cold woods of northern Minnesota—until a new family moves in across the lake and she finds herself all wound up in their mysterious lives. Lots of evocative descriptions of the desolation and isolation of the landscape here, a kind of cold emptiness that permeates the rest of the book.

NonfictionThe Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang was born in a Hmong refugee camp in Vietnam. From there, her family made it to the US, settling in St. Paul. As much as this is a classic American story of the immigrant experience in a new place, it is also an exploration of the Hmong people—a group about which most Americans are completely ignorant. The winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Award.

The Famous OptionMain Street, Sinclair Lewis

Books for Mississippi

FictionSing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

I love everything Ward writes, so here I’ll just pick her most recent novel, the story of a family haunted—by their own sins, by the sins of their country, by those that have gone and by those that are still here. Ward mixes the terrifyingly real and the silkily surreal in the best of ways, and this novel should be read by everyone.

NonfictionOne Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty’s another one—anything she writes is good. This is her memoir of growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was born in 1909, and of the places she knew, and of course, of becoming one of the south’s greatest writers (though she never would have put it that way) among them.

The Famous OptionThe Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

Books for Missouri

FictionEnemy Women, Paulette Jiles

This is the wonderful Paulette Jiles’s first novel: the story of a young woman living in the Ozarks during the Civil War. Her family has staunchly remained neutral, but that doesn’t stop soldiers from throwing her in jail. Fantastic, unsentimental writing and a captivating story.

By the way, Missouri has a lot of good fiction to its name. Others I’d have liked to include: Stoner, by John Williams, Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, Fifth Born, by Zelda Lockhart, and The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton.

NonfictionBettyville, George Hodgman

When George Hodgman goes home to Paris (Paris, Missouri) for his mother’s 91st birthday party, he isn’t intending to stay. After all, Paris hadn’t been kind to him as a young gay man, and his mother hadn’t much approved of—or tried to understand—that “lifestyle.” But Betty needs help, and George stays, and the result is a funny, tender-hearted memoir of love and family and coming home again.

See also: the truly hilarious Priestdaddy by Patrica Lockwood.

The Famous OptionAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Image result for huckleberry finn and his friends

IMBd Rating 8.2/10

Books for Montana

FictionFools Crow, James Welch

A coming-of-age story about a young Blackfoot living in the Montana he’s always known, where the natural world, dreams, and the old ways guide a peaceful life—but of course, white men are coming to change everything. In some ways, it’s a story we (unfortunately) already know well, but the prose makes it a standout.

NonfictionThis House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig

Doig is a celebrated chronicler of Montana, his homeland, with some sixteen books to his name. In his memoir, a finalist for the 1979 National Book Award for Contemporary Thought, he tells the story of his Montana childhood, with the death of his mother, his grieving father, and the other lives and the wild world that surrounded him.

The Famous OptionA River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean

Image result for a river runs through it movie

IMBd Rating 7.3/10

Books for Nebraska

FictionDalva, Jim Harrison

In this novel, a woman named Dalva returns to the Nebraska of her youth to seek out the son she abandoned 30 years earlier, and finds, perhaps it is needless to say, rather more than she expected.

NonfictionOld Jules, Mari Sandoz

Nebraskan novelist Mari Sandoz’s Old Jules is a biography of her pioneer father. “I have also,” she writes in the foreword, “tried in a larger sense to make it the biography of a community, the upper Niobrara country in western Nebraska. The book grew out of a childhood and adolescence spent among the story-tellers of the frontier . . . out of the long hours in the smoky old kitchen on the Running Water, the silent hours of listening behind the stove or in the wood box, when it was assumed that of course I was asleep in bed.”

The Famous OptionMy Antonia, Willa Cather

“My Ántonia is a novel published in 1918 by American writer Willa Cather, considered one of her best works. It is the final book of her “prairie trilogy” of novels, preceded by O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark.

The novel tells the stories of an orphaned boy from Virginia, Jim Burden, and the elder daughter in a family of Bohemian immigrants, Ántonia Shimerda, who are each brought as children to be pioneers in Nebraska towards the end of the 19th century. Both the pioneers who first break the prairie sod for farming, as well as of the harsh but fertile land itself, feature in this American novel. The first year in the very new place leaves strong impressions in both children, affecting them lifelong.

“This novel is considered Cather’s first masterpiece. Cather was praised for bringing the American West to life and making it personally interesting.”

Image result for my antonia movie

IMBd Rating 6.7/10

Books for Nevada

FictionBattleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins

This is a fantastic collection—strange and wan and oddly sexy and troubled and very much rooted in its setting. As Antonya Nelson put it in the New York Times Book Review, the most striking thing about the book

is its physical landscape, especially as it affects the people who stake their claims on its inhospitable terrain. The reader is introduced to Reno’s founders, both the notorious and the anonymous; to figures who are insiders as well as outsiders; to personalities with historical pedigrees and to ones concocted to perfectly fit the crime. The point of view roams, but the Nevada setting provides a hard ground on which the reader counts for stability. Although the individual stories stand alone, together they tell the tale of a place, and of the population that thrives and perishes therein.

NonfictionVegas: Memoir of a Dark Season, John Gregory Dunne

Despite its subheading, this book isn’t exactly nonfiction. It’s not exactly fiction, either. Dunne told The Paris Review: “I always thought of Vegas as a novel, but Random House said, It doesn’t read like a novel, and I said, A novel is anything the writer says the book is, and since I made most of it up, it can’t be nonfiction. So we ended up calling it a fiction. A lot of it is true. The prostitute did write poetry, although the poetry I used in Vegas is not hers. It was actually written by my wife, who as a child had memorized a lot of Sara Teasdale poems. I can write you bad poetry, she said. So there are two little poems in there that Joan actually wrote.” Which honestly should be all you need to seek it out, but it’s also funny and very filthy, if that helps.

For more traditional works of nonfiction, you might check out Robert Laxalt’s Sweet Promised Land, or any of the many books about how some particular number of particular some kind of people took Vegas and how you can too!

The Famous OptionFear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

Books for New Hampshire

FictionThe Virgins, Pamela Erens

I adore this delicious novel about young love and longing at a New Hampshire boarding school, told with a James Salterian distance that turns it into a book as much about the power of storytelling as it is about teenage sex (or the lack thereof).

NonfictionKooKooLand, Gloria Norris

In the 1960s, Norris was a tough nine-year-old growing up in the projects of Manchester with a violent and tyrannical father and a terrified mother. Over the course of this memoir, she escapes—but not without leaving some pieces behind, and taking some others along with her.

The Famous OptionA Separate Peace, John Knowles

Books for New Jersey

FictionThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz

Well, this probably could have gone into the “famous” category, what with its heap of prizes, but it seemed ill-advised to crowd Roth, considering he’s not going to get any other love on this list. Díaz’s fantastic debut novel stars the unforgettable Oscar, a chubby Dominican-American nerd who may or may not be a victim of an old family curse that reached across the ocean from the Dominican Republic to Paterson, New Jersey.

A hat tip, too, to David Gates’s Jernigan, another fine Jersey novel about a young American discontent.

NonfictionThe Pine Barrens, John McPhee

Anyone who’s seen The Sopranos knows something about the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, but McPhee’s work uncovers much more—about the ecology and history of the unusual place, a vast silty wilderness in the middle of the state, as well as those who live there, the pineys, who many in the state consider to be “weird and sometimes dangerous barefoot people who live in caves, marry their sisters and eat snakes.” A relatively early example of McPhee’s wonderful writing about place.

The Famous OptionPortnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

 Book by Nelson Johnson

Image result for boardwalk empire

IMBd Rating 8.6/10

Books for New Mexico

FictionBless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya

Take the coming-of-age story you know and add a curandera—the titular healer who comes to live with six-year-old Antonio Juan Márez y Luna and his family in in 1940s Guadalupe, New Mexico. Catholicism and magic, man and nature, mother and father are all at odds here, but the central story is about the relationship of Antonio and Ultima, who does her best to guide him through the conflicts.

NonfictionGreat River, Paul Horgan

Horgan’s epic Pulitzer Prize-winning book, published in 1955, traces the Rio Grande through the Southwest, telling the stories of multiple peoples of the region as it goes. This was only the first of two Pulitzers Horgan would get for New Mexico-related works—the other, Lamy of Santa Fe, rather undermines Willa Cather’s classic below.

The Famous OptionDeath Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

Books for New York

FictionSpeedboat, Renata Adler · Open City, Teju Cole

Like California, New York is a place of many novels, and so I couldn’t limit to myself to just one here. Even two is ludicrously insufficient—you know the drill. For me, Adler’s Speedboat, despite being written in the 70s, is the novel that most closely reflects the feeling of being a young woman in New York City, in all its poetic, fragmented, harsh, discursive dream-sense. Cole’s Open City represents an experience outside of my own—its protagonist, so to speak, is a young Nigerian immigrant—but is equally recognizable and vital to anyone who has walked the streets of the city, both feet and brain loosed to wander. Both of these selections, I see only now, are essentially plotless, which seems rather fitting for our fair city, in which chance and change and aimlessness reign.

Of course, if you so desire, you may exchange either of the above for Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, Don Delillo’s Underworld, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. Everyone has their own New York, after all.

NonfictionJust Kids, Patti Smith · Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell

Two modern classics here: Patti Smith’s touching memoir of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, spangled with 60s luminaries and luminaries-in-training, and the 1992 mega-collection of Joseph Mitchell’s writing about New York, all of it originally published in The New Yorker.

The Famous Option(s)The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald · The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger · Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

[The Famous Option(s) I Add]: Breakfast at Tiffany’s 

[The Famous Option(s) I Add]: Wiseguy [Basis for Movie Good Fellas]

[The Famous Option(s) I Add]: Last of the Mohicans

[The Famous Option(s) I Add]: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

[The Famous Option(s) I Add]: Rip Van Winkle

Books for North Carolina

FictionSerena, Ron Rash

Ron Rash’s fourth novel is sometimes likened to an Appalachian Macbeth, with king and queen as Depression-era logging magnates—but honestly, Serena is much more terrifying than Lady Macbeth: the trees might come to her, but she’s going to cut them all down, and anyone else who might come with them. And the trees are in full effect here, as Rash’s lyrical descriptions of the North Carolina mountains flesh out the book in all its grim glory.

NonfictionKlansville, USA: the Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, David Cunningham

Apparently—and somewhat incredibly—in the 1960s, North Carolina had more Klan members than all of the other southern states combined. Also incredibly—and horribly, and disgustingly, and frighteningly—the history of the KKK has become suddenly much more relevant to your daily life than it was a month ago. Here’s some history.

The Famous OptionCold Mountain, Charles Frazier

New York Times Best Seller for 62 Weeks

“Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, the intrepid Ada is trying to revive her father’s derelict farm and learning to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away. As it interweaves their stories, Cold Mountain asserts itself as an authentic odyssey, hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.”

Image result for cold mountain movie

IMBd Rating 7.2/10

Books for North Dakota

FictionThe Grass Dancer, Susan Power

Power’s debut novel, set on a North Dakota Sioux reservation, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for Best First Fiction when it was published in 1995. It jumps around, through decades and characters, but somewhat centering on the young Harley Wind Soldier, whose mother has been silent ever since his father and brother died seventeen years before.

Though I’ve barred myself from including wide-ranging travel narratives, I do feel that I should mention John Steinbeck’s musings on North Dakota in Travels with Charley here:

Curious how a place unvisited can take such a hold on the mind so that the very name sets up a ringing. To me such a place was Fargo, North Dakota. . . If you will take a map of the United States and fold it in the middle, eastern edge against western, and crease it sharply, right in the crease will be Fargo. On double-page maps sometimes Fargo gets lost in the binding. That may not be a very scientific method for finding the east-west middle of the country, but it will do. But beyond this, Fargo to me is brother to the fabulous places of the earth, kin to those magically remote spots mentioned by Herodotus and Marco Polo and Mandeville. From my earliest memory, if it was a cold day, Fargo was the coldest place on the continent. If heat was the subject, then at that time the papers listed Fargo as hotter than any place else, or wetter or drier, or deeper in snow. That’s my impression anyway.

NonfictionThe Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, Debra Marquart

Poet Debra Marquart’s memoir of growing up on a dairy farm in North Dakota begins with opposition. “Farmboys,” she writes. “How we avoided them when they came around, their hands heavy with horniness, their bodies thick with longing. Be careful of farmboys, we warned each other. They know how to plant seeds.” And all oppositions in this volume come down to one: the beauty of her ancestral home, and her nagging connection to it, rams up against Marquart’s desire to leave, to get as far away as possible, resulting in a lovely meditation on identity and place.

The Famous OptionLove Medicine, Louise Erdrich

Books for Ohio

FictionBeloved, Toni Morrison

Maybe the greatest American novel of all time—a ghost story about the America’s biggest and most omnipresent demon. Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Sula are also essential Ohio reading. Luckily, your bookshelf has no limits.

Also recommended: Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, in which a young girl disappears from a small town in Ohio in the 1970s.

NonfictionAmerican Splendor, Harvey Pekar

A chronicle of the day-to-day goings-on and existential crises of Harvey Pekar, native of Cleveland, Ohio, written by Pekar and illustrated by such luminaries as Alison Bechel, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Hernandez. Surprisingly addictive.

The Famous OptionWinesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Books for Oklahoma

FictionTrue Grit, Charles Portis – 4.5 Stars

This is a delightful novel, in which the very forthright Mattie Ross hires a man “with grit” to help her hunt down the villain who has killed her father and fled into the Indian territories (now Oklahoma). Though much of the novel takes place in Arkansas, all the really memorable parts (the villain-shooting, the horseback-riding, the trapped halfway inside a bat cave while rattlers swarm out of a nearby skeleton-ing) happen over the border, and perhaps this is why is has been referred to as “The Great Oklahoma Novel.” In either state, it’s a must-read.

Image result for true grit a movie

IMBd Rating 7.6/10

NonfictionKillers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

The recent blockbuster from New Yorker writer David Grann tells the story of the Osage, Native Americans who are shoved into a corner of Oklahoma—only to find oil beneath it and become extremely wealthy. Then someone begins to murder them. More than two dozen people were shot, poisoned, or otherwise killed between 1920 and 1924, and eventually, the F.B.I was sent to investigate.  Grann turns the whole story into a captivating large-scale murder mystery that also happens to be true.

The Famous OptionThe Outsiders, S. E. Hinton

5 Stars

“The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Hinton was 15 when she started writing the novel, but did most of the work when she was 16 and a junior in high school.[1] Hinton was 18[2] when the book was published. The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced by the author as /ˈsoʊʃɪz/, short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told in first-person narrative by protagonist Ponyboy Curtis.

“The story in the book takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965,[2] but this is never stated in the book.” Wikipedia

Image result for outsiders movie

IMBd Rating 7.2/10

Books for Oregon

FictionLittle Century, Anna Keesey

A vivid novel about a teenage orphan who does what all orphans used to do, and heads west, to the frontier town of Century, Oregon, where she finds her cattle ranching cousin and a whole world she never imagined. Jonathan Evison puts it this way in the New York Times Book Review:

The real star of the novel is Oregon’s high desert, a vast, quiet plain Keesey captures in many of its dynamic moods, in language ranging from the plain­spoken to the elegant. Esther observes the lay of the land after arriving: “As far as she might walk to, or even see, to one side or the other, all is gray and sleeping under a shiver-thin coverlet of old snow.” And like all well-wrought settings, Keesey’s high desert has woven itself into the fabric of its inhabitants, as it has for Pick: “He remembered, always, the desert of his childhood. The vast quiet, the singular negotiations between a cold, calm man and a colder, calmer plain.”

I also have to mention Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn. What’s more Portlandian than freaks, amirite?

NonfictionHole in the Sky, William Kittredge

This gorgeous memoir takes place on Kittredge’s family cattle land in Warner Valley, what should have been a paradise and instead was simply the setting for his fall. In the first chapter, he writes:

Maybe children wake to a love affair every other morning or so; if given any chance, they seem to like the sight and smell and feel of things so much. Falling for the world could be a thing that happens to them all the time, I hope so, I hope it is purely commonplace. I’m trying to imagine that it is, that our childhood love of things is perfectly justifiable. Think of light and how far it falls, to us. To fall, we say, naming a fundamental way of going to the world–falling.

. . .

In the evening my father would drive along the central banks to study his crops as they emerged in undulating rows across the dark peat soil of the old swamplands. We could speculate on how much the seedlings had grown in just one day. We thought we could smell the growing. That little boy had no intimation that those moments would come to stand in memory as his approximation of perfection: his family, his life before him, the world in renewal.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 4.5 Stars

The Famous OptionOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Image result for one flew over the cuckoo's nest movie

IMBd Rating 8.7/10

Books for Pennsylvania

FictionThe Pittsburgh Cycle, August Wilson

Fiction: Fences, August Wilson

• Now a Major Motion Picture directed by Denzel Washington, and starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (winner of the Academy Award and Golden Globe for her role)
• Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play 

“In his work, Mr. Wilson depicted the struggles of black Americans with uncommon lyrical richness, theatrical density and emotional heft, in plays that give vivid voices to people on the frayed margins of life.”—The New York Times – Amazon

From legendary playwright August Wilson, the powerful, stunning dramatic work that won him critical acclaim, including the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize.

Image result for fences movie

IMBd Rating 7.2/10

I also want to mention John Edgar Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire, a ferocious novel inspired by the real-life 1985 bombing of an African-American commune in Philadelphia.

NonfictionAn American Childhood, Annie Dillard

In Dillard’s lovely memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh, she remembers Penn Avenue, which “smelled of gasoline, exhaust fumes, trees’ sweetness in the spring, and, year round, burnt grit,” the “orange, clangy, beloved” streetcars, the cobblestones made from river mud, the “sidewalks whose topography was as intricate as Pittsburgh’s, and as hilly . . . cut into so many parts, so many legal divisions, that no one was responsible for all of it, and it all crumbled.”

The Famous OptionThe Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

Books for Rhode Island

FictionThe Witches of Eastwick, John Updike

A coven of three thrives in the town of Eastwick: two divorcées and a widow, all of whom, once shed of their husbands, developed uncanny powers and now use them for general mischief and misandry. Enter Darryl Van Horne, mysterious un-handsome stranger, who rather stirs the cauldron, resulting in death, destruction, and a darkly hilarious ending.

NonfictionDown City, Leah Carroll

When you think ‘Rhode Island,’ you probably don’t immediately think ‘mafia’—but it was mob-connected drug dealers who murdered Leah Carroll’s mother when she was a toddler, and who got off light in return for spilling what they knew. Her alcoholic father, on the other hand, dies while she’s a teenager. This memoir is a portrait of them both, and of the daughter they left scrambling, and finally the story of the the double-sided coin of Providence in the 90s, both the suburbs and the seedy side.

The Famous OptionMy Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult

Books for South Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina – 4.5 Stars

FictionBastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison

A classic of rural Southern literature, this harrowing novel is narrated by Bone, whose mother, in an attempt to legitimize the child she had out of wedlock at 15, marries a man (“Daddy Glen”). Perhaps needless to say, he only makes things worse, sexually abusing his stepdaughter and driving an even bigger wedge through the center of the family.

Image result for bastard out of carolina movie

IMBd Rating 7.5/10

NonfictionBrown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s elegant memoir in verse, which won a 2014 National Book Award, tells the story of her childhood in Greenville, South Carolina (and later, New York, which affords her an effective contrast—”We remember the collards growing/ down south, the melons, fresh picked/ and dripping with a sweetness New York / can never know”) in the late 60s. It’s a book about transitions, a girl becoming a writer, a family moving from South to North, and the larger cultural shift, too—or lack thereof: “In downtown Greenville, / they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs, / except on the bathroom doors, / they didn’t use a lot of paint/ so you can still see the words, right there / like a ghost standing in front / still keeping you out.”

The Famous OptionThe Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – 4.5 Stars

Image result for secret life of bees movie

IMBd Rating 7.3/10

Books for South Dakota

FictionSkins, Adrian C. Louis

This debut novel by Louis, also a prolific poet, is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, where beleaguered tribal cop—complete with alcoholic brother and failing marriage—Rudy Yellow Shirt hits his head and wakes up changed into a ferocious vigilante and sets out to save, or otherwise avenge, his people. It doesn’t turn out exactly right, as you might imagine. A grim portrait of life on a reservation, infused with dark humor and not a little violence.

See also: Shadowbahn, by Steve Erickson, in which the twin towers reappear in the badlands, and one of them has Elvis’s twin living inside.

Lakota Woman – 4.5 Stars

NonfictionLakota Woman, Mary Brave Bird (Mary Crow Dog)

Brave Bird’s memoir, which won an American Book Award in 1991, describes her youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and her participation in the American Indian Movement, including her participation at seventeen in the incident at Wounded Knee in 1973, where, “during a firefight, with bullets crashing through one wall and coming out the other,” she gave birth to her first child.

Image result for lakota woman movie

IMBd Rating 7.4/10

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – 4.5 Stars

The Famous OptionBury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown

Image result for bury my heart at wounded knee movie

IMBd Rating 7.2/10

The Famous Option: Dances with Wolves, Michael Blake – 4.5 Stars

Image result for dances with wolves movie

IMBd Rating 8.0/10

Tennessee

FictionWise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s first novel is a brutal and bizarre masterpiece of Southern Gothic literature, in which a man—the grandson of a preacher—comes back from World War II a sworn atheist, but finds himself not quite capable of escaping his belief. As O’Connor herself put it in the preface to a 1962 edition, “The book was written with zest and, if possible, it should be read that way. It is a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death.”

NonfictionMy Own Country, Abraham Verghese

In the mid-80s, Abraham Verghese was a young doctor living in Johnson City, Tennessee, “the embodiment of small-town America, 72 churches watching over the flock, the perfect symmetry of the Lions and Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, with their staggered meeting dates.” Then patients began appearing with an unknown, deadly illness. A specialist in infectious diseases, Verghese was the best-equipped doctor in the area to deal with this sudden rash of what turned out of HIV-positive patients, but still, he watched the number of AIDS cases go from zero to eighty over four years. I read this memoir long ago, in high school, and still I remember it, and the sense of both the specific place and the country at large that it imparted.

The Famous OptionA Death in the Family, James Agee

Books for Texas

FictionWoman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros

A classic collection of short stories—mostly about Mexican-American women, largely set in San Antonio, though the border is crossed and crossed again in mind and body—separated into three sections that investigate childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The end effect is a tapestry of longing and belonging, a portrait in pattern.

NonfictionThe Liar’s Club, Mary Karr

No one writes like Mary Karr—all whip-crack heart and shiny-edged eyes—and her memoir of growing up in an East Texas oil town is a full-fledged knockout.

The Famous OptionLonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

Books for Utah

FictionRiders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey

One of the early important Westerns, written in 1912 by prolific author, American West mythologizer, and capable dentist Zane Grey, in which a young woman escapes the Mormon community that persecutes her, picking up a couple of cowboys along the way.

NonfictionRefuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Terry Tempest Williams

“Everything about Great Salt Lake is exaggerated,” Terry Tempest Williams writes in the prologue to her landmark work. “[T]he heat, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain.” What is for certain is that her mother is dead, from cancer brought on by nuclear testing in the nearby desert, just like most of the other women in her family. What is for certain is that the birds are disappearing. This is an evocative memoir of loss joined with an examination of humanity’s fraught relationship to nature—and certain humans’ peace with it.

The Famous OptionThe Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer

Books for Vermont

FictionThe Secret History, Donna Tartt

I lived for four years in rural Vermont, and I can tell you true: no novel feels as much like the state as Donna Tartt’s masterpiece of a debut. It follows a group of classics students at the fictional Hampden College as they seek transcendence and devolve into murder—and then as they deal with the aftermath. There is plenty of snow.

NonfictionBag Balm and Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor, Beach Conger

Everyone in Vermont uses Bag Balm, and in case you don’t know what that is, it is a sort of salve originally meant to rub into cows’ udders (those would be the bags) after milking, but which Vermont humans use to treat chapped lips, rough hands, burns, and skin irritations of almost every variety. This chummy memoir tells the story of a young M.D. who comes from California to rural Vermont and adapts to life as a country doctor.

The Famous OptionPollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter

Books for Virginia

FictionThe Known World, Edward P. Jones

Set 20 years before the Civil War in Manchester County, this Pulitzer Prize-winning debut tells the story of a young slave who became a slave owner himself, before dying at the age of 31 and leaving his wife to grapple with his legacy. A complex and challenging novel that everyone should read.

NonfictionThe Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, Annette Gordon-Reed

Charlottesville has a bizarre relationship with Thomas Jefferson—as Jia Tolentino recently mentioned in her piece about the city’s history of racism in The New Yorker—and Monticello makes for an uneasy tourist attraction. But it’s still a fascinating one, with tendrils that spool out in many directions, including that of Sally Hemings, the slave Thomas Jefferson kept as a “mistress.” Historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning book tells the story of Sally Hemings and her family—including the six children she had with Jefferson, and spanning from the 1700s to 1826—as well as the history of slavery in Virginia.

I must also mention Hold Still, the memoir by photographer Sally Mann, which skillfully evokes the loamy magic of certain parts of the state, using both narrative and photography to weave together a sometimes-disturbing, sometimes-idyllic view.

The Famous OptionBridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

[Another Famous Option: Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

I am adding Hidden Figures because it is a book about research done at the NASA Langley Research  Center in Virginia.

Image result for hidden figures movie

Books for Washington

FictionThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie

Really, everything Alexie writes is a delight, so if you’re going to Washington (or even if you aren’t—the book ranges a bit anyway), I’d suggest loading up. This collection of connected short stories focuses primarily on Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, young Native American men who live on a reservation in Spokane. Alexie is adept at braiding the realistic and surrealistic, the contemporary and the traditional, the hilarious and the heartbreaking, and these stories add up to exhilarating portraiture of a place and a group of people.

NonfictionThis Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff

A darkly funny, fraught memoir of a troubled childhood spurred by an abusive stepfather in Concrete, Washington that proves going West doesn’t always—or perhaps ever—solve all your problems. A useful American lesson, that.

The Famous OptionSnow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

Books for West Virginia

FictionJohn Henry Days, Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days tackles the story of American folk hero John Henry (the “steel-driving man”) through an opportunistic and kind of terrible young journalist, J. Sutter, sent to West Virginia to attend a John Henry festival and see the unveiling of a John Henry stamp.

I also want to mention Ann Pancake’s Strange as This Weather Has Been, a heavily-researched and brilliantly-written novel about the ravages of coal mining on one particular family.

NonfictionThe Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

This widely-beloved memoir is about Walls and her siblings growing up in (among other places) the ditchwater town of Welch, West Virginia, at the mercy of their alcoholic father and erratic mother. Now a film—but read it first.

The Famous OptionRocket Boys, Homer Hickam

Books for Wisconsin

FictionAmerican Dervish, Ayad Akhtar

In this first novel, Akhtar tells one of the most American stories there is: that of a first-generation citizen, the child of immigrants, carving out a place for himself that has room for both his heritage and the possibilities open before him. Hayat is a young Pakistani-American whose life is upended when his mother’s beautiful friend Mina comes to stay with them in Milwaukee, bringing with her a deep faith—and a disruptive one. As Akhtar has said, the novel asks questions about femininity and faith, and the way these intersect with cultural conflicts in America. Mina, after all, “is imbued with a spiritual force, the book’s most powerful and inspiring agent of change. And yet she is a paradox: deeply devout, bound by her tradition, subject—in tragic ways—to a patriarchal order with which she struggles.”

Also, a shout-out to Craig Thompson’s Blankets, which nails the snow and isolation involved in any Wisconsin winter.

NonfictionEvicted, Matthew Desmond

Forget having a room of one’s own—many American citizens can’t even keep a roof over their heads. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, Desmond’s crushing book is a deep-dive into the a varied group of people struggling to keep shelter in Milwaukee, and the cycle of poverty, loss, and systematic disenfranchisement that keeps shoving them out onto the streets.

The Famous OptionLittle House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Books for Wyoming

FictionCowboys and East Indians, Nina McConigley

Here’s a version of Wyoming you may not be familiar with, even if you’ve spent every second of your life there: Wyoming as seen from the perspective of the other kind of Indian—the kind actually from India. These ten stories examine the many facets of being brown in Wyoming—and being a cross-dresser, a mother, kleptomaniac exchange student—but also the feeling of Wyoming itself. It won a 2014 Pen Open Book Award, and the judge’s citation noted that the book “gives us Wyoming precisely the way we expect it—in landscape, sky, and animal life—and in ways we don’t.” Which is precisely what I want when I travel by literature.

NonfictionThe Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich

This classic series of essays relates Ehrlich’s experiences living on a small farm in Wyoming (cow punching is a thing), but also uses her specific stance to take a wider look at America at large. For instance, in one essay, she writes:

From the clayey soil of northern Wyoming is mined bentonite, which is used as filler in candy, gum, and lipstick. We Americans are great on fillers, as if what we have, what we are, is not enough. We have a cultural tendency toward denial, but being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy. We gave only to look at the houses we build to see how we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there.

Clarity of vision is of paramount importance here. The writing is beautiful but not quaint, particularly, and the journey is one of knowledge and discovery. As Judith Moore put it in The New York Times:

Although Miss Ehrlich’s suffering eventually abates, what comfort Wyoming gives her comes hard won. The Solace of Open Spaces depends upon none of the cheap effects—purple sunset, the face of God in still water—that breed what theologians call ”cheap grace,” salvation too easily won. By the time Miss Ehrlich meets a Wyoming man and they marry, she has been to the mountaintop and seen the mountain for what it is.

The Famous OptionClose Range, Annie Proulx

The Prince of Tides – Quotes with Page Numbers

From  Suzanne Wingo’s Poems

The Dedication:

Man wonders but God decides
When to kill the Prince of Tides.

Nature Writing in Prince of Tides

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. … I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my father’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river.” [p. 1]

“It was my mother who taught me the southern way of the spirit in its most delicate and intimate forms. My mother believed in the dreams of flowers and animals. Before we went to bed at night as small children, she would reveal to us in her storytelling voice that salmon dreamed of mountain passes and the brown faces of grizzlies hovering over clear rapids. Copperheads, she would say, dreamed of placing their fangs in the shinbones of hunters. Ospreys slept with their feathered, plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring. There were the brute wings of owls in the nightmares of ermine, the downwind approach of timber wolves in the night stillness of elk.

“But we never knew about her dreams, for my mother kept us strangers to her own interior life. We knew that bees dreamed of roses, that roses dreamed of the pale hands of florists, and that spiders dreamed of luna moths adhered to silver webs. As her children, we were the trustees of her dazzling evensongs of the imagination, but we did not now that mothers dreamed.

“Each day she would take us into the forest or garden and invent a name for any animal or flower we passed. A monarch became an ‘orchid-kissing blacklegs’; a field of daffodils in April turned into a ‘dance of the butter ladies bonneted.’ With her attentiveness, my mother could turn a walk around the island into a voyage of purest discovery. Her eyes were our keys to the palace of wildness.

. . .

“Melrose Island was a lozenge-shaped piece of land of twelve hundred acres surrounded on four sides by salt rivers and creeks. The island country where I grew up was a fertile, semitropical archipelago that gradually softened up the ocean for the grand surprise of the continent that followed. Melrose was only one of sixty sea islands in Colleton County. At the eastern edge of the county lay six barrier islands shaped by their daily encounters with the Atlantic. The other sea islands, like Melrose, enscarved by vast expanses of marshland, were the green sanctuaries where brown and white shrimp came to spawn in their given seasons. ” p. 2.

“I began to run down the beach. At first it was controlled, patient, but then I started to push myself, letting it out, until I was sprinting, breaking into a sweat, and gasping for air. If I could hurt the body, I would not notice the coming apart of the soul.

“As I ran, I considered the sad decline of flesh. I struggled o increase the speed and remembered how once I was the fastest quarterback in South Carolina. Blond and swift, I would come out of backfields with linemen thundering toward me in slow-footed ecstasy as I turned the corner and stepped toward the amazing noise of crowds, then lowered my head and dazzled myself with instinctive moves that lived in some fast, sweet place within me. But I never wept in high school games. Now I ran heavily, desperately, away from the wife who had taken a lover because I had failed her as lover, away from the sister too quick with blades, away from the mother who did not understand the awful history of mothers and sons. I was running away from the history, I thought–that bitter, outrageous slice of Americana that was my own failed life–or toward a new phase of that history..” p. 26

“It is an art form to hate New York City properly.

“My sister, Savannah, of course, matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her.” p. 27

“‘People that like to read are always a little fucked up.’ … ‘Savannah’s living proof that writing poetry and reading books causes brain damage.’ p. 28

. . .

[In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family].

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

[As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing].

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.’” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Denial and Masked Words

[When Tom first meets with Dr. Lowenstein, he is cynical, in an angry sort of way.  Instead of answering Lowenstein’s questions, he makes jokes out of them].

“‘I cannot help your sister if you only answer my questions with jokes or riddles.'” p. 52

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and made a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4, two stories twine around each other. While Tom and Savannah Wingo are being born during a South Carolina storm, their father is wounded in Germany. A German priest helps the father and brings him food. The father describes the food:

“Years later, my father would describe with undiminishable wonder the taste of that dark German bread, that slab of precious, hoarded butter smeared across that bread, and the red wine the priest gave him from the bottle. … all of us could taste it again with him, the wine spreading like velvet in our mouths, the bread, fragrant as earth, softening and melting on the tongue, the butter coating the roofs of our mouths….” p. 71

Healing Through Remembering

Chapter 5

[Tom begins to remember his past. Initially, he remembers to help explain Savannah’s problems, but gradually, he remembers as a means to help himself].

“After the first week, there came to be a shape and character to all those New York summer days–those introspective, confessional days when I spun out the history of y dispirited, sorrow-struck family to Savannah’s lovely psychiatrist whose job it was to repair the damage sustained by one member of that family.

“The story grew slowly and as it unfolded I began to feel an interior strength flicker into life. …and each day startled myself with some clear vision of memory I had repressed or forgotten. … Each memory led to another and another until my head blazed with small intricate geometries of illumination.” p. 84.

. . .

“In stillness, I started to keep a journal…. At first, I concentrated only on what was essential to Savannah’s story, but I kept returning to myself, able to tell the story only through y own eyes. I had no right or credibility to interpret the world through her eyes. The best I could do for my sister would be to tell my own story as honestly as I could.

. . .

“But first there had to be a time of renewal, time to master a fresh approach to self-scrutiny. I had lost nearly thirty-seven years to the image I carried of myself. I had ambushed myself by believing, to the letter, my parents’definition of me. They had defined me early on, coined me like a word they had translated on some mysterious hieroglyph, and I had spent my life coming to terms with that specious coinage. My parents had succeeded in making me a stranger to myself. … I allowed them to knead and shape me into the smooth lineaments of their non-pareil child. I adhered to the measurements of their vision. They whistled and I danced like a spaniel in their yard. They wanted a courteous boy and the old southern courtesies flowed out of me in a ceaseless flood. They longed for a stable twin, a pillar of sanity to balance the family structure after they realized Savannah was always going to be their secret shame, their unabsolvable crime. They [p.85]succeeded not only in making me normal but also in making me dull. … I longed for their approval, their applause, their pure uncomplicated love for me, and I looked for it years after I realized they were not even capable of letting me have it. … I needed to reconnect to something I had lost. Somewhere I had lost touch with the kind of man I had the potential of being. I needed to effect a reconciliation with that unborn man and try to coax him gently toward his maturity.

. . .

“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.

. . .

“Though I hated my father, I expressed that hatred eloquently by imitating his life, by becoming more and more ineffectual daily, by ratifying all the cheerless prophecies my other made for both my father and me. I thought I had succeeded in not becoming a violent man, but even that belief collapsed: My violence was subterranean, unbeheld. It was my silence, my long withdrawals, that I had turned into dangerous things. My viciousness manifested itself in the terrible winter of blue eyes. My wounded stare could bring an ice age into the sunniest, balmiest afternoon. I was about to be thirty-seven years old, and with some aptitude and a little natural ability, I had figured out how to live a perfectly meaningless life, but one that could imperceptibly and inevitably destroy the lives of those around me.

“So I looked to this surprise summer of freedom as a last chance to [p. 86] take my full measure  man, a troubled interregnum before I ventured into the pitfalls and ceremonials of middle age, I wanted, by an act of conscious will, to make it a time of reckoning and, if I was lucky, a time of healing and reconstitution of an eclipsed spirit.

“Through the procedure of remembrance, I would try to heal myself, to gather up the strength I would need to manifest as I guided Dr. Lowenstein along the declivities and versants of the past.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 84-87.

Callenwolde

“Behind the house, a large deciduous forest, circumvallated by a low stone fence, stretched al the way to Briarcliff Road. Thre were ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted along the fence at thousand-foot intervals. Our grandmother informed us in a breathless, conspiratorial voice that ‘very, very rich people’ lived in the property and that under no circumstances were we ever to cross the fence to play in those verboten woods. This was the Candler family, the heirs of Coca-Cola….

“But we would approach that fence after school each day, that deep-green perfumed realm forbidden to us, and smell the money coming through the trees. We longed to glimpse a single member of that noble and enchanted family. But we were children and soon we were climbing the fence and taking a few forbidden steps into the forest, often racing back to the safety of the stone wall. …Slowly , we began to demythologize the outlawed woods. Soon we knew the acreage of that forest better than any Candler ever had. We learned its secrets and boundaries, hid in its groves and arbors, and felt the old thrill of disobedience buoyant in young hearts gallant enough to ignore the strange laws of adults. Surrounded by trees, we hunted squirrels with slingshots, watched from the high branches of trees the lucky Candler children, looking serious and [p. 107] bored, cantering thoroughbreds down forest paths….

“The house was known as Callanwolde.

. . .

“We built a treehouse in one of Callanwolde’s extravagant oaks. … Quails called to us at dusk. A family of gray foxes lived beneath an uprooted cottonwood. We would come to the forest to remember who we were, what we had come from, and where we would be returning.

. . .

“It was early March and the dogwoods were just beginning to bloom. The whole earth shivered with the green tumult of ripening sun-soft days, and we were walking through the woods, looking for box turtles. [p. 108] Savannah saw him first. She froze and pointed at something ahead of us.

“He was standing beside a tree covered with poison sumac, relieving himself. He was the largest, most powerful man I had ever seen, and I had grown up with men of legendary strength who worked around the shrimp docks in Colleton. He grew out of the earth like some fantastic, grotesque tree. His body was thick, marvelous, and colossal. His eyes were blue and vacant. A red beard covered his face, but there was something wrong about him. It was the way he looked at us, far different from the way adults normally studied chidren, that altered us to danger. The three of us felt the menace in his disengaged stare. His eyes did not seem connected to anything human. He zipped up his pants and turned toward us. He was almost seven feet tall. We ran.

“We made it to the stone fence, clambered over it, and ran screaming into our back yard. When we reached the back porch, we saw him standing at the edge of the woods, observing us. The fence we had to climb over barely came to his waist. My mother came out of the back door when she heard our screams. We pointed toward the man in the woods.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 107-109.

Grandpa Wingo – Character Development Through Memorabilia

“Savannnah was the first person who ever said aloud that Grandpa Wingo was crazy.

“But it was a sweet, uncomplicated craziness if that is what it was.” p. 130

“Along the back roads of the rural South, he carried one suitcase filed with his clothing and his barbering tools and another, larger one, brimming with Bibles of all shapes and sizes. The least expensive Bibles were small, black, and utilitarian, the size of children’s shoes. But their print was small and could induce myopia if read too fervently in bad light. He considered it his duty to push the showier lines. The Cadillac of Bibles was one of dyed, milky white Naugahyde with gold tassels to use as page markers. It was sumptuously illustrated by the Biblical paintings of ‘The Great Masters.’ But the crowing glory of this radiant voume was that the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth were printed in vivid red ink. These most expensive Bibles were invariably snatced up by the poorest families, who purchased them on a generous time-payment plan. In my grandfather’s wake, poor Christians would often have to make the difficult choice between paying the monthly tariff for their flashy white Bible or putting food on their table. ,,. he would never bring himself to repossess a Bible once he had filled out for free the family chronology in the Middle of the book. He believed that no family could feel truly secure or American until they were all named up in a decent Bible where Jesus spoke in red.

. . .

“As a salesman of Bibles, my grandmother became something of a legend in the small-town South. He would hit a mill village or a crossroads town and start going door to door. If a family was no in need of a Bible, then someone in that family was probably in need of a haircut. He would cut a whole family of hair at a group rate. … He spoke of the life of Christ above the razor’s hum and the dense clouds of talcum as he brushed the falling hair fro the necks of squirming boys and girls.” p. 131.

Inherited Family Dysfunction

[Note: Grandpa Wingo’s wife had abandoned her husband and child when the boy was young. She returned years later, but Tom Wingo’s father was raised by a single father, the traveling salesman Grandpa Wingo]

“But as a traveling salesman whose territory covered five southern states, my grandfather often left my father in the lackadaisical. inconsistent care of maids, cousins, maiden aunts, or whomever Amos could rustle up to care for his son. For very different reasons, neither of my grandparents ever got around to the fundamental business of raising their one child. There was something unsponsored, even unreconcilable, about my father’s quarrel with the world. His childhood had been a sanctioned debacle of neglect, and y grandparents were the pale, unindictable executors of my father’s violations against his own children.

“My grandparents were like two mismatched children and their house retained some flavor of both sanctuary and kindergarten for me. When they spoke to each other it was with the deepest civility. There were no real conversations between them; no light, bantering moments, no hints of flirtation, no exchange of gossip. They never seemed to be living together, even after my grandmother’s return. Nothing human interfered with their unexplained affection for each other. I studied their relationship with something approaching awe because I could not figure out what made it work. I felt love between these two people but it was a love without flame or passion. There were no rancors or fevers, no risings or ebbings of the spirit to chart, just a marriage without weather, a stillness, a resignation, just windless days in the Gulf Stream of their quiet aging.

. . .

“I never heard Toalitha or Amos raise their voice. They never spanked us and were almost apologetic when they corrected us in the slightest way. Yet the had created the man who fathered me, who beat me, who beat my mother, who beat my brother and sister, and I could find no explanation or clue in my grandparents’ house. … My mother forbade us to tell anyone outside the family that my father hit any of us. She put the highest premium on what [p. 132] she called ‘family loyalty’ and would tolerate no behavior that struck her as betrayal or sedition. We were not allowed to criticize our father or to complain about his treatment of us. He knocked my brother Luke unconscious three times before Luke was ten. Luke was always the first target, the face he turned to always. My mother was usually hit when she tried to intervene on uke’s behalf. Savannah and I were struck when we tried to pull him off my mother. A cycle was born, accidental and deadly.

“I lived out my childhood thinking my father would one day kill me

“But I dwelt in a world where nothing was explained to children except the supremacy of the concept of loyalty.

“I learned from my mother that loyalty was the pretty face one wore when you based your whole life on a series of egregious lies.

“…I had prayed for God to destroy him….My prayers buried him up o his neck in the marsh flats as I prayed to the moon to make the ocean surge over him, watched the crabs swarm over his face, going for his eyes I learned t kill with my prayers, learned to hate when I should have been praising God. … Whenever I killed a deer, it was my father’s face beneath the rack of horns; it was my father’s heart I cut out and held aloft to the trees; it was my father’s body I strung up and emptied of viscera. I turned myself into something heinous, a crime against nature, … My mother taught us that it was the highest form of loyalty to [p. 133] cover our wounds and smile at the blood we saw in our mirrors,” p. 134

. . .

“If your parents disapprove of you and are cunning with their disapproval, there will never come a new dawn when you can become convinced of your own value. There is no fixing a damaged childhood. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float. p. 134.

Pat Conroy on New York City

“It is  an art form to hate New York City properly. So far I have always been a featherweight debunker of New York; it takes too much energy and endurance to record the infinite number of ways the city offends me. Were I to list them all, I would full up a book the size of the Manhattan yellow pages, and that would merely the prologue. Every time I submit myself to the snubs and indignities of that swaggering city and set myself adrift among the prodigious crowds, a feeling of displacement, profound and enervating, takes me over, killing all the coded cells of my hard-won singularity. The city marks my soul with a most profane, indelible graffiti. There is too much of too much there. On every visit I find myself standing on the piers, watching the splendid Hudson River flooding by and the noise of the city to my back, and I know what no New Yorker I’ve ever met knows: that this island was once surrounded by deep, extraordinary marshes and estuaries, that an entire complex civilization of a salt marsh lies buried beneath the stone avenues. I do not like cities that dishonor their own marshes.

“My sister, Savannah, of course matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her. It is these damaged birds of paradise, burnt out and sneaking past the mean alleys, that define the city’s most extreme limits for her. She finds beauty in these extremities. She carries in her breast an unshakable fealty to all these damaged veterans who survive New York on the fringes, lawless and without hope, gifted in the black arts. They are the city’s theater for her. She has written about them in her poetry; she has learned some of the black arts herself and knows well their ruined acreage.” p. 27

“Savannah knew she wanted to be a New Yorker long before she knew she wanted to write poetry. She was one of those southerners who were aware from an early age that the South could never be more for them than a fragrant prison administered by a collective of loving but treacherous relatives.” p. 28

. . . .

“It was not until my second week in the city that I developed the first unmistakable symptoms of the New York willies. I always felt an ineluctable guilt when I was just taking it easy in New York when all those grand museums, libraries, plays, concerts, and that whole vast infinitude of cultural opportunities beckoned me with promises of enrichment. I began to have trouble sleeping and felt as if I should be reading the complete works of Proust or learning a foreign language or rolling out my own pasta or taking a course at the New School on the history of film. The city always stimulated some long-dormant gland of self-improvement when I crossed her rivers. I would never feel good enough for New York, but I would always feel better if I was at least taking steps to measure up to her eminent standards.

“When I couldn’t sleep, when the noise of postmidnight traffic proved too dissonant or the past rose up like a pillaged city in the displaced instancy of dreaming, I would rise out of my sister’s bed and dress in the darkness. On my first morning in New York, I had tried to jog to Brooklyn but had only made it to the Bowery, where I stepped over the recumbent shapes of malodorous bums who slept in the vestibules of lamp shops on a street overripe with sconces and chandeliers. ” p. 135

Catholics in the South

“Until 1953 my family were the only Catholics in the town of Colleton. My father’s wartime conversion, the one radical act of the spirit in his lifetime, was a perilous and invigorating voyage on weedy, doctrinal seas. My mother accepted her own conversion without a word of protest. … And such was the nature of my mother’s naivetè that she thought her conversion to Catholicism would mean an automatic rise in her social prestige. She would learn, slowly and painfully, [p. 142] that there is nothing stranger or more alien in the American South than a Roman Catholic.

. . .

“But though the feasted on that succulent corpus of dogma whole hog, they they remained hard-shell Baptists masquerading under the veils and gauderies of an overripe theology.” p. 143

Creative Nonfiction Is More Than Just the Facts

For me, the first step in learning to write was to gather the courage and the energy to look at the facts of my own life and then, to record them, and I have done that diligently for the past year.

Now, I am working on the next step in my writing journey: I want to learn how to look at the facts of my life and to learn to tell those facts in a fresh, exciting, and original way. Great creative nonfiction [and the best memoirs are creative nonfiction] is more than just the facts.

While you are reading the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s memoir An American Childhood, it is not immediately obvious what the author is doing. Clearly, she is describing an area of lush vegetation, and if you have been to the area near Lake Chautauqua and Lake Erie, you might realize that she is talking about that part of western Pennsylvania. But then, she talks about Ben Franklin and George Washington, and after that, Dillard’s purpose might become vague, and it might take a bit more reading for you to realize that this highly skilled author is  creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

creating the setting that she needs to tell the story of her chidhood.  But instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard takes a more original approach:

Image result for an american childhood by annie dillard“When everything else has gone from my brain–thePresident’st name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and wat it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family–when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: The dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.

“I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses’ bricks burn like glowing coals.

“The three wide rivers divide and cool the mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. The Monongahela meet and form the westward-wending Ohio.

“Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other buildings’ clean sides, and illumine the narrow city canyons below, where people move, and shine reflected red and white at night from the black waters. [p. 3]

“When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only those forested mountains and hills, and the way the rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt mountains rise in darkness from the rivers’ banks, steep from the rugged south and rolling from the north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long north and south unbroken that to get around them you practically have to navigate Cape Horn.

“In those first days, people said, a squirrel could run the long length of Pennsylvania without ever touching the ground. In those first days, the woods were white oaks and chestnut, hickory, maple, sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the mountains’ lumpy spines stuck up and their skin was thinnest.

“The wilderness was uncanny, unknown, unknown. Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove in Philadelphia by 1753, and Thomas Jefferson was a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. But west of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania, there was not even a settlement, not even a cabin. No Indians lived there, or even near there.

“Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut out the sun. Few songbird lived in the deep woods. Bright Carolina parakeets–red, green, and yellow–nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees’ trunks, ruffed grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, and every long once in a while a nervous gang of empty-headed turkeys came hustling and kicking through the leaves–but no one heard any of this, no one at all.

“In 1753, young George Washington surveyed for the English this point of land where rivers met. To see the forest-blurred lay of the land, he rode his horse to a ridgetop and climbed a tree. He judged it would make a good spot for a fort. And an English fort it became, and a depot for Indian traders to the Ohio country, and later a French fort and way station to New Orleans.

“But it would be another ten years before any settlers lived [p.e 4] there on that land where the rivers met, lived to draw in the flowery scent of June rhododendrons with every breath. It would be another ten years before, for the first time on earth , tall men and women lay exhausted in their cabins, sleeping in the sweetness, worn out from planting corn.” Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood, pgs. 3-5.

When I read the first chapter of An American Childhood, I felt the same way that I did after I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Poisonwood is fiction and Dillard’s book is nonfiction; yet, the quality of the writing for both pieces is the same. I realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I understand that I have only been writing a year, but I am eager for the day that I will be able to nudge into the company of great writers, like Annie Dillard, who has learned how to tell her story and in doing so to share more than just the fact.

©Jacki Kellum October 11, 2016

Original

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Day 3 – Write about A House in Your Past

Think about All of the Houses That have Become Main Characters in Books: Tara in Gone with the Wind, Grandfather’s Cottage in Heidi, Bleak House, the Castle in I Capture the Castle, etc. Learning to describe a house is important for anyone to provide a setting or a sense of place for his writing. Our strongest and most readily available descriptions stem from homes our actual experiences; therefore, today, you will practice creating a sense of place by describing a house where you have lived

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Exercise Day 3: Write about a House that was Meaningful to You in Your  Past.

The house may have been one where you lived, or it may have been a place where you visited quite often. It is important that you actually stayed in the house for a long period of time.

1-cover

As I was preparing this assignment, I remembered one of my very favorite books about a House, Virginia Burton’s The Little House.  The following images are from Amazon:

1

2

3

4

5

6

8

Image result for tara gone with the wind exterior

Without a doubt, the book and the movie Gone with the Wind had great influence over my life, and if you think about it, Tara, the house, was one of the main characters in that story

 

Image result for heidi's grandfather' house It is not necessary that the house that you describe is grand, however.  I am as attracted to Heidi’s Grandfather’s cottage as I am to Tara. In fact, if I were forced to choose one of those two places to live–Tara or Heidi’s Grandfather’s Cottage–I would choose the latter.I love the warmth and the coziness of the cottage.

Your writing exercise for Day 3 is to write about a House that was meaningful to you in your past, Don’t focus on any specific rooms in the house. Tomorrow’s exercise will be to write about one of the rooms.

You may notice that we are drawing closer and closer into a place that is important to you.

  1. On Day 1, you described a county where you have lived.
  2. On Day 2, you described a town or a neighborhood where you have lived.
  3. Today, you are describing a house where you have lived.
  4. Tomorrow, you will describe one object in that room.

When you write, you need to be specific. You need to avoid vague generalizations. The  first four exercises of the Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class will help you learn to write specifically.

Get busy an d write.

©Jacki Kellum October 3, 2016

As I have said before, in sharing these exercises, I am Blogging to Book. For that reason, you may not share any of the Free Jacki Kellum Writing Exercises or the other discussion about the exercises.  They are free for you to use but not free to reproduce or share.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about Your Town

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 2: Write about a Town or a Neighborhood Where You Have Lived

The second  Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the towns where you have lived and describe one of them. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

Note: If you grew up in a big city, like New York City, you may want to write two articles–one about all of New York City and one about the area where you lived, like Long Island or Manhattan.

After you decide the area to describe, begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a town or a neighborhood where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the area. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

This exercise will make more sense for people who live in smaller towns. People who live in large cities may want to write two article: one about their cities and one about the neighborhoods where they grew up.

List of Fictional Towns:

When I think about writing that has evolved around fictional towns that were inspired by the writers’ homes, I immediately recall Winesburg, Ohio, and Our Town, but more contemporary books have also evolved in the same way:

In Under the Dome, Stephen King’s Chester Mills, Maine, is based on Bridgton, Maine, which is one of Stephen King’s hometowns.

Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, Pa, is also based on the area where she grew up.

Now You See It . . .: Stories from Cokesville, PA by [Monk, Bathsheba]

It’s pretty much a straight shot from the upstate New York towns of Richard Russo’s books to Bathsheba Monk’s Cokesville, PA. This is coal and steel country. The sort of place where an inch of soot on the windowsill means a regular paycheck—and two inches means a fat one. And what’s the best make-out spot in town? Next to the burning slag heap.

In seventeen beguiling, linked stories, spanning fourty-five years, Monk brings a corner of America alive as never before. Her world bursts with indelible characters: Mrs. Szilborski, who bakes great cake, but sprays her neighbors’ dogs with mace; and Mrs. Wojic, who believes her husband was reincarnated—as one of those dogs. Then there is the younger generation: Annie Kusiak , who wants to write, and Theresa Gojuk, who dreams of stardom. Cokesville is their Yoknapatawpha; they ache to escape it and the ghosts of their ancestors and the regret of their parents. What ghosts—and what regrets! When Theresa’s father Bruno falls into a vat of molten steel, the mill gives the family an ingot roughly his weight to bury.

As deliciously wry as Allegra Goodman in The Family Markowitz, and with the matter-of-fact humanity of Grace Paley, Bathsheba Monk leads us into a world that is at once totally surprising and recognizable. These stories glow like molten steel. Amazon

This is the area where Bathsheba Monk grew up.

From The New Yorker

Monk, who grew up in Pennsylvania coal-and-steel country, sets her stories in the fictional town of Cokesville, where gardens grow through slag heaps, women scrub their sidewalks free of soot, and men scrounge for jobs that are likely to kill or maim. Set mostly among Polish immigrants and their descendants over a forty-year period, the stories use deadpan humor to combat a sense of hopelessness and economic futility. The most compelling are narrated by an adolescent would-be writer determined to avoid the “lava show” make-out spot, where carts dump molten coke and girls her age get pregnant. Even those who escape, however, can’t seem to free themselves from the slow burn of their heritage, much like a decades-old underground coal fire, ignited “when someone dumped a load of garbage down a mine shaft.”=

Winesburg, Ohio 1st.jpg

winesburg

“Winesburg, Ohio (full title: Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life) is a 1919 short story cycle by the American author Sherwood Anderson. The work is structured around the life of protagonist George Willard, from the time he was a child to his growing independence and ultimate abandonment of Winesburg as a young man. It is set in the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio (not to be confused with the actual Winesburg), which is based loosely on the author’s childhood memories of Clyde, Ohio.

“Mostly written from late 1915 to early 1916, with a few stories completed closer to publication, they were “…conceived as complementary parts of a whole, centered in the background of a single community.”[1] . . .

“Winesburg, Ohio was received well by critics despite some reservations about its moral tone and unconventional storytelling. Though its reputation waned in the 1930s, it has since rebounded and is now considered one of the most influential portraits of pre-industrial small-town life in the United States.[5]

“In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Winesburg, Ohio 24th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.[6] . . .

“It is widely acknowledged that the fictional model of the book’s town, Winesburg, is based on Sherwood Anderson’s boyhood memories of Clyde, Ohio,[18][19] where Anderson lived between the ages of eight and nineteen (1884–1896),[20] and not the actual town of Winesburg, Ohio located in the same state. This view is supported by the similarities between the names and qualities of several Winesburg characters and Clyde’s townspeople,[21] in addition to mentions of specific geographic details of Clyde[1] and the surrounding area.[22]” Wikipedia

Our Town.jpg

our-town

“Our Town is a 1938 metatheatrical three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.” Wikipedia

“Throughout, Wilder uses metatheatrical devices, setting the play in the actual theater where it is being performed. The main character is the stage manager of the theater who directly addresses the audience, brings in guest lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. The play is performed without a set on a mostly bare stage. With a few exceptions, the actors mime actions without the use of props.

“Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938.[1] It later went on to success on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals are frequent.” Wikipedia

©Jacki Kellum October 2, 2016

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Class – Blog to Memoir Find Your Path – Day 1

Buckle your seatbelt. You are about to begin one of the most powerful journeys of your life. As you may or may not know, this is phase 1 of 4 events that will not only change the way that you look at life but will also enlighten you about the way that you write–about the way that you write everything and not just about the way that you write Memoir.

blog_to_book

Blog to Memoir: Find Your Path is Phase 1 of the entire Blog to Memoir Program,which will arrive in intervals over the next year.  Find Your Path is the simplest of the four phases. In fact, as you complete the first half of the daily writings for Find Your Path, you will probably begin to balk, feeling that you have not been challenged and that you are possibly wasting your time. Mark this spot and highlight these words: Do ALL of the writing exercises–even the ones that seem ridiculously simple. There is a method to my madness. The initially very simple and non-threatening writing exercises are designed to overcome problems that writers may have formed

  1. Writer’s Block – Most of us are plagued by writer’s block to one extent or another. Most of us have been bullied by our Self-Editors, and most of us are a little bit leery of writing because of our Self-Editors.
  2.  Writing with Pretty but Meaningless Words – Others of us may have formed some bad writing habits, such as  cloaking our passages with pretty, but meaningless images.
  3. Writing What You Believe that People Want or Expect You to Write – Another problem occurs when we write what people expect us to write and we fail to write what is truly on our minds.
  4. Writing that is Safe –  One of the worst mistakes that a writer can make is that of failing to take a stand.
  5. Writing that is Superficial – Many of us are slightly afraid to peer into some of our darker corners, and we may have developed a tendency to write about abstractions and about things that aren’t terribly personal.

Great writing is deliberate and specific, and poor writing is generalized. One of the biggest mistakes that a writer can make is to write about things that seem to interest everyone else but that only vaguely interests himself. That is like being the person who always tries to please everyone and who continuously straddles the fence, trying to do so. Invariably, the fence straddlers are those people who want to please everyone and in doing so, they please no one at all.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

In the current realm of Social Media, where being “liked” becomes the raison d’etre, it becomes tempting to simply chit chat when we write. In other words, it becomes tempting to use meaningless words that won’t offend anyone at all. Being liked is important to most people. It has certainly always been important for me, and at times, I have stayed in the middle of the road–striving to please everyone, but I didn’t even like myself when I was doing that.

As we move through the course, I’ll be saying more about all of the above. For now,  I simply want us to jump right into the writing. I do want to assure you that by writing all of the responses to the very simple and almost safe prompts in Phase 1 of the Blog to Memoir Course, you will gradually break out of some of the behaviors that I have outlined above. After about a week of writing, I’ll begin to explain things that you need to know about these behaviors and about why you need to write more authentically. To begin, however, simply write. Your initial writings will be short and sweet, but I have plans for your extra time.

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is Not

  1. This course will not be your confessional. It will not challenge you to write a series of tell-all’s, and it will not dare you to slice open your veins and bleed.
  2. This course is not about some radical therapy, and it will not be a substitute for Alcoholics Anonymous, for joining Codependency Groups and for seeing your mental health professional. When I suggest that you look into your past, I am not prodding you to exorcise all of the demons that might be there. That is someone else’s job.
  3. This course is not for people who want to continue to wallow in the pain of their pasts,

What The Free Jacki Kellum Writing Course Is

  1. This course is a logical next step for many people who have already identified that things were not perfect for them when they were children. This course is for people who are ready  to move on.
  2. This course  is for people who want to alchemize the experiences of their childhood and to allow them to transform into gold.

Jacki Kellum Free Writing Course Exercise 1: Write about a County

The first Blog to Memoir writing assignment might seem easy, but don’t over-analyze the assignment or your response. Simply think about all of the County or a Region where you have lived and describe it. Grab a breath of fresh air and begin writing.

  1. Don’t stop writing for about ten minutes.
  2. Don’t hesitate,
  3. Don’t erase.
  4. Don’t correct your spelling.
  5. Don’t try to edit as you write.

In a matter-of-fact way that as near to your own speaking voice as possible, simply write what you know about a county or region where you have lived. You may want to describe the natural setting of the county. You may want to share a legend that you have heard about the county. You may want to say what you liked about the county and you may want to say what you disliked. As long as you are honest, it really does not matter what you write. Just write.

When I write a description, I close my eyes and look with my mind’s eyes at what I am describing. When I see the place or the object clearly, I simply write the words that describe it.

Later, we’ll do more with your writing for this first assignment. Don’t throw it away. It is not necessary for you to share what you write. It is not necessary that you blog your response. Simply write and save your writing.

Learning to write about setting and places essential for every writer in every genre. When we are able to zoom in on an area that we truly know, we create better settings and we are better able to bring those settings to life.

faulkner-Portable map

William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County

  1. William Faulkner’s writing focused on what appears to be the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, but Yoknapatawpha County is actually Lafayette County in Mississippi. It is the county where Oxford, Mississippi is located, and Oxford is where William Faulkner lived. 
  2. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County evolved over time, and in the beginning, no one is expected to recreate a county of that portion. But everyone, even William Faulkner, began somewhere, and our actual memories are the best place to start.  
  3. As I said before, we’ll continue to explore our writing about our counties. What you write today is only your first step,

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Most of us would like to forget or bury some of the chapters of our pasts, but that is not actually possible. In trying to forget who we are and where we have been, we only succeed in numbing ourselves and killing our authentic writing voices.  The secret to becoming a better writer is to tap into your past and harness it and allow it to sail you forward.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – by Arthur Rackham

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.” – James M. Barrie [ Author of Peter Pan]

Why Blog to Memoir?

  1. When we write about the actual experiences of our lives, our writing is fresher, more alive, and more authentic. For that reason, excavating your memories is an invaluable exercise–a way to create vivid writing samples for any of your other writing.
  2. It is not necessary for you to actually blog your writing. You may simply check out the daily writing exercises and explore them on your own. Throughout the course, however, I’ll share several ways that blogging daily has improved both my writing and my outlook on life. I heartily recommend writing daily, and for several reasons, I am convinced that blogging is the best way to store your writing. Blogging regularly is also a good way to build your brand and to share your writing with others. Note: You do not have to make your blog public.
  3. Several people have successfully completed books by blogging the parts of their books one by one and then, by assembling the parts of the book at the end. This practice has been labeled Blog to Book. For the past year, I have been blogging my memoir [and several other books] one step at a time. Soon, I plan to assemble my memoir pieces together and to submit my own memoir book for publication. Hence: I Am Blogging to Memoir  Book, and you can, too.

“We’ve forgotten how to remember, and just as importantly, we’ve forgotten how to pay attention. So, instead of using your smartphone to jot down crucial notes, or Googling an elusive fact, use every opportunity to practice your memory skills. Memory is a muscle, to be exercised and improved.” – Joshua Foer

I’ll run the free writing class through my blog site jackikellum.com Here
& through the site that I specifically created for the class: blogtomemoir.com. Here

Each day,  I’ll post the daily assignment by 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time USA. I believe that early morning is the best time to write and for that reason, your writing assignment will be ready for you first thing each day.

©Jacki Kellum October 1, 2016

Writing about Houses and Objects Inside Houses -Quotes from the Book Great House by Nicole Krauss

Please Note: The following summary is a spoiler. My primary reason for studying this book was to note how an object of furniture can play a significant role in both a story and a book. I also read this book as a study of books told from multiple perspectives.

On one level, Nicole Krauss’s book Great House is about an old writing desk that had nineteen drawers. On another level, the book is a series of stories about the family who had originally owned the desk, and the desk becomes the  common thread of the stories. Great House is told from multiple perspectives.

I Part 1 of the book and in the subsection “All Rise,” the year is 1972 and Nadia, a writer, acquires the desk from the fictional Chilean poet Daniel Varsky, who suggests that the desk may originally have belonged to Lorca, who was an actual person.

In 1972, Nadia takes possession of Varsky’s furniture, including his desk. She had recently divorced, and she had no furniture. She agreed to keep Varsky’s furniture until he returned for it.

A few years later, Varsky was assassinated.

In 1999, a person claiming to be named Leah Weisz and the daughter of Daniel Varsky called, saying that she wanted to reclaim her father’s desk.

While waiting for the person who called herself Leah to come and take the desk away, Nadia realizes that the desk was more than a piece of furniture to her and says the following about it:

“I looked across the room at the wooden desk at which I had written seven novels, and on whose surface, in the cone of light cast by a lamp, lay the piles of pages and notes that were to constitute an eighth. One drawer was slightly ajar, one of the nineteen drawers, some small and some large, whose odd number and strange array, I realized now, on the cusp of their being suddenly taken from me, had come to signify a kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life, an order than when m work was going well, took on an almost mystical quality. Nineteen drawers of varying size some below the desktop and some above, whose [p. 30] mundane occupations (stamps here, paper clips there) had a far more complex design, the blueprint of the mind formed over tens of thousands of days of thinking while staring at them, as if they held the conclusion to a stubborn sentence, the culminating phrase, the radical break from everything I had ever written that would at last lead to the book I had always wanted, and always failed, to write. Those drawers represented a singular logic deeply embedded, a pattern of consciousness that could be articulated in no other way but their precise number and arrangement.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 30-31.

The second Segment, “True Kindness,” introduces Dov, Dov’s son, and Dov’s brother Uri. In this segment, we are also introduced to the house:

“WE STOOOD in the hall of the house that had once been all of our house, a house that had been filled with life, every last room of it brimming with laughter, arguments, tears, dust the smell of food, pain, desire, anger, and silence, too, the tightly coiled silence of people pressed up against each other in what is called a family.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 106.

The brothers leave the house, and twenty-five years later, one returns:

“And just like that you walked back into the house that you had left so long ago. I heard your footsteps slowly ascend the stairs.

“Were they the lepers, Dov, those other kids? It that why you held yourself apart? Or was it you And the two of us, closed up together in this house–are the saved or the condemned?”

“A long silence while you must have stood at the threshold of your old room. Then the creak of the floorboards, and the sound of your door closing again after twenty-five years.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 113.

In the third section, “Swimming Holes,” we discover that the desk is in the apartment of Lotte Berg, who lived in England. Her apartment overlooked a section of bombed ruins:  

“Many times I saw Lotte staring at those ruins with their solitary chimneys. The first time I visited her room I was amazed at how little was in it. She’d been in England for almost ten years by then, but, aside from her desk, there were only a few sticks of plain furniture, and much later I came to understand that in a certain way the walls and ceiling of her own room were as nonexistent to here as those across the street.

” Her desk, however, was something else entirely. In that simple, small room it overshadowed everything else like some sort of grotesque, threatening monster, clinging to most of one wall and bullying the other pathetic bit of furniture to the far corner, where they seemed to cling together, as if under some sinister magnetic force. It was made of dark wood and above the writing surface was a wall of drawers, drawers of totally impractical sizes, like the desk of a medieval sorcerer. Except that every last drawer was empty, something that I discovered one evening while waiting for Lotte, who had gone down the hall to use the lavatory, and which somehow made the desk, the specter of that enormous desk, really more like a ship than a desk, a ship riding a pitch-black sea in the dead of a moonless night with no hope of land in any direction, even more unnerving. It [p. 126] was, I always thought, a very masculine desk. At times, or from time to time when I came to  pick her up, I even felt a kind of strange, inexplicable jealousy overtake me when she opened the door and there, hovering behind her, threatening to swallow her up, was that tremendous body of furniture.

“‘One day I got up the courage to ask her where she had found it. She was as poor as a church mouse….her answer plunged me into despair: It was a gift, she said. …nothing more was said on the subject.” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 126-27.

Lotte moves into the apartment of her lover [the narrator of this section], who had hoped that she would leave the desk behind, but she did not.

“I heard a pounding at the door, and there it was, resting on the landing, its dark, almost ebony, wood gleaming with a vengeance.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 130.

A young man named Daniel Varsky visited Lotte, and she gave the desk to him. Lotte’s lover didn’t undertand why, but he discovered that Lotte had given up her own son who was about the same age as Daniel Varsky.

In the fourth section, the year is 1998, and  Isabel oIzzy, the narrator of this story, meets and falls in love with Yoav Weisz. Yoav and his sister Leah were living in England in a Victorian house owned by their father George Weisz. He was an antique dealer, and he spent most of his time traveling to buy antiques. While the father was away, the narrator lived in the house with Yoav and Leah. 

The father is haunted by memories of his own childhood home before the Nazis took away his parents and stole its lavish furnishings. George Weisz is obsessed with finding all of the furniture again. George Weisz discovers that Nadia has the desk in New York, and He sent Leah there to reclaim it.

During this segment, we discover that Leah and Yoav’s mother had died when Leah was seven and Yoav was eight. For years, their father essentially locked them in their home and removed them from society. During this time, the family moved a lot, and the family’s lifestyle becomes questionable.

We discover in this section that George Weisz uses a walking stick that has a silver ram at the top. 

At the beginning of Part Two the brothers Uri and Dov are living in Israel. Cov has become increasingly sullen, and people like Uri. Do announces that he is moving to England. In this segment, Dov and Uri’s father is the narrator, and he expresses his grief about how Do had become more and more disenchanted with and withdrawn from life. The father comments that Dov had even given up on his decision to beDov and Uri’s father is a judge, and from the time that we first met Nadia, she seems to be telling her story to a judge.

In the second segment of Part Two, “All Rise,” Nadia has gone to Jerusalem. It seems that she has a need to reconnect with the desk, and Leah had left her address as living at Ha’Oren Street in Israel.

In Israel, Nadia meets a young man named Adam, who she thinks looks very much like Daniel Varsky. She also thought that Leah had looked like Varsky. Adam becomes Nadia’s driver and drives her to the address at Ha’Oren Street. The man there says that he doesn’t know anything about the desk, and that no one named Leah is at his house. That man is Leah’s father George Weisz. He walks with Weisz’s walking stick.

Adam robs Nadia, and Nadia, in turn, takes Adam’s roommate’s car and begins driving. En route, she runs over the judge, who is now in the hospital. Nadia is at his bedside telling him this story.

In the next segment of Part Two, also titled “Swimming Holes,” Lotte dies and her husband of fifty years begins consulting a man name Gottlieb about the creation of his will. The lover tells Gottlieb about Lotte’s desk:

“To call it a desk is to say too little. The word conjures some homely, unassuming article of the work or domesticity, a selfless and practical object that is always poised to offer up its back for its owner to make use of, and which, when not in use, occupies its allotted space with humility. Well, I told Gottlieb, you can cancel that image immediately. This desk was something else entirely: an enormous, foreboding thing that bore down on the occupants of the room in inhabited, pretending to be inanimate but, like a Venus flytrap, ready to pounce on them and digest them via one of its many little terrible drawers. Perhaps you think I’m making a caricature of it. I don’t blame you. You’d have to have seen the desk with your own eyes to understand that what I’m telling you is perfectly [p. 370] accurate. It took up almost half of her rented room. The first time she allowed me to stay the night with her in that tiny pathetic bed that cowered in the shadow of the desk, I woke up in a cold sweat. It loomed above us, a dark and shapeless form.”  Krauss, Nicole. Great House, pgs. 370-71.

Lotte’s husband wants Gottlieb to find Lotte’s son, and Gottlieb did find the names and address of the people who had adopted the child. Lotte’s husband, who is finally named Arthur Bender, goes to Liverpool to try to meet the son, but when he speak’s to the adoptive mother, the mother tells Bender that her son had died twenty-seven years earlier.

In the end, George Weisz realizes that his daughter Lotte had double-crossed him and that instead of delivering the desk to her father in Israel, she had hid it from him by  locking it in a New York City Storage Unit. George Weisz tracks down the address where the desk is stored, he pays $1,000 to spend only one hour with the desk:

“I opened the door. The room was cold, and had no window. For an instant I almost believed I would find my father stooped over the desk, his pen moving across the page. But the tremendous desk stood alone, mute and uncomprehending. Three or four drawers hung open, all of them empty. But the one I locked as a child, sixty-six years later was locked still. I reached out and touched the surface of the desk. There were a few scratches, but otherwise those who had sat at it had left no mark. ” Krauss, Nicole. Great House, p. 431.

©Jacki Kellum September 28, 2016

Jacki Kellum Read This Book September 28, 2016

Ernest Hemingway Memoir – A Moveable Feast – Writing Description & Sense of Place – Background for The Paris Wife

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

File:ErnestHemingwayHadley1922.jpg

Although Hemingway wrote the Moveable Feast later–two or three wives later–it is about the years between 1921 and 1925, when he was married to his first wife Hadley and when the couple lived in Paris.

“A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures the love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

“Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

“A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.” Amazon

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
WINNER—BEST HISTORICAL FICTION—GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PeopleChicago Tribune • NPR • The Philadelphia Inquirer • Kirkus Reviews • The Toronto Sun • BookPage

Moveable Feast stands alone as a good read–Hemingway’s Memoir, and it is an excellent resource for fully appreciating The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. 

Is Moveable Feast Fact or Fiction?

“If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.” – Ernest Hemingway – Preface to Moveable Feast.

place_de_la_contrescarpe-jacki-kellum

The opening lines of Moveable Feast [Hemingway’s Memoir about the years 1921 – 1926 in Paris]:

“Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness.
. . .
“The Café des Amateurs was the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard, that wonderful narrow crowded market street which led into the Place Contrescarpe. The squat toilets of the old apartment houses…emptied into cesspools which were emptied by pumping into horse-drawn tank wagons at night. In the summer time, with all windows [p. 3] open, we would hear the pumping and the odor was very strong.
. . .No one emptied the Café des Amateurs though, and its yellowed poster stating the terms and penalties of the law against public drunkenness was as flyblown and disregarded as its clients were constant and ill-smelling.

“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationery and the newspaper shops, the mid-wife–second class–and the hotel…where I had a room on the top floor where I worked.

“It was either six or eight flights up to the top floor and it was very cold and I knew how much it would cost for a bundle of small twigs, three wire-wrapped packets of short, half-pencil length  pieces of split pine to catch fire from the twigs, and then the bundle of half-dried lengths of hard wood that I must but to make a fire that would warm the room. ” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 3-4.

“I was writing about up in Michigan, and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story.
. . .
“But the boys [in the story he was writing] were drinking and this made me thirsty and I ordered a rum St. James. This tasted wonderful on the cold day and I kept on writing, feeling very well and feeling the good Martinique rum warm me all through my body and my spirit.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 5.
. . .
“The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 6.
. . .

“Now that the bad weather had come, we could leave Paris for a while for a place where this rain would be snow coming down through the pines and covering the road and the high hillsides and at an altitude where we would hear it creak was we walked home at night. Below Le Avants there was a chalet where the pension was wonderful and where we would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright. That was where we would go. Traveling third class on the train was not expensive.
. . .
“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.
. . .
“Anyway we would go if my wife wanted to….

“She had a gently modeled face and her eyes and her smile lighted up  at decisions as though they were rich presents.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 7.

“When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. The city had accommodated itself to winter, there was good wood for sale at the wood and coal place across our street….Our town apartment was warm and cheerful. …on the streets the winter light was beautiful. Now you were accustomed to see the bare trees against the sky and you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths through the Luxembourg gardens in the clear sharp wind. The trees were sculpture without their leaves when you were reconciled to them….
“…I did not notice…the climb up to the top floor of the hotel where I worked, in a room that looked across all the roofs and the chimneys of the high hill of the quarter, was a pleasure. The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chestnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds in the fire when I ate them and roasted chestnuts when I was hungry, I was always hungry…[p. 11].
. . .
I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going…I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and yo will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write teh truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on for there. It was easy then….”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 11-12.

gertrude_stein-1935

Ernest Hemingway Writes about Gertrude Stein in 1920’s Paris:

“My wife and I had called on Miss Stein, and she and the friend who lived with her had been very cordial and friendly and we had loved the big studio with the great paintings. It was like one of the best rooms in the finest museum except [p. 13] there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and tea and natural distilled liqueurs made from purple plums, yellow plums or wild raspberries. These were fragrant, colorless alcohols served from cut-glass carafes in small glasses…they all tasted like the fruits they came from, converted into a controlled fire on your tongue that warmed you and loosened it.

“Miss Stein was very big but not tall and was heavily built like a peasant woman. She had beautiful eyes and a strong German-Jewish face that also could have been Friulano and she reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive, immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she had probably worn it in college. She talked all the time and at first it was about people and places.

alice_b-_toklas_by_carl_van_vechten_-_1949

“Her companion [Alice B. Toklas] had a very pleasant voice, was small, very dark, with her hair cut like Joan of Arc in the Boutet de Monvel illustrations and had a very hooked nose.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 13-14.

Image result for gertrude stein model t ford

Gertrude Stein on The Lost Generation

” ‘All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.’
. . .

“”You have no respect for anything. you drink yourselves to death…’ ” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 29.

le_pont-neuf_et_la_cite_paris_1832_giuseppe_canella_musee_carnavalet_1000

Hemingway On Walking and about the River Seine
About Autumn, Winter, and Spring

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something they understood.” [p. 43]
. . .

“With the fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with their smoke-stacks that folded back to pass under the bridges, pulling a tow of barges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be [p. 44] lonely along the river. With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.”

“In those days, thought, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, ps. 43-45.

goatherd-jean-baptiste-camille_corot_-1000

Painting by Corot

Hemingway – & the Goatherd

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

“In the spring mornings I would work early while my wife still slept. The windows were open wide and the cobbles of the street were drying after the rain. The sun was drying the wet faces of the houses that faced the window. The shops were still shuttered. The goatherd came up the street blowing his pipes and a woman who lived on the floor above us came out onto the sidewalk with a big pot. The goatherd chose one of the the heavy-bagged, black milk-goats and milked her into the pot while his dog pushed the others onto the sidewalk. The goats looked around, turning their necks like sight-seers. The goatherd took the money from the woman and thanked her and went on up the street piping and the dog herded the goats on ahead, their horns bobbing. I went back to writing and the woman came up the stairs with the goat milk. She wore her felt-soled cleaning shoes and I only heard her breathing as she stopped on the stairs outside our door and then the shutting of her door. She was the only customer for goat milk in our building.”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 49.

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were al you needed. For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket. The fur had been worn off the rabbit’s foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 91.

Image result for ezra pound 1920s

Hemingway on Ezra and Dorothy Pound

“Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people. The studio where he lived with his wife Dorothy on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs was a poor as Gertrude Stein’s studio was rich. It had very good light and was heated by a  stove and it had paintings by Japanese artists Ezra knew.

photograph

. . .

“Dorothy’s paintings I liked very much and I though Dorothy was very beautiful and built wonderfully. ”  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 91.
. . .
“Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known and the most disinterested. He helped poets, painters, sculptors and prose writers that he believed in and he would help anyone whether he believed in them or not…. He worried about everyone and in the time when I first knew him he was the most worried about T.S. Eliot who, Ezra told me, had to work in a bank in London and so had insufficient time and bad hours to function as a poet.

Ezra Pound, Bel Esprit, and T. S. Eliot

“Ezra founded something called Bel Esprit with Miss Natalie Barney who was a rich American woman and a patroness of the arts.  Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 110.
. . .
“The idea of Bel Esprit was that we would all contribute a part of whatever we earned to provide a fund to get Mr. Eliot out of the bank.
. . .
“I cannot remember how Bel Esprit finally cracked up but I think it had something to do with the publication of The Waste Land….”
Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, p. 112.

f_scott_fitzgerald_and_wife_zelda_september_1921-adj

F.Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda

Hemingway on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda

“Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicated longplipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. [p. 149]
. . .
“He was lightly built and did not look in awfully good shape, his face being faintly puffy. His Brooks Brothers clothes fitted him well and he wor a white shirt with a buttoned-down collar and a guards tie.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 149-50.

“Scott Fitzgeral invited us to have lunchwith his wife elda and his little daughter at the flat they had rented at 14 rue Tilsitt. I cannot remember much about the flat except that it was gloomy and airless and that there was nothing in it that seemed to belong to them except Scott’s fist book bound in light blue leather with the titles in gold. Scott also showed us a large ledger with all of the storied he had received for them and also the amounts received for any motion picture sales, and the sales and royalties of his books.
. . .
“Zelda had a very bad hangover.
. . .
“On this day Zelda did not look her bet. Her beautiful dark blonde hair had been ruined temporarily by a bad permanent [p. 179] she had gotten in Lyon…, and her eyes were tired and her face was tootaut and drawn.

“She was formally pleasant to Hdley and me but a big part of her seemd not to be present but to still be on the party she had come home from that morning.
. . .

Image result for f. scott fitzgerald's daughterF. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, and Their Daughter Frances or Scottie

“Scott was being the perfect host and we ate a very bad lunch that the wine cheered a little but not much. The little girl was blonde, chubby-faced, well built, and very healthy looking and spoke English with a strong Cockney accent. Scott explained that she had an English nanny because he wanted her to speak like Lady Diana Manners when she grew up.

“Zelda had hawk’s eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night’s part and return with her eyes blank as a ca’s and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone.
. . .
“Zelda was jealous of Scott’s work…. [p. 180]

“He would start to work and as soon as he was working well Zelda would begin complaining about how bored she was and get him off on another drunken party. They would quarrel and then make up and he would sweat out the alcohol on long walks with me…Then it would start all over again.” [p. 181]
. . .
“All that late spring and early summer Scott fought to work but he could only work in snatches.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 180-83.

Image result for hemingway hadley and pauline

Hemingway is Seated Between His First Wife Hadley and His Second Wife Pauline

Hemingway On Adultery

“Before these rich had come we had already been infiltrated by another rich using the oldest trick there is> It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and relentingly set out to marry the husband. [p. 209]
. . .
“The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both.
“Then, instead of the two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is stimulating and it goes on that way for a while. All thins truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and every day is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war.
. . .

Image result for hadley and bumby

Hemingway and Mr. Bumby [Jack]

“When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her. She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy.
. . .
“I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic [p. 210] time while we were alone.
. . .
“That was the end of the first part of Paris. Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed.
. . .
“But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” Hemingway, Ernest. Moveable Feast, pgs. 209-211.

 

A Moveable Feast Is Quoted Repeatedly in the Following Documentary, Which is Excellent:

 

 

Descriptive Writing – Sense of Place – Setting of the Upstate Area of New York in the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

susquehana-river-new-york

“As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal fact….But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which he might have imagined….

“Otsego….lies among those low spurs of the Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among its highest lands….

“Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their alliances, and which refers the name to this practice.” Pioneers – Introduction

Image result for council rock james fenimore cooper

[Cooper is describing the area of Council Rock, which is the area where he grew up. James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans and several other books that were set in the area around his home in upstate New York. In one of the books, he wrote about how the Native Americans would canoe to a big boulder to meet. This big boulder is Council Rock, which is an actual rock that is very near Cooper’s childhood home. The description of the rock in Cooper’s writing of historical fiction is beautiful and when we know that Cooper had first-hand experiences with the rock, we have little doubt that in writing what is supposedly fiction, Cooper was describing from his own memories.]

“Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to speak with greater deference to geographical definitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting where the sides are jutted with rocks that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated, with a stream uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at those points of the streams which are favorable for manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. …Only forty years have passed since this territory was a wilderness.” Pioneers – Chapter 1 – Opening Lines

Image result for Snow catskills NY

“There was glittering in the atmosphere, as if it was filled with innumerable shining particles; and the noble bay horses that drew the sleigh were covered, in many parts with a coat of hoar-frost. The vapor from their nostrils was seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the view, as well as every arrangement of the travellers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains. The harness, which was of a deep, dull black, differing from the glossy varnishing of the present day, was ornamented with enormous plates and buckles of brass, that shone like gold in those transient beams of the sun which found their way obliquely through the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with nails and fitted with cloth that served as blankets to the shoulders of the cattle, supported four high, square-topped turrets, through which the stout reins led from the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver, who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of age. His face, which nature had colored with a glistening black, was now mottled with the cold, and his large shining eyes filled with tears; a tribute to its power that the keen frosts of those regions always extracted from one of his African origin. Still, there was a smiling expression of good-humor in his happy countenance, that was created by the thoughts of home and a Christmas fireside, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned conveyances, which would admit a whole family within its bosom, but which now contained only two passengers besides the driver. The color of its outside was a modest green, and that of its inside a fiery red, The latter was intended to convey the idea of heat in that cold climate. Large buffalo-skins trimmed around the edges with red cloth cut into festoons, covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread over its bottom and drawn up around the feet of the travellers—one of whom was a man of middle age and the other a female just entering upon womanhood. The former was of a large stature; but the precautions he had taken to guard against the cold left but little of his person exposed to view. A great-coat, that was abundantly ornamented by a profusion of furs, enveloped the whole of his figure excepting the head, which was covered with a cap of mar ten-skins lined with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall, if necessary, and were now drawn close over the ears and fastened beneath his chin with a black rib bon. The top of the cap was surmounted with the tail of the animal whose skin had furnished the rest of the materials, which fell back, not ungracefully, a few inches be hind the head. From beneath this mask were to be seen part of a fine, manly face, and particularly a pair of expressive large blue eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert humor, and great benevolence. The form of his companion was literally hid beneath the garments she wore. There were furs and silks peeping from under a large camlet cloak with a thick flannel lining, that by its cut and size was evidently intended for a masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk, that was quilted with down, concealed the whole of her head, except at a small opening in front for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a pair of animated jet-black eyes.

“The mountain on which they were journeying was covered with pines that rose without a branch some seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently doubled that height by the addition of the tops. Through the innumerable vistas that opened beneath the lofty trees, the eye could penetrate until it was met by a distant inequality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite side of the valley to which they were hastening. The dark trunks of the trees rose from the pure white of the snow in regularly formed shafts, until, at a great height, their branches shot forth horizontal limbs, that were covered with the meagre foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancholy contrast to the torpor of nature below. To the travellers there seemed to be no wind; but these pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs, sending forth a dull, plaintive sound that was quite in consonance with the rest of the melancholy scene.” Pioneers – Chapter 1

[This post is a work in progress. I am reading all of the books in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I’ll be adding to these observations]

Older posts

© 2017 Jacki Kellum

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: