Monday, April 30, 2012

Dateline: Memphis, Tennessee - Day Two

This morning, Rose and I headed to the Elmwood Cemetery (1852) but were led astray by the map. We were on one side of the wrought iron fence and could see the green and the graves but couldn't find the entrance. Once again, thanks to the cell phone, we were able to call the office and get directions to the main, and only, entrance.

We stopped at the office and boy were we glad we did. We told the woman who greeted us, Jorja, that we were on the Grand Southern Literary Tour and she immediately got it. "You want to see Shelby Foote's grave."

But there was more. She walked over to the bookshelves and pulled down three volumes written by a Memphis author, Dr. Janet Miller: Jungles Preferred (1931), Camel-Bells of Baghdad (1934), and Sammy and Silverband (1931), a book for young people. The books had been donated to the cemetery by Miller's great-grandniece, Mary Ann Traylor.

Then Jorja, who was the part-time historian for the cemetery, introduced us to another Memphis writer, Molly Caldwell Crosby, who wrote The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History (2006) and Asleep, the Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries (2010) about sleeping sickness or encephalitis lethargica.

Two other books that Jorja suggested were The Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster by Jerry O. Potter about the explosion of the wooden steamboat in 1865 that killed 1800 of the 2400 passengers. Most of them were weary Union soldiers on their way home from Confederate prison camps. And, Graveyard Girl by Anna Myers which takes place in Elmwood Cemetery during the yellow fever epidemic.

We did drive to see Shelby Foote's grave which is under an enormous magnolia tree. Later we found (after a couple of U-turns which made Rose very jittery) his home which still stands empty after his death seven years ago.

After our stint at the cemetery, we drove to Burke's Books which is now owned by Cheryl Mesler and her husband Corey. The store opened in 1875 and stayed in the Burke family for three generations. Cheryl and Corey, who had worked at the store and met there, bought Burke's in 2000. It is now in its fourth and they hope final location. The original store was razed in the sixties in the name of Urban Renewal.

It is a great place and Rose and I spent two hours there browsing and talking with Cheryl. Rose bought three gardening books and I found a hardcover copy of The Points of my Compass by E.B. White; Lanterns and Lances by James Thurber; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; The American Plague; a light mystery, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, the first in a series by Sofie Kelly in which the mystery solver is a librarian with magical cats; Small Wonder an essay collection by Barbara Kingsolver; and, another book of essays by various authors.

I think that is it. I am thrilled to get the E.B. White. I have a paperback edition and much prefer the hardcover.

A lot went on today on the Literary Tour and Rose and I are so pleased with our successful book finds.

And so to bed.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dateline: Memphis, Tennessee

Lawrence Van Alstyne
Diary of an Enlisted Man
After breakfast, Rose and I took our coffee and sat in the library of the Inn in Jackson. It was filled with floor to ceiling dark wooden bookcases. There was a fireplace with a sofa facing it and a library table behind the sofa. Wingback chairs were in the corners of the room. Among the books were many volumes about the Civil War that equally represented both North and South sympathies.

One I picked up to peruse was entitled Diary of an Enlisted Man by Lawrence Van Alstyne of Connecticut. The copyright was 1910. The first entry recorded Van Alstyne's enlistment in the Union Army on August 19, 1862.

"I have enlisted! Joined the Army of Uncle Sam for three years, or the war, whichever may end first. ...For my part, I am to do, I hardly know what, but in a general way understand I am to kill or capture such part of the Rebel Army as comes in my way.

"I wonder what sort of soldier I will make; to be honest about it, I don't feel much of that eagerness for the fray I am hearing so much of about me."

I was taken in right away by this young man and his honesty. The diary runs for two years. There is a black and white photo of the author in the front as an older man. I was going to put the book in my bag and mail it back to the proprietor of the Inn once I finished reading it, but then thought better of it. When I asked about borrowing the diary, Tamar the owner said she was sorry but she had to decline my request as the book was part of the collection of the original owner of the house

But tonight in looking on the Internet, lo and behold, there is the book on Google Books. I think I can figure out how to download it to my Nook. See, there is always a way.

And that is the only literary adventure I have to report as most of the day was spent driving to Memphis. We have located two bookstores to visit tomorrow and are ready for whatever other adventures come our way.

And so to bed.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dateline: Jackson, Mississippi - Day Two

The Reader
William Johnson
We did a quick driving tour of some other places near and dear to the heart of Eudora Welty. The house she was born in and lived in until she moved with her family to Pinehurst Street is located at 741 North Congress Street. From her front yard, a look to the right offers a view straight downtown and ends with the Capitol Building. Across the street is Davis Elementary School which she attended.

The two-story yellow house is now a law firm.

Next up we drove by the Lamar Life Building, Jackson's first skyscraper and home of Lamar Life Insurance Company. Welty's mother and father moved to Jackson after their marriage and her father worked for the company and eventually served as president. The Gothic building was erected in 1924. It is made of white stone and features a clock tower. Her father, Christian, oversaw its construction. Watch out for the gargoyles.

We drove by the public library appropriately named Eudora Welty Library.

On to the Mississippi Museum of Art which was a delightful experience. Here we saw an exhibit of African-American artists - painters and sculptors - from the collection of Walter O. Evans. Just in case you think this was not a literary excursion, let me just tell you that the painting featured on the poster for the exhibit was The Reader by William Johnson. It was my favorite in the show and we hit the gift shop hoping for a poster or postcard of it. There weren't any available but the nice young woman behind the counter told me to call or email the museum and it could be ordered.

Here also is artwork from the museum's permanent collection divided thematically into four sections: Mississippi's Landscape, Mississippi's People, Life in Mississippi, and Exporting Mississippi’s Culture.

We saw quite a few photographs by Ms. Welty. There were watercolors, oils, collages, sculpture, photographs, and even an acrylic armchair lit from within. We were duly impressed and spent almost two hours wandering the galleries. There were quotes all over the walls by Welty, Faulkner and other writers.

See I told you the visit was in keeping with our literary theme.

Next we visited Lemuria Bookstore. Lovely Lisa showed us to the Southern Writers section which was very well stocked. I found and bought a copy of Eudora Welty's The Eye of the Story which is a collection of her essays and book reviews. I also bought Every Day by the Sun by Faulkner's neice, Dean Faulkner Wells. It was highly recommended by Bill the Curator of Rowan Oak.

Rose bought Welty's One Writer's Beginnings and Wells's Every Day by the Sun.

And so to bed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dateline: Jackson, Mississippi

On our way out of Oxford, we made one last stop at Off Square Books to see if we could feel any love. Eureka!  Maurri was behind the counter and rejoiced upon hearing of our Grand Southern Literary Tour. We each bought a copy of Writers of the American South: Their Literary Landscapes. This is a lovely hardcover book with text by Hugh Howard and color photographs by Roger Straus III.

I will write about this book another time.

I also bought a signed copy of Calico Joe by John Grisham. It is a baseball book. I love baseball. I have never read a John Grisham book but I couldn't pass up a chance to purchase a signed first edition. Maurri told us how great Grisham is to Square Books which supported him early on in his writing career. Now when Grisham publishes a new book, she said, he sends boxes of signed copies for the store.

Because we spent over $10, we each got a free book. I picked up a mystery, The Beach House, by James Patterson. Rose chose The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria by Laura Joh Rowland.

We said so long to Oxford and headed further south to Jackson. We had a three o'clock appointment for a tour of Eudora Welty's house at 1119 Pinehurst Street.

At the visitors center which is in the house next door, Elaine showed us a brief movie about Ms. Welty and then led us on a rollicking tour of the house. She was so enthusiastic about her work. Welty's house looks just as if she is outside in her beloved gardens. Books cover every surface including the dining room table and a settee in the living room. Elaine said that when Welty died in 2001, the foundation counted and catalogued 5000 books. She said photos were taken of the bookcases and the books were put back exactly like they were when the author lived there.

Her reading chair was by the front window so she could see who was coming up the front walk. There was only one room with air conditioning. The kitchen was very simple. She had no help and did her own cleaning and cooking. She loved mysteries. She kept her Pulitzer Prize in a shoebox in an upstairs closet.

Her bedroom, which also served as her office, was quite spacious and light. It looked just like it did in the photo of her on the cover of The Writer's Desk.

In the gardens, I saw a stand of purple and pink sweet peas growing up a section of free-standing fence. They were so fragrant and looked so cheerful saluting there. I crowed out loud when I discovered cornflowers growing in a small plot. That was my favorite flower as a child - I swooned at the color - but have not seen any for many, many years. I was very happy.

Rose bought a copy of Eudora Welty: A Biography by Suzanne Marrs. I will borrow it from her.

We left happy and full of Southern good spirits.

And so to bed.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dateline: Oxford, Mississippi - Day Two

Got lost going to Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's house. I had to call and have Bill the Curator talk us from the Square down University Drive to Old Taylor Road. At the bend go straight into the grounds.

Whew. Thank heavens for Bill and my cell phone.

We walked up the pea gravel drive lined by red cypress trees. Up onto the the porch and in through the screen door. Once inside we quickly glanced into the four rooms on the ground floor - parlor, library, dining room, and the office/writing room with the outline of  A Fable that Faulkner wrote on the wall.

Upstairs were the four bedrooms where the family slept.

We hit the upstairs as 35 high school students from Helena, Arkansas filled the entrance hall. They came on the Big Yellow Bus that had pulled in right behind us.

Photos, quotations, books, and newspaper articles chronicled the story of Mississippi's famous son.  Empty bourbon bottles, his typewriter, his pipe, a photo of him in his riding habit...all presented to tell the story of this Southern storyteller. He built the white bookcases himself and as Rose noted, they were all armchair height. You could sit in a chair and reach over and grab your book. There were at least two bookcases in each room with the library holding at least five or six.

We left the house to the students and wandered in the back garden. There is a brick wall that Faulkner built for privacy, a knot garden, and a scuppernong arbor. Servants' quarters, stable and paddock, oak barn, and the detached kitchen that Faulkner converted to a smoke house when he had a kitchen added to the main house were outbuildings on the property.

It was an overcast day and the garden was very quiet and peaceful. Later, we sat on the front porch and talked to Tom the volunteer carpenter who was repairing damage to the columns caused by gnawing squirrels.

Eventually the well-behaved students left and we had the house and Bill to ourselves. Bill is the only full-time employee and has been with the house since 1999. He seemed glad to chat with us after the flurry of the kids. He was willing to talk about himself and how he came to be curator of the house.

We had him sign our autograph books. He recommended The Light in August as his favorite Faulkner.

Rose's impression of the house, which was built in 1844, was one of simplicity and reflected the transitions from 1930 when he purchased Rowan Oak until he died in 1962 of a heart attack.

I thought the house and grounds offered this writer a fine sanctuary. I was struck by how the rooms were spacious yet not overly grand. There was light but it was filtered by the trees surrounding the house.

After lunch, a visit to the UM Art Museum, and an afternoon siesta, we headed out to Off Square Books. We didn't feel the love. It was warm and there was no air conditioning. We left there and went to the Ole Miss University Club where we had a yummy dinner of pear and goat cheese salad on spring greens, pan seared salmon, green beans, and mashed sweet potatoes.

And so to bed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dateline: Oxford, Mississippi

Square Books
Oxford, Mississippi

After a six hour drive to Jackson, Tennessee, we pulled into a parking spot right across from the Courthouse. In looking for a place to eat, we stumbled upon our first bookstore, Something to Read. It and Main Street Publishing are owned by one d n english. The store carries books by local writers. It was here that we met Lisa who gave us excellent directions to Oxford and sent us off to The Painted Lady for lunch.

On the way to the restaurant we discovered The Rockabilly Museum with its curator Henry. Now Henry was a hoot. He knew all the guys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, and of course Elvis. Life-size portraits of the fellows and Miss Brenda Lee hang side by side on the wall behind the bandstand. Henry insisted I play the drums using sticks autographed by someone whose name I have already forgotten. Henry also encouraged us to write a message on the wall - along with others who had visited the site. Outside the museum, a two-story mural featured Carl Perkins and more rockabilly stars and of all people: Paul McCartney.

When Henry learned I was a writer, he showed me a profile of himself that was written up in the newest issue of the University of Memphis magazine. I had him autograph the page and he gave me a copy. We love Henry.

Lunch at the Lady was fine. Pork tenderloin sandwich for me and chicken salad for Rose. Then it was off to Oxford. A scenic two-hour drive on a blue highway. I was so glad to get off the interstate.

In Oxford, we frantically looked for a coffee shop to get an afternoon hit of espresso. Found High Point Coffee just off the Square and felt much revived after this little break. On to the Inn at Ole Miss and a much-deserved 60-minute siesta.

Back to the Square with its great Southern white Courthouse. Talked to Allen at Square Books. I found a perfect journal with a library pictured on its cover for my autograph book. I thought it would be fun to get the signatures of booksellers we meet on the trip and anyone else of interest. I had Allen sign and date it and he wrote his book recommendation:  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I also bought a Square Books book bag to carry all my treasures.

Rose chose a journal with a typewriter on its cover for her autograph book and a Square Book coffee mug with a quotation from Miss Eudora Welty.

We then crossed the Square to Ya-Ya's Yogurt. It is all self-serve and quite the busy place. You pick your flavor or flavors, fill your cup, and add any toppings. Your treat gets weighed and that determines how much you pay.

We sat on a bench outside and watched the evening come into town. I held the pink leash of a little white fluff of fur for a young girl who wanted a yogurt but couldn't take her dog into the shop. The dog was very well behaved. It had an odd name: Citi, like citizen or so her young owner explained.

Another jaunt back across the Square to Off Square Books which is the remaindered and used book branch of Square Books. It is overseen by Adam. By now we could barely think, so we told Adam we would be back tomorrow and he could sign our autograph books.

And so to bed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On reading Faulkner

At one time I worked in an independent bookstore. I loved that job. It wasn't really like a job because I so liked being with the books, the staff, and most of the customers. (Those of you who have worked retail will know what I mean by 'most'.)

Anyway, one of the popular books of the day was a story that took place in the South and its characters were of the down and out sort. When I asked one of the clerks, Nancy, if she had read it she said to me, "I don't like to read books about poor people."

Her words came back to me this morning as I read two of Faulkner's short stories: "Barn Burning" and "Two Soldiers". In both stories the main protagonists are young boys about 10 years old. In the first, the boy's father is a poor sharecropper and has an affinity for burning the barn of anyone who crosses him. In the second story, the older brother goes off to Memphis to join the Army and fight in World War II. The younger brother follows him to the big city and gets sent back home to "take care of maw and my ten acres".

I will say that Faulkner's storytelling is compelling and the life of poor folks in the South can be heartbreaking, but I often feel that just on the next page something horrifying is going to happen. So the reading is troublesome for me.

And, if you have an aversion to the n-word, please don't pick up Faulkner. He uses it because it was used then. But, if like me you grew up being told to never use that word, then you will feel a frisson of disapproval when you see it on the page.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Short Story Time

I slipped into my Nook this morning and read two short stories by Eudora Welty: "A Still Moment" and "Why I Live at the P.O."

Let me first say that I am not a fan of short stories. It seems that just as I get involved with the characters and the plot, the story is over. But Faulkner and Welty both are known for their stories so I am putting aside my prejudice and venturing forth.

"A Still Moment" finds Lorenzo, a real-life evangelist; Murrell, a real-life outlaw and murderer; and, a real-life studier of birds, John James Audubon, meeting at the same point in the evening along the Natchez Trace and witnessing a white heron feeding at the bank of the marsh.

One character wants to save men, one wants to kill men, and one wants to capture with his paint brush the beauty of the creatures of the wilderness. There was a lot of talk about God, saving souls, Death, solving the mystery of being, and ecstasy. Audubon, more gentle than the two other obsessed men, provides the actual violence in the story.

Maybe it was too early in the morning for such thoughts.

In "Why I Live at the P.O."  the narrator, a woman of unknown age, has a big ol' fight with her family - wayward sister, mama, uncle, and grand-daddy, and since she is the post mistress for the town of China Grove, Mississippi, packs up her possessions and goes to live among the incoming and outgoing letters and stamps and envelopes.

On reading the P.O. story, I laughed at the arguing that goes on which is based on misunderstandings as many arguments are.

That's about all I can say about the two stories. I guess tomorrow I will try Faulkner.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Books in my Nook

Was excited to find that my library has e-books of short stories by Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. So I have downloaded both onto my Nook and will have them for the trip. I was surprised that both were available as e-books. How lucky for me.

I must get in the habit of checking the library's e-book collection more often.

I was catching up on my blog reading and found that I missed Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-Thon which was held yesterday (Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon). I am sorry I missed it, but apparently there will be another one in October. I will put it on my calendar because it sounds like fun.

This year some 400 bloggers read for 24 hours, posted their progress to their blogs, and read other readers' blogs. There were also mini-challenges throughout the day. The website carried hourly encouragements and progress reports.

Some bloggers read one book all day, others seem to hop, skip, and jump about. Food is prepared; snacks are at the ready; piles of books are made.

What a great way to spend 24 hours: read, eat, nap, and read some more.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rowan Oak

Rowan Oak
Oxford, Mississippi

Have been thumbing through Traveling Literary America and have read up on Eudora Welty's house and Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. I am glad I did as the book mentions collections of Faulkner works and personal items at the University of Mississippi library. Also there are archives of Welty's photos at another location in Jackson.

I also learned that Faulkner designed the gardens on the east side of the house.

Glancing through the book's entries I am amazed at how many places I have been that have writer's houses or museums that I didn't know about. For instance, I was just in Savannah about a year ago and yet had no idea that Flannery O'Connor's childhood home is there and open to visitors.

I really must start doing my homework before I set out on any more journeys.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Too many books

The Professor from across the street stopped in last night to give me copies of The Times Literary Supplement and the spring issue of The New York  Review of Books. He subscribes to both and thought I might be interested in reading them.

Oh my. The NYRB issue is filled to the covers with books. Eight-eight pages of books to be exact. Overwhelming. Mostly ads from university presses. One from the Chicago Art Institute. A few from various foundations.

Instead of inspiring me, the issue fascinated and depressed me. Who are all these authors writing on all these subjects? So many words. And the reveiws and criticisms. Over 30 articles. Only one intrigued me and that is a look at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John La Carre. It is written by Russell Baker and was sparked by the latest movie version of the book. I just watched it recently and was as lost as always in spy land.

The TLS only weighs in at 32 pages. It contains a look at Isabel Allende's newest novel El Cuaderno De Maya (The Notebook of Maya).  I have never read Allende but I did attend a lecture by her and found her to be charming and charged with a fierceness that I will never have.

After paging through all this material, I realize that what I really need is nap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two books for the road

I have pulled off my bookshelves two books about literary sites in America. The first is titled Traveling Literary America: A Complete Guide to Literary Landmarks by B.J. Welborn. The second is A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses by Anne Trubek.

The first is more of a traditional guide arranged by states within geographic areas. Each entry has brief biographical information about the author - birthplace, burial place, education, marriages. There is a list of important works and interesting tidbits about the author or the site or what else to see nearby. As you can imagine it is a pretty hefty tome and may be of some use for my trip.

The second is more of one woman's impressions of writers' houses that she has visited and also takes a look at why people make pilgrimages to such places.

Why do we make such journeys? As I am a writer I want to see where other writers lived. Where did they write, what was the view out the window, how messy or neat were they, what about the place inspired them? If I were a Civil War buff I would be bouncing around battlefields, I guess. It just depends on one's interests.

Anyway, both books offer some information for the Great Southern Literary Tour and perhaps inspiration for further journeys.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Travel plans go topsy-turvey

Old Capitol Building
Jackson, Mississippi
My Grand Southern Literary Tour itinerary has gone topsy-turvey but it will work out for the best. I think. Instead of starting our trip with a stay in Nashville and ending with a stay in Oxford, Mississippi my traveling companion and I are heading straight for Oxford (which is a full day's drive) and ending up our tour in Nashville and then a short ride on home. That way after the first big push, the travel time between cities will be three hours or so.

I am sorry to say, we decided to abort the leg of the trip that included the John James Audubon museum that I mentioned yesterday. We will save that for another time.

So instead of reading today, I have spent hours on the phone and my computer rearranging dates and reservations. Fortunately all the hotels that I had carefully chosen could accommodate us on the different nights. I even went a little crazy and upgraded our room in Memphis at the Madison Hotel to one with a river view.

I don't go on vacation to save money.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eudora Welty

A young Eudora Welty

I finished One Writer's Beginnings in time for my Grand Southern Literary Tour. It is a odd little autobiographical work. It is actually made up of three lectures that Eudora Welty delivered at Harvard University in 1983. The titles of the sections are "Listening", "Learning to See", and "Finding a Voice".

The first two are the most engaging. My interest flagged at the final lecture. It was all about her stories and how they and their characters were formed. The first two were more concrete as to her life before she became a famous writer.

She does mention one story, "A Still Moment" which puts three real-life characters together at the same moment as they set their eyes on a small heron, feeding. One of those characters is John James Audubon. He lived in my city for a while and the John James Audubon State Park is in the western part of my state. I have visited it and was enthralled with the museum that contains a folio copy of Birds of America and personal items owned by Audubon.

This lovely park is on the return route of the GSLT.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fly Me to the Moon

Today was the final meeting of my intellectually stimulating group, The Monday Afternoon Club. Thirty-five women (give or take a few) meet each week between October and April and listen to a 30-minute presentation of a research paper. I have written about this club before here.  

Today's paper was entitled "Fly Me to the Moon" and took a look at the various ways writers have taken humans to the moon and what was found there. In 150, Lucian wrote of a waterspout that lifted a ship to the surface of the moon. Characters have been carried to the moon in ships drawn by birds, in a huge bullet shot out of a cannon, and a chariot propelled by firecrackers.

Daniel Defoe wrote The Consolidator in 1705 describing a lunar adventure. In 1835, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" in which Mr. Phaall journeys to the moon in a balloon. It was intended to be a hoax but was upstaged by another moon hoax that ran in the New York Sun newspaper a few months later. H.G. Wells, in 1901, wrote The First Men on the Moon where insect-like creatures and gold are discovered.

But, as far as we know, the first person to actually walk on the moon's surface was Neil Armstrong in July 1969. Can you remember where you were when you heard that news?

Saturday, April 14, 2012


There is a delightful 80-year-old retired professor of philosophy and the humanities living across the street from me. He taught at the university here for over 35 years. His house is full of books. I don't mean shelves full of books, I mean chairs, tables, and floors piled with books. Mountains of books. I am sure he has read every one. He quotes authors and poets in our conversations which usually take place in the street or on the sidewalk as he is going out and I am coming in.

He lost his beloved wife about two years ago. He took care of her. They had no children. He keeps the hours of an owl. He doesn't open his window blinds until about three in the afternoon and when I look out of my front windows at three in the morning his lights are ablaze. He is reading those books.

Anyway, he gave me a book that he said changed his life. I thought it was going to be a spiritual or philosophical tome, but no, the book is Mimesis by Erich Auerbach. The subtitle is The Representation of Reality in Western Literature.


This is the fiftieth-anniversary edition. According to the back cover it is Auerbach's "exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality." It has taught generations how to read Western literature, the description continues. It goes on for 557 pages and Michael Dirda, one of my heroes, calls it "A masterpiece."

I am just getting into the introduction by Edward W. Said. I have dipped into the essays here and there and they seem very readable. I am not sure this book will change my life as it did the professor's, but it seems worthy of my attention.

By the way, the word mimesis is the re-creation or imitation of the real world in art.

What an egg-head I have become.

Friday, April 13, 2012

100 words

I just barely started The Story of English in 100 Words this morning. What author David Crystal has attempted here is to create a history based on influences, sources, and events that have contributed to and shaped our language.

He looks at words as common to us as street and as foreign to us as brock or bodgery. How did skirt come into our language? Or lunch or dude? He tackles such 21st century additions of muggle, sudoku, and twittersphere.

He writes that the first word, roe, comes to us from Anglo-Saxon runes found carved into the surface of a roe's ankle bone dating from the 5th century.

Each of the hundred words gets a page or two and photos are included with some. Have you ever seen a 5th century roe ankle bone? I hadn't either until I picked up this book. It looks to be a fine read.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two for the weekend

I picked up The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal at the library today. I requested it a while ago and now I can't remember why or where I even heard about it. I feel as if I am the first to get this copy, though, as the date stamped on the top is April 02, 2012. I will give a report at a later date.

On my way out of the library, even though I tried to keep my blinders on, I spotted Amy Ephron's Loose Diamonds, a book of life stories and memories that I had just read about on Frisbee: a book journal. I have not read this Ephron sister before, but I dearly adore Nora.  Vanity Fair called it "Glamorously gritty." What a wonderful phrase.

So I am all set for a bit of dipping into words this weekend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Writer's Desk

Yesterday I mentioned a book, The Writer's Desk, by photographer Jill Krementz. This is a fascinating look at writers photographed at their desks: couches, chairs, counters, laps, and kitchen tables. They write with typewriter, computer, pencil, and pen.

The photos are black and white. Here we see French mystery writer George Simonen standing over his desk with his pipes lined up ready to be filled with fragrant tobacco. In another shot we meet E.B. White sitting on a built-in wooden bench at his typewriter which rests on an empty wooden table with only an ashtray for company. A keg rests on the floor to catch the trash. All this in a shed built featuring a big open window facing the water. It is where he went to write to escape the hoopla of the household.

A few of the writers are barefoot. Some are kept company by pet cats or dogs. Some face windows while others prefer to focus on a blank wall. Some rooms are starkly bare and others are crowded with books and papers and photos.

I find it engaging to see where writers write. These photos - there are some 55 of them - are accompanied by comments of the individual writers about their creative process or work habits. The book, which was published in 1996, includes photos of writers who have long since died. It is compelling to see the writers themselves in their creative and created environments.

Unfortunately, the book is out-of-print but used copies are available from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

Krementz, by the way, is the widow of Kurt Vonnegut. This was not just a one off project for her. As of this book she had photographed over 1500 writers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty's memoir of growing up in Jackson, Mississippi is full of charm and the quiet sense of life at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was growing up in the South while E.B. White was enjoying his childhood in the North.

I wonder if I will get to see the clocks that Welty writes about so fondly. I have a photo of her sitting at her big wooden desk. It graces the cover of my copy of The Writer's Desk by Jill Krementz. There sits Ms. Welty in profile with the soft light of morning shining in the three windows behind her. Her bed, which sits in the foreground, has rumpled white sheets as if she just rolled out of it. The floor lamp is on and she is at work.

I can't wait to see this room. To smell this room. To absorb this room. I hope it looks as if the writer has just stepped out to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and will be back at any minute. By that I mean I hope whatever institution runs the house as a museum has not fussed too much with furniture and belongings. The website assures me that the house is just as she lived in it.

When I visited Carl Sandburg's home, Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina, I was struck by the fact that it looked as if he had just gone out for a walk. Books were piled on shelves, papers were stacked, I think there was even a coffee cup sitting on the kitchen counter. (I may be imagining that.) It was so much more of an experience than seeing rooms filled with "furniture that is from the period when so-and-so lived." A re-creation only, not the real thing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

One Writer's Beginnings

Eudora Welty's house
Jackson, Mississippi
In preparation for the Grand Southern Literary Tour coming up I am reading One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty. I have had the book for many years and have started it maybe five or six times never getting past the first couple of pages. Since I am planning a trip to Welty's house in Jackson, Mississippi, this time I will persevere.

Ms. Welty was born in 1909. She was the eldest of three children. Her father, she said, thought of the future. Her mother loved to read. Eudora herself read all the time and loved to listen to the stories (more like gossip, she thinks) told by her mother's friends. Rich fodder for the aspiring writer.

I admit I have not read much of her work. "Why I Live at the P.O." I read just for it's wonderful title. I could not tell you what it was about. I am not much on "Southern" writing. Characters seem to be hyper-bizarre and not all that attractive. I must be missing something.

Anyway, I will finish this book and maybe I will have a greater appreciation for the genre. I am sure I will have a great appreciation for Ms. Welty.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Bit of Breath Between Books.

I am letting myself breathe a bit between books. I finished three that I had been reading at one time. I just can't decide what to start next. I am not sure what I am in the mood for: essays about Paris, the English gardens of Merry Hall, a scientific research project in South America, a murder in Nashville?

So I dawdle.

I have spent some time wandering around Project Gutenberg. Oh my, what a treasure-house. (I downloaded Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim. There's another choice of a book to start.) So many authors and books waiting for my attentions. I have to be careful or I will download so many that I will forget which ones I have. I will say though that I was thrilled to find shelves of P.G. Wodehouse books. And Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, essays by Montaigne, Emerson, and Steele and Addison.

Philosophers, poets, and playwrights. Fairy tales, travels, and translations.

Incredible. A course in the classics at my fingertips. Presented with so many choices makes my decision on what to read next absolutely mind-boggling.

Friday, April 6, 2012

National Poetry Month

I have been remiss in acknowledging April as National Poetry Month. I may have only a handful of poetry books on my shelves, but that doesn't mean I scoff at the art.

I started a writer's group sometime back around 1993. We were called Noms des Plumes. We all wrote poetry. Some wrote better than others and we all listened intently and graciously to each other. For me, at a time I was trying to jump start a writing life, the actual process of writing and then reading that writing aloud was one of the greatest boons to my creative life. It helped me to develop confidence in my talent and myself. As a group we participated in city-wide poetry readings and continued meeting for about two years. We were small in number, well behaved, and sincere in our hearts.

Of course I still have the notebooks full of my poems. It was an emotional time for me and writing all that angst and reading it aloud, with a spot of humor, was better than therapy. Bleeding heart poetry, I call it.

My two favorite poets are Billy Collins (Poet Laureate 2001-2003) and Mary Oliver. I was fortunate to hear Collins speak and read at a local university. He was funny, astute, and charming. I have not met Oliver and I think I read recently that she is ill and has cancelled any public appearances. I snatched up three of her books at the Border's blow-out sale.

I have already used one of her poems (here), so I will leave you with Mr. Collins:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Billy Collins

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ciao, Tuscany

Tuscany, Italy

My Mayes Marathon is almost complete. Just of few pages more and I am finished with Tuscany - Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, and Every Day in Tuscany. I hate to say this but I am almost put off Italy by this last in the series. Way too many perfect friends, perfect homes, perfect outdoor meals and the perfect wines to go with all. Not to mention a perfect grandson. And, lest I forget, way too many Italian terms splattered across the pages. Even though she translates, it slows down the enjoyment for me. Frances, you are beginning to bore me but I will carry on to the end.

I did finish The Enchanted April. It was a very sweet book. I think I came to like Lady Caroline the best. And I certainly couldn't see anyone else but Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fisher. Perfect casting there. I have heard good things about another of Elizabeth von Arnim's books - Elizabeth and her German Garden. Another one for the long, long list of Books to Be Read that I keep on my computer.

It seems I have finished three books all at once. Isn't that the way, though. But, oh joy, that just means I will be starting at least three new books from my list.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mystery Solved

Finished Death of a Cozy Writer and well before the deadline. I thought it was great. The characters were just weird enough to entertain but not so bizarre as to annoy. There were twists and turns and although the solution to the murders seemed to come in a rush, I didn't care. The motive was quite convoluted having to do with money and sex...imagine that!

(That certainly shouldn't give anything away.)

My library has G.M.Galliet's second St. Just mystery in e-book form: Death of a Chick Lit. Chapter One, which so conveniently is at the end of the Cozy Writer book, shows the same wit and solid writing as the first. There is trouble afoot and I am there.

I downloaded another library e-book Cool, Calm, & Contentious by Merrill Markoe. The process was much less fraught with anxiety than the first time I used this service. C,C, & C is a new book of humorous essays by the award-winning writer for Late Night with David Letterman. She has written a couple of novels none of which I have read.  I have no idea where I stumbled across this title, but Markoe sounds like of woman of good humor and high spirits.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Castello Brown

Castello Brown, Portofino, Italy
Ms. Mayes and I are about to say arrevederci! This third Tuscany book is a bit disjointed. Apparently she and Ed have bought another smaller house in the mountains near Cortona in response to someone placing a grenade at the bottom of Bramasole's driveway. It was not loaded, but it scared the you-know-what out of everyone. This was in response to Mayes's objection, along with others in the town, to the building of a public swimming pool in the middle of the countryside.

Anyway, they bought this other house but she doesn't write much about it. All I know is that it was tumbling down stones when they found it. They still own Bramasole and use this mountain house as a getaway. Sweet, huh?

She writes about short stays in other Italian cities, wine tasting, and food. Always food. So here we have perfect hotel rooms, perfect vineyards, and perfect meals.

They do visit Castello Brown in Portofino where The Enchanted April was filmed. Here is what she has to report:

And enchant it does. Bees are mining the orange trees and everywhere I look the view is blue, blue, blue. The position defies description. The house is a pivot around which the sea turns. It's empty this morning and wandering the rooms, I easily can construct a fantasy life.

I like reading about some of the towns and would like to read more about the little stone house they restored. Maybe later on in the book. Perhaps she doesn't want to give too much away for safety's sake.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Death of a Cozy Writer

Am so enjoying my first library e-book, Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M.Malliet. The writing is witty, the characters, once I got them straight in my mind, are developed (as book critics say), and there have already been two murders.

Detective Chief Inspector St. Just and his sergeant named Fear are on the trail or trails. The coroner's name is Malenfant. I love that. The cozy writer is a manipulative creep and his four adult children have issues as you can well imagine. The mother, who left the family, or as she would say escaped, when her youngest was two has a bit of a drinking habit. There are lots of suspects.

I may have to pick up my pace as the book will disappear from my Nook in about another week. No chance to think, 'Oh, well, I will finish it and just pay the fine.' Nope. The library snatches it back. And I got a notice today that another e-book is on hold for me and I have 72 hours to download it or it too will disappear.

The pressure is on.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Three Musketeers

I am a big fan of the movies The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). Nothing can beat the cast of Michael York, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, and Richard Chamberlain. Both films are great fun and I just recently watched them both again.

Last year a new version was filmed starring a bunch of actors I had not heard of.  I do know Matthew Macfadyen, also known as Tom from MI-5, who played Athos, and Orlando Bloom, who starred in a movie filmed in my home town, who played Duke of Buckingham. The others I had not seen and don't really think they compare with the cast of the other films. D'Artagnan and Constance looked to be about 13 years old. Of course this latest version was quite spectacular featuring Da Vinci's flying war machines and lots of tricks.

Wikipedia lists 25 film versions of the swashbuckling tale beginning with a 1903 French production that includes the description "about which virtually nothing is known." There are comedies, French versions, silent versions, a Soviet musical, and a Mexican version.  There are six animated versions including Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009) in which the Musketeers are female.

There are seven sequels including this one that I must see: La Femme Musketeer (2004), a made-for-TV production starring Susie Amy as d'Artagnan's daughter "Valentine", with Michael York, GĂ©rard Depardieu, Christopher Cazenove, John Rhys-Davies, and Nastassja Kinski.

Really. Who knew?

All this leads me to tell you that I have never read Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844) by Alexandre Dumas. Francophile that I am, I find that to be shameful. So to remedy that, I have downloaded the e-book onto my Nook.  And now that I am almost through with the Frances Mayes's books about Tuscany, I think a trip to 17th century France is next up.

"All for one, and one for all."