Friday, March 30, 2007

Book: This Is Not Chick Lit

edited by Elizabeth Merrick (2006).

Pretty good on the whole, though I outright skipped some stories in the second half.

"Documents of Passion Love" by Carolyn Ferrell
"Joan, Jeanne, La Pucelle, Maid of Orleans" by Judy Budnitz
"An Open Letter to Doctor X" by Francine Prose
"Selling the General" by Jennifer Egan
"The Epiphany Branch" by Mary Gordon
"The Seventy-two Ounce Steak Challenge" by Dika Lam

Book: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl (2006).

This might go on record as my favorite book read in 2007. I plowed through its 500+ pages in three days, sneaking in time to read during lunch, when I should have been asleep, even while I was at work.

There are few things I love more than a good mystery, with a wise-beyond-her-years girl detective ferreting out clues and piecing together theories (see Veronica Mars, seasons 1 and 2). Add to that copious literary and film references, a sometimes hysterical send-up of academia, and tiny mentions of towns I've been to (or been near), and you have a book I'm practically guaranteed to love.

It's funny to me that I keep finding books with these elements, reading and loving them (see King Dork, Frank Portman; Him Her Him Again The End of Him, Patricia Marx). Is there something in the water right now?

Anyway, I fully recommend this book, and I can't wait to see what Pessl comes out with next.


Number of books I've read from Blue's "Required Reading" list: 8 (out of 36)

Percentage of references I understood: 85 (rough estimate)

Date of Bookslut interview with Marisha Pessl, which contains a few spoilers, so be careful: September 2006

Official book website's coolness points: 10 (out of 10)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Poem of the day

Barbara Hamby's "Ode to My Wasted Youth" (4th one down). The others on the page are good too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Book: A Curtain of Green and Other Stories

by Eudora Welty (1941).

A truly great collection of short stories by one of my new favorite writers. I'm on this whole Southern lit kick right now, and Miss Eudora is the queen of my world. I honestly can't believe she wasn't taught in any of the writing classes I've taken.

Her stories are intensely Southern in this great tway--a tonal quality that made my whole body slow down while reading them. They're funny and sad, usually at the same time, and obsessed with ruin, despair, the slow rot that happens here in the land of infernal heatwaves. "Why I Live at the P.O." is a classic, of course. Other favorites of mine included "The Petrified Man," "Death of Traveling Salesman" (her first published story), "A Piece of News," and "A Worn Path," along with a bunch of others whose titles I can't remember off the top of my head. Every story in this collection, really.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hiking at Sweetwater Creek

Record hot day yesterday, and of course I had already decided to go hiking out at Sweetwater Creek. What I thought was a sunburn by the time I got home turned out to be nothing more than a flush from the extreme heat.

But everything about the day and the place was beautiful. The creek is more like a river, with rocky shoals that cause the water to rush and divert into pools and side streams. I assume it's granite under the water--there's a very large vein that runs through Atlanta--but I'm not entirely sure.

The highlight of the hike, of course, was the Civil War era ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company. During the war, this mill was one of the two largest suppliers of textiles to the Confederate forces in the area (the other mill was on Vickery Creek, and its ruins still stand as well). When Union troops marched on Atlanta, they arrested the workers at both mills and imprisoned them, then burned the mills. Of course, since most men of working age were fighting in the war, this meant the women and children were working the mills. The prisoners were taken north, made to pledge allegiance to the United States and promise not to return to the South until the war was over. If they refused, they remained imprisoned for the rest of the war. Amazingly enough, historical sources report that most of the workers made it back to Georgia after the war.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Book: Best of the Oxford American

edited by Marc Smirnoff (2002).

I love OA so much it's unreal. When I was in Arkansas, I visited the campus of UA in Conway, where it's published, and I had to physically restrain myself from storming the offices and professing my love for everyone there. Sometimes I actually wish I lived closer to Arkansas, so I could go to the events they put on and whatnot.

This book did not disappoint. It includes a few selections of the best writing from a broad range of sections: fiction, poetry, music, religion, eats, book views, first person, etc. All of the articles were interesting, even if I had no idea who or what they were about. I especially loved Barry Hannah piece from the religion section, and Rosanne Cash's first person article. Seriously, who knew Rosanne Cash could write so well?

Also completely awesome are the three previously unpublished stories by more famous Southern authors: William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Walker Percy.

I think the only piece in the whole book I didn't like, and we all knew I wouldn't no matter what, was the stupid poem by John Updike. I won't even type what it's about. It's disgraceful.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Flowering trees everywhere

Did I mention it's spring in the South? Seriously, I never remembering loving Florida springs like I am loving this one. Today on the way home from lunch, my boss and I identified all the flowering trees that we could. Atlanta is thick with them!

The cherry trees are probably my favorites of the moment, but only because the Bradford pear trees are a few days past the all white stage, heading into the green stage. It happens so fast. I barely had time to get a picture before the leafs started unfurling. The tulip magnolias are also a few days past their spring prime--the flower petals are starting to drop off in earnest--but I love them because blossoms always sit upright, like teacups. The dogwoods have only just started to flower. I'm sure in the next month they'll look even more beautiful as they fill out, while the cherry trees snow all over the place.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The last cold snap

This past week has been the last cold snap we'll likely have before spring begins in earnest. March always teases us in Georgia with a handful of 72 degree days in a row, before dropping back down into what we here consider "cold." From here on out, it should be 75 degrees right up until the day it jumps to 90 with no warning.

Yesterday I couldn't stand to stay inside when the sun was shining so brightly, but the air had too much bite for me to want to walk. So I split the difference and went for a long drive instead. All the way up to Dahlonega, to where the Chestatee River follows the roads, rushing over rocks and looking so tempting. I couldn't help a big grin from breaking out when I saw those first Appalachian mountains rise in the distance. From certain points on the road, they spread out all around, all the way out to my periphery.

And then I turned right around in the Dahlonega town square, stereo turned up, singing my way back down the foothills and into the north edge of the city. Back into my basement apartment, with the back deck I can sit on and read, provided I have on a thick enough sweater, with the dozens of books to read, taxes to do, journal entries to write.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Miss Eudora

Friday, March 16, 2007

Exploring Southern Literary Journals

Like Hattiesburg, Mississippi hasn't surprised me enough, today I discovered that they publish The Mississippi Review, which has some pretty good online content.

Black Warrior Review has less stuff online, but I'm partial to anything artistic coming out of Alabama. I'd like to see if someplace like Borders or the library carries this, so I could sit and read through it.

Also, storySouth has a bunch of stuff posted that I'd like to read.

And, in the most exciting news of the day, I finally treated myself to a subscription of The Oxford American.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How much do I fucking love Southern girls?

Maria Taylor: Lost Time

Rising Appalachia: Nobody's Fault

Book: Love is a Mix Tape

by Rob Sheffield (2007).

Normally I wouldn't get all excited for hipster navel-gazing. But the elements of this book--love, marriage, and a big-hipped Appalachian rocker girl--sounded good enough to give it a try. And let me tell you, it was worth it.

Rob Sheffield broke my heart with this book. The story of his wild Southern bride, and how she died, got right to the core of me. Of course it helped that Rob is a great writer. And that he and Renee weren't cooler-than-thou rock writers, but rather fun and pop culture-obsessed lovers of country music, indie circa 1991, and top 40 radio. The kind of people I'd love to drink with. The kind of people I thought Jonathon and I would be. See why it broke my heart?

Anyway, now this book has me listening to Pavement, going back through my old mixes, cursing the fact that I know longer own a tape deck, and creating new ones for myself on my iPod. Oh, and dreaming that I can maybe still have this kind of crazy Southern life and love.

Thank you, Mr. Sheffield.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Film: Pan's Labyrinth

I think perhaps I waited to long to see this movie, and learned to much about it beforehand. I loved it, but nothing in it truly surprised me. Of course, it was a fairy tale, so maybe that's part of the point--this story is kind of timeless, kind of the same as all the other stories we know so well. The visuals were beautiful, totally mesmerizing, and then also sometimes so gross I covered my eyes.

I have no doubt that this movie will stay with me for a long time. Still, I enjoyed The Devil's Backbone more.

Pan's Labyrinth
dir. by Guillermo del Toro, 2006

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Book: Prayer: A History

by Carol Zaleski and Philip Zaleski (2006).

One of the most interesting and readable non-fiction books I've tackled in a long time. I don't even know if I can express what about this book was so wonderful to me. I loved the attitude they took in discussing prayer--never sarcastic, always considerate.

I most enjoyed the sections on types of prayers and people who pray, though of course I learned a lot from the whole book, even the sections I was less interested in. I even learned some new prayers, and learned about some new writers, mystics, and saints.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Theatre: Karibu

created and performed by Teatro del Milenio

I don't usually see shows at 7 Stages, because I'm too busy working, or because I've been burned in the past. But Karibu was one of those shows I just couldn't pass up. An Afro-Peruvian piece of dance theatre, comparable to Stomp but performed in Spanish--how do you say no to that?

The first fifteen minutes or so had me worried that I was about to get burned again. But the cheesy, showboating quality of a show-within-a-show put on in a Peruvian restaurant (think Telemundo, really) only served to make the rest of the performance that much more transcendent. The waitstaff/performers became still, stared off into the distance behind the audience, and the real heart of the piece began.

This heart consisted of traditional dancing, something like what I imagine Peruvian ritual dance to have been like, before the Spaniards arrived. The dancers pounded out the rhythm with bamboo poles, whirling dangerously close to the front row. They shook palm fronds, which shed dust and dry leaf bits all over the stage.

Watching all this from the second row, close enough to smell the plant material, to breathe in the dust kicked up, I couldn't help but think about the movements in relation to the book I'm currently reading, Prayer: A History. This dance had a ritual quality to it; but more than than, it served to move me in a way other spectator events have not. The smell, the taste of the dust, the dangerous and messy quality to the whole thing--it all served to reinforce not only the idea of the dance as a demonstration of prayer, but as a very real form of praying going on at that moment. It's hard to write about, and I'm feeling tripped up in my sentences, but I'll lay it out as simply as I can: those dancers were praying for all of us in the audience, and I prayed right there with them.

My concentration was drawn mostly to the principal female dancer, who had the kind of radiant beauty that makes me think of divinity. She shone like the goddesses. And then she left the stage, reemerging in a traditional shaman outfit with a goat (?) mask. I've never seen a shamanistic dance like that in person--it absolutely blew me away. Tears, joy, the whole range of emotions, all with my heart straining towards something bigger, something beyond.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

St. David's Day

Waverly Fitzgerald has a great post over at the Living in Season blog about the daffodil and St. David's Day, which is today.

The mention of daffodils reminded me (as I commented on Waverly's post) of spring on campus. Daffodils bloom all along the hills--I have several memories of walking to and from class, just astounded by how beautiful they make everything look. This is the first spring in four years that I'm not walking to class and getting to revel in that beauty. I miss school sometimes more than I like to admit. I miss having a sense of community firmly rooted in a physical location (and an enchantingly beautiful one at that).

For now, I'm lucky that I can go back and blend in fairly easily, or run into friends and chat. Maybe when it stops raining here, I'll go spend a few peaceful hours in my favorite spots on campus.