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Tuesday, February 26, 2002
hike on by, babe

I finished Walking home: a woman's pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail last night. It was quite good, compared to some of the other recent accounts by women of life on the AT that I've read. The other one I've read relies too much on filling the text with history of the mountains, flora, fauna--basically uses that Bryson man's formula--instead of truly sharing her experience there (that is the one called journey north: one woman's story of hiking the appalachian trail). But, Kelly Winters filled her book with reflection and trail sociology, which I'm most interested in. And, there were a few black & white photos for illustrative purposes, but the book was pretty solid, except for the beginning, wherein she describes her childhood adventures, though it did sort of relate to several issues she dealt with while hiking. What I liked most about this book is that although she was a solo hiker for the most part, she developed several friendships along the way and we witness the origins, development, and endings of those relationships.

February 25, 2002
almost a reading frenzy

Finished True & authentic history of Jenny Dorset yesterday afternoon. It was just okay. Not as fabulous as I'd hoped it would be. A truly interesting story, though it was quite long...494 pages. My favorite part was taken from Jenny's diary which read:

"I saw Andrew with his trousers down in a Private Act and was curious about his system but could not ask. I presume it is like horses" (74).

Yes, parts were quite funny, but I think the humor was lost on me, perhaps I should pick up another of Philip Lee Williams's books to see if I like him for real.

Next, I ripped through Almost by Elizabeth Benedict. I think this was the first bit of her writing that I have read. Again, it was just okay. The story was interesting, but perhaps I just didn't like her style of writing. It is about a woman, estranged from her husband, who returns to do damage control after her almost-divorced husband dies. Was it suicide? Did he die of natural causes? And, what about that dog? Honestly, (sorry for the spoiler here) I thought for sure that once she found the dog that they would learn that he ate his master (the corpse wasn't found until several weeks later). Guess I'm just too used to the more grisly story. I muddled through it okay and it seemed to get a bit better, there was a bit of mystery to the plot, so I guess that's what kept me reading on. It was a short book though, just 258 pages, and not the standard hardback size. I'm always looking for good library quotes, and she did favor me with one on page 31:

"She wore glasses with tortoise-shell frames that she needed for reading, and she suddenly looked official, like a university librarian."

Then, I read Goose Music. It too was difficult for me to get into at first. Maybe I just had an off day of reading, perhaps I'm choosing bad writers. Sometimes I forget where I hear about books, I suppose I should consider the source more seriously before investing such time in these books that are just okay. Well, Goose Music reminded me a bit of Tom Robbins, who I really used to love. I never could seem to finish Half asleep in frog pajamas, so I believe that I left that age (or stage) where I found his writing appealing. But, Richard Horan managed to blend elements of native americans, the circus, tattoos, and wild west exhibits....and a few libraries and librarians for that matter, into a unique book. It did hold my interest and devolved into the zany at times, yet cannot quite compare to Robbins, though it's likely the same genre.

Wow, I just learned that Robbins was born in Blowing Rock, NC and lived in Burnsville--both less than 30 minutes away from here-- as a child, then later on to Virginia, Seattle, etc. I always wondered about his origins.

Several times throughout Goose Music librarians were mentioned. Here's a sample from page 74:

Ms. Jane Reardon, MLS, head librarian of the Baraboo Public Library. She was the first woman to have sexual relationship with your brother and the second to bear him a child. She has much power and knowledge.

Another one from page 134 is:

"You can't go wrong at the library. The shoes always fit there."

And then of course there is a longer description of Jane Reardon, MLS on page 139:

...could perhaps be described as two parts Circe and one part Lucille Ball. Attractive, yet comedic. Eager to please, and yet pompous. With her baby-soft skin, black button eyes, silken black hair, tremendous breasts, and double-wide hips that swayed from side to side like a Grand Canyon burro, Ms. Jane Reardon, MLS, head librarian, was a seductress in the "librarian-next-door" sense....she sat on the edge of her seat as if on the verge of getting up to attend to some other business.

It is so nice to read such positive images of librarians. Kudos to Horan for investing his library heroine with such verve.

I began Straight man last night and finished it up during my lunch today. Again, I had trouble truly engaging with Richard Russo's work. The trouble seems to be that this book in particular was so dense, that I was hesitatnt to get drawn in. And, it was quite long as well. The characters were elegant, plot was good, writing was good, but.....it just seemed to take such an incredible amount of time for the plot to unfold. It was painfully odious at times, though I cannot say that I disliked it in its entirety. Mainly about academic life in the English department at an underrated state university, it was comical at times.
Jane Smiley's Moo comes to mind, but really this Russo novel provides a more detailed depiction of academia. The thing that concered me most was that there was absolutely no mention of the library or librarians. So terribly sad. I did like that he made 2 cultural references that I'm particluarly fond of something about how you're liking them apples? and leaving a cake out in the rain. I am suddenly at a loss though, for what shall I read next? I have several library books to look through for that answer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002
southern fried fiction

I found this great list of books by southern writers that I may try to work my way through. The ones that I've already read....hmmm, I guess I'll bold the whole entry. I don't like short stories, and I once tried the Welcome to the world.... book by Flagg and it was not to my liking. I don't like James Lee Burke, either. I read one of his more recent books and found it quite average, nothing notable about it at all....blah.

Southern Fried Fiction.
Compiled by Candace Clark and Joanne Hamilton-Selway, Scottsdale Public Library.

Southern Exposure, by Alice Adams. 1995.
Into the small town of Pinehill, North Carolina, during the Depression comes the Baird family, fugitives from their lives in Connecticut. To the people of Pinehill the Bairds seem glamorous. To the Bairds, Pinehill holds the hope that they will regain their lost innocence and once again be rich in love.

Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison. 1992.
Beautifully evoking the rural South of the 60s and 70s, Allison tells the story of the Boatwright family, who refuse to be shamed by the label "poor white trash."

Cavedweller, by Dorothy Allison. 1998.
The inner lives and secret histories of four bewildered, determined women who eventually come to understand themselves by grappling with the complicated permutations of their mingled fear, hatred and love of and for their families, husbands, lovers and one another.

Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, by John Gregory Brown. 1994.
Moving back and forth in time from the 1930s to the 1960s, the story uncovers the heartbreaking legacy of the Eagen family of New Orleans, Irish Catholics of "mixed blood" in a city where race defines fate. A haunting novel of family loyalty and relations between the races.

The Wrecked Blessed Body of Shelton LaFleur, by John Gregory Brown. 1996.
Adopted by a wealthy and bed-confined white woman, Shelton, a young African American boy, is crippled in an accident and is taken in by the wily Minou and his family. They offer him guidance in a race-torn world, and the secret of his birth.

Cimarron Rose, by James Lee Burke. 1998.
To defend his illegitimate son, who has been wrongly accused of murder, Billy Bob Holland takes on the powerful class interests controlling the small town of Deaf Smith, Texas, and as a result winds up facing the demons of his own past.

Sunset Limited, by James Lee Burke. 1998.
In his eleventh Dave Robicheaux novel, Burke writes a gripping tale of class warfare, racial violence, and the sometimes cruel legacy of Southern history.

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. 1984.
Fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy’s adventures begin on the day the general store proprietor brings scandal to a pious Southern town by eloping with a Yankee woman half his age.

Crazy in Alabama, by Mark Childress. 1993.
The moving story of an orphan boy, his indomitable aunt, and the summer of 1965, written with wicked and outrageous humor.

Beach Music, by Pat Conroy. 1995.
Jack McCall, an American expatriote living in Rome, desperately searches for peace after his wife’s suicide and is drawn into a painful, intimate search for the one haunting secret in his family’s past that can heal him.

Eve’s Mountain, by Marion Coe. 1998.
Set in the contemporary Blue Ridge Mountains, this is both the saga of a rich Charlotte family and a look into the lure and lore of those once-remote southern highlands.

My Last Days as Roy Rogers, by Pat Cunningham Devoto. 1999.
A stunning debut novel about a young woman coming of age in Alabama in the last days of the 1950s polio epidemic.

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl, by Fannie Flagg. 1998.
This is the funny, surprising, mysterious and touching story of Dena Nordstrum, a TV anchorwoman whose future is full of promise, whose present is rich with complications, and whose past is marked by mysteries.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg. 1987.
Folksy, funny and endearing, this is the tale of two women and the café they run in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering barbecue, coffee, love, laughter, and occasionally murder.

Murder Gets a Life, by Anne George. 1998.
Another "Southern Sisters" entry in which those Alabama sisters Patricia Ann and Mary Alice get involved with diving expeditions, porn stars, trailer trash and murder before the conclusion.

Charms for the Easy Life, by Kaye Gibbons. 1993.
An endearingly quirky and clever tale about three generations of North Carolina women, this fairy tale of the South embodies the values it celebrates: frugality, rectitude, and common sense.

Summer Gloves, by Sarah Gilbert. 1993.
When ex-Miss South Carolina Pammy Outlaw’s husband goes off to college and her daughter begins to rebel, she learns to follow her own dreams and ambitions, in a humorous story of a woman’s self-discovery.

Flights of Angels, by Ellen Gilchrist. 1998.
Twenty hilarious new adventures that both amuse and touch the reader, by the National Book Award-winning author.

Evensong, by Gail Godwin. 1999.
In a satisfying sequel to Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Godwin contemplates family ties, the prickly bonds of marriage, and the varieties of religious faith.

White Boys and River Girls, by Paula K. Gover. 1995.
Nine tales of barmaids and musicians, single mothers and burned-out businessmen, tales of lives lived a little too close to the edge, and love longed for, lost, and sometimes regained.

The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, by Alan Gurganus. 1989.
A woman who lived through the Civil War introduces readers to the events of her day and the aftermath present in our own time.

Fever Season, by Barbara Hambly. 1998.
Hambly’s main character of Benjamin January, from A Free Man of Color, returns in this novel of greed, madness and murder amid the dark shadows and dazzling society of Old New Orleans.

Southern Ghost, by Carolyn Hart. 1992.
Down south to solve a missing person’s case the local police cannot crack, Annie and Max Darling discover that the secretive, aristocratic Tarrant family may be trying to cover up a 40-year-old murder.

Misery Loves Maggody, by Joan Hess. 1998.
In this newest installment in the "Maggody" series, off-beat sleuth Arly Hanks is travelling to Memphis with a stop in a bustling Mississippi riverboat gambling town. When her mother is rushed to the hospital, Arly is drawn into another murder mystery.

Luminous Mysteries, by John Holman. 1998.
The story of a black, middle-class family in shifting Southern society, this story revolves around determining what is real and what really matters in a world full of illusions.

The Runaway, by Terry Kay. 1997.
Set in rural Georgia shortly after the end of World War II, this story follows two boys, one white and one black, who stumble across a terrible secret.

To Dance with the White Dog, by Terry Kay. 1990.
Elderly Sam Peek is still mourning the death of his beloved wife when a mysterious white dog appears, and only Sam can see him. Real dog or phantom, the white dog soothes Sam’s grief. A moving story of love, grief, and coming to terms with one’s own mortality as well as the death of loved ones.

Final Vinyl Days and Other Stories, by Jill McCorkle. 1998.
A light, witty, and utterly unpretentious collection of stories about people who could be your neighbors if you lived in the South.

Rosewood Casket, by Sharyn McCrumb. 1996.
As an elderly man lies dying on his Appalachian farm, a mount wise woman brings to light a small box to be buried with him – one that contains a dark secret from his mysterious past.

Paradise, by Toni Morrison. 1997.
Spanning time from the Reconstruction to the 1970s, the author manipulates past, present, and future as she reveals the interior lives of the citizens of a fictional all black town called Paradise.

Hope Mills, by Constance Pierce. 1997.
It is 1959 and Hope Mills, North Carolina is a small southern mill town at the end of an era. Seen through the eyes of Tollie and Lily, two high school friends who are each other’s salvation, Hope Mills chronicles a time of enormous change and difficulty, ending on a note of endurance and triumph.

My People’s Waltz, by Dale Ray Phillips. 1999.
A collection of ten stories of southern American fiction about beauty, order, and morality.

Voodoo Dreams, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. 1993.
A fictional retelling of the life of a notorious voodooienne takes readers into mid-nineteenth century New Orleans, offering an interpretation of Marie Leveau’s secret religious practices and how they shaped her surrounding culture.

Saving Grace, by Lee Smith. 1995.
A darkly comic and compelling novel about Gracie, blessed with a gift she doesn’t want, who pursues earthly and divine love on a road that comes to a disturbing but inevitable conclusion.

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. 1980.
This Pulitzer-prize winning novel follows the lives of denizens of New Orleans lower depths in a comically outrageous and disturbingly insightful manner.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells. 1996.
A wonderfully irreverant look at life in small town Louisiana from the 1930s on through the eyes of the Ya-Yas, a gang of merry, smart, brave, poignant and unforgettable goddesses.

Little Altars Everywhere, by Rebecca Wells. 1992.
Before there was a Ya-Ya Sisterhood, there was this book, about the same outrageous women and adventures that make you laugh and cry at the same time.

American Pie, by Michael Lee West. 1996.
Southern Gothic and soap opera collide exuberantly in this tale of three sisters and their plucky grandmother fighting to dispel a family curse in a small Tennessee town.

She Flew the Coop, by Michael Lee West. 1994.
Vangie Nepper and her husband search for love outside the home and gossip about their neighbors in a sharp, humorous portrayal of life in a friendly but strait-laced Louisiana town in the 1950s.

Quite a Year for Plums, by Bailey White. 1998.
A latticework of interconnected tales that traces what happens to the peculiar but mostly lovable residents of a southern hamlet over one year.

The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset, by Philip Lee Williams. 1997.
Woven into the tapestry of eighteenth-century Charleston, this comic epic traces the rise of two low-country plantation families.

Bloodstained Kings, by Tim Willocks. 1995.
A story of obsession, betrayal and revenge, set in New Orleans and the rural South, this tells the story of a son in pursuit of his father, a mother in pursuit of her lost daughter, and many people in pursuit of money and power.

Slow Dancing on Dinosaur Bones, by Lana Witt. 1996.
The remote town of Pick, Kentucky is thrust into chaos by the arrival of Tom, a Stanford graduate who encourages the locals to sign coal leases, and cruel-hearted Frank Denton, who is stalking his ex-girlfriend.

A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. 1998.
A massive, spectacularly ambitious, ruthless, and bitingly funny novel set in Atlanta, a place that is a racially-mixed late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth, avid speculators, and worldly wise politicians, the story of an event that shatters the city’s delicate racial balance.

Sunday, February 17, 2002
& when he's come back home, he will be changed-o!

Started Songcatcher last night, but just read a few chapters before I fell asleep, so I ended up finishing it about 15 minutes ago. Quite good. In fact, Sharyn MccCrumb's books seem to get better. I really liked Ballad of Frankie Silver, and If I ever return, Pretty Peggy-O sticks out as one of her earlier books that I liked. Guess she's finally learned how to write. Some of her early books were dreadful. Probably not nice to say, but it is nice to talk about how she has progressed into a fine writer. I like how her books contain both the present and the past. There's usually some kind of history lesson there, which I already know since she writes about the are in which I live. Maybe there are a few stories I've heard though that she doesn't know. And, I learned in Ballad of Frankie Silver that she and I are probably quite distantly related, but who isn't in these hills?

Saturday, February 16, 2002
a librarian quality

Thursday night I also finished reading Cherokee Women, yippee, and hip hip hooray. Come on, gimme three cheers. Oh, it wasn't so terrible. But, glad to be done with it. Then I also read Steve Martin's Shopgirl, which had waited ever-so patiently on my bedside table for a week or two. It was interesting reading, but I'm not so sure that I approved of his characterizations of women. They were quite tired, boring, and old. Perhaps that's what he's surrounded by and doesn't know any real women on whom to base his characters. They were just so shallow and were either madonnas or whores. His character development lacked complexity. But, the story was cute enough. Or novella, I should say. Had I realized that's what it was I probably would have not read it. I don't do novellas or short stories. I'm not sure where my problem lies with them, but I really avoid them, and poetry too. However, he also seems to have certain notions about librarians (p. 13):

"Mirabelle wears her driving glasses as she grips the wheel with both hands. She drives in the same posture as she walks, overtly erect. The glasses give her a librarian quality--before libraries were on CD-ROM--and the '89 Toyota truck she drives indicates a librarian's salary, too."

So where'd he pick up those ideas? It's not likely that he personally knows any librarians, anyway. Do librarians hang out with Hollywood comedians?

Last night I read far into Wilma Dyekman's French Broad, but did not complete it. But, the chapters I read were essentially worthless to me. They were all about the Civil War in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, which is fine to read about, but I never could keep her cast of characters straight, so I was lost as to who was Union and who was Confederate. And she kept talking about Knoxville (oh, i should have kept it with the typo for it really is Knox-Vile!) entirely too much, though she did mention the bridge burners, something that I'm familiar with. The Civil War is such an unknown subject to me. It's overdone, and boring and well, just doesn't interest me much at all.

Sharyn McCrumb's Songcather is resting on my bedside table, awaiting its turn. It may have to wait quite some time because I'm trying to rapidly finish up reasearch on Margaret Bourke-White, Josephine Baker, and Gloria Steinem, so I have several of their biographies and memoirs to muddle through first.... well, er actually, skim through.

Thursday, February 14, 2002
not avon calling

Finished another quickly this evening after dinner. Victoria Calling Cards: Business & Calling Card Design. It's something I looked at in a store but really didn't want to purchase, so I had my library borrow it from another. This one traveled far, it's from Birmingham public library. I usually like Victoria's publications, they speak to the romantic hiding deep within my crusty librarian shell. It was short, and had many illustrations, that is the only reason I was so quick about it. I did however go through my stack of library books and cull them. Once whittled down to 8 or so books, they're much more manageable. I'll return the other 15 or more tomorrow. I don't mind paying fines since that's really the only way that I can truly support my library because they get to keep that money and do something wonderful with it.

And, I'm almost finfished reading Perdue's Cherokee Women. I have another chapter or two to go, and hope to complete it tonight. It's really a wonderful book, just filled with all sorts of useful and historic information. The problem is that I have such an interest in American Indians that I've done much leisure reading on the topic already, so this book, though especially wonderful, is intellectually redundant. But, I am committed to finishing it for several reasons..... First, it's required for the course I'm taking this semester. Second, it is well-written, and third because I've already read at least 100 and something pages into the book and I'm not about to just cast it aside after such an investment of my time. That's just not my way with books you see. My rule is that if the book cannot engage me within the first 30-45 pages (I certainly make allowances), then I chuck it. So many books, too little time. My motto, perhaps it should be my epitaph, now there's a thought. That would be a tough decision since I really love Cicero's "life without learning is death" but I cannot seem to find the Latin for it at the moment. Enough, time for reading. Let the pleasure begin!

Wednesday, February 13, 2002
hold the basket case, please

Okay, finished Basket Case, hurrah! A mere four minutes ago or so. And, I must admit that my Love bio did come in the mail today, just as I hoped and expected, and I did actually read a few pages while I nibbled my meager dinner. So, she has been born, but that's about it. It's a shame I'll have to put it aside for a bit, drat!. One thing though, the book is somewhat damaged in the center where the glossy photos are. I may have to use my book repair skills and glue that pup up. And, gee, it's just another 30 minutes or so before I crash and I gotta figure out what to read in bed. Will let you know in the morning, or perhaps another day.

Thursday, February 7, 2002
give it away now

Yesterday was spent giving away used paperback books to the masses of students who came by our booth at the "Winter Cruise," an annual event sponsored at my institution in subverting the winter blahs which have usually set in at this point in the year. Most students--really, shouldn't I call them patients as they ARE here for curing... I mean isn't that ALL we do at University? Pour tonics down their greedy throats, dope them up with with popular theories, get them hooked, yes, they are Academic Junkies by the time they...well, are released. I wanted to say check out, but that sounds so final. But it's possible that once encumbered by the nebulous reality of the world they will have no time for the tonics, potions, and syringes that we've tried to administer. Poor dears.

I, however, am so pleased with Stella Gibbon's biography, Into the woodshed. The author, some distant relative, a nephew or cousin perhaps, has pulled together this remarkable glimpse inside her life. He had access to countless letters and family documents and journals. Oh, it's totally fabulous, and I absolutely LOVE his writing style. It's sort of informal and chatty, but very British. The good kind of British writing that I'm really responsive to. I'm not happy at all about the state of Stella's memory via the web. There are none, really, just blips and blurbs. The references that Google returns are simply pathetic. And, it's mostly just referencing the movie, and not her. Well it is horrible, simply Disgraceful. There are lots of lovely Louise Brooks sites--even though she was not a poet or writer, but a silent film star--including a Collection. And there's even a Louise Brooks Society! Can you imagine? I feel, I must take this on as one of my projects, eventually. I'll mark it down on the list. But, I am reading in the second chapter now, and am so excited about this biography and cannot wait to finish it because I have many other books to read, but really, if I could just leisurely read along, while eating an apple, say, well I would. Oh, and there's a lovely part about governesses that I've marked, for I'm quite interested in that particular women's culture, one of my research interests of late, possibly inspired by the movie starring Minnie Driver, which is also fascinating because it deals with early photography (yet Another passion!)...one of my favorite movies to date. But, you see it's an interlibrary loan book and there's a set date that I Must return it to one of my favorite ILL librarians, who by the way are some of the most Wonderful and Helpful in the entire library profession. I would someday aspire to become one myself. An ode to Interlibrary Loan Librarians, I feel suddenly poetic and Inspired....perhaps I shall compose a sonnet.

Tuesday, February 5, 2002
it's not the Cher song

Finished Heavier than heaven Saturday. The author, uh, Cross, paints a neutral but sympathetic portrait of Cobain. Reading about his demons and torment reminded me of an unbalanced soul whom I once knew, and I was quite afraid to be alone with him. He was the only person who made me truly uneasy and afraid for my life while in his presense. I'm not sure that he was evil, but he was schizophrenic, and really quite off his rocker. So, to sum up, some interesting parallels between Cobain and this acquaintance of mine. I wouldn't have liked Cobain, nor wished to hang around his brand of insanity, though I can certainly appreciate the products--from a safe distance. But this book convinces me that a strong correlation between artistry and madness is afoot. However, I was much more interested in Courtney Love anyway, and there just wasn't enough of her in the book for me.

Think I'll look for a copy of Poppy Z. Brite's Love bio.

Didn't get to the Hiaasen book, yet. Was madly reading for class. But, I swear that I will begin it Wednesday or Thursday for sure. And, that's all folks.

Friday, February 1, 2002
enter Courtney...

The Cobain book has picked up a bit that Miz Love has entered the picture. I had to stop at page 182 last night because I was quite suddenly drifting off into never-never land. And, from what I've gathered, he was a very disturbed human being. It's quite frightful some of the things he does, creates, and imagines. Still, I look forward to the Hiaasen book, which I will likely devour this weekend.

Then I have that Stella Gibbons biography to read, and well, I really should finish up the two books I'll be tested on Tuesday (Cherokee Women & French Broad). A busy weekend ahead, and there's talk of snow in the air, so perhaps I'll be all snug and cozy by the hearth while I read read read and then read some more.