In which a man looks at the stars from his back yard, A school system tries to keep its students from looking at a book, but fails, and her ladyship watches a movie, and is moved.
September 23, 2013
Late into a Saturday night, while the all rest of the people of New Orleans seemed to be out on the rain-washed streets of the city on their way to clubs loud with saxophone music or restaurants redolent with the smell of shrimp roulade and roasted oysters, her ladyship, the editor stood in the all but empty hall of a hotel gazing down through the windows at the ruckus on Canal Street, which reached her, in a dim fashion, through the plate glass four stories up. She was waiting on an thin but vivacious elderly woman who had just stepped off the elevator, Ms. Lucy Daniels, whose new memoir, Walking with Moonshine, had just been released a month earlier. It was slightly strange, perhaps, that her ladyship and Ms. Daniels were meeting for the first time in this dark, wild town on the Gulf coast, seeing as how they live within hours of each other in North Carolina. They were both in this hotel in New Orleans for the same reason--the annual fall trade show of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. And they were also in that quiet hallway late at night for the same reason--to view a screening of “In So Many Words” -- a documentary film of Lucy Daniels’ life-long struggle as both a writer and a young girl fighting for her life against anorexia.
The daughter of the great newspaper family of the state--the Daniels family started and owned the Raleigh News and Observer for most of the twentieth century--Lucy Daniels herself showed literary talent early, but it was perhaps not as well appreciated as it might have been by her very proper mother, who wished for a ladylike child, or her good ole boy father, who wished for a son. It wasn’t until she was placed in a mental hospital to treat her anorexia that her talent for writing received due attention. At the end of her five-year stay at New York Hospital, she began the book that would eventually become Caleb, My Son--a landmark novel about the South under desgregation.
Lucy Daniels would go on to become the youngest recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and would publish another novel, High on a Hill, but the early accolades provided little insulation or protection from other hardships, and it would be over forty years before she would pick up her pen again. Her film, In So Many Words, is an exploration into the sources of our creativity, and the role of psychoanalysis in tapping into those sources, as illustrated in Lucy Daniels’ own life.
There are many high points to attending a conference like the SIBA Trade Show. Her ladyship enjoys having dinner with authors like Joshylin Jackson and Robert Morgan, listening to Pat Conroy and William Joyce tell amusing stories from the podium, or having drinks with writers both established and debut and hearing about their new books. But this year nothing compared to sitting in a darkened room listening to Ms. Lucy Daniels on film describe what it was like to go through electro-shock treatments…without anesthesia…as a seventeen year old girl:
“You feel like your brain explodes into nothing…and then you wake up.”
her ladyship, the editor
Lady Banks' Commonplace Book
Noteworthy poetry and prose from her ladyship's bedside reading stack.
Here in Baton Rouge you can still see the stars at night.
Our backyard abuts the last parch of pasture land in the neighborhood, a piece of the old Pike-Burden farm still hanging on at the edge of the city. On a clear night like tonight, when my wife and boy are busy inside, I like to leave my desk for a few minutes and walk down to the rear of our yard, down to where my quarter acre ends at a low ditch and a barb-wire fence, and take in the night air. Beyond the fence the land stretches out flat as calm water. Stands of pine and oak ring the field. Off in the far corner a cow pond gleams in the moonlight. From the east come the swish of cars passing on the Perkins Road; from the north, the distant rumble of I-10.
But a person can’t stand for long on a night like this without looking up. Callit the lure of the ineffable: your eyes are drown skyward, and there they are. The stars. The night is filled with them. Then cluster, they scatter, they shine, they go on forever. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I’m no expert; I can only name the brightest ones, pick out the most obvious constellations: there’s Polaris and Vega; Ursa Minor, Aries, and Capricorn….But no matter how little I know them, I still love the stars. --George Bishop, The Night of the Comet (Ballantine Books, 2013) 9780345516008
The books lying open on her ladyship's kitchen counter.
Warm Any Fruit Crumble
The name really does say it all. You can use 3 cups of any fruit of berries for a delicious and almost-instant dessert. From the figs used here, to peaches or raspberries, this crumble works. Crumbles can be assembled well in advance and cooked when you’re ready. I like to serve them right out of the oven with a scoop or two of ice cream; it’s hard to image a more satisfying dessert.
For the Fruit:
3 cups figs, stems removed, or any other chopped fruit or berries 1 egg, lightly beaten 3 tablespoons brown sugar 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1 pinch cinnamon
For the Topping:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour 1/3 cup packed brown sugar 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 pinch salt 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Toss the fruit into a mixing bowl with the egg, brown sugar, flour, melted butter, and cinnamon to coat. Spoon the fruit mixture into individual ramekins or one big baking dish.
2. For the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture until the topping is crumbly. Sprinkle over the fruit.
3. Bake until the fruit is bubble and the topping turns a lovely golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream.
--John Besh, My Family Table, (Andrews McMeel, 2011) 9781449407872
Literary News & Gossip passed along from the readers, the writers, the reviewers, the resellers, the riff raff, and dutifully repeated here by her ladyship (who falls into the last category).
The Randolph County School Board has voted to take Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" from its library shelves after a parent complained. The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1dpXuZz ) the board voted 5-2 at its meeting this week to remove all copies of the book. Committees at both the school and district levels recommended that the book remain in the libraries. A motion to keep the book on the shelves was defeated. Board members took the action on Monday in response to a complaint from the mother of a Randleman student who said the book was "too much for teenagers." Invisible Man banned from county schools 9780679732761
The Randolph County Board of Education voted Wednesday to rescind its ban on Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," returning it to local high school libraries. The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro reports (http://bit.ly/18qbLUY) the board voted 6-1 at a special meeting to reverse the ban it issued 10 days ago. The board voted 5-2 on Sept. 16 to pull the book from high school library shelves. Invisible Man reinstated
The city of Charlotte, with its social-climbing bankers and developers, its flock of mega-churches and its McMansions – where, as the old saying goes, folks believe in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Myers Park – has always made an inviting target. Lookaway
William Faulkner famously said that he never needed to leave his “postage stamp of native soil” to write first-rate fiction. For Indianola native Steve Yarbrough, the native ground of Mississippi soil has indeed proved fertile, over a span of short story collections and novels that have established him as one of our best writers. But in his latest novel, “The Realm of Last Chances,” Yarbrough strikes out for territory beyond the South — to the fictional town of Montvale, Mass. In the process, he stretches the parameters of southern fiction. The Realm of Last Chances 9780385349505
Best-selling novelist Wiley Cash will headline “Celebrating Madison County,” featuring literature, music and photography, presented on October 25-26 at UNC Asheville. Cash will offer a solo reading, and other well-known area writers, photographers and performers will share their creative responses to the cultural heritage and rugged physical beauty of Madison County during this free, two-day event. Celebrating Madison County
Beneath the surface of Tellico Lake, farmhouses disintegrate. Like sunken tombstones, they are the last testament to a previous agricultural community and an extensive legal battle that fought to keep it there. Almost 40 years have passed since the Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill case, a case that began in East Tennessee and eventually ascended to the Supreme Court. Thursday evening, former UT law professor Zygmunt Plater – now a professor at Boston College of Law – spoke at Union Avenue Books to promote his new book, "Snail Darter and the Dam," which aims to dispel many misconceptions surrounding the case. "I needed to write the book," Plater said. "They always get the story wrong that a bunch of Tennesseans used a stupid little fish to halt a gigantic TVA hydroelectric dam." The Snail Darter and the Dam 9780300173246
The Funeral Dress is a realistic, sometimes heartbreaking work of Southern literature—a story set primarily in the 1970s that centers on a young woman, Emmalee Bullard, who is trying to escape harsh poverty and her abusive, alcoholic father. When Emmalee drops out of high school and gets a job in a shirt factory, she becomes part of a special community of wage-earning women who gossip, laugh and sometimes fight during their shifts sewing collars and shirts. An Interview with Susan Gregg Gilmore 9780307886217
You know what you’d do in a crisis – or do you? Could you ignore your inner voice and do something wrong, that seems right? That’s what allegedly happens in the new book “Five Days at Memorial” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink: one of our country’s worst disasters may have led to one of medicine’s most questionable acts. Five Days at Memorial raises questions Q&A with Sheri Fink
STARS Authors on tour:
What are "STARS" authors? These are authors listing in the Southern Traveling Authors Registration Service--a directory of authors who live in, or are traveling in the South and are interested in meeting with book clubs, civic groups, classrooms, and readers of all kinds. The STARS directory is brought to you by Southern Indie Booksellers, who want to connect readers with their favorite writers.
Toys and games will take center stage at Literary Bookpost when Just the Thing moves in this week. The two businesses are merging, and the bookstore at 110 S. Main St. is making way for Just the Thing’s educational games, gadgets and gizmos in a central area on the first floor, as well as throughout the 7,000-square-foot store. Literary Bookpost merges with toy store
To celebrate National PARK(ing) Day last week, when people are encouraged to reimagine parking spaces as parks, Prince Books, Norfolk, Va., and the downtown Norfolk Civic League collaborated on this "parklet" on the street in fro nt of the store. The League provided the furniture, and Prince Books provided several dozen ARCs. Prince Books Parklet
Read This! Okra Picks and recommendations Reading Rock Books, Booklover's Bookstore, and Quail Ridge Books
The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore
A deeply touching Southern story filled with struggle and hope.
Emmalee Bullard and her new baby are on their own. Or so she thinks, until Leona Lane, the older seamstress who sat by her side at the local shirt factory where both women worked as collar makers, insists Emmalee come and live with her. Just as Emmalee prepares to escape her hardscrabble life in Red Chert holler, Leona dies tragically. Grief-stricken, Emmalee decides she'll make Leona's burying dress, but there are plenty of people who don't think the unmarried Emmalee should design a dress for a Christian woman - or care for a child on her own. But with every stitch, Emmalee struggles to do what is right for her daughter and to honor Leona the best way she can, finding unlikely support among an indomitable group of seamstresses and the town's funeral director. In a moving tale exploring Southern spirit and camaraderie among working women, a young mother will compel a town to become a community.
Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader's guide and bonus content
Bob Shacochis, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul: This is, according to one of Linda's colleagues, perhaps the most important novel to read this year. Robert Olen Butler wrote, "Renowned through four award-winning books for his gritty and revelatory visions of the Carribbean, Shacochis returns to occupied Haiti in The Woman Who Lost Her Soul before sweeping across time and continents to unravel tangled knots of romance, espionage, and vengeance. In riveting prose, Shacochis builds a complex and disturbing story about the coming of age of America in a pre-9/11 world." 9780802119827
Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety: While it might not be a "fun" read, this will likely be an important book. Schlosser, who is known for his depiction of the underbelly of American culture, researches the accidents and near-misses related to nuclear power. (Release date: September 17) 9781594202278
Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy: This third Bridget Jones novel is shrouded in some mystery: written fifteen years after the last Bridget Jones diary, where will the story pick up? Who's the boy mentioned in the title? If our math is right, Bridget should be in her 50's now. In any case, we can count on some awkward interactions and overall feistiness. (Release date: October 15) 9780385350860
Wally Lamb, We Are Water: Wally Lamb's novels always tell startlingly profound stories of characters who you have nothing in common with. While it can be difficult to depict relatable characters while putting them in wholly unique contexts, Lamb inevitably captures the essences of relationships, love, and American society. This one is based on a historic Connecticut flood, the woman whose mother died in the rushing waters, and her lifelong secrets. (Release date: October 22) 9780061941023
Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: Patchett, whose novels are known for their insight and stark truths, tells the deeply personal story of her own relationship with love in this collection of essays. (Release date: November 5) 9780062236678
Author 2 Author: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys Michael Farris Smith
I did a brief stint in Oxford, Mississippi back in 1997. I lived a half block off the Square, in a big house divided up into apartments, right across the street from the original office of The Oxford-American. One evening I walked over to Square Books, for the first time, and on the front table I found a story collection called Big, Bad Love, and a novella titled Ray. This was my introduction to both Larry Brown and Barry Hannah.
By the time I went to sleep that night, whatever time that was, I had devoured both books. Inhaled them. Loved them and immediately loved the writers who had written with such striking, beautiful prose. I remember that what kept occurring to me as I read was the notion that I knew the people they were writing about. I knew those winding, dark, bumpy back roads. I knew the dimly lit bars and cheap brands of bourbon and the feelings of loneliness and wonder that these characters were experiencing. It was only recently that I had become a reader and most of what I had read were the big names. Hemingway, Faulkner, Dickens, Fitzgerald. Those were the only names I recognized. But when I met the stories of Larry Brown and Barry Hannah, I realized what it meant to be a Southern writer in the here and now. I knew their Mississippi first hand and it shook me.
What I didn’t know, but now realize, is that was the beginnings of my becoming a writer. I didn’t start writing for another couple of years, but that feeling was in me, and the nights I later spent on the balcony of Square Books, drinking coffee and reading more Brown and Hannah, and then William Gay and Richard Yates and Harry Crews, those nights and those writers and their stories had gotten into me and were not to let go. Literary Cowboys, that’s what they were to me. And the more I read of the Southern grit, the more I found in myself and my own landscape.
It wasn’t only the fiction of Brown and Hannah and others like them that influenced me, but I have been just as inspired by reading their interviews, and listening to what they had to say about the struggle. The time it took to get someone to accept their stories, to read their novels, to accept them out there somewhere. Hannah called writing a matter of life and death. Brown described the years of rejection and the burned manuscripts in his backyard. They both preached stamina, belief, loving the work no matter what the end result. During my learning years (which are still ongoing and I suspect they will always be), their notions of hanging on, and believing in your work stuck with me as I went through the rejection and gnashing of teeth that all writers experience. From afar, they kept me going through both their work and encouragement.
Eventually, all of this led to some published stories, and then my Paris novella The Hands of Strangers, and now Rivers. My own Mississippi novel. And when it came time to look for other writers to share the manuscript with, to ask for blurbs, to say, “Hey, man. You’ve really influenced me,” the Literary Cowboys were no longer around. Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Harry Crews, William Gay. Those were the first names that came into my head, and it was bittersweet to know they were gone. But we move on and try to carry the torch, knowing what giant boots these are to fill. And I think about that evening back in 1997, when I had nothing to do, and the last light fell across the quaint Mississippi town, and I meandered over to the independent bookstore and began to look around. Get ready, is what I would say to myself now. There they are.
Michael Farris Smith has been awarded the Transatlantic Review Award, Brick Streets Press Short Story Award, Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, and the Alabama Arts Council Fellowship Award for Literature. He is a graduate of Mississippi State and the Center for Writers at Southern Miss. He lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife and two daughters. His first novel, Rivers, was published by Simon & Schuster in September 2013.