You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2007.

Title: Devil in a Blue Dress
Author: Walter Mosely
# of pages: ?

Comments: I’ve never been much of a fan of mysteries, but I recently read a review of Mosely’s latest novel in the Easy Rawlings series, praising the author for sharp writing, compelling storytelling, and a realistic portrayal of LA’s Watts neighborhood that makes it seem like another character in the book. Well, I was intrigued. And my dad collects Mosely, so the last time I was home, I swiped his (first edition, signed, of course) copy of Devil in a Blue Dress, the first in the Easy Rawlings series. It was fantastic. The voices of Mosley’s characters are distinctive, but they are not characatures. The story’s a little far-fetched, but the details are teased out in such an exquisite manner that I actually cared about whether Rawlings solved his mystery.

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Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum, with Illustrations by W. W. Denslow
# of pages: 314

Comments: I have been wanting to read this book ever since I read Wicked several years ago. I had watched the movie a million and three times, but never read the book. When I read Wicked, I wondered how much of the politics and the types of characters were in the original. Turns out there are a lot of the characters, but not much of the politics. It really is a children’s book. The Denslow pictures are really charming, as the story always was. I know there are further books in the series by Baum, and I seem to recall reading one or two written by someone else when I was a child. I’d like to see how much of Maguire’s book is really based on these novels, and how much of it actually comes from his own imaginings. The world he created in Wicked and Son of a Witch was so intricate and had all the problems of a real world that I am somehow compelled to investigate further.

Title: The Annunciation
Author: Ellen Gilchrist
# of pages: 353

Comments: I have long loved Ellen Gilchrist’s short stories. Her characters are wild, impulsive, and hilarious, even when they don’t mean to be. This is her first novel, and also the first one I’ve read. The main character, Amanda, is lovely, like all her other characters, and her writing is beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I didn’t love the ending. Not to give anything away, but it was a little too soap-opera-esque. And I did find myself chuckling when Amanda got sidetracked from her own writing by a love affair. After all, when I heard Gilchrist talk last fall, and she was asked to give advice to young writers, she complained that her students have all these amazing experiences–working with Teach for America in border towns in Texas, rebuilidng houses in New Orleans after Katrina, being airlifted out of a country on the brink of civil war–and yet every one of their stories starts with them waking up, hung over, in bed with their boyfriends. Just goes to prove, hindsight is always 20/20, even when you’ve written it down differently.

Title: Nancy Culpepper
Author: Bobbie Ann Mason
# of pages: 223

Comments: Nancy, the title character, is what ties this tale together, and she’s as bland as Elmer’s school glue. The story, told out of order, covers several generations of the Culpepper family on its farm. The other characters seem warm and real, but every time I got to a section where Nancy was featured, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. The most engaging part of the story is the oldest. Though each section deals with death and love and loss, it’s the deaths in this part of the story that seem the most true and the most deeply felt.

Title: A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967
Author: Rachel Cohen
# of pages: 309

Comments: Cohen’s work weaves together letters, photographs, and autobiographies to create small vignettes about the friendships formed among some of the most famous and beloved names in American Art and Literature. Each chapter is just a snippet of the lives of two or three of these people, and in no way covers their lifetimes. They are fascinating, and I really loved how it put some great works of poetry and literature into historical perspective for me. I wouldn’t say this is one of my favorite books ever, but Cohen’s writing is engaging and makes it an enjoyable read, even for someone who doesn’t enjoy historical nonfiction very much.

Title: Truth: Four Stories I am Finally Old Enough to Tell
Author: Ellen Douglas
# of pages: 221

Comments: The first of these four stories is brilliant. It is bizarre and fascinating and leaves you with a million questions. The other three are variations on a theme–race relations, the end of slavery, ancestors involved in scandals and lynchings. The writing is very self-conscious and repetitive, and leaves you asking only one question–what is the point? But that first story haunts me, so I have to say that over all, I liked the book. I’d like to read something else by Douglas, just to see if there’s more like that first story.

Today is one of those days–will forever be one of those days–when you remember where you were when…*

And I have been feeling nostalgic lately–as I tend to do when I am less than happy with my current situation–but it’s generally been for Santa Barbara, where I had more friends, was happier, liked my life best.

But today. Today, I was standing under the live oaks behind the Texas Union. I was staring down Whitis Avenue, toward Dean Keeton, and a hot dry wind was swirling around my ankles, kicking up the gritty red dirt. I was there, even though my eyes were open and I was awake and I was staring at my computer screen, sitting in my office here in Durham, North Carolina. I was right there.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Austin, Texas. I was a brand new graduate student and a brand new res life person. I lived in a building with 150 brand new college students, women who had been in college for just over a week. And here’s what I remember:

I remember that I didn’t cry. Not for days or for weeks. Maybe not even for months. I’m the girl who really does cry at long-distance telephone commercials. I cry at the end of nearly every movie or book. I get teary-eyed whenever I see video of Christian Laettner’s shot. But I didn’t cry on 9/11. I don’t think I ever cried out of terror or empathy. Now, I cry nearly every time I see pictures, or film, or anything that has to do with 9/11. But those tears are of anger and frustration at the way this tragedy has been used to strike fear into us and to manipulate the American people–not by Al Qaeda, but by our own government.

I remember that I didn’t have any inkling that this would become such a defining moment. I walked out of my apartment around 9:50 AM Central Time, and heard noise from the lobby TV. I was annoyed because that TV was supposed to stay on the university info channel during the day, but RAs and other night staff could watch movies if they wanted to. I figured that the night staffer had left it on the wrong channel. I walked over to remedy the situation–I was in charge there–and I saw that it was on the news, and there seemed to be smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I walked downstairs, to my office, and everyone acted like it was a normal day. I logged on to CNN.com, but I didn’t see anything important. I went to work.

I remember that one of my co-workers, who at the time was my closest friend on staff, locked herself in her apartment and cried. She was so hysterical that her boss called me and asked me to go in and talk to her. I was the only one she’d let in. I remember that I hated her for that. I thought she was selfish. She’d spoken to all of her family members (who were in DC), and they were safe–what was the big deal? I thought she was incredibly selfish. I was 23, she was 30, and it was our job to be out there, comforting the 18 year olds. Instead, she was not only abandoning her post, but making me do it to. I could not forgive her for that, and though I have forgiven her for many things, I still cannot give that up.

I remember that class wasn’t cancelled. Students did not have to go, but faculty had to report. In an university community of 52,000 students, there were bound to be people who had nowhere else to go. It was a good decision.

I remember that I had my Sports Law class from 4-7 that night. We toured the UT Law Library so that we’d be able to use its resources for the class. Our professor had it shortened so that we could attend the candlelight vigil at 6pm at the UT Tower, which was pretty ironic, I thought.**

I remember that, as my classmates and I gathered on the couches in the Law School lobby, we talked about the thing that still gives me goose bumps. Our professor for our Monday night class, which was basically an introduction to our program, was also the Dean of Students. She talked about how other administrators always pressed her to make declarations about the freshman class after observing them for a few days–what were the trends, how would the year go? She told us that she always refused because the last time she’d tried, well, then there’d been Kent State, and that had changed everything. You just never know, she said. That was shortly before 7pm, a little more than 12 hours before the first plane struck the towers.***

I remember that the University closed early on Friday, at 2pm, for a University-wide memorial service. It was to take place 100 yards from my office and apartment. But I didn’t go. A handful of coworkers and I took that free time and went to see a movie–Two Can Play That Game. It was a terrible movie, but it was just what we needed. Then we went to the Hula Hut and got drunk, staring out over Lake Travis, trying to pretend that nothing had changed.

It’s weird the things you remember, and how vividly, in times like that. Things that seem unrelated, that make no sense, that don’t even begin to convey the magnitude of an event that changed a nation. But it’s all true. I remember.

*******************

*And who could forget? Especially after Alan Jackson wrote that song that demands you freeze such a moment in time.

**Incidentally (or coincidentally?), my first day at the University of Texas was also the 30th anniversary of the UT Tower shooting.

***And it did change those freshman, and will change generations of freshman; I have seen the difference and I know that they are irreparably damaged, even if they do not.

Last thing I remember was the 4th of July…

Seriously, this summer was like a time warp. It seemed to move incredibly slowly when you were in the midst of it, but looking back, it’s all a blur, and I don’t know what I did with my time. Well, I kinda do. First, work gave me a first-rate ass-kicking. Then, I’ve been neck deep in Swap-bot and crafty trials. Hopefully, there will be viable projects coming out of those trials in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, do you want to see what I’ve been doing? Ok, here you go. These are photos of the Chunky Poetry Book that I made for a swap on Swap-bot. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was really a ton of work. I also received my book from someone else already, and I hope to get those pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr in the next few days, because it’s really cool, too.

There are about 500 half-written posts floating around in my head and my laptop, as well as a bunch of book journals that I need to catch up on… My goal is to get all of those up here before I go on vacation, starting September 15. And then do a whole bunch of writing while I’m on vacation, too. We’ll see how that goes…