Monday, March 31, 2014

Former President to Sign Books in Raleigh

Best excuse to ride the Amtrak to Raleigh: Former President Jimmy Carter will be signing copies of his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power," noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
What you need to know: You must buy your book from Quail Ridge Books (919-828-1588, 800-672-6789, The President, who's now 89, will not personalize your book, sign memorabilia or pose with you for a photo. No backpacks, bags or purses in the store, though you may take in your phone, keys and wallet.
The late Duke novelist Reynolds Price called Carter a "canny and watchful" man. Carter has most recently parlayed those qualities into this book about how violation and mistreatment of women is rising throughout the world. Some selected scriptures, he writes, are interpreted "almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths to  proclaim the lower status of women and girls."
Not surprisingly, in his and Rosalynn Carter's visits to 145 countries, Carter noticed a  more equal treatment of women in those areas where government and religion are sharply separated.


Friday, March 28, 2014

New York Times Senior Writer Speaking at CPCC

Margalit Fox
My favorite New York Times writer is coming to Charlotte.

Margalit Fox's riveting obituaries of the famous, the infamous and the just plain interesting are so newsy and entertaining, her subjects plump back to life as you read. In 2012, she wrote this about the founder of Cosmopolitan magazine:

"Helen Gurley Brown ...died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger."

Fox spent the first nine years at the Times as a copy editor, she said by phone from New York. But "her deepest desire was to write rather than cleaning up other people's copy."

So when a position in the obituary department came open, she applied, aware that it was considered to be the beat nobody wanted. "But it's the best beat at the paper," she said.

"We all love to be told stories, and an obit by definition is the purest narrative thing in any paper," Fox said. "I have the privilege of writing obits every day. It doesn't get any better than that."

Fox has two books: "The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code," about the history of the ancient Minoan B Code, and "Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind."

She'll discuss "The Riddle" at 11 a.m., April 10, in CPCC's Pease Auditorium. At 7 that evening in Tate Hall, she'll talk about obituary writing.

Other speakers that week include N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, and Richard Blanco, the youngest poet ever to be tapped to give the inaugural address (for President Barack Obama in 2013).


Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Yorker critic praises Queens' Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill
When the nation's most august critic praises a novel, book sales soar. In the March 31 issue of The New Yorker, James Wood takes on "Dept. of Speculation," a second novel by Jenny Offill, who teaches in Queens University of Charlotte's low-residency MFA program.
Wood says: "It's a novel that's wonderfully hard to encapsulate, because it faces in many directions at the same time, and glitters with different emotional colors. If it is a distressed account of a marriage in distress, it is also a poem in praise of the married state. If it brutally tears apart the boredom and frustrations of parenthood, it also solidly inhabits the joys and consolations of having a child."
He concludes: "Offill's brief book eschews obvious grandeur. It ... tracks the personal, domestic and local, a harrowed inner space. It concentrates its mass acutely, pressing down with exquisite and painful precision, like a pencil tip on the white of the nail."
Congratulations to Jenny Offill and to the Queens MFA program for snaring her.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Even Pulitzer-winning writers misspell mantel

It's got to be one of the most misspelled words in the English language. So we won't be too hard on

Cassandra King
memoirist and Pulitzer-winning journalist Rick Bragg for using the wrong "mantle" in his foreword to Cassandra King's (that's Pat Conroy's wife Sandra Conroy) "The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life: Advice from a Failed Southern Belle"  (Maiden Lane Press, $15).

"The writing business is lousy with gentlemen, the way chiggers are prolific in Johnson grass," Bragg writes. "I was just a Southern man, without a title or an old name, or a passed-down Confederate saber to hang over my mantle."

Exactly why you can't always trust spell-check. The "mantle"  Bragg uses is, of course, a cape. The "mantel" he intended is the one over the fireplace. Easy way to remember: The mantel is a shelf. Both words contain the letters "el."

On a happier note, King concludes the Guide's acknowledgments with a shout-out to Conroy.

 "And to the wind beneath my wings," she writes, "the long-suffering Pat Conroy, who shares his life with a failed belle. Just remember there are worse fates."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Audience of Cats

Once we owned four cats. Or maybe they owned us. The thing about them was this: They were the best listeners. As someone who likes to read aloud, I could always count on my cats for an audience. Yes, they stretched. And, yes, they often yawned. But mostly they hunkered in place as I read. Content, if not rapt.

One winter, I read aloud Philip Roth's "The Human Stain." Sometimes I read to my husband. Sometimes to the cats. I'm not sure I would've made it through that long and important novel if I'd had to read it silently. Loneliness might have set in. Or something worse. And if I hadn't had an audience, I wouldn't to this day be able to wonder aloud: "Remember all those crows? How smart they were? What do you think Roth was trying to say?"

By the way, these days I'm reading aloud to my husband Kati Marton's "Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Our History," and Robert Morgan's "The Road from Gap Creek."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Robert Morgan and the Chapel Hill Beatniks

I fear plans for the day may be shot.
I allowed myself one peek at the first chapter of Robert Morgan's just-released paperback, "The Road from Gap Creek," the sequel to his bestselling 1999 novel, "Gap Creek." One peek. Right. Like eating one jelly bean.

To delay gratification, I went in search of interviews with Morgan. This excerpt from a 2013 chat with William Wright, founding editor of Town Creek Poetry almost brought tears. It's about a turning point in Morgan's writing as an undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill.

Two important things happened to me that fall of 1964. I fell in with a group of students, all from the Northeast, who had gone to the finest prep schools in New England and been kicked out for various reasons. They had come to Chapel Hill to be beatniks and poets. They knew far more about poetry than I did. They could talk about metaphor and line breaks, French poetry, and William Butler Yeats. Every day we met and talked about poetry, read poetry aloud, lived and breathed poetry. I read Robert Lowell and Robert Bly, James Wright and Gary Snyder. Because my friends were so much more sophisticated than me, I was reluctant to show them the poems I was trying to write. But the best poet among them, Dudley Carroll, insisted that I show him some of my stuff. One day I gave him a sheaf of the things I’d done, with little confidence in their reception. That night around 2:00 am there was a knock on my door. Dudley and his friend Tim Perkins stood there holding my poems. Dudley said my work was so good, so exciting, he had to come tell me. I don’t think any review, any award, any honor I’ve ever received since has been more thrilling than that. Dudley’s praise gave me a new confidence—an energy—that reinforced the momentum already building in me. I wrote a few more short stories, but my real concentration from then on was poetry.
Morgan has written eight works of fiction, 14 collections of poetry and three works of historical non-fiction. He'll talk about his most recent book, "The Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion," at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 425 Towne Center Boulevard in Pineville. Tickets are $20 for the program and $30 for a 7 p.m. reception and the program. Reservations: (704) 889-7145 or Proceeds will benefit the James K. Polk Historic Site in Pineville.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Elizabeth Lawrence on Old-Fashioned Roses

March has nearly come and gone, and I have yet to cut back my roses at the front of the house. It's far more fun to laze before the fire reading Elizabeth Lawrence's gardening books.

If her name is not familiar, please, let me introduce her. Elizabeth and her mother Bess moved to Charlotte in 1947 from Raleigh, where they had created a legendary garden on Hillsborough Street. With their house finished at 348 Ridgewood, mere yards from Elizabeth and Eddie Clarkson's garden Winghaven, Elizabeth set about creating a new garden, now open to the public. Hours:

Afternoons, she wrote -- a weekly column for the Charlotte Observer in the '50s and '60s -- and a handful of books, widely acclaimed among gardening enthusiasts world-wide. Elizabeth was a graduate of Barnard College, and the first woman to receive a landscape architecture degree from North Carolina State. She died in 1985.

On old-fashioned roses

There was a time when gardens in the South were filled with charming, old-fashioned roses with pleasant names and delightful perfume. Unchecked by the pruning shears, they grew to ample proportions and bloomed generously from spring to fall, without benefit of a relentless program of dusting, spraying and mulching. Now they have so nearly disappeared, rosarians are eagerly seeking to bring them back into favor. A great wail is going up for the lost Tea roses, the Moss roses, the Chinas and the Bourbons.

From "A Southern Garden: A Handbook for the Middle South"  (UNC Press, 1942, 1967, 1984).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Poets and Mood Disorders

Not every writer makes private issues public. But Joshua Mehigan of New York, who reads at 8 p.m. March 27 in Ketner Auditorium at Charlotte's Queens University, writes openly about his mood disorders.

"If the typical poet's profile combines mood disorder and addiction," he wrote in Poetry magazine in 2011, "then I am roughly typical. If my story is worth telling, it's because my experience hasn't been especially poetic. My problems ...inform all my actions. ...In vivid ways they sometimes make even a very good life bad."

A Mehigan poem:

Cold Turkey

They're over now forever, the long dances.
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.
Our girls, good girls, have shaken off their trances.
They're over now forever, the long dances.
Only the moonlight, sober and real, advances
over our hills to touch my head with white.
They're over now forever, the long dances.
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.

-- Poetry, 2006

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Frances Mayes restores "Chatwood" in Hillsborough

A recent email from Frances Mayes, ("Under the Tuscan Sun"), who now lives in Hillsborough:

''I fell in love with Hillsborough on sight, and even more when I learned that all the old houses have names.  Having lived in Italy for many years, I know that a house with a name is a different structure because of it. I found an old house called Chatwood for myself, and am slowly ridding it of sagging gutters, dry rot, and mysterious wires."

Mayes' sensuous coming-of-age memoir, "Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir," will be out in April. If you grew up in the deep South, attended an all-woman's college or remember the "deep idleness" of a summer afternoon, you're in for riches.

While researching her father's family, Mayes, who grew up in Fitzgerald, Ga., discovered that her paternal great-grandparents, John and Idella Mayes, built a house in 1902 at 435 E. Morehead. That house, now designated a historic landmark, is one of the last vestiges of the grand residential boulevard that formed the northern boundary of Dilworth.

The John and Idella Mayes House

Monday, March 17, 2014

Interview with father of Sandy Hook killer

Important Advice on Parenting from an Interview with the Father of the Sandy Hook Killer:

"All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables.)
Nancy's error seems to have been that she always focussed on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate."

From "The Reckoning" in the March 17 New Yorker, in which Andrew Solomon interviews the father of the Sandy Hook killer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Back on the books beat

I'm happy to be back in this space.

When I was first hired as book editor, following the late Harriet Doar, a blue haze of cigarette smoke suffused the newsroom, and typewriters clattered away. No one had ever heard of Google.

That was 1975, and for the next 17 years, I wrote about books and authors. In 1992, I took over Polly Paddock’s metro column and she edited the book page.

The only thing that hasn't changed since 1975 is my love of books, which I'll be writing about every other week in this space and on my blog.

Recent good reads: Claire Messud’s novel “The Woman Upstairs,” Molly Haskell’s memoir about her brother’s sex change, “My Brother, My Sister,” and UNC-Wilmington Janet Ellerbe’s “Following the Tambourine Man: A Birth Mother’s Memoir.”

I wanted to lick the pages of Robert Caro’s fascinating “The Passage of Power: The Years of LBJ.”

I’m immersed in three advance review copies of memoirs: “Under Magnolias” by Frances Mayes of Hillsborough, “The Only Sounds We Make,” by Lee Zacharias of Greensboro, and “My Shining Hour” by Wilson County native Louise Shivers of Augusta, Ga.

Roger Angell charmed me with his “Life in the Nineties” (The New Yorker, Feb. 17, 2014).

I drive two grandkid carpools so audio books are a must: Recent excellent historical fiction: “The Good Wife,” (about Ernest Hemingway), “Loving Frank” (about Frank Lloyd Wright) and “Sarah’s Key” (about a French family during the Holocaust).

Poetry? For me, that’s a daily fix -- on the Web (How a Poem Happens: Contemporary Poets Discuss the Making of a Poem, in individual collections and in journals. (Field, Georgia Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, among them.)

A favorite poet, New York’s Joshua Mehigan, will read in Queens University’s Ketner Auditorium at 8 p.m. on March 27. Don’t miss him.

A favorite novelist and historian, Hendersonville native Robert Morgan, will speak at 8 p.m., March 26, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Pineville. Registration required: 704-889-7145.

Dirty-little-secret reads: Facebook; The community page of the DNA website 23andme.( Recent post: “I grew up an ‘only child’ and discovered 7 years ago that I have 2 sisters. We even went to the same high school.”

More online indulgences: Apartment Therapy, Longreads: The Best Long Form Stories on the Web, and the off-beat humor across the genres at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

My favorite places to read: In bed and on trains.

I’ll keep you posted on what’s new, especially from Carolinas authors, what these writers are up to, and who’s reading what and where.

Meanwhile, I’m open to your suggestions.