Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tonight: George Singleton Reads from "Wrecks" at Park Road Books

George Singleton

If you didn't know that short story writer George Singleton loves flea markets and collects glass advertising ashtrays and yard sticks... .
If you didn't know he starts a short story in his new collection "Between Wrecks" (Dzank Books, $15.95 paper) this way: "Luckily for everyone in the family on down, the mule spoke English to my grandfather."
If you didn't know those things you might decide to miss his reading tonight at Park Road Books.
But if you do know those things, well, you'd be crazy not to go.
Park Road Books owner Sally Brewster says this about Singleton's latest collection: "There's a place just down the way where a trip to the salvage yard reveals infidelity and theft. There's another where an unlicensed entomologist celebrates his freedom with a compulsive liar while a manhunt ensues on the streets outside. Places where a con man and his nephew sell stolen parachutes to veterans in case the ground beneath them should suddenly give way and where Chuck Norris's face graces only the walls of the finest trailers.
A place where tongues get left in rental cars and a place where everyone insists an absolute stranger is your boyhood friend."
Singleton is the author of two novels and five short story collections, including "Stray Decorum." His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine and Playboy. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he holds an MFA degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently teaches writing at South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. He lives in Spartanburg, S.C.   

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Stop Overeating and Start Over-Reading

A friend, who says her husband can eat and eat and never gain weight, found a trick to solve her own overeating. When she finishes her lunch, she begins reading aloud to him while he continues munching away.

These late-spring afternoons, we're doing the same. On the sun porch, ceiling fan whirring, a stack of books beside my plate. When I finish my one tomato sandwich (no chips), I read aloud to my husband.

Here's our recent fare:
Elizabeth Spencer's new award-winning collection of stories, "Starting Over" (Norton, $24.95), available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library. The collection, by the way, is dedicated to Hillsborough novelist Allan Gurganus.

I like Spencer's stories and her way with the short, muscular sentence. The first story, "Return Trip," is set in the North Carolina mountains, near Asheville, and it involves, as many of her stories do, a family mystery, this one about the parentage of the college-age son of Patricia and Boyd. Is Boyd the father of this child? Or is the father a distant Mississippi cousin of Patricia's, who has driven over from Asheville for the day? I think I know, but Spencer is wickedly sly.

I've been on a Jill Bialosky kick since a friend pointed out a poem of hers, "The Lucky Ones," in a recent Kenyon Review. She lives in New York and is an essayist and memoirist as well. Again, in the CMPL, I found her "History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life" (Simon & Schuster, $24).  
I've pondered the whys of suicide since 1985, when a 40-year-old male cousin killed himself in Atlanta. This book helped enormously.

When I mentioned the book to a friend, she loaned me a copy of the anthology Bialosky edited with Helen Schulman, "Wanting a Child: Twenty-two Writers on Their Difficult but Mostly Successful Quests for Parenthood in a High-Tech Age" (Farrar Straus, $13 paper). These essays (including one each by Bialosky and Schulman) are not light reading. Our hearts have staggered through three now, and I must say that Philip Lopate's "Lake of Sorrow" is probably one of the most poignant and wrenchingly beautiful essays I've ever read.

Next on the stack: Just out in a Norton paperback, "Dirty Love," a collection of stories by Andrew Dubus III, author of the bestselling "House of Sand and Fog." About a year ago, I listened to his memoir "Townie" on audio book and would probably follow his hot trail of words up and over any mountain.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Allan Gurganus' 'Local Souls' Collection 'in Tradition of Hawthorne'

Allan Gurganus
 Allan Gurganus of Hillsborough will read from his recently-released paperback of "Lost Souls," a collection of four novellas, (which the New York Times called "a tour de force in the tradition of Hawthorne... .") at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Park Road Books.
I'm still in awe of his 1989 novel, "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All," which contains one of the best descriptions of the swift passage of time I've ever read. The widow, 99-year-old Lucy Marsden, now in a rest home, is telling a young friend about her life and how important it is to get your stories in order.

Because a person's life, it's just about a week. You're getting dressed for school on Monday morning, Momma's two rooms off calling, 'You'll be late again, sister, and no written excuse from home this go-round, Miss Molasses in January,' and by the time you try and put your foot through your pantaloon's other leg hole, you find it hard to straighten up because you're a woman of eighty-odd and your spine, why it's rusting already.

When Gurganus teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he tells his students  "to install something funny and something beautiful on every page of their work. Readers will likely stay longer. (The trick, of course, is deciding what in the world you find most amusing and gorgeous)."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bathanti Reads at Annual Thomas Wolfe Society Meeting in Chapel Hill

Thomas Wolfe

You never know where N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti will show up. On Friday, 7:30-9:30 p.m., he'll be reading from his poetry in the Wilson Library on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, as part of the annual meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society.
On Saturday, Paula Eckard of UNC Charlotte will moderate a panel on Wolfe and his novella, "The Party at Jack's." Other topics during the weekend include "Thomas Wolfe's Cinematic Storytelling," "Look Homeward, Always," "Aspects of Wolfe's Time in the Paris House of Illusion," "Thomas Wolfe's Asheville," and "Decoding Wolfe's Universe: A Modern Understanding of Space, Time and Dimension in Look Homeward, Angel."
Registration is at 10:30 Friday morning in Chancellor's East at the Carolina Inn. Cost: $125 for all sessions and the Saturday evening banquet (students: $60). For Saturday sessions only and banquet: $65.
Wolfe was 15 when he enrolled at the university in Chapel Hill, where he served as editor of the Tar Heel newspaper and became an award-winning playwright. At the end of his senior yearbook entry, the following quote appeared: “He can do more between 8:25 and 8:30 than the rest of us can do all day, and it is no wonder that he is classed as a ‘genius.’” Wolfe died of tuberculosis at age 37 in 1938.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Psychoanalysts Honor Dr. Lucy Daniels of Raleigh in Florence, Italy
Lucy Daniels
Raleigh's Lucy Daniels, who's 80, will break your heart. Anorexic at 12. A mental patient at 17, complete with electro shock therapy and insulin treatments. A father -- newspaper magnate Jonathan Daniels -- who didn't believe in therapy for his daughter. A bestselling novel ("Caleb, My Son") at 21. Then long years of writer's block. Yet from all this pain came healing. And more. For years as a psychologist and as the founder of the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood and the Lucy Daniels Foundation in Raleigh, Daniels has helped others who are blocked or depressed to find their way into health and healing through writing and art.

On Saturday in Florence, Italy, the International Symposium on Psychoanalysis and Art honored her with its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the group's annual symposium.
"Dr. Daniels has been the chief and most articulate advocate of the exploration of the ties between our creativity and its power over our mental health," said one organizer of the symposium.
When I interviewed Daniels in 1997, she told me she is ever on the alert for three things that hamper her writing. "When it gets wooden, when it gets weak and when it gets shallow." When this happens, she said, she knows her unconscious issues are keeping her best writing at bay.
Emotional pain brought her freedom.
"I don't think that pain that's denied -- kept out of awareness -- is less painful than pain you become aware of and go through," she said. "When you keep your pain out of awareness -- by clinging to an impossible marriage, by drinking too much, eating too much -- it's very difficult.
"The difference between keeping it out and facing the pain and the grief and aching with it," she said, "is that in the latter, you go through it and out. In the former, you keep carrying around the burden."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tonight: Jon Sealy reads from "simmering powerhouse of a novel"

A Prohibition-era sharecropper's son named Mary Jane in an Upstate South Carolina mill village. A Myers Park matron named Aunt Lou who runs a big-time bootlegging organization from her house with its polished brass fixtures and lacquered floors. A whiskey baron named Larthan Tull whose Hillside Inn, a one-time boarding house on Highway 9, is a front for his underground liquor business. A double murder. A star-crossed romance. No wonder Jon Sealy's first novel, "The Whiskey Baron," sold out its first printing. No wonder Wiley Cash calls this book "a simmering powerhouse of a novel."  No wonder Kirkus Review calls the novel "a near-flawless effort by a writer to watch."
Come hear Sealy read from "The Whiskey Baron" (Hub City Press, $26) tonight at 7 at Park Road Books at Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conroy Siblings Talk about Dear Ole Dad

If I could be a fly on the wall would be this Saturday in Columbia at the annual South Carolina Book Festival, where Pat Conroy ("The Great Santini," "The Prince of Tides," "The Lords of Discipline," and his most recent, a memoir: "The Death of Santini") and four of his seven siblings will hold a round-table discussion about their fighter-pilot father Donald Conroy, who, according to Conroy, terrorized their childhoods and turned family life into nightmare.  If you've read Conroy, you know to cower when the shadow of this despot looms. However, on several occasions, back in the day, I've seen Conroy and his father signing books together. You would've thought they were the greatest of pals, carrying on, laughing, telling stories to autograph seekers. Who knows what creates those mysterious bonds between father and son, and who knows what breaks them. It would be interesting to hear tales from the other Conroys, fascinating to learn if their views are as equally dramatic.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Major Awards for Two Queens University MFA Instructors

They're just piling up. Honor after honor after honor for Queens University faculty.
Now two instructors in the Queens MFA Program have won major awards.

Emily Fox Gordon

When Eudora Welty, Philip Roth and William Styron received Guggenheim Fellowships, they each traveled to Europe. But Emily Fox Gordon, one of this year's Guggenheim recipients, says all her travels will be internal. She's at work on a collection of personal essays, "The View from Now," which she says consider the experience of aging from different angles.
Gordon is the author of four books, including a novel, two memoirs and her most recent collection of personal essays, "Book of Days," a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice. One of her memoirs is "Are You Happy: A Childhood Remembered."
About "Book of Days," O Magazine said: "These accessible yet sophisticated essays about modern life are so astute, you'll think the author has been hiding in your closet."
Fox, who is 66, says one of the wonderful things about receiving the fellowship is that it has changed the way she views the arc of her career, which she feared was headed downhill.  "The Guggenheim is a course correction," she says. "Now the trajectory seems to be going up." 
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded 177 fellowships this year to scholars, writers and scientists, each worth $40,000, from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. The fellowships are awarded on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Another MFA instructor, Claudia Rankine, a poet and playwright, has been awarded the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers. Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and is the author of several collections of
Claudia Rankine
poetry, including "Don't Let Me Be Lonely," from Graywolf Press in 2004. The Jackson Poetry Prize is given annually to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition.
In their citation, judges Mark Strand, Tracy K. Smith and David St. John, said: "The moral vision of Claudia Rankine's poetry is astounding. In a body of work that pushes the boundaries of the contemporary lyric, Rankine has managed to make space for meditation and vigorous debate upon some of the most relevant and troubling social themes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries."
In addition, they said, Rankine's collections "invite the reader to empathize with the social 'other,' the victims of violent aggression committed in hatred and ignorance, and with speakers subject to a more generalized American malaise."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kudos to the Contest Winners and Their Remarkable Teacher
Gina Atkins and Joseph Bathanti

The four top winners in the student category of the Sidney Lanier Poetry Contest sponsored by the Lanier Library in Tryon are:
a. All conceited
b. All athletic
c. All cool
d. All in the same creative writing class at Charlotte's Providence High School.

You're correct if you said "d." The teacher of that remarkable class is Marva Hutchinson.
So kudos to Gina Atkins, 1st place; Ryan Herrera, 2nd; Leah Mell, 3rd; Christina Jaquith, honorable mention. And special kudos to Marva Hutchinson.
North Carolina poet laureate Joseph Bathanti judged the contest, which was open to students in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
A word on Sidney Lanier, who wrote the poem, "The Marshes of Glenn," and who died of tuberculosis in 1881 outside Tryon at age 39.

Lanier loved to write poetry. But even more, he loved to play the flute, and, so the story goes, he would gather reeds from river banks and fashion his own instruments. Lanier's great-grandson Robin Reid of Emory University once told me that Lanier concealed a flute inside his shirt sleeve when he was captured by the Union soldiers and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Md. When the guards weren't listening, he said, Lanier would play the flute for his fellow prisoners.
Once, said Reid, Lanier lay under an arbor and fell into a trance listening to the music of the leaves.


Friday, May 2, 2014

So Frivolous, So Delicious, I Couldn't Help Myself 
Please don't tell anyone I wrote about this book. It's so frivolous. So superficial. So witty. So delicious. Of course my mind should be on a higher plane. But I couldn't help myself when I discovered Angelica Taschen's "Berlin Street Style: A Guide to Urban Chic" (Abrams, $24.95) among the review copies. I ferreted it out of the office and spent the next two hours absorbed in its information-and-tip packed contents about how savvy people dress in Berlin.
From Taschen's shopping tips: Those who shop cheap pay twice; Focus on the classics.

Among her Beauty Faux Pas That Add Years: Heidi braids, Hair extensions, Fake tan, French manicure, Homemade henna hair tinting.
To Botox Your Style: Be yourself, Drink water, Eat well, Dress your age, Read books (!)
These Simply Do Not Work: Trekking sandals; Fleece jackets and outdoorsy anoraks ("When you're  climbing the Alps, fleece jackets and all-weather anoraks are undoubtedly the ideal outfit. In the city, you'll look as if you just stumbled off a tourist bus."); Felt hats ("You do not need to prove to anyone that you still have a wild side despite your age-- and certainly  not with a felt cap with a 'witty' flower or sausage decoration. Help!")
Now if you're actually traveling to Berlin, this book is indispensable. Shopping and restaurant guides galore.
I was so taken with "Berlin Street Style," I called Park Road Books to order the earlier "Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic." Too bad. It didn't measure up to "Berlin." I should've saved my money for a highbrow book.