Monday, October 21, 2013

David Sedaris reflects on his sister's suicide

Fans of writer David Sedaris shouldn't miss his latest piece in The New Yorker, a poignant departure from his more humorous fare. 

Sedaris, who grew up in a family of six kids in Raleigh, reflects in "Now We Are Five" on his sister Tiffany's suicide last spring and his family's summer vacations on Emerald Isle. An excerpt:

 "Why do you think she did it?" I asked as we stepped back into the sunlight. For that's all any of us were thinking, had been thinking since we got the news. Mustn’t Tiffany have hoped that whatever pills she’d taken wouldn’t be strong enough, and that her failed attempt would lead her back into our fold? How could anyone purposefully leave us, us, of all people? This is how I thought of it, for though I’ve often lost faith in myself, I’ve never lost it in my family, in my certainty that we are fundamentally better than everyone else. It’s an archaic belief, one that I haven’t seriously reconsidered since my late teens, but still I hold it. Ours is the only club I’d ever wanted to be a member of, so I couldn’t imagine quitting. Backing off for a year or two was understandable, but to want out so badly that you’d take your own life?

 Sedaris will be performing at Wingate University at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24. Tickets are $24-$47. Details:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Etiquette for a new world: 'Rude Bitches Make Me Tired'

With the title of her newest book, “Rude Bitches Make Me Tired,” Celia Rivenbark alerts readers pretty effectively that hers is not a typical etiquette manual. You will find nothing here about which fork to use.

And yet don’t be fooled. The book is full of practical advice. It just happens to be sandwiched, as Rivenbark says, “between the obscenity and the ranting.”
 Some examples:
Don’t bring some trifling store-bought cake to a funeral. Funerals aren’t the place for store-bought food, period. She includes a simple baked ham recipe “Any idiot can bake a ham,” she points out.

Those back-window minivan decals featuring white outlines of families are inappropriate public displays of affection. “There’s Dad, looking tall and in control, even as a chalk outline. There’s Mom, fuzzy haired and goofy in her mom-skirt. There are the kids and even the family dog, cat, and bird,” she writes. “I get that this is meant to tell the world that You Love Your Family. But, if we’re being honest, the sub text in this particular and very public display of affection is that My Family Is Probably Better Than Yours. (P.S. Did you not see our bird?)”

Bragging on Facebook is just as bad as bragging in person. “Every time you find your fingers wanting to bang out a quick status update that ‘Donnie Jr. had the highest grade on the spelling test!’ know that your friends think that’s kinda douchey. Actually, very douchey.”

Rivenbark, who lives in Wilmington, writes a syndicated humor column that runs Thursdays in the Observer. She has written six other humor books, including “Bless Your Heart, Tramp.”

But being somewhat of a bossy pants by nature, she says this was the book she has always wanted to write. She began by asking friends and acquaintances: What’s the rudest thing you’ve ever seen? Responses poured in.

“This books gets to the nitty gritty, the way real people lead real lives – not how to hold your pinky finger, but what to do about the bossy bitch on the playground,” she told me.

She covers texting at the dinner table, husbands who leave razor stubble in the sink, armrest hogging on airplanes. She hooked me in her foreword, when she described the phenomenon of Faux complaining. As in: “Olivia bosses me around all day in French! Oh, those four-year-olds.” I knew about this practice, the art of cloaking a brag in a complaint. I just didn’t know it had a name.

That’s how Rivenbark rolls in this book, tackling etiquette problems your grandmother never imagined. Except maybe the razor stubble. And Rivenbark has a simple solution for that one. Two words: Clorox Wipes.

‘Rude Bitches Make Me Tired’
Celia Rivenbark will read and sign books at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall in Pineville, 11025 Carolina Place.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Authors converge in Charlotte for a festival and feast

In my humble opinion, October in Charlotte hasn't been quite the same since the 2010 demise of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library's excellent Novello Festival of Reading. But here's the good news: Some dedicated book lovers are helping fill the Novello vacuum with two literary events this month.

The first, on Saturday, Oct. 12, is the Center City Literary Festival, sponsored by UNC Charlotte and UNC Charlotte Center City. The free festival includes a carnival-like afternoon program for children from noon- 3:30 p.m. and an evening program for adults from 6:30-9:30 p.m. All events take place at UNCC Center City, 320 E. Ninth St.

The children's program will feature a giant Scrabble board and a 30-foot blue heron puppet, among other things. Participating writers include Janaka Lewis ("Brown All Over"), Andrew Hartley ("Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact"), children's playwright Elizabeth Murray and Gail Haley, the only picture book author from North Carolina to win a Caldecott Medal. She'll read from "The Green Man."

The evening program includes three UNCC professors who are also authors: Aimee Parkison ("The Innocent Party"), Karen Cox ("Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture") and Andrew Hartley ("Macbeth, a Novel", co-authored with David Hewson.)

On Monday, Oct. 14, a slew of authors converge for food, drink and book talk at the Charlotte Chapter of the Women's National Book Association's annual Bibliofeast. The event begins with a cash bar at 6 p.m. at Maggiano's Little Italy at SouthPark, 4400 Sharon Road. Then there's dinner, followed by what the WNBA calls "a moveable feast" of nine authors who discuss their books with diners at each table. Tickets are $45 for WNBA members and $55 for nonmembers.

This year's author lineup includes Wilton Barnhardt ("Lookaway, Lookaway"), Diane Chamberlain ("Necessary Lies"), Nora Gaskin ("Time of Death" and "Until Proven"), Susan Gregg Gilmore ("The Funeral Dress"), Tommy Hays ("What I Came to Tell You"), Cassandra King ("Moonrise"), Rebecca Lee ("Bobcat and Other Stories"), Jamie Mason ("Three Graves Full") and John Milliken Thompson ("Love and Lament").

Friday, October 4, 2013

'What I Came to Tell You': A new novel set in Asheville

Some years ago, when Asheville novelist Tommy Hays’s son was a fifth grader with a voracious reading appetite, Hays steered the boy to one of his own books, “In the Family Way,” set in the 1960s in Greenville, S.C., his hometown.

His son, Max, started the book, but wasn’t getting very far. Finally, one night at dinner, Hays noted the lack of progress.

Later, he wrote about Max’s response: “He sighed, put his fork down on his plate, and then, looking up at me, said, ‘Daddy, it’s good historical fiction, but it’s just not my cup of tea.’ ”

Historical fiction. Ouch. “Like the Paleozoic Era or something,” Hays writes.

But Max’s remark got his dad thinking about writing a novel set in present-day Asheville – a time and place that his son and daughter knew. The result, “What I Came to Tell You” (Egmont; $16.99), Hays’ first book for middle-grade readers, is a satisfying story that demonstrates, among other things, how art can inspire and help people heal. The book has earned a starred Publishers Weekly review.

This is Hays’s fourth novel. Previous books include “The Pleasure Was Mine” and “Sam’s Crossing.” He also directs the Great Smokies Writing Program, a community writing program affiliated with UNC Asheville.

“What I Came to Tell You” centers on 12-year-old Grover Johnston, who is grieving over his mother’s death following a car accident. His father is also bereft but distant, spending long hours as director of Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe house, which is struggling to attract visitors.

Grover’s passion is making art – creating giant weavings using bamboo that grows in a stand near his home. But his father, frustrated by his son’s bad grades, believes Grover is simply wasting his time.

The book, written for readers 10 and up, doesn’t shy from thought-provoking themes. In the first paragraph, in fact, we meet Grover, reeling from the loss of his mom and pondering the idea that God is omnipresent, a word his minister liked to use.

“But what Grover believed more and more, if you could call it believing,” Hays writes, “was the omnipresence of absence, the everywhere of gone.”

With its exploration of themes such as loss, grief and spirituality, this book is sophisticated enough to attract many adult fans, I’m sure. But it remains accessible to younger readers.

“It's been my experience,” Hays told me, “that kids are incredibly insightful and understand a lot more than we ever give them credit for.”

Want to see Hays?
Tommy Hays will be among the authors at the Women’s National Book Association’s Bibliofeast dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy at SouthPark on Oct. 14. Tickets are $45 for members, $55 for nonmembers. More information:
Hays will also read at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Heny Louis Gates gives Winthrop University professor a shoutout

The purpose of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s talk at Charlotte's McGlohon Theatre Monday night was to preview his upcoming PBS series, "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross." But before Gates launched into stories of African-American history, he made a point to recognize one audience member -- Winthrop English Department Chairman Gregg Hecimovich.

Two weeks ago, Hecimovich made national headlines when he announced he has discovered the identity of the author believed to be the first African-American woman to write a novel. The news was especially exciting for Gates, a renowned scholar of African-American history, because Gates owns the 1850s-era manuscript.

 In 2001, Gates came across the work in a catalog, which described it as a "301-page handwritten manuscript purportedly written by female fugitive slave." He bought it at an auction for $8,500. After its authenticity was verified, "The Bondwoman's Narrative" was published in 2002 and became a bestseller.

Though it was signed by "Hannah Crafts," scholars doubted that was the author's real name. Hecimovich, by digging through public records and archives and conducting interviews, finally tracked down the woman's true identity. 

 Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported Hecimovich's discovery on its front page. The woman, Hannah Bond, had been a slave on a North Carolina plantation owned by John Hill Wheeler.

On Monday night, at Gates' urging, Hecimovich stood from his seat near the front while the audience applauded. "This is why I do what I do," Gates said, "to work with a pure, honest scholar like this boy right here."

Gates's new series, by the way, looks fabulous. It premieres on PBS stations on Oct. 22.