Book Club: Townie

So, once upon a time, I lived in Mississippi, and the thing is, living in a town with 8,000 souls makes you trusting. I was walking up to the square for the weekly taping of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting arts variety show, Thacker Mountain Radio and a man about my mom’s age pulled up next to me in a sedan with out-of-state plates. “Excuse me,” he said. “Could you tell me how to get to The Lyric? I’m supposed to be reading tonight on the radio, but I’m really lost.” Ordinarily, I do not get near idling cars with strange men from far away contained within, but he seemed nice (read: I’m a sucker AND I’m an idiot). Anyway, long story short, he realizes I’m freaked out, produces his driver’s license, and I end up driving him to the theatre just in the nick of time.

That man was Andre Dubus, III. He gave me a copy of his book, and we kept in touch. Don’t worry, Mom. That was the first and last time I’ve ever done that.

I included a little bit of the note he wrote in the book, but not much because that's probably only of interest to me.
I included a little bit of the note he wrote in the book, but not much because that’s probably only of interest to me.

Townie, which he read from that night, is a memoir of his childhood and young adult years, growing up poor, tough, and without much of a dad in post-industrial Massachusetts. The book is about a lot of things, but more than anything, it’s a long meditation on violence and how that shaped his life. It was strange to square that with the gentle, professional man I met in Oxford that cloudy afternoon. I knew from our chat that he was married and had a couple kids, that they lived in Newbury, and that he was a professor at UMass-Lowell. I had heard that his dad was a famous novelist, too. He was driving a nice rental car and had on a dress shirt. If I had known what I know now of his young adulthood, I wonder if I would have gotten into the car. Continue reading “Book Club: Townie”

You Must Not Let Peter Peter Out

We’re winding down National Poetry Month, yet I still have so many poems I want to share with you. Alas!
Sandra Beasley and I have near-missed each other innumerable times; she left UVA as I came, I left Ole Miss as she arrived, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. I enjoy her work and our mutual friends are convinced we’d get along, but so far, no dice. Anyway, please enjoy this funny and smart poem she composed.

Let Me Count the Waves

by Sandra Beasley

We must not look for poetry in poems.
—Donald Revell

You must not skirt the issue wearing skirts.
You must not duck the bullet using ducks.
You must not face the music with your face.
Headbutting, don’t use your head. Or your butt.
You must not use a house to build a home,
and never look for poetry in poems.
In fact, inject giraffes into your poems.
Let loose the circus monkeys in their skirts.
Explain the nest of wood is not a home
at all, but a blind for shooting wild ducks.
Grab the shotgun by its metrical butt;
aim at your Muse’s quacking, Pringled face.
It’s good we’re talking like this, face to face.
There should be more headbutting over poems.
Citing an 80s brand has its cost but
honors the teenage me, always in skirts,
showing my sister how to Be the Duck
with a potato-chip beak. Take me home,
Mr. Revell. Or make yourself at home
in my postbellum, Reconstruction face—
my gray eyes, my rebel ears, all my ducks
in the row of a defeated mouth. Poems
were once civil. But war has torn my skirts
off at the first ruffle, baring my butt
or as termed in verse, my luminous butt.
Whitman once made a hospital his home.
Emily built a prison of her skirts.
Tigers roamed the sad veldt of Stevens’s face.
That was the old landscape. All the new poems
map the two dimensions of cartoon ducks.
We’re young and green. We’re braces of mallards,
not barrels of fish. Shoot if you must but
Donald, we’re with you. Trying to save poems,
we settle and frame their ramshackle homes.
What is form? Turning art to artifice,
trading pelts for a more durable skirt.
Even urban ducklings deserve a home.
Make way. In the modern: Make way, Buttface.
A poem is coming through, lifting her skirt.

Book Club: Tale of Sand

I am new to graphic novels, but I am not a new Jim Henson fan. Miss Piggy was a great hero of mine as a little girl, and I cried my eyes out in the theatre when I watched the Jason Segel Muppets Movie. 

Mississippian, puppeteer, and creative genius Jim Henson’s professional output comprised more projects than any one man could have realized in a lifetime. It wasn’t entirely shocking when his family archivist found a complete screenplay, more or less ready for development, that no one knew existed. Ramon Perez and Henson’s estate developed and illustrated Tale of Sand from the notes Henson left.

Gorgeous, surreal, and very, very strange.

The basic plot of the book is this: a man arrives at a strange Southwestern town, is given some cryptic instructions, and told to run as fast as he can. Oh, and not to trust the instructions he’s been given. I don’t want to give much more away, but it’s an odd tale, and definitely not for kids. 

More than anything, this book is an fun and unusual look at the ideas of one of America’s most innovative thinkers. Even if you aren’t that in to graphic novels, this is one to check out, if for no other reason than to look at the great pictures and marvel. Even the font in the speech bubbles is based on Henson’s actual handwriting. I was very much smitten with the whole thing.

So have you checked this out?  Are you in to graphic novels? Let me know in the comments.

Next week, I’m reading this. I may even try out some of the stuff in there!

Places I’d Like to Move Into: Prairie by Rachel Ashwell

What do y’all know about Rachel Ashwell? She wrote several, several books about her shabby chic aesthetic, had a line with Target, and has this inn in Texas called The Prairie. I first came across this place when I was trolling Style Me Pretty, looking for my friend Kat’s wedding.

Borrowed from Style Me Pretty.
Borrowed from Style Me Pretty.

And Oh. My. God. Shut up. Other than that girl being so pretty, and her dress being lovely, don’t you just want to curl up in that bed and never get out, except maybe to go look out the window at this:

Again, borrowed, but this time from Little House with the White Picket Fence.
Again, borrowed, but this time from Little House with the White Picket Fence.

Seriously, if I lived somewhere like this, I would have to quit my job because I would be so pleased with myself that I wouldn’t be able to leave my home at any time. I would have to just wait for people to come see me, mostly so they could look on in awe.

Continue reading “Places I’d Like to Move Into: Prairie by Rachel Ashwell”

Fantasy Life Update: Terrariums

Once upon a time in Mississippi, there lived a woman with approximately ten terrariums scattered about her pretty adorable home.

This is her. Look at her, giggling about the terrariums back at her house.
This is her. Look at her, giggling about the terrariums back at her house.

Unfortunately, the terrariums did not survive the move to Kentucky, and her current living situation does not allow for further terrarium creation. Also, this woman is me, so I’m going to go ahead and give up this conceit right now.

The good news is that people heard me mention the lost, self-sustaining ecosystems I had fostered (or maybe heard me crying about them late at night [not that I did that]), and it has become the default present to give me in the last few months. Below are the the two non-me-made terrariums I have been gifted.

Surprisingly hard to take compelling photos of these compelling little worlds.
Surprisingly hard to take compelling photos of these compelling little worlds.

The one on the right is from The Terrarium Lady here in town. Unfortunately, the Terrarium Lady does not have a webpage, but if you’re ever in town, you can purchase one from her at the Flea Off Market. The other  is from Twig Terrariums in Brooklyn, and yes, they ship!

The reason I love these so is that hey, I’m a busy lady, and I can’t be made to make a watering schedule in Excel and then hire a plant sitter and leave her with lots of instructions when I go to conferences or whatever. The other is that they make your house look really…lush? Verdant? These both seem like slightly slick words to employ, but a couple well-placed jars full of succulents (also a little slimy) make your home look alive and well for almost no effort.

Once I’m back in a larger space with a garage, I’ll make a how-to-make-your-own-terrarium tutorial. Would you like that? Learning how to make your own tiny world inside a cookie jar?

Book of the Week: The Art of Fielding

In grad school, I had a good friend (who is really, really technophobic, so I can’t link to his amazing work) who studied homosocial and homosexual relationships in literature about male athletes. If that doesn’t sound fascinating to you, just trust me– it was. About fifteen pages into Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, I was drafting an email to my buddy to let him know I had found the book for him (he’d already read it, but the thought counts). Race, class, gender, sports, education, and university politics: it’s all here.

No amount of massaging or toggling with borders could make this pretty cover into a pretty picture, and for that, I'm deeply sorry.
No amount of massaging or toggling with borders could make this pretty cover into a pretty picture, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.

I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about a book. It’s been at least six or eight months, maybe longer. The Art of Fielding is about 500 pages, and I tore through it in less than a day, forsaking valuable sleep in favor of finding out what happens to the Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz (the aforementioned homosocial relationship) and their myriad friends and lovers. When here-unnamed ills befell them at the midway point of the book, I took it as personally as finding out my best friend had been passed over for a promotion or that my sister got dumped by a loser.

One of the reviews I read described it as “old-fashioned“, meaning that it has good, slow plotting and careful character development, and while I don’t know that that’s necessarily a distinction to draw between contemporary literature and that of the past, dude is dead on about the deep and subtle nuances of movement and characterization contained within. The deeply satisfying ending certainly left me sated, but I kind of wonder what they gang is up to now. I don’t mean the big stuff (do they end up together? Does he go pro?), but the quotidian details (is Mike taking care of his knees? What kind of neat ramen flavors is Owen enjoying while on his fellowship in Japan?).

Something that this book does well is talk about technology and the way we interface with it in our daily lives. Most Serious Literature stays away from talking about cell phones and email, and at this point, any book that takes place in the current age seems ridiculous when it ignores those things. I’m not sure if that’s born of an anxiety about sounding dated quickly, or if it’s about trying to seem above the materialistic culture that can accompany our gadgetry, but either way, it’s something contemporary writers need to work on. Chad (and I feel I can call him that, being as we are both Cavaliers) incorporates iPhones and Blackberries and Netbooks seamlessly throughout, and uses these as subtle class indicators– because that is what they are. The scholarship kid has the free-with-plan phone, the rich girls with glossy hair and Ugg boots use Apple products, and everyone, regardless of their have/have not status, waits for and ignores text messages. This is a little thing, considering the way bigger and more general issues the book takes on, but it was thought-provoking to see our attendant nonsense contextualized.

Anyway, have you read The Art of Fielding? What did you think? What did you love? Hate? Feel completely indifferently about? Tell me! I want to talk about this stuff, y’all! I have this rusty comparative literature degree that I’m trying to fix up and take cruisin’.

Next week, I’m reading this. Want to follow along?