How to Sum up the Year: Just an Ordinary Day
I know a Good Story / December 31, 2014

I’ve thought a lot about this entry because it falls on a calendar date of some significance.  Of course, calendar holidays aren’t usually the ones that make big dents in our memories (unless we’re talking about bicycle gifts for holidays or a wedding celebrated on Valentines).   The days you hold on to, good and bad, aren’t marked on someone else’s calendar.  And of all of the marked days, New Year’s Eve isn’t anticipated by loads of people outside of the liquor business.  Still, it has significance and so does the book, Just an Ordinary Day despite it’s title, because its author was no ordinary writer. Just an Ordinary Day is a selection of stories written by Shirley Jackson.   Some of these are previously unpublished stories that seem to go back to her college years and the final one was published three years after she died.  She created a lot of material between those two events that fall into several different genres.  There are the psychologically disturbing stories that made her famous, the domestic ones that made her loved and several tales that resist categorization of any type.  As a guess, I suspect Ms. Jackson would like that.  Her stories tended…

A favorite son and one loud-mouthed little girl: Addie Pray
I know a Good Story / December 30, 2014

Birmingham, Alabama has a favorite son and I’ll bet they’ve forgotten his name.  He was an editor and minister’s son, a foreign correspondence that parachuted into Normandy during World War II and a novelist.   Of all things, Joe David Brown was a very good novelist who invented a great loud-mouthed little girl.  Her name was Addie Pray. Does that child’s name ring a bell?  Probably not if you’re less an 45 and that is your misfortune,  Miss Addie Pray is a pragmatic girl with a will of her own.  Book critics have called her a cross between Huck Finn and Scout Finch and they’re just scratching the surface.  Add that she shares the indomitable will of True Grit’s Mattie Ross and the picture becomes clearer.  Of course she can steal your heart but that’s to be expected.   Addie Pray is a trickster, a confidence kid and the heroine of Paper Moon. Let me backtrack a minute.  During the Depression (before he parachuted into Normandy and won a chestful of medals) Joe David Brown was a reporter for the Birmingham News.  A police reporter, specifically.   Part of his beat took him down among those guests of the county who were awaiting…

A spell-binding voice of uncertain truth: Lillian Hellman
I know a Good Story / December 29, 2014

I’m a big believer in role models.  While we are growing up, we emulate the behavior of those we admire, hoping we’ll be admirable too.  Eventually we sort our our own priorities and personalities but until then, it helps to have someone to follow.  Given all that, I probably could have picked a better person to imitate than Lillian Hellman.  For one thing, Lillian Hellman was a professional dramatist and I don’t like her plays.  As dramatic vehicles they are “theatrical” pieces where characters quiver, thunder or plot but rarely come to any realizations and the plays are aging as well as my old Earth Shoes.  In other words, not.  So Lillian’s plays are out.  Her integrity was attacked often and well, most notably when Mary McCarthy said, “Every word she writes is a lie—including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”  Those who tracked down the details suggest there’s some exaggeration in Miss Mary’s statement but not enough to acquit Miss Lillian.  So she wasn’t a good example there either. Nevertheless, I was looking for a unique voice and shimmering images of words when I found Lillian Hellman’s An Unfinished Woman.  One role model, made to order. An Unfinished Woman was popular around the…

When a book turns your world around
I know a Good Story / December 28, 2014

I still remember the first day I saw it, upright in a metal paperback stand in my English teacher’s class.  Because I recognized the author’s name, it took me a week or two before I asked about the paperback; I was already a dweeb to the other students and I didn’t need that image underscored by carrying around this book.  The teacher probably guessed I was interested but he played it cool saying the books in the rack were for borrowing as long as we wanted to keep them and didn’t say a word about the author.  That’s all it took.  One reading lead to another and another until I had to replace the disintegrating paperback.  I’ve read a lot of books that achieved a new point in literature but few things have amazed me as much as Woody’ Guthrie’s Bound for Glory. Before I picked up this autobiography, my thoughts of Mr. Guthrie were tagged to grade-school sing-alongs of “Roll On Columbia” or “This Land is Your Land.”   I appreciated the simple lyrics and catchy melodies but I really didn’t know anything about the man other than he was from Oklahoma, like my dad’s family.  His autobiography was a…

The place where they take you in and the courage to endure
I know a Good Story / December 27, 2014

My mother loved historical romance novels.   These tales were the “chick-lit” of her day, usually set in an era of voluminous skirts and low, square necklines (which looked good on the cover) and centered around headstrong, resourceful heroines who caused scandals and made mistakes until circumstances or the right man came into alignment and the heroine became a part of history.  Mom’s favorite writers were Norah Lofts and Anya Seton, two authors who made a point of researching the background of each book for accuracy.  I know because I read every book in her collection.  (This was before before YA books really came onto the scene and I will read the back of bug repellant bottles if nothing else is available.)   My favorite was an Anya Seton story set in 19th century Massachusetts and it’s a little bit different from the rest.  It was called, The Hearth and Eagle. The Hearth and Eagle is (in the story) a historic tavern in Marblehead and the daughter of the tavern owner isn’t interested in history.  Hesper Honeywood’s dad may be fascinated by genealogy and poetry but his daughter prefers ready bought goods to home-made and the company of a young fisherman to…

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