When home is a place where you’ve never been: Cross Creek

William Shakespeare, that quotable fellow, said “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”   That’s how I feel about home.  Many people I know are raised with a real sense of identity, knowing who they are and where they belong long before they learn how to read.  That place of origin, for good or for ill, is home, undeniable as DNA.  Others have to make a place for themselves in this world and a few of us enter a strange site and realize with amazement that this place centers us like no other.  It’s a shock, like first falling in love, and it changes the folks who experience it.  That realization of finding home is central to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s book Cross Creek  because it’s not just about the first heady days of romance.  Cross Creek is the love affair between a discoverer and place. The two were an unlikely match.  Mrs. Rawlings was a thirty-two year old journalist whose career and human marriage were both showing wear but not many signs of success.  She was educated, politically liberal and although she could write, she had not found her “voice”, that prerequisite of transcendent…

The past through a prism: A look at David Copperfield.
I know a Good Story / November 24, 2014

“I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child.  And his name is David Copperfield.”  That’s what Charles Dickens said in the preface of his famous novel and I believe he meant it.  History didn’t record how his wife or his ten human children reacted to the statement (that would have been a Jerry Springer show in the making!) but, as sad as the remark probably made them, I doubt if they were surprised.  A large amount of fiction comes from the writer’s re-imagination of his or her own past and much of the novel David Copperfield can be traced to the life of Charles Dickens.  The transfiguration of those experiences in David Copperfield redeemed a lot of the author’s own childhood. It also made a much-loved book. Every fan of fiction knows Charles Dickens had an unsettled childhood.  His father was always in debt and the family moved continually, trying to avoid Dad’s creditors.  That ended when his father was thrown into debtor’s prison and all of the family (except 12 year old Charles and his slightly older sister) were incarcerated there for a time.  His sister managed to stay in her school but his parents forced Charles…

A little-known tale of Disaster: Under a Flaming Sky
I know a Good Story / November 23, 2014

My husband collects disaster stories.   I think it goes back to his childhood when he read A Night to Remember.  The account of Titanic’s sole voyage was so researched, so well-written and evocative, he’s been chasing disaster accounts ever since.   Me, I like these books for the slice-of-life history that comes with each account, the context of how people lived in some different time and era and who they were.  For whatever reason, we both love disaster accounts and this summer I found a good one.  Under a Flaming Sky (by Daniel James Brown) is one of those books that flies under the radar until the author gets a hit later on.  Here’s hoping the author’s good luck with his current release will give this story a deserved second look. UAFS is the story of Hinkley, Minnesota, a town on the edge of the prairie near the end of the Guilded Age.  Hinkley had done well as a town, booming along with the twin streams of business and labor.  Lumber was the town’s biggest business and a steady stream of immigrants kept it moving from forests through the sawmills to the trains.  Everyone was in a hurry to…

I know a Good Story / November 21, 2014

I’ll admit it, I’m a snob when it comes to comic books.  Early in my reading career it became apparent that an inverse relationship existed between the number of illustrations in the book and the expected IQ of the reader.  (i.e., more pictures meant lower IQ).   As soon as I figured that out, I headed for chapter books at high speed.  Oh, I still enjoyed a great illustration once in a while but I knew better than to focus on them.  And I couldn’t grasp why so many males in my generation continued to buy, read and discuss comic books after they reached legal maturity.   It was like being trapped in a life-long, joke-less episode of “Big Bang Theory”.    People could call the publications graphic novels or comics, I didn’t care.  They were still just “funny books” for dorks. So I didn’t see Maus coming.  Maus, if you haven’t seen it, is a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman about the Holocaust.   And it’s animated, because Mr. Spiegelman is an illustrator.   And, to put the icing on the cake, Mr. Spiegelman drew the characters in his work as animals.  It sounds crazy but, believe me, it’s a work of genius. The…

The Book in the Corner of my Soul: John Chancellor Makes Me Cry
I know a Good Story / November 20, 2014

I am not Southern by birth.  I was born in north Texas and raised in the west, in spaces known for harsh winds, wide horizons, and voices loud enough to get through the first and reach the second.  Because of this I was a stranger in a strange land when I moved to the South and  I worried I would always be an outsider.  Over several  years, I read a barrel load of books on how nuanced, complex and wonderful life here can be here, but no book taught me more or made me feel more at home  than Anne Rivers Siddons’s collection of essays, John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. Mrs. Siddons was raised in a small Georgia town and graduated from Auburn before beginning a career in Atlanta, first in advertising and then as a novelist. Between those two jobs came the essay collection in this book.  It is a heartfelt account of adjusting to adult life after the raw newness (and gleam) of one’s twenties has disappeared but before the confidence that comes with seniority has set in.  In Passages, Gail Sheehy wrote of this as the age when 30-somethings double down on the mortgage/kids/picket fence paradigm and Ms….

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