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Posts from the ‘Writers & Authors’ Category

Pat Conroy, Oldsmobiles & Coming of Age

It’s hard to say with precision why I love Pat Conroy so much.
He himself admits, he is not a literary giant.
I may even pan writers today that have the same kind of pulpy, page turning novel.

But Conroy feels nostalgic to me, in a way that no other contemporary writer does. His name surfaces time washed images of Oldsmobiles, guess jeans, bad haircuts. Family vacations. Read On…

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An Ode To That Special Place. No, it’s not Detroit.

Let me point out for you one of the best articles in last Sunday’s New York Times.
It was in the second magazine section and was easily missed.
(Hat tip: AH!)

Ann Patchett writes a beautiful essay about the wonders of Northern Michigan. She even allows us to do a fly by of one of her favorite book stores on the planet, McLean & Eakin, in Petoskey. (Check out their staff favorites tab, excellent!)

Okay, guilty. I was raised in Michigan. And generally, we are a proud people when someone can cite something about our state besides the depressing state of Detroit. So work with me. Give us our moment.

And, admittedly, her exquisite detail hit a sentimental nerve. She speaks of places that I don’t know specifically, but can feel the humid air, recognize the smells, and taste the flavors generally.

But this is what really struck me.

Across the U.S. last Sunday, thousands of people read this story and inserted their own version of Petoskey, Michigan. When someone with such talent shares a beautiful description of a place, we fill in the details with our own experiences. This is what separates the book from the movie–we get to fill in the blanks with our own reality. We get to go somewhere new and yet familiar at the same time.

Funny enough, Patchett’s article took me somewhere different in Michigan — to a small little smidgen of a place called Harsen’s Island. Fifty miles from Detroit and sitting pretty in the channel between Canada and Michigan, I spent more times there than I can count during my childhood. It’s undoubtedly idealized in my mind.

Patchett’s essay helped me to recall:

  • That my grandfather used to sit in a chair listening to the Tiger games on the radio, eyes closed and occasionally lobbing a lougie of Red Man into a spittoon.
  • That my grandmother used to buy Planters cheese balls in a can.
  • That there were sodas in tall bottles stacked in crates on the porch with the bottle opener mounted to the wall.
  • That we used to watch storms out the front window and my grandfather used to try and convince us there was something called “snake lightening”. Which we could never identify but he certainly seemed to be an expert in spotting.
  • That my parents and aunt & uncle used to play pinochle in the evenings which seemed to result in incredibly unhealthy competition and so legend goes the deck of cards ended up in the fire. The loser was guilty.
  • That we dipped cattails in kerosene and lit them on fire to use them like torches. (Um, guys, really bad parenting there, FYI.)
  • That the best place in the Chris Craft after waterskiing was laying on the inboard motor because you got warmer faster.
  • That you could swing from the weeping willow trees like Tarzan into the canal if you timed it carefully (again, suspect parenting.)
  • That it was the first time I heard my Dad *really* swear when the tow line got caught up in the propeller and he said: “Marv, make sure the f**&$# engine is off.”
  • That he used to allow us to try and get the boat ourselves into the boathouse which required a lot of reversing, several passes and his hand at the bottom of the steering wheel.
  • That I spent my tenth birthday with ten girls and as many fishing poles in chaotic bliss.
  • And that my grandfather made the same damn scrambled eggs every Sunday and called them “Palmer House Specials”. He would periodically look out the window to see if “people were lining up on the road” to get them. The joke never got old.

So, this was a very long winded way of saying:
Read the damn article, people.”

I don’t care if it’s Harsen’s Island, Fire Island, Whidby Island, a Wisconsin lake, a house at the beach. It doesn’t matter really. It will be a fun trip.

Did this article remind you of a certain place?


P.S. Anne Patchet: I am sorry I said you are the same person as Anna Quindlen and Annie Lamott and all those other Annes. I take it back. You’re cool, girl.

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Read it. Out loud. Please?

Only rarely, can I get my kids to read  to me.
Every night, as I crawl into bed next to them at bedtime, they beg me or my husband to read a few pages to them. They aren’t big into reciprocation.

Even if I convince them, a few paragraphs into it…my eyes will be closed and I will inevitably hear a pause, and then longer pauses still, and when I open my eyes, I realize they are now reading silently to themselves. Slowly they become absorbed. Quickly they forget me, there beside them.

(There are, I do realize, worse family challenges to have.)

Last night, I attended Narrative Night in San Francisco. Narrative Magazine is a very cool non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve literature for future generations in a digital world. Online and for free. It promotes the art of storytelling, encouraging and publishing both emerging and proven writers.

Imagine my surprise when I found 300 people there.
(BookSnobs all in one place!)

They were honoring three amazing writers:

Anthony Marra: winner of the Narrative Spring 2009 Story Context, currently a student at Iowa Writers workshop and  an author to keep your eye on. Trust me, you’ll be hearing his name more. He read from his story Chechnya.

Ann Beattie. Prize winning short story writer and teacher at the University of Virginia. Read from a hilarious story called The Four Night Fight, an absurd tale about the love and conflict of a married couple.

James Salter: Pen Faulkner winner and novelist of Light Years, Burning the Days and  A Sport & A Pastime. Read from a story called Charisma. It’s been 15 years since I have read anything by Salter and within 30 minutes I couldn’t help but think: How had I forgotten?

But wait.wait.
That’s not the best part.

These talented authors all read their stories. Aloud. Out loud. In their entirety.

300 noisy people, immediately silenced as each author, in turn, took the podium.
No shifting in their chairs, no stifled coughs, no whispering between friends. Just excited adults craning their necks to see, some closing their eyes and concentrating intently. Massive, energetic applause at the end.

The way Beattie quickened her pace as she talked about the fight between a married couple. The way Salter hit the F-word with such emphasis. The measured way of their tone. The way they felt each word they had painstakingly written. It was magically good.

Narrative themselves has some great audio readings on their site–so take a look.

Or, do check out The New Yorker’s fiction podcast series. It’s great authors reading other authors work.

When was the last time you heard a good book out loud? Do you listen to audiobooks? How are we going to preserve hearing authors’ stories in their own voice??

It’s an indulgence I suddenly remembered I would hate to lose.

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