Saturday, April 30, 2011

Calling on The Book Lady in Savannah

Entrance to The Book Lady
If you are ever in the Savannah area, go to The Book Lady book shop.  This is an excellent used book store on
Liberty Street
in the Historic District.  It is located in the bottom of a building, almost like a basement, but it is cozy and well-stocked.  The main room has that comfy reading-room-feel, with a large well-worn sofa and easy chair by a fire place.  My husband got the kids some treats while I poked around.  I didn’t see the entire refreshment selection, but I know they sell coffee, water, prepackaged biscotti, and out-of-this-world oatmeal chocolate chips cookies (homemade by the store). 

As I wandered through the tiny shop, it revealed itself to be a labyrinth of shelves, hallways, and rooms practically spewing books.  The front area had a classics section and a regional section, as well as what appeared to be some first editions of better-known authors.  One room was dedicated to women’s literature and contemporary bestsellers.  The Book Lady had a small but interesting collection of literary criticism, as well as the obligatory shelf or two dedicated to Flannery O’Connor, whose childhood home was just blocks away.  The interior staircase had stacks and stacks of books resting on it.  What was the effect of all of these books, lying about and covering every wall?  I felt blissfully blanketed in spines and pages. 
Sign and shop window (look for the nib)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Greetings from Low-Country Georgia! Postcard Bookmarks

It’s time once again for the Book Phantom to return her library books.  Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor will go back with a postcard bookmark of Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia.  Savannah was O’Connor’s birthplace, and although I have a postcard from her childhood home, it was too large to fit into the paperback copy I borrowed.  To add meaning to my postcard bookmark, I put a snippet of my historic Savannah map on the back of the postcard with O’Connor’s home on Charlton Street
circled in red.  Because the front depicts the Forsyth Park fountain, I slipped the card into Chapter 5, where Enoch enters the gates of City Forest Park to ogle female swimmers and insult animals at the zoo.
Forsyth Park Postcard Bookmark for Wise Blood

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews is also due.  BeBe, the heroine in the novel, is a well-to-do business woman who is swindled by her conman boyfriend.  All she has left in the aftermath of this affair is the run-down Breeze Inn on Tybee Island and a few good friends to help her fix up the property.  These same friends help her get her money back from the villain, and they serve up his just desserts.  Savannah Breeze gets a Tybee Island postcard depicting an aerial view of the pier and coastline.  On the back I added a clip from a Tybee Island map.  (Note: I didn’t post the fronts of the postcards as they are protected by copyright.)
Tybee Island Postcard Bookmark for Savannah Breeze

Here’s hoping the next readers enjoy this taste of low-country Georgia!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor House

O'Connor Childhood Home, 207 E Charlton St.,Savannah
The only museum my family and I bothered going to in Savannah was the Flannery O’Connor childhood home (we spent the rest of the time eating in spectacular restaurants).  My nine year old daughter and seven year old son had no idea who O’Connor was.  They only knew Mommy was reading one of her books, which made her look baffled most days.  The kids heard me go on about “weirdos” and “freaks” and asking what these characters could possibly be trying to tell me.  In spite of the obsessive muttering to myself about Wise Blood, the kids and The Hub were willing to humor my need to see the crazy environment that produced such a disturbing author.
Portraits of Mary Flannery and her parents, Edward & Regina
But O’Connor wasn’t raised in a loony bin.  She was raised in a loving and cozy home supplied by a wealthy and doting aunt.  Her parents were attentive.  They sent Flannery to good schools and attended Mass regularly at St. John’s Cathedral, the steeple of which was ever-present in O’Connor’s view from the upstairs window.  O’Connor’s Catholic faith heavily influenced her work.  In spite of her religious nature, she was a precocious child who was not the silent and obedient type.  At age six, she called her parents by their first names and attended the adult-only mass rather than the family mass at church.  When a nun told her she should attend family mass, Flannery replied something to the effect of: “The Catholic Church will not dictate what mass my family attends.”  There appeared to be a thread of rebellion beneath her unshakeable faith.

View of St. John's from upper bedroom

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review of Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood is a truly baffling piece of literature.  I knew when I read O’Connor it would be Southern Gothic with plenty of freakish, grotesque characters.  However, I was expecting to understand more clearly where the story was taking me.  After reading it once, chewing on it for a few days, and still finding the point of the story “hazy”, I went online to see what critics and scholars were saying.  One of the better scholars I found was Yale’s Amy Hungerford.  After watching part 1 of her lecture on Wise Blood, I gained a clearer vision, if you will, of Hazel Motes and his motivations.  Armed with some of Hungerford’s insights and pondering questions she posed to her students, I went back through Wise Blood and thought more about the symbols and themes in the novel.
            Here is a quick plot synopsis:  The protagonist, Hazel Motes, was raised in a fire-and-brimstone preaching family.  His grandfather was a roving minister who put the fear of Jesus in Hazel at an early age.  Hazel realized that the easiest way to avoid the scary Jesus of his grandfather’s sermons was to avoid sin.  He thinks he will become a preacher, but he is drafted into the army, and that plan is thwarted.  During his service, fellow soldiers try to take him to a brothel.  Haze refuses, saying he will protect his soul from the government and foreigners.  His comrades tell him he has no soul and leave him behind.  This plants the seed in Haze’s mind that maybe he truly has no soul.  If he were rid of his soul – converted to nothingness instead of evil – he would have some relief from the Jesus moving “from tree to tree in the back of his mind.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Break Reading List - Swamp Things

"Books – the best antidote against the marsh-gas of boredom and vacuity."
 – George Steiner

The Book Phantom is leaving for vacation this week-end, and I will be in the marshy low-country of Georgia, partying with alligators in a “drinking town with a fishing problem”.  That’s right – I’ll be in Tybee Island for a little R & R, with plans to jaunt into Savannah for some culture and good food.  Because I’m going to be in the “swamp”, my New Book pick is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  Hopefully, Russell will cure me of the aforementioned marsh-gas of boredom, but since I’ll be on vacation, I can deal with at least a little vacuity.

In fact, my reading list will be a little fluffy this go ‘round.  After Shakespearean tragedies, my mind craves some lighter fare.  I’m leaving out my usual professional development book selection, just because I don’t want to think about working.  Instead, I’m adding a contemporary “chick lit” title for leisurely reading on the beach.  So here is my non-boring yet non-taxing reading list inspired by Swamps, Savannah, and the Seashore.

  1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (New Release).  I've had this book for a little over a month, saving it for the vacay, and it hasn’t been easy not to peek.  It’s about a girl and her carnival-type family who run a gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades (I know, I know – the Georgia low-country isn’t exactly the Everglades, but did you read about that grandma that was eaten by an alligator in Savannah? I'm a little scared I’ll encounter one on the beach, too!  Maybe Russell will have some “gator wrastlin’” tips in her book - just in case.)  Anyway, the character descriptions on the book flap totally sucked me in: Ava Bigtree, the thirteen year old heroine, must save the family theme park from a competitor called The World of Darkness; Ossie, the sister, falls in love with Dredgeman who is probably a ghost; Kiwi, the scholarly brother, betrays the family by joining The World of Darkness; and Chief Bigtree, the father, is missing.  Oh, and there’s a cast of 98 gators in little Ava’s charge.  You can’t get more original than this.
  2. Wise Blood  by Flannery O’Connor (Classic).  As a Southerner, I admit with some chagrin that I have never read Flannery O’Connor (although I have a foggy notion that at least one of her short stories crossed my path in high school English class).  O’Connor was born and raised in Savannah, so I will make the pilgrimage to her childhood home.  She only wrote two novels – Wise Blood is one of them.
  3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (Non-Fiction).  I read this title in the mid-90s when it was released, and I loved it.  I plan to thumb through it again to refamiliarize myself with the Savannah locales mentioned in the story.  It seems de rigueur for one touring Savannah.
  4. Fallen by Lauren Kate (Young Adult).  This is the first in a paranormal series about fallen angels.  It takes place in a boarding school in Savannah.  The second book is called Torrent, and the third, due for release June 14th, is called Passion.  I perused this a few times at Target but didn’t buy it because I thought it might be a bit Twilight-y (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I just like variety).  If I want to go out and immediately buy the rest of the series, you’ll know it’s a winner. 
  5. Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews (Contemporary).  This is chick-lit beach reading.  Here's a quick synopsis:  BeBe Loudermilk is in a relationship with a con-man who said he was an investment counselor.  He absconds with all her money, and all she has left is a run-down motel on Tybee Island.  BeBe and her friends fix up the motel, saving her from financial ruin.  When she locates the crooked boyfriend in Florida, BeBe heads south to get her money and perhaps some sweet revenge.  I’ll be enjoying this in lieu of a writer’s reference this week.
  6. Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (Writers’ Reference).  Even though I won’t be doing any professional development reading, I'm at least suggesting a writer’s reference book.  This title seemed appropriate for my "Swamp Things" reading list. 
I'll be posting my reading adventures next week from Savannah (unless the gators eat me before I can eat them!)  Stay tuned…

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Weird Sisters Bookmark

The Weird Sisters? (bookmark front)
The Book Phantom is wrapping up her “Fun with Shakespeare” reading experience.  Now it’s time to “close the book” on this reading module by sneaking a bookmark into my library book returns (did you know Shakespeare coined the term "to sneak"?).  It all started with Eleanor Brown’s new release The Weird Sisters (the title is a reference to the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).  The front of my bookmark is a vintage photograph of three wizened old gals.  It came from an old family album, but no one knows for sure who they are.  I call them the Weird Sisters because they look like they could stir up some “toil and trouble”. 

On the back of these Weird Sisters, I put a copy of the first scene from Macbeth, where the three witches meet and say the famous line: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” before taking off.

Act I Scene I from Macbeth (bookmark back)
In case anyone is interested in the titles from “Fun with Shakespeare”, I've included some "speed reviews":

Monday, April 11, 2011

Shakespeare and Renaissance Festivities

At Coventry, upon Saint Lambert's Day;
There shall your swords and lances arbitrate
The swelling difference of your settled hate.
       --William Shakespeare from Richard II (1.1.204-206)

Knights clashing in Knightdale, NC

The Book Phantom took a Shakespearean field trip this weekend to the NC Renaissance Faire in Knightdale (how appropriate is that location?).  The best feature of the fair is always the jousting.  In Shakespeare's time, jousting had become less about martial training and more about pomp at court.  On Queen Elizabeth I's Accession Day, tournaments were held for courtiers to honor the queen and to entertain the masses (even the public was admitted for a small charge).  The queen had her own champion at these events.  For 30 years, Sir Henry Lee fought for Her Majesty's honor.  In later years, her champions were Sir George Clifford (who wore her token glove pinned to his hat flap) and Robert Dudley.

Knights lancing the rings
Participants in the tilts would arrive in disguises and present the queen with an impresa, a pasteboard insignia that represented their tournament personae.  These knights would read a poem or speak prose which explained the impresa and the "theme" of their costumes.  Some nobles went to great pains and expense to hire artists and playwrights to devise these themes.  For the Accession Day of King James I on March 24, 1613, Francis Manners, Sixth Earl of Rutland, hired William Shakespeare to design his impresa for 44 shillings.  Shakespeare's friend Richard Burbage constructed and painted it for the same pay.  This wasn't the first impresa Shakespeare was known to design.  For his play Pericles, he designed the impresa his protagonist used in the joust scene.  (see Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare: The Biography and Samuel Schoenbaum's William Shakespeare: a Compact Documentary Life)

As the Renaissance progressed, jousting declined in importance, especially in England.  The reasons are likely twofold:  1) the invention of the musket and use of gunpowder became more widespread, changing the skills a knight required in battle, and 2) the theater, with its costumes and pageantry, became the more popular form of entertainment for the people. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

If Shakespeare Used Modern Slang...

I was just wondering, what if Shakespeare were alive and writing today?  He was only about twenty-four when he wrote his first play.  Do you think he’d use the modern lingo of teens and young adults?  Check out the meanings of these obsolete words from Shakespeare’s time and their modern slang counterparts.  I substituted slang into lines from his plays to try it on for size. 

Archaic:  ‘Sblood = by His (God’s) blood; this was preferred to taking God’s name in vain
Modern:  OMG (again, a way around blasphemy)
Example:  FALSTAFF: ‘Sblood, my lord, they are false! (from Henry IV)

               New FALSTAFF:  OMG, man, they are full of sh*t!

Archaic:  Fie! = an expression of dismay or disgust
Modern:  WTF!
Example:  NERISSA: Why, shall we turn to men?
                PORTIA: Fie, what a question’s that,
                                 If thou wert near a lewd interpreter?
                                  (from Merchant of Venice)

                 New NERISSA: So, we should cross-dress?
                 New PORTIA:  WTF?  What if some perv earjacked you?

Archaic:  Art = skill or talent in a particular field
Modern:  mad skills
Example: MIRANDA: If by your art, dearest Father, you have
               Put the waters in this roar, allay them. (from The Tempest)          

              New MIRANDA: Pops, if you caused this storm with your mad skills,  
              knock it off!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cordelia Andreas’s Braided Bread

As I read Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters, I got a nagging craving for fresh, homemade bread.  Cordelia, the youngest sister, is pregnant, and when her nesting instincts kick in, she heads for the kitchen and whips up multiple loaves: St. Lucia bread, chocolate bread, Hawaiian bread – you name it.  The passage below will give your cravings “a rise” as well:
            There is nothing that is not beautiful about bread.  The way it grows, from tiny grains, from bowls on the counter, from yeast blooming in a measuring cup like swampy islands.  The way it feels a room, a house, a building, with its inimitable smells at every stage of the process.  The way it swells, submits to a firmly applied fist and contracts, swells again; the way it stretches and expands upon kneading, the warm supple fell of it against your skin.  The sight of a warm roll on a table, the taste – sweet, sour, yeasty on the tongue. (page 286)
Who knew baking bread could be so sexy?  So tempting?

In honor of Cordelia Andreas, the youngest (and my favorite) Weird Sister, I made Braided Bread.  The braided varieties were her favorites because she liked the challenge of getting the strips even, then tying them together in such a way that they were still distinct after baking.  Here’s the recipe:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review of The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is one of Spring’s hot new releases.  When I picked up the book, I had a couple of fears.  First, I thought it would be just another dull, depressing family drama.  I have enough family baggage in my own life.  Why would I want read about this family when I barely want to be part of my own? 
My other reservation about this book is that I suspected it was Chick Lit being marketed as literary fiction.  Why should I fear Brown’s novel is over-hyped chick lit?  Because putting Shakespeare in stock characters' mouths won't make it a “serious literary work".  First, we have Cordy, the youngest sister, a wandering free-spirit who sleeps around and can’t settle down.  We have Bianca (aka Bean), the middle sister, a shopaholic who steals to support her clothes addiction, drinks fancy cocktails in NYC clubs, and who also sleeps around.  Finally, we have Rosalind, the eldest sister, who is an approaching-forty, dowdy-feeling professional woman who can’t let go of her control issues.  Brown gives us three Shakespearean-monikered characters, each of whom represents an archetype in the Chick Lit world. I refer you to an article called Bad Chick Lit Novel Clichés.  Brown includes 4 of the five Chick Lit situations in her novel: the shoe addiction, the surprise pregnancy, the sister’s wedding, and the “OMG, I’m turning 30!” crisis.  But don’t be put off Brown's novel yet – read on.