Books All Georgians Should Read

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Archive for August, 2010

A New List of Terrific Titles!

Friday, August 27th, 2010

If you have kids or grandkids or maybe happen to be a kid, you just struck gold. This is your lucky day. Your literary nirvana is at hand. No kidding.

The Georgia Center for the Book has just released its very first list of “25 Books All Young Georgians Should Read.” You’ll find it elsewhere at this site; please feel free to take a moment right now to check it out. I’ll wait until you get back.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Or maybe you aren’t sure; maybe you don’t recognize all the books or authors. That’s why we’re here — we’ve spent a lot of time going through a lot of good books before coming up with this list of extraordinarily wonderful books for you and your family and friends. We’ve even arranged them by appropriate age groups to make it easier for you to find one for your special young reader. They run the age gamut from tot to teen, from pre-K picture book to serious novel. And every one is a gem in its own way.

This seems like such a good idea, why didn’t we do it before now? Well, we’ve been doing lists for grown-up Georgia readers since 2002 (you’ll find them listed at this web site, too), but it took us a while to get around to meeting the needs of younger readers. And young readers, we all know, usually become older readers. They tend to do better in school, they tend to greater accomplishments, and we think they just grow up to be much more interesting adults. So a listing like this is better late than never. and down the road, there will be others, to be sure.

For now, we invite you — heck, we urge you — to enjoy the books on this inaugural list. Some of them are very serious and deal with the most intense topics like death (“A Taste of Blackberries”) and disease (“Blood Brothers”) and drugs (“Joseph”). Others teach us important lessons about friendship (“The Origami Master”) and honesty (“The Monster Who Did My Math”).  Some are just plain fun (try “Pete the Cat” or “Mittens”). The authors are all very good; there is pleasure as well as knowledge to come from these books.

And if you’d like to know more about the authors and their work, you’ll find a link from each author to a biographies we’ve prepared for you. We think these are helpful additions to broaden your appreciation of the writers. They are a unique resource, found only here, for your use. If all this works for you, do let us know. If not, let us know. We’re all in this together to spread the word about good books and connect writers and readers all over the state of Georgia.

Honoring Lillian Smith

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Lillian Smith was one of Georgia’s most distinguished — and certainly controversial — writers. She was white, liberal and outspoken about racial issues at a time, in the 1930s and 40s,  when her native region remained in the tight grip of Jim Crow laws. She boldly and insistently called for an end to segregation. And her 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” focused on illicit interracial love.

In 1966, shortly after her death when the South struggled with the desegregation effort, the Southern Regional Council created a book award in her name:  the Lillian Smith Award would recnognize books of outstanding accomplishment, whether for literary merit or moral vision, that honestly examined the people, promises and problems of the South. Since then, more than 50 books have been honored with a Lillian Smith Award, and among the authors are Eudora Welty, John Egerton, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Grooms, Peter Taylor, Will Campbell and C. Vann Woodward.

The Southern Regional Council now shares the administration of the Lillian Smith Award with the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Together, we’ll honor this year’s winners at the upcoming AJC Decatur Book Festival over the Labor Day weekend. Specifically, the ceremony to present the winning authors with their 2010 honors will take place at 2:30 – 3:15 p.m. in the Decatur Library Auditorium on Sunday, September 5. We cordially invite you to come and learn more about these remarkable books.

There are two books chosen for the award this year. Charles W. Eagles, a long-time history professor at the University of Mississippi, will be honored for his powerful, compelling book, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (University of North Carolina Press). This is a definitive moment-by-moment account that traces in all its complexity “James Meredith’s courage against the intransigent white racism of a university that surely knew better.”  It is a significant, deeply researched narrative of the 1962 desegregation of Ole Miss that remains one of the landmark events in the struggle for African American equality and justice.

The other book to be recognized on September 5 is “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940” (University of North Carolina Press) written by Amy Louise Wood, who is assistant professor of history at Illinois State University.  Utilizing an amazing number of resources, including early films and photographs, she writes insightfully about the culture of lynching and those who watched the brutal executions of more than 3,000 African Americans during that period. Her book is “an important contribution to our understanding of the American South and violence there” and demonstrates how beliefs in white superiority were reinforced by the spectacle of lynching.

Both of these books give lie to those who find history dry. While written by scholars and buttressed with careful research, they explore with riveting perspective events and people from our past whose lives and decisions have helped create our region, our nation. They reflect vividly on conversations about race in America we confront today, whether those conversations focus on President Obama or Dr. Laura. They are also reminders of the deep truths of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The Best American Short Story Writer?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Who was America’s finest 20th century writer of short stories? Your list and mine could include a lot of richly deserving authors: Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, John Updike, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, Alice Munro, Peter Taylor, and ….. well, please pardon the omission of your favorite.

Having just finished Blake Bailey’s masterful, warts-and-all biography of John Cheever — by any measure an extraordinary achievement of which I’ll say a little more about in a moment — and re-read some of Cheever’s stories, it’s impossible not to include him among the greatest. Cheever (1912-1982) was a man of huge personal contradictions with an uncommonly complicated domestic life, but he produced some breathtaking stories: “The Swimmer,” “The Enormous Radio,” “Goodbye, My Brother” and so many others are classics of the form. Cheever understood deeply the complexities of the human spirit, and his writings carry a universality though they may seem rooted in the American suburbs of the 50’s and 60s.

Bailey understands Cheever well. His biography gives us some wonderfully embracing literary discussions of the stories (and Cheever’s less-appreciated novels), and he never allows the messy details of Cheever’s life — his alcholism and confused sexuality — to overwhelm the man’s supreme accomplishments. In other words, this is an intimate, perceptive, astonishing literary biography, among the best I’ve ever read — and that includes a long-time favorite, David Donald’s biography, “Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe”. I’d recommend it strongly alongside a reading of some of Cheever’s work.  I promise you it will be time well spent!

Bailey’s book is “Cheever: A Life” (Vintage paperback), and “The Stories of John Cheever” is also available as a Vintage paperback. Your local library should also have copies.

Hitting a home run

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Way back when, Atlanta Braves’ fans like me entertained ourselves mostly by listening to a pair of announcers named Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren talk over and around an often-pitiful major league baseball team. The team stumbled, but the announcers were classy. They knew baseball, they shared their insights, and they were just plain fun to hear, a lot more fun than the frequent mishaps on the field.

We’ve lost Skip, sadly, but we have now a reminiscence by Pete about the 33 years he spent behind the microphone, cleverly titled Of Mikes and Men, written with a terrific veteran Atlanta journalist, Jack Wilkinson. Pete and Jack will join us at the Georgia Center for the book on Tuesday evening, August 10, to talk about the book. You’ll love the stories, the behind-the-scenes peeks –including even more reasons to admire Dale Murphy — and  the opportunity to hear Pete’s wonderful voice behind a mike once again.

Pete’s not alone that evening, either; we’re also bringing in Dave Cohen, another popular broadcaster (the voice of the Georgia State Panthers) and Hal Jacobs, a Decaturite whom many may recall from his fine writings for the AJC.  Dave’s book has another clever title, Matzoh Balls and Baseballs, and yes, it’s about Jewish players in the big leagues. Hal’s book, Ball Crazy, looks at baseball in a very personal way: it’s about the pressures and passion of baseball played by 12-year-olds and how their parent-coaches cope with it. It will touch some nerves with a lot of folks, I think.

In a way, it recalls for me the several years I spent coaching my then-8-year-old son’s soccer team, steamy hot afternoons watching kids digging holes in the dirt, dodging soccer balls kicked at them, waving at admiring parents and, most regrettably, parents who took everything personally especially the need to win, win, win. Hal knows all about that.

We invite you to come share the fun of this evening. If you’re a baseball fan — and given the Braves’ rise in the National League East pennant race this season, there seem to be a lot more of us — we know you’ll enjoy the chatter. We’ll have a few surprises for you, too, so bring your gloves, wear your jerseys and don’t be shy about stepping up to the batter’s box. You just might hit a home run.