Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
There are many reasons we enjoy reading. Sometimes I read because it strips my illusions away. My eyes are cleaned and I see the world anew. This is the story of Bone, a girl stained by the label of “bastard” on her birth certificate. In the midst of the poverty, abuse, and violence, her mother focuses her shame on this label. Bone is raped and beaten by her mother’s boyfriend. Raylene, Bone’s aunt, takes her to raise. As Bone is recovering, her mother…
As I said, I have returned South. Vance’s about his story about his family’s move from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio and his eventual graduation from Yale Law School is well written. Along with his personal tale of a family torn by poverty, drugs, violence, and abuse, he quotes studies about the economic and sociological/psychological factors involved. In his grandparent’s exodus from Appalachia and his escape from a life of drugs and social services to the Marines, I hear a familiar trajectory. He loses…
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
Home I came to the South and in some ways, it is as if I never left. That is how this book made me feel. I knew some of these folks in my time - hell, I still know some of them. Jacob McNeely of Cashiers, a small North Carolina mountain town, has only one flickering candle left in the window, his high school love, Maggie. Hip deep in the world of meth dealing presided over by his father; Jacob is set to inherit the “family business.” Maggie can see a…
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Pulitzer Prize winner for 2017 (among other awards), Whitehead drew me in and kept me believing in his alternative history novel. Using history, true and altered, and magical realism, he follows two slaves escaping in the 1800’s. I found that the gritty truth of the history of slavery mixed with the magical underground railroad ( a real underground train!) helped to balance my emotional response as a reader. The truth of history is too brutal for hope…
Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen (1961) brings the sent of my grandmother’s iron to me in “I Stand Here Ironing.” This is a small collection of short stories with words as carefully chosen as the stones in the pocket of a four-year-old, and just as valuable. The lives on display here can be pondered for a long time. Take the time to think after reading this.
Hang on to your hats folks.
NW by Zadie Smith (2012) brought me to my knees as a reader. Once I recovered I read it again. This book is thick with both action and philosophy and literary tricks. I had to take notes to follow the characters and who was talking as well as do some reading on the background of London culture. It follows four characters in northwest London using a variety of literary techniques - switching voices, a stream of consciousness narrative, and incomplete thoughts that…
I recently reread The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Diaz. The story of a nerdboy Dominican Republic American struggling with love and life, it holds my attention to the end. Although the fantasy and gamer jargon and the DR Spanglish may confound a reader, there are many line by line definitions to be found if you just search the title on the Internet.
It is a heartbreakingly beautiful reflection on manhood and the essence…
One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty (1984) spoke to me as a teen in Jackson, Mississippi. I heard the voices in “Why I live at the P.O.” and loved to write. Miss Welty’s house was close to Belhaven College and Millsaps in Jackson so I knew she was real. My mother had seen her in the grocery store. Writer’s were real; their stories were real. My secret dream was real too.
This is in response to the FaceBook challenge from Patricia Spears Jones to list ten books that have blown me away.
The Spiral Dance by Starhawk was first published in 1979. I arrived in California in 1980. I can’t remember when I first read this but I remember the excitement of reading in print the Wicca life I had only heard about. Coming from a Southern Christian background, this was beyond the comparative religion classes where I read the Bhagavad Gita. After the second edition came out in…
Waking in the afternoon long ago,
To the sound of my mother weeping.
Counterpoint to the swell of the soap opera speaking,
Then, a hiss, and the sharp burning smell of iron on cotton.
Sheets, pants, skirts, and finally, shirts.
Stacks of cloth on the sofa, waiting.
All the laundry finally bleached, folded, ironed.
I learned on my father’s handkerchief, a clean one daily.
This summer afternoon, in my home, alone…
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