Friday, October 29, 2010

Genre Reading Group Recap: Alabama authors

The Genre Reading Group (GRG) meetings just get better and better! There is no time like the present to officially join up with the most fun book group in town!

The group picks the topics, YOU pick the book. During the meeting, participants share their thoughts on the book, the topic, and all points in between. We LOVE new members so mark your calendars for November 30, 2010 at 6:30pm for the next GRG meeting!

Last night’s discussion was on Alabama authors and participants shared something for everyone! One participant even brought props for Fannie Flagg’s A Redbird Christmas, including an electronic chirping redbird, a tiny artificial Christmas tree, a miniature Alabama state flag, and a Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer! I wish I’d had my camera. As you can tell, the GRG members are serious about reading!

Next month’s topic is Folktales & Fables. For many libraries, these books can be found in the nonfiction section at call number 398.2. I have a selection of books pulled but participants are always welcome to fish for their own choice!

On to the discussion!

Alabama Moon by Watt Key
For as long as ten-year-old Moon can remember, he has lived out in the forest in a shelter with his father. They keep to themselves, their only contact with other human beings an occasional trip to the nearest general store. When Moon’s father dies, Moon follows his father’s last instructions: to travel to Alaska to find others like themselves. But Moon is soon caught and entangled in a world he doesn’t know or understand; he’s become property of the government he has been avoiding all his life. As the spirited and resourceful Moon encounters constables, jails, institutions, lawyers, true friends, and true enemies, he adapts his wilderness survival skills and learns to survive in the outside world, and even, perhaps, make his home there.

There is a film adaptation for Alabama Moon which premiered at the 2009 Sidewalk Film Festival right here in Birmingham. If you are on Facebook, join the “The Edge 12 Birmingham” fan page and let them know. If you are not on Facebook, call The Edge at 205 795 3500. If you didn’t know about The Edge, it’s on Crestwood Blvd in the old Festival 12 Theater location. They are featuring a mix of first run and independent films and they need our support!

Dirt Road Home by Watt Key
After his recapture at the end of Alabama Moon, gutsy 14-year-old Hal Mitchell is sentenced to live at Hellenweiler, an institution that is more like a jail than the boys' home it's supposed to be. Hal could walk out in just a few months if he keeps out of trouble. But in a place like Hellenweiler, the more he tries to avoid the gangs and their violence, the stronger Hal's fellow inmates try to make him fail.

The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan
Sarah Crowe left Atlanta, and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship, to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house's former tenant-a parapsychologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago...

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston's beloved 1937 classic,
Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published -- perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.

The film adaptation of this novel stars Halle Berry.

Penumbra by Carolyn Haines
Jade Dupree is a beautician and undertaker’s assistant, and her work with the dead is not the only thing that sets her apart from the rest of Drexel, Mississippi. Jade was raised by a black family but everyone in town knows that her real parents are a well-to-do white woman and a black man who had an affair in New Orleans. In the 1950s, that fact makes Jade both more free and more isolated. When Jade’s white half sister, Marlena, is severely beaten and her young daughter kidnapped, Jade is determined to find her niece before it’s too late. She gets some help from a white deputy sheriff, but their relationship-forbidden but inevitable-threatens to add to the violence that seems to be brewing in town. Carolyn Haines has written several acclaimed mysteries, but here she mines much darker, more serious territory, resulting in a suspenseful, lyrical, passionate and literary crime novel

The reader shared the definition of “penumbra” with the group:
1a : a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light
b : a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot
2: a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree
: fringe
3: a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution
4: something that covers, surrounds, or obscures : shroud penumbra of secrecy> penumbra of somber dignity has descended over his reputation — James Atlas> Merriam-Webster

Revenant by Carolyn Haines
Reporter Carson Lynch has returned to Mississippi with a half-formed desire to start over. Since her daughter's tragic death two years ago, she's been self-medicating with vodka, karaoke and work. Her reputation as a journalist hangs by a thread, but she's just been handed the story that might save her career . . .A bulldozer has unearthed a mass grave near a notorious Biloxi nightclub. The remains of five women lie within, each one buried with a bridal veil -- and without her ring finger. Now more would-be brides are turning up dead: are these copycat crimes, or has a serial killer resurfaced after nearly twenty-five years? With a fury bordering on obsession, Carson throws herself into the story. But the cozy relationship her editor wants with the D.A. and local police jeopardizes her ability to tell the real story . . . and find the monster before he kills again.

Since the author’s other book title turned into such a good vocabulary lesson, I decided to include the definition for this one as well:
: one that returns after death or a long absence (Merriam-Webster)

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg
Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget A Redbird Christmas.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
The story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women, of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present, for Evelyn and for us, will never quite be the same.

The film adaptation of this novel stars Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. Coming up in Spring 2011, this book will be the Project Read One Book selection for the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. Associated programs and book groups may be found at many of the public libraries around the county so stay tuned!

Murder on a Bad Hair Day by Anne George
It's hard to believe practical, petite ex-schoolteacher Patricia Anne and amiable, ample-bodied, and outrageous Mary Alice are sisters, yet sibling rivalry has survived decades of good-natured disagreement about everything from husbands to hair color. No sooner do the Southern sisters discover a common interest in some local art, when they're arguing the artistic merits of some well-coiffured heads at a gallery opening. A few hours later, one of those pretty ladies ends up dead -- with not a hair out of place. The other shows up on Patricia Anne's doorstep dazed, disheveled, and telling a wild tale of a narrow escape from some deadly cuts. Now the sisters are once again combing for clues to catch a killer with a bizarre style in art -- and murder.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (also titled, Coming Attractions) by Fannie Flagg
Taken from the pages of Daisy Fay Harper's journal, this is a coming of age story set in rural Mississippi that is by turns hilarious and touching. It begins in 1952 when Daisy Fay is a sassy, truth-tellin' but lonely eleven-year old, and ends six years later when she becomes the flamboyant, unlikely -- but assured -- winner of the Miss Mississippi contest. Along the way, we meet some of the raffish and outrageous town locals, including her own Daddy, who comes up with a mortgage scheme that requires Daisy's "resurrection." This is a thoroughly entertaining comic novel with a heroine who is bound to capture your heart.

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg (due out November 9th)
Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie’s life seems practically perfect—she’s lovely, charming, and a successful real estate agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can’t help but wonder how she wound up in her present condition. She had been on her hopeful way to becoming Miss America and realizing her childhood dream of someday living in one of the elegant old homes on top of Red Mountain, with the adoring husband and the 2.5 children, but then something unexpected happened and changed everything. Maggie graduated at the top of her class at charm school, can fold a napkin in more than forty-eight different ways, and can enter and exit a car gracefully, but all the finesse in the world cannot help her now. Since the legendary real estate dynamo Hazel Whisenknott, beloved founder of Red Mountain Realty, died five years ago, business has gone from bad to worse—and the future isn’t looking much better. But just when things seem completely hopeless, Maggie suddenly comes up with the perfect plan to solve it all. As Maggie prepares to put her plan into action, we meet the cast of high-spirited characters around her. To Brenda Peoples, Maggie’s best friend and real estate partner, Maggie’s life seems easy as pie. Slender Maggie doesn’t have to worry about her figure, or about her Weight Watchers sponsor catching her at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. And Ethel Clipp, Red Mountain’s ancient and grumpy office manager with the bright purple hair, thinks the world of Maggie but has absolutely nothing nice to say about their rival Babs “The Beast of Birmingham” Bingington, the unscrupulous estate agent who hates Maggie and is determined to put her out of business. Maggie has heartbreaking secrets in her past, but through a strange turn of events, she soon discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems—dead or alive—has at least one little secret.

My Last Days as Roy Rogers by Pat Cunningham DeVoto
In an Alabama town in the early 1950s during the last polio summer before the Salk vaccine, ten-year-old Tabitha "Tab" Rutland is about to have the time of her life. Although movie theaters and pools have been closed to stem the epidemic, Tab, a tomboy with a passion for Roy Rogers, still seeks adventure with her best friend Maudie May, "the lightest brown colored person" she knows. Now as they meddle with the local bootlegger, Mr. Jake, row out on the Tennessee River to land the biggest catfish ever, and snoop into the town's darkest secrets, Tab sets out to be a hero...and comes of age in an unforgettable confrontation with human frailty, racial injustice, and the healing power of love.

Stay Hungry by Charles Gaines
I have not been able to find an official synopsis of this book. It is about the world of bodybuilding in the 1960’s. A film adaptation was done starring Arnold Schwarzenegger

Gathering Home by Vicki Covington
Whitney Gaines has always known she was adopted. It's never been a problem -- she loves her parents, Mary Ellen and Cal, a liberal minister, and enjoys her life in Birmingham, Alabama. But the year Whitney turns eighteen, Cal decides to run for Congress and the entire Gaines family is thrust into the spotlight. Whitney resolves to look for her birth parents, a decision her liberal-minded adoptive parents support. Although her birth mother doesn't answer her letters, Whitney finds her father, Sam Kirby, a gay cartoonist living in New York, wondering about the child he knows is out there, somewhere. Whitney's letters reawaken Sam's ambivalence about his southern roots.At the same time, a romance blossoms between Whitney and her father's campaign manager, and Whitney begins writing to Sam's mother, who rejoices in the news that she is, against all odds, a grandmother. The relationships Whitney develops with her newfound natural relatives, particularly with her grandmother, are the centerpiece of this critically acclaimed novel.

Summer Crossings by Truman Capote
Thought to be lost for over 50 years, here is the first novel by one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Set in New York during the summer of 1945, this is the story of a young carefree socialite, Grady, who must make serious decisions about the romance she is dangerously pursuing and the effect it will have on everyone involved.

Family Linen by Lee Smith
A childhood memory re-experienced, a funeral that brings about a family reunion, and the excavation of a swimming pool on the site of an old well, uncover family secrets and air the dirty linen in this behind-the-scenes look at life and family, memory and forgetfulness, anger and forgiveness in a small Southern town.

Welcome to the World Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg
Once again, Flagg's humor and respect and affection for her characters shine forth. Many inhabit small-town or suburban America. But this time, her heroine is urban: a brainy, beautiful, and ambitious rising star of 1970s television. Dena Nordstrom, pride of the network, is a woman whose future is full of promise, her present rich with complications, and her past marked by mystery.

It’s easy to think that only Southern writers can get that close-knit community feel just right, but this is often not the case. We came up with a handful of books that are not set in the South nor authored by Southern writers but which still invoke that same small-town feeling.

The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow
Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child's illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. Capturing their remarkable story,
The Girls from Ames is a testament to the deep bonds of women as they experience life's joys and challenges -- and the power of friendship to triumph over heartbreak and unexpected tragedy. The girls, now in their forties, have a lifetime of memories in common, some evocative of their generation and some that will resonate with any woman who has ever had a friend. Photograph by photograph, recollection by recollection, occasionally with tears and often with great laughter, their sweeping and moving story is shared by Jeffrey Zaslow, Wall Street Journal columnist, as he attempts to define the matchless bonds of female friendship. It demonstrates how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women's lives - their sense of themselves, their choice of men, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their daughters - and reveals how such friendships thrive, rewarding those who have committed to them. The Girls from Ames is the story of a group of ordinary women who built an extraordinary friendship. With both universal insights and deeply personal moments, it is a book that every woman will relate to and be inspired by.

The Beardstown Ladies’ Common-Sense Investing Guide: How We Beat the Stock Market and How You Can Too by Leslie Whitaker
The "Ladies" here are 16 women, average age 55, of an Illinois river town whose investment club, since 1980, has scored an average 23.4% annual return (59.5% in 1991) on a portfolio of 20 carefully selected stocks-twice the rate of the bellwether S&P 500 index. Opening monthly meetings with a prayer and closing with a recipe, the Ladies pay no heed to current market trends, preferring to buy shares after researching companies that have sustained moneymaking growth. Dividends are reinvested. The book is chock-full of family-finance anecdotes, firsthand reports on regional industry, case histories of stocks bought and sold, recommended research tools and the actual minutes (with portfolio changes) of meetings during that banner year of 1991. This well-organized, down-to-earth investment guide will make many readers feel they have never experienced such pleasant instruction.
There was mention of a scandal when this book came up and the Ladies added a note to the product description at Amazon:
Dear Reader,
We recently discovered that there were mistakes in the way we calculated our club's returns. More specifically, the 23.4 percent return rate referred to in various places in this book actually related to a two-year period ending December 31, 1992, and the return for 1991 was 54.4 percent. The annual rate of return for our investment club during the 10 years from its inception through 1993 was 9.1 percent, and through the end of 1997 it was 15.3 percent. We are distressed that there were any inaccuracies in our financial figures. Our priorities are still, as they always have been, education, enjoyment, and enrichment, in that order. We've included recipes in the past, and now we would like to share with you our recipe for humble pie: a full measure of regret mixed with our sincere apologies. We thank everyone for their support. Sincerely, The Beardstown Ladies

The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck
C'mon back to rural Indiana in 1904 and join 15-year-old Russell, whose summer ends with the unexpected death of old Miss Myrt Arbuckle. Russell and his younger brother are thrilled because just maybe the school board will decide to stop its foolishness and tear down the one-room schoolhouse. Surely it doesn't pay to hire a new teacher for the six students who attend. But to his utter horror, one is hired and it's none other than his extremely bossy older sister, even though she still has a year left of high school herself. Tansy takes to teaching with vigor and manages to circumvent all of the high jinks and calamities that threaten to undermine her authority, such as an accidental fire in the privy and a puff adder in her desk drawer. Peck expertly evokes humor and colloquial speech and mores with such sentences as "The water wasn't crotch-deep on a dwarf at that point," and "She had a snout on her long enough to drink water down a crawdad hole." Even readers who are blasĂ© about current technological advances will be as excited as Russell is when he sees the steel Case Agitator threshing machine down from Wisconsin on its once-yearly exhibit, or the Overland Automobile Company's Bullet No. 2 racing car that can travel a mile in an unheard-of 43 seconds. Another gem from Peck–and a fabulous lead-in to titles such as Olive Burns's Cold Sassy Tree (Houghton, 1984).–Susan Riley, Mount Kisco Public Library, NY (School Library Journal)

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
Peewee idolizes Jake, a big brother whose dreams of auto mechanic glory are fueled by the hard road coming to link their Indiana town and futures with the twentieth century. And motoring down the road comes Irene Ridpath, a young librarian with plans to astonish them all and turn Peewee’s life upside down. Here Lies the Librarian, with its quirky characters, folksy setting, classic cars, and hilariously larger-than-life moments, is vintage Richard Peck—an offbeat, deliciously wicked comedy that is also unexpectedly moving.

Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon books

What is your favorite Southern fiction book, author, or setting?

Happy reading!

1 comment:

Anne said...

Read C W Crawford's (Tarrant Hoke) books. They are a little rough cut and in need of editing but the story is a true southern gem. C W grew up right here in Mtn Brook and is a UAB professor. Can't get more home grown than that. Also Amy Cherner, C W 's (and also my) classmate has at least one published book of poetry. She graduated from Harvard and may be on staff there...will have to check. Will also have to get her married name. Her work is doing quite well. Anne Johnson