Roses by Leila Meacham
Grand Central, January 2010
At 600 pages, Roses is the kind of story that you’ll read under your desk, at the dinner table and through the middle of the night until you get to the end. We learn in the opening scene that cotton plantation matriarch Mary Toliver has unexpectedly changed her will at the end of her life. Meacham hooks us by offering no real explanation for this drastic move, and then shifts to the beginning of the 20th century, when Mary first inherits the plantation. The entire saga—filled with heartbreak, betrayal, power struggles and love—spans nearly 70 years. Looking for a good old-fashioned page-turner to gobble up this weekend? Roses fits the bill.
What are you reading today?
He gaped at her, truly shocked. “But, Mary, why?” You’ve had a marvelous life—a life that I thought you wished to bequeath to Rachel to perpetuate your family’s heritage. This codicil is so...” he swept the back of his hand over the document, “adverse to everything I thought you’d hoped for her—that you led her to believe you wanted for her.”
She slackened in her chair, a proud schooner with the wind suddenly sucked from her sails. She laid the cane across her lap. “Oh, Amos, it’s such a long story, far too long to go into here. Percy will have to explain it all to you someday.”
“Explain what, Mary? What’s there to explain?” And why someday, and why Percy? He would not be put off by a stab of concern for her. The lines about her eyes and mouth had deepened, and her flawless complexion had paled beneath its olive skin tone. Insistently, he leaned father over the desk. “What story don’t I know, Mary? I’ve read everything ever printed about the Tolivers and Warwicks and DuMonts, not to mention having lived among you for forty years. I’ve been privy to everything affecting each of you since I came to Howbutker. Whatever secrets you may have harbored would have come out. I know you.”
She lowered her lids briefly, fatigue clearly evident in their sepia-tinged folds. When she raised them again, her gaze was soft with affection. “Amos, dear, you came into our lives when our stories were done. You have known us at our best, when all our sad and tragic deeds were behind us and we were living with their consequences. Well, I want to spare Rachel from making the same mistakes I made and suffering the same, inevitable consequences. I don’t intend to leave her under the Toliver curse.”
Anne Rice has become the latest author to release a "Vook" (see an earlier post about Vooks here). She's chosen an out-of-print short story, set in 1888 London, to republish in the new digital format. "The Master of Rampling Gate" is selling for just 99 cents right now (regular price $4.99), and I have to admit the preview, which includes one of the accompanying videos, is pretty interesting (not least for the revelation that such a thing as a "Gothic historian" exists).
You can choose among three views: just the text, just the videos, or a mix of both.
Throughout the text you can click on words and be taken to Wikipedia links explaining them, just in case you don't have a visual reference for "mullioned windows" or "Victoria Station."
I'm curious to see what kind of a response you readers have to something like this. Interested, or not a chance? At 99 cents I am tempted to give it a try, although Vooks don't seem quite as impressive after Penguin's announcement yesterday of their ebook vision for the iPad (I want that travel guide!).
After the jump, the YouTube trailer for "The Master of Rampling Gate" and an embed of the Penguin UK presentation (via).
The Associated Press reported this morning that Barry Hannah, Southern author extraordinaire and creative writing professor at the University of Mississippi, died Monday. He was 67. Hannah's death came just a few days before the 17th Oxford Conference for the Book; his work is the subject of the conference.
Hannah’s first novel, Geronimo Rex, was nominated for a National Book Award in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing. Short story collection High Lonesome was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996.
Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day, was a friend of Hannah’s. He said, ''Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling. . . You never knew the source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.”
In a 2001 interview with BookPage, Hannah talked with Ellen Kanner about his book Yonder Stands Your Orphan—and about writing sober and Southern:
"All my idols were alcoholics—Joyce, Hemingway. I bought into the notion you had to have some drinking and a bit of pain if you had anything to say," says Hannah. "Much of it was phony." He hasn't had a drink in a decade and Yonder Stands Your Orphan is the first novel he wrote sober.
Hannah misses nothing of his boozy self. It's his younger self he thinks of with a bit of nostalgia. "The young are privy to truths that become blurred for older people. I had no history when I started writing in the 1960s, when I was writing as well as I ever did. You don't need to know everything, thank God. I knew nothing of publishing, didn't know I was going to make a dime. I miss that freedom in relative poverty," he says. . .
Writing about the South and living in Oxford, home of William Faulkner, Hannah has been called that dirty name, a Southern writer. "I don't like it used in the connotations of local color—I despise that—or somebody making hay out of weird relatives or funny names," he says. "No really good writer could be merely Southern. A fiction writer isn't provincial, ever. He should be sending back news from the front, news somebody else might not know about and it should be interesting and entertaining."
Related in BookPage: An interview with Richard Ford.
Earlier this month my book club read Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite, which drew quite a range of reactions. Though everyone in the group agreed that Phillips is a terrific writer, some felt that this critically acclaimed novel (a finalist for the National Book Award) was a difficult reading experience. Readers questioned the supernatural elements, the use of symbolism (yes, Lola IS the cat) and a few plot points that strained belief. Despite all this, I can tell you that we had a wonderful discussion of Lark and Termite and that I came away from the meeting with a clearer understanding of this remarkable novel and a stronger appreciation for Phillips' talents.
All of which serves as proof of The First Law of Book Clubs: It isn't necessarily the books that everyone loves that spark the best discussions. In fact, my reading group has had some of its very best talks about books that most of us hated (I won't mention any titles but a certain talking gorilla comes painfully to mind). Don't get me wrong -- we've also had wonderful conversations about books that each and every book club member thoroughly enjoyed. But in the end, it's not only the quality of a book, but the experience of reading and sharing your reaction to it, that makes or breaks a book club.
What about it, book club members? What book has sparked the best discussion in your reading group? Tell us in the comments by March 14 and you'll be entered to win copies of a recent reading group title for everyone in your club (up to 10 copies). The prize is being provided by the fine folks at Vintage/Anchor Books, and the winner can choose one of these recent Vintage/Anchor paperback releases:
The winner and five runners-up will also receive a copy of The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club, in which the beloved Irish author offers advice and encouragement for aspiring writers.
It's always a treat to hear that David Sedaris has a new project in the works. Even more exciting? Finding out he's going off the beaten path. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a collection of fables being published by Little, Brown in October 2010, will be illustrated by celebrated picture book author and artist Ian Falconer, reports Publisher's Weekly.
Though fables might first seem an odd choice for an accomplished essayist, I think the form could be the perfect showcase for Sedaris' humor and imagination. What say you?
You might remember that in 2005, a woman paid $25,100 for the privilege of having a Stephen King character—a zombie, in fact—named after her brother. (The book was Cell, and the zombie's name was "Huizenga.") The proceeds, earned in an auction, went to the First Amendment Project, which has also allowed bidding for characters in John Grisham, Dave Eggers and Neil Gaiman books.
A news item in yesterday’s New York Times reminded me of this odd concept of reader participation: Tony Award-winning actress Patti LuPone is holding a contest for readers to name her forthcoming autobiography. She explains: “Dolls, I've been busy writing the story of my theatrical life and need your help to find a suitable and fabulous title.”
Romance novelist Robyn Carr is holding a similar contest (which you may have seen advertised on our site): Readers can enter for a chance to have a character named after them in one of her 2011 books, specifically, a kitchen colleague in the restaurant where we'll first meet the story's heroine. (Granted, the difference here is that Carr’s and King's contests are all luck or money, whereas Lupone’s takes creativity. The NYT suggests “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”)
In October I blogged about The Amanda Project, a YA mystery series by Stella Lennon. The series is innovative because social media plays a role in the books’ editorial content; readers can interact on The Amanda Project website, and their comments could be incorporated into characters or subplots.
Commenters: What do you think about this marketing/fundraising technique? Would YOU like to have a character named for you in a book? Or your title splashed across a new hardcover? Or is editorial content best left to the experts—the authors themselves?
There's been no shortage of major books about political figures recently—think Going Rogue and Game Change, just for starters—but a few titles coming out this spring will be sure to generate even more interest in these very public lives.
President Obama may already have two books to his name, but David Remnick's The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama is the first major biography to be published about him. Remnick, who won the Pulitzer Prize for 1993's Lenin's Tomb, will cover both Obama's personal life (such as his relationship with his mother) and his political life. Says Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Knopf, "Remnick conducted hundreds of on-the-record interviews to write the fullest narrative possible of a sitting President. He relies on conversations with family, friends, teachers, professors, mentors, donors, and rivals of Barack Obama––as well as with the President himself." Knopf will publish The Bridge on April 6th, with a first printing of 200,000 copies.
And a mere two weeks later, on April 20th, Gotham will publish Michelle Obama's brother Craig Robinson's family memoir, A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago's Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond (Gotham). With a first printing of 250,000, Robinson's book promises to share his insights into developing that elusive quality known as "character," with stories about his and Michelle's childhood, growing up and eventual acceptance into Princeton University.
Finally, with a first printing of a whopping 750,000 (!), Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken From the Heart, will be released by Scribner on May 4th. There's very little official information to be found about this book—they aren't even sending out advance copies—but with numbers like that, expect this one to be HUGE.
From the catalog:
In 1934 all the national publications sent their star reporters to remote Virginia to cover the trial of Erma Morton: a beautiful 21-year-old year old mountain girl with a teaching degree, accused of murdering her father--a drunken tyrant of a man.
We've said before that McCrumb "is just the author to unearth the facts, sprinkle them with a little mountain magic and bring them to life in her fiction." (from an interview for Ghost Riders). The Devil Amongst the Lawyers should bring more of the same.
J. Sydney Jones is the author of 12 books, including 2009’s The Empty Mirror, a “stylish and atmospheric” mystery novel that “breathes life into turn-of-the-century Vienna.” Jones’ latest novel is Requiem in Vienna (published Feb. 2 by Minotaur Books), another mystery starring Viennese lawyer Karl Werthen and criminologist Hans Gross. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author shares the experience that inspired his series—when, as a young man living in Vienna, he was tailed by a watcher for the state police.
I'll Be Watching You
At first I thought it might be a shopkeeper I did occasional business with. That would explain why he looked so familiar. The butcher on Langegasse or the wine merchant in the Altstadt. He had the same general features: slight build, medium height, light brown hair and eyes, gray overcoat. Nothing stood out. A figure that blends into the background.
I would catch sight of him across the Josefstaedterstrasse on my way to the language institute where I taught; see his reflection in a store window on Graben and he would quickly turn away; pass by him leaving the Stadtbahn station, his back to me, his head buried in a day-old issue of the Kurier. Once I actually came upon him talking with my building portier, a guilty look on both their faces.
This was the Vienna of several decades ago. It was still the Cold War. Foreigners living in Vienna fit into a risk category for the state police, anxious to protect Austria’s neutrality. It did not help that a childhood friend, also living in Vienna at the time, had become involved in a nationalist cause in Yugoslavia.
Still, until I discovered that I had my very own watcher, I had been living in another make-believe Vienna of schlagobers and Mozart. I had believed the tourist propaganda of the city of dreams and waltz.
My watcher stayed with me for over half a year, until I moved on for a time to Greece. Returning to Vienna the next fall, I no longer saw him or sensed his presence. But it was a wake up for me. I began to look at the underside of Vienna after the watcher; seeing the city as not only beautiful, but also treacherous. It is a vision that has remained with me, informing all of my writing about Vienna.
—J. Sydney Jones
When the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalists were announced yesterday, the names were recognizable—even predictable: Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore, Colson Whitehead and Sherman Alexie. But the fifth finalist, Lorraine M. López, nominated for Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, stood out from the crowd.
While I didn’t recognize the title of the story collection, I thought I recognized the name: I had an English professor named Lorraine López as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt.
Turns out Professor López is not only an incredible teacher (her Latino literature class remains one of my favorites) but a greatly talented writer. I love this description of Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, from fellow writer and critic Heather Sellers: “An amazingly original Flannery O’Connor/Loretta Lynn collision, this collection lets us witness the indomitable spirit and forces us to take pure joy in all we really ever have a chance at: flawed, gorgeous, weird, rollicking, screwed survival.”
Published in November 2009 by BkMk Press (at the University of Missouri, Kansas City), Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories is sure to get a lot of attention in the coming weeks—and we couldn’t be happier for its gracious and gifted author.
Lorraine M. López was kind enough to humor a former student—and took time out of her busy teaching/writing schedule to talk with BookPage today.
When did you find out you were named a finalist for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction? What was your initial reaction?
My editor at the Press, Ben Furnish sent me an email saying he’d been contacted by the PEN/Faulkner Prize administrators who wanted my contact information, and soon afterward, I had an email telling me to call the director of the Prize. I called right away and she congratulated me for being a finalist for the award. I’m a low-key person, so I’d make a terrible game show contestant. I don’t whoop and holler. I think I said, “Wow,” but quietly. I don’t think I was able to take it in fully for the first 24 hours or so. I’m still processing the news, which is unbelievably wonderful, the kind of thing I wouldn’t even dare to dream. And when I saw the list of the other finalists, I went into super-fan mode, and I grew excited all over again with the anticipation of meeting these writers and hearing them read at the ceremony in May.
Were you aware that your publisher had submitted your stories for award consideration?
The remarkable Ben Furnish sent me a list of the competitions in which he’d entered the book months ago, so I suppose I had some awareness of this then. But many things happened between that time and now, and I didn't have this on the tip of my consciousness when I heard the news, adding to my sense of surprise.
What are you most looking forward to about the awards ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library on May 8th?
I am looking forward to the reading. I cannot wait to hear Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead read their work. I have only heard Colson, whom I met through Kevin Young, read, and he is great. I know this will be a reading I will never forget.
What are you working on now?
Now, I’m working on surviving the semester, but I just turned in two manuscripts for publication in 2011. Realm of the Hungry Spirits, a novel, is due out from Hachette/Grand Central in spring of 2011 and a collection of essays titled The Other Latin@ that I coedited with Blas Falconer will be forthcoming from University of Arizona Press in fall of 2011. Next academic year I am on leave and have plans to work on another young adult novel, working title The Vidalia Onion Queen and a collection of linked stories with this working title: La Cariña. This phrase means “The Darling,” and it is an homage to Chekhov’s unforgettable story about a woman who absorbs identity from the various men she marries. While I enjoy writing novels, the short story is my true love and I can’t wait to get begin composing the pieces for this next collection.
For more on the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Prize finalists, click here. And keep your fingers crossed for Lorraine M. López!