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Circus Mirandus: A Magical Summer Read

Eudora Welty House

Summer Storytime at the Eudora Welty House June 4, 11, 18, 25

Vaught: The Man and His Legacy by Rick Cleveland.

vaught by rick clevelandEpic Sports, 2000.

With this year’s exciting football season, even booksellers find a way to participate in Mississippi’s football madness. Rick Cleveland’s Vaught: The Man and His Legacy is a pictorial history of Johnny Vaught, the Texan who became an icon in Southern football and led the University of Mississippi through 25 seasons of some of its most historic football from 1947-1973. Ole Miss won six Southeastern Conference championships under Vaught and the team has not won another championship since then.

What was the secret to the Legendary Vaught’s success? Cleveland addresses this question throughout the book. Robert Khayat cites Vaught’s natural leadership abilities: the assembly of the best coaching team, the setting of goals and maintaining of focus, and the recruitment of players who could meet those expectations. The late Bruiser Kinard added that Coach Vaught wanted his assistant coaches to problem solve on their own. Vaught is quoted saying, “I didn’t want yes-men; I wanted people who would speak their mind.” Vaught earned his staff’s respect and they stayed with his team for a long time.

When Vaught: The Man and His Legacy was released in 2000, the 91-year-old Vaught graciously joined Cleveland for signings at bookstores and other venues. Signed copies of “Vaught” are great mementos to Mississippi’s football history. Rick Cleveland has spent over 40 years sharing his love for writing and sports with Mississippi and beyond. As I watch this historic football season unfold, I can’t help but wonder if Cleveland will be able to keep his book-writing pen still.

A Painted House by John Grisham

painted house UPNew York: Random House, 2001.

If you spend too much time wandering around bookstores, you may come across a plain looking version of a book labeled uncorrected proof or advanced reader copy. Despite their generic appearance, the original intent of these editions is to help generate buzz around a book before the book even goes on sale. Advanced copies may be sent to news media, book reviewers, book sellers, and librarians. For these professionals, advance copies may pile up in the desks rather quickly and unthinkingly. If a book becomes a great success, however, an uncorrected proof or advance copy can become highly sought after by collectors. One reason is that such a limited number of advanced copies were printed and another reason is that the proof may differ slightly from the final publication.

Someone who collects uncorrected proofs reveals a particular connection to an author, his or her story, or that time in publication history. Here are some examples of proofs that have become collectible over the years: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965), Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1988), and Lancelot by Walker Percy (1977). It takes a keener eye to look out for more contemporary proofs like the debut of A Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003) or A Painted House by John Grisham. Released in 2001, a proof of Grisham’s Painted House is significant in that it was his first work outside the legal thriller genre, a coming-of-age story set in rural Arkansas likely influenced by the writing style of Willie Morris. Finding the proofs signed or getting them signed renders them rare indeed.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

third life of grange copeland by ALICE WALKERHarcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc. 1970.

We collect books not so much as objects but as mementos of a particular time in our lives, a philosophy that opened our eyes, a history we do not want to forget. Alice Walker wrote her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in a room of her own in Jackson, Mississippi as a way to honor her family’s determination to build lives of dignity. Around the time of publication of The Third Life, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye were also released. Morrison and Walker would go on to win the Pulitzer while Angelou would be nominated.

Alice Walker came to Mississippi in 1966 to support the freedom movement. She collected depositions from Greenwood sharecroppers thrown off the land for attempting to vote. She discovered the poetry of Margaret Walker and eventually covered Dr. Walker’s leave of absence from Jackson State University. She also taught literature and writing at Tougaloo College and wrote a second novel, Meridian, from her home in Jackson. She fell in love, she married, she had a child. Walker’s marriage to Mel Leventhal was the first legal interracial marriage in Mississippi. While Walker worked, Leventhal risked his life as a lawyer deconstructing Jim Crow. In 2008, Walker reflected on her time in Mississippi at the Third Annual Gathering of Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement in conjunction with Jackson State University:

“I saw the best of human beings in Mississippi. They were black and they were white. They were young and they were old. They were women and they were men. They were children who sacrificed childhood so that future generations might enjoy it. Mississippi, in its vanguard position of struggle in the Southern black freedom movement, was a fierce, challenging, loving, rageful mother and father to my spirit. My debt for what I learned of human courage and possibility can never be paid with less than my understanding that I must never, given our people’s beauty, endurance, trust in each other, and grace, give up.”

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Theodore Boone: The Fugitive – Signed Copies Available

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Jackson, Photographs by Ken Murphy – Signed Copies!

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In Defense of David Mitchell and the Nostalgia Complex

Jacket-121-335x500The Bone Clocks is Mitchell’s best yet. The characters are labyrinthine, loving and hating. The plot is ridiculously well done. This book seems to have oozed from the psyche like some bathybic mythocreature. Its prints will be on my mind for a long time.

This is the blurb I sent in to our Random House reps after reading this book:

William O’Connor of The Daily Beast reviewed David Mitchell’s latest book writing: “One of the best novelists alive, Mitchell probably couldn’t write a truly bad book, but while his latest effort is always entertaining, nothing about it sticks with you.”

Several months away from the book, I have to disagree with Mr. O’Connor.

Instead of stiffly trying to refute point by point the aforementioned review I’m just going to tell you what I loved about this book, why I think it worked, and why I liked it better than Cloud Atlas.

Or, without shitting around, let’s just get to the heart of the problem. No one is going to contest  David Mitchell’s ability to craft characters; If someone has a problem with this book, it’s most likely to do with the plot. To map out the plot of this book would be both annoying and pointless to readers. I’ll relate like this: where there seem to be holes, there are, and they are there for a purpose. And instead of the word holes, we should use the term voids. These voids create the cerebral and abstract situation necessary to capture the torrent that is the inner experience where the conscious and the unconscious meet. It’s essential to this book, and not an inconsistency. It’s like talking about a David Lynch film. If you need things to be reasonable, you probably just shouldn’t watch any Lynch films. Same thing with the other David. I personally found the story incredible, as opposed to credible, and thought it was spectacular. If I wanted to read a story about a middle aged man wasting away in a cubicle for three hundred pages I wouldn’t read David Mitchell. But, if you want to read something incredible, do it.

Most of The Bone Clocks detractors have a nostalgia complex. You loved Cloud Atlas so much that when you now read any of of his works it is accompanied by this sentimental longing for the past. Whenever you read about Timothy Cavendish or Luisa Rey in the new novel, you’re struck with that excitement only a long lost friend can conjure – feeling that disparate warmth reserved for the familiar, but you slowly come to realize Tim and Luisa have changed somehow, slightly, but enough to be untrustworthy, enough to be lulled out of your reverie in the clouds. Mitchell’s characters change just as they should, just like we do. For all of you experiencing this nostalgia complex, take one from Gregory House, M.D., “people never change” (at least not substantially).

Here is a subtle example of this complex from Mr. O’Connors piece:

And where are the clever insights so prevalent in Cloud Atlas, e.g., “If war’s first victim is truth, its second is clerical efficiency.” Or, “all revolutions are fantasy until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.”

O’Connor, not one paragraph before, writes:

The observations are witty, and Hershey’s self-destructive wallowing is as addictive as the best reality show. The next chapter, on the Horologist Marinus, allows Mitchell to dazzle us with his seemingly endless random knowledge of people and global history.

His willingness to praise Mitchell’s prose as witty and then immediately disavow it to ask ‘where is the wit we once saw in Cloud Atlas?’ is at once disturbing and telling. Despite their similar form, this latest novel is not supposed to be an iteration of the “masterpiece”. It’s an elegant, chaotic enrichment to the masterpiece that is being made.

If you have this complex, go see a psychoanalyst, because there is never going to be a Bone Atlas.

 

 

Written by Austen

 

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