Author: Kelly (Page 1 of 8)

Get to know Kelly

How long have you worked at Lemuria? Seven years and I’m still learning.

What do you do at Lemuria? I coordinate our employee schedules. Daily, I am the one who makes sure we get through each day with all the puzzle pieces falling into place. I also do a little buying and take care of the cooking section. And I scour the globe for copies of out of print books for folks who wish they weren’t out of print.

Talk to us what you’re reading right now. I’m in the middle of several books, which is nothing unusual; Avenue of Mysteries, the new novel by John Irving, Walk on Earth a Stranger, the new young adult novel by Rae Carson (longlisted for the National Book Award); a couple of graphic novels, Wytches vol. 1 and Saga vol. 5; and an older nonfiction book, Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. And I just finished Jackson native Katy Simpson Smith’s new book, Free Men, which comes out in February. It was phenomenal.

What’s currently on your bedside table (book purgatory)? I’ve been wanting to read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series for a long time. I recently took home a paperback copy of book one and then realized I had an earlier edition paperback (from before book two was released) already in my to-read stack! That sort of thing happens all the time to booksellers, and I know it happens to quite a few of our book-obsessed customers, too. It’s a consequence of taking in books faster than you can read them; you surprise yourself with how consistently you are attracted to the same books!

How many books do you usually read at a time? It varies; anywhere from one to five or six. Of course the more I begin at once the greater chance I’ll never finish some of them, so I try to keep it manageable. I’m usually juggling a mix of current/future fiction, something older I always meant to read, graphic novels, and occasional nonfiction (mostly essays/creative nonfiction).

I know it’s difficult, but give us your current top five books.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

(Yes, I do realize I listed only four. Be glad I stopped there because if I gave you ONE MORE the list would spontaneously combust. I don’t know why. It just would.)

What did you do before you worked at Lemuria? I worked at another bookstore in Vero Beach, Florida. Believe it or not, they used the same DOS-based inventory system as we do. IBID rules.

Why do you like working at Lemuria? Simplest answer? For the books and the chaos.

If we could have any living author visit the store and do a reading, who would you want to come? JOHN IRVING, PLEASE COME TO LEMURIA!!!!

If you had the ability to teleport, where would you go first? I can apparate?! Now I’m not so devastated that Southwest quit flying out of Jackson. Um, honestly? I think I’d pop home (to Vero) to say hi to my family. I guess I’m getting old and losing my adventurous spirit.

Let’s Talk Jackson: How Jackson became my buddy

The year was 1999. I was just seven years old, and the world was my oyster; or so I’m told. Maturity hasn’t been helpful in decoding that saying. It was early, and I was awake. But oddly enough, that was ok, because that day was going to be special. A day to be remembered in the annals of childhood experience. A day where imagination was my text book. That’s right people; I’m talkin ’bout field trip day.

As per my usual habits, I had neglected to ask any questions about the day or come at all prepared. Turns out, it was a choir field trip, which was good news to me. Choir day meant we ate fast food,  and not those peasant sack lunches. Not necessarily pertinent to this story, but a definitive milestone in my life nonetheless is the fact that I enjoyed my first Chic-fil-a sandwich that day. Hold the pickles. So I boarded the bloated yellow caravan to my musical destination. The usual trip activities transpired. Paper throwing. Book reading. Singing. Underground Pokémon tournaments. (Pokémon was strictly forbade at my school.)  Then, “Whoa, look!” I was seven years old, so look wasn’t as much a suggestion as it was a command, and my adolescent head rose automatically and stared out in the direction the looker had indicated. Glittering shapes danced before me like fire. Presumably buildings, their silhouette had been blurred by the radiance of the sun. What the heck was this place? So I asked. “Mrs. Adams, what is,” hand pointed out “that?”

LamarGargoyles_DSC5936_CMYK“That’s Jackson you little dummy. Why don’t you ever read the handouts?” Oh. So this was Jacks– wait a minute. Jackson? That place on the news where people went to get shot and/or robbed. This was that? And thus two important thoughts arose in my mind. “What if the tv doesn’t always tell the whole truth?”, and “Maybe there’s more to this Jackson thing than most folk know about.” As the day progressed, and then days after that, my second thought was affirmed. I had seen the place, walked the downtown streets. Met the people. And for the first time in my life, I knew something my parents didn’t. – Jackson was cool.

It’s been a while since my more formative years, and I have come to understand the apprehensions expressed by non Jacksonians about the city. It does have its fair share of problems. But you should know, this city hasn’t fallen to hell. In fact it’s on the rise, with plenty to do and plenty of great people to enjoy. Art. Food. Entertainment. All here. So I challenge you, reader, if you haven’t in a while, come check out the city. It’s better than you remember it.

Written by Joey 

 

Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy is available now for purchase. To order a copy, call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or visit us online at lemuriabooks.com. 

Egg & Spoon

Jacket (22)I’ve been charmed by Gregory Macguire’s new middle grade novel, Egg & Spoon. Though that’s its official classification I hesitate to call it middle grade; yes, it’s a fairy tale set in Imperial Russia, with two tween girl heroines and the inimitable, grandmotherly yet dangerous witch Baba Yaga as another of its main players. Its themes are the usual middle grade fare of being content with what you have and that anyone can be a hero. But it has much to offer grown-up readers, too. Much of the subtlety of the humor won’t be appreciated by younger readers, especially Baba Yaga’s references to modern culture (her indeterminate age has apparently endowed her with timelessness), and the narrator’s (a blind old monk in a prison tower) omniscient digressions from the story.

Aristocratic yet spoiled Ekaterina encounters the young and peasant Elena when the train taking her to St Petersburg is forced to stop in Elena’s poverty-stricken village. A mishap causes them to switch places as the train resumes its journey, and Elena finds herself a stowaway on the train. Sure that the mistake will be discovered and the train will return to pick her up, Ekaterina begins to walk along the tracks, only to be swept into the clutches of the legendary witch, Baba Yaga. Ekaterina doesn’t know what to make of the ramblings of the witch—of the firebird and its magical tail feathers, of the ice dragon whose slumber in the north is said to be responsible for the winter season’s frost—she barely believes in the witch herself. But Baba Yaga knows something is wrong with the balance of magic in the world, because the snow is melting and winter is thawing too soon. Everyone heads to St Petersburg, Baba Yaga to warn the Tsar of the problems, Ekaterina to return to her privileged life, and Elena hoping to get help for her suffering family.

The elements of Maguire’s beloved Wizard of Oz retelling, Wicked, may be more familiar to readers than a world of firebirds and thousand-year-old Russian witches, yet Egg & Spoon connects us to a tradition that is familiar in a different way, and is as layered as Elena’s matryoshka doll—the bonds of friendship, the love of family, the precocious heroism of youth. An intricately crafted Faberge egg begins this adventure, and two girls from very different worlds must find common ground in order to end it.

Egg & Spoon is a selection of our Oz First Editions Club. A limited number signed first editions are still available.

Written by Kelly

Justice for Ella

This article by Donna C. Echols was published in the Clarion-Ledger on September, 8 2014

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Pam Johnson, right, wrote the book ‘Justice for Ella,’ as told to her by Jewell McMahan, left, Ella Gaston’s best friend. (Photo: Special to the Clarion-Ledger)

Once in a while, life hands you an opportunity to do something very special. In Pam Johnson’s case, life handed her a special story to tell. The story is about an unlikely friendship that transcended fear, hostilities and race. It took 55 years before this story would be revealed to us in a new book called “Justice for Ella: A Story that Needed to be Told.”

“I heard my friend, Mike McMahan, tell this story about his mama and her friend at a dinner one night. All of us at the table told him that it needed to be written. I begged to write it and was lucky enough to be picked,” Johnson said. Justice for Ella is a rare view inside the friendship of two women, one black and one white, from the early years of the Civil Rights era.

When asked what inspired her to tell this story, Johnson said, “It was a fabulous story about two gutsy women and it had a ready-made dangerous and funny plot line. It was one of those things where we’d say now, ‘You just can’t make this stuff up.’ “

There was conflict and uncertainty around Ella Gaston and her husband, Nelse, as they journeyed through these tumultuous times and I could feel it through the words written on each page. My heart would even race, and I would feel nervous as I read through some of the difficult situations and terrifying moments that Ella and her friend Jewell found themselves.

Johnson believes that the “take away” message in this story for people today: “You don’t have to be a rock star to stand up to injustice. These two determined women were ordinary people who did what they could, and they prevailed. Right has a way of doing that.”

Right has a way of doing that … perhaps the most understated comment of all as Ella and Jewell’s journey took them through fears of losing their children, of imprisonment without justification, of retaliation. Yet through it all, their friendship remained strong as these two women faced hatred, racism, and an uncertainty in a setting about to erupt as the Civil Rights battles raged on.

“As a former newspaper reporter and English teacher, even I was not prepared for the sheer discipline and labor involved in putting together a book,” Johnson said when asked what it was like to sit down and write a book. “It has to make sense and stream forward in every detail, while at the same time being readable and compelling. I often prided myself as a teacher on making sure my students understood the value of documented resources. But I confess at the end of my research on the book, I was wishing for index cards.”

Editing took a lot of time, too. “There is a lot of good writing sitting in a drawer in my office that will never see print,” she said. “I also learned the value of an egg timer,” she said. “I would set my timer for an hour and write through it. Take a break. Set it again, and keep writing. Sometimes, I would write for six hours in a day.”

These comments show the tenacity it takes to finish a book that involves so much research and so many interviews. It was a tedious process that at the end of the day revealed a gripping, page-turning, compelling, emotional, heart-warming book like Justice for Ella that perfectly illustrates the depth of friendships.

After getting my copy of Justice for Ella, there was no sleeping or eating or work to be done until I was finished. Every character in the book was a thoroughly described, three-dimensional person. They were easy to visualize. The personalities and heart-pounding drama jumped off every page as I quickly turned them to see what was going to happen next. I could even smell and taste the Sunday fried chicken as it was described in delicious details. The suspense of whether Ella would be sent to jail or Jewell would get caught helping her friend made me hold my breath waiting to see what happened to them. Reading such an energetic account of what lengths a friend would go to help another during some very dangerous times was riveting. After this, I had to know if there was a second book in store for Johnson’s readers.

“I do have an idea in mind based on a recent true story from my hometown of Mount Olive. I am still working on fleshing out the storyline to submit for consideration,” Johnson said. “I could probably write a political thriller, but it would have to be a work of fiction. Too many of the characters are still alive.

“Even though I was a child during the Civil Rights era, like most white Southern children of the time, I was exposed only to carefully edited television reports, an occasional Life magazine lying around, and dinner table conversation,” Johnson remembered. “I learned more about our Civil Rights history than I ever imagined I would know, or really hoped to know, while researching this book. Even with my experiences as an adult in areas promoting racial understanding and communication, nothing prepared me for the sheer pervasiveness of Jim Crow through the lives of all Mississippians — black and white. It pains me to see blatant remnants of those times still being paraded and parroted by people who should know better.”

The heroines in Justice for Ella braved the odds and defied status quo. I asked Johnson if she saw herself in these women, these friends, these Mississippi folks who bravely protected and looked after each other during a dangerous time in our state’s history. Johnson answered, “In my office, I have a magnet with a picture of Han Solo that states ‘Never Tell Me the Odds.’ That pretty much sums up an approach I’ve taken in life — sometimes with great outcomes, and many times with, shall we say, ‘learning opportunities.’ My eagerness to write the book stemmed in great part from that attitude and believe that the Lord always has my back. I think both of these women had the same way of looking at challenges, and they worked with whatever was available to them to overcome very steep odds.”

Asked if she was ever nervous about researching and writing this story, Johnson said that at times she was. “As a person with an often reckless sense of capability, I wasn’t nervous. I realized about halfway in that I should have been,” she said.

This book, Justice for Ella, was inspirational for me as I read it. I was curious if that was true for Johnson, and what was the most encouraging part of Jewell and Ella’s journey for her. She said, “There were many occurrences displaying raw backbone in this story, but I have to say the hospital trips were the most blatantly courageous actions in the narrative. Ella was made to get grossly sick. Both women were risking arrest for interfering with the court proceedings. That’s the reason the story had been in a virtual vault for five decades.”

We have so many famous Mississippians as literary giants, world famous musicians, a plethora of athletic talent, and in countless other categories. What does this story tell you about Mississippians and their willingness to do great things without regard to consequences? “I think there’s a streak of ‘fearless’ in all of us. Sometimes it works out well; sometimes, not so much, Johnson said. “We seem to enjoy our common profile of courage in the face of giants — be they human, societal or economic. It appears to me that this commonality runs through just about all of us — in every demographic group.”

While we can’t change the history of our state, what are some things that Ella and Jewell’s friendship can teach us? Johnson said that recognizing and honoring each other on a human scale is essential to our survival and progress. “Categorizing and demeaning our fellow travelers does not make for a cohesive, kind and successful way of living, in my opinion.” “I am very grateful to the McMahans and the Gastons for their unending support and patience while I was researching and writing, Johnson added. “The families had held this story a close secret for over 50 years, and it was a wonderful experience to help them shine the light on their mamas’ courage.”

REMINDER… Pam Johnson’s book signing for Justice for Ella will be Thursday, Sept. 18, at Lemuria Bookstore beginning at 5 p.m. If you can’t make the signing, call Lemuria (601-366-7619) and order a book. The author will be happy to sign it for you.

Tweet your thoughts to @TheDonnaEchols, and we’ll see you at the book signing!

Susan Minot and Lorrie Moore

We are so excited to have two amazing authors coming to the store on March 27 at 5:00!

Lorri Moore BarkLorrie Moore, winner of the O’Henry award and an old favorite of ours, will be here to read from and sign her new collection of short stories, Bark.

Susan Minot Thirty GirlsJoining her will be Susan Minot (also an O’Henry award winner!) for her new novel, Thirty Girls. Both of these talented women are old friends of the bookstore and we think so highly of their work that we have chosen these two books to be our February and March First Editions Club picks.

We want to make this event a real party, so if you chose any event to attend this season, let this be the one! Keep your eyes peeled for more posts and updates about the event, because I have a feeling it’s only going to get more exciting. We’d love for you to join us in a giant hangout session with these two amazing ladies. Mark it on your calendars!

Wiley Cash is coming back to Lemuria!

We’re so excited to welcome Wiley Cash back to Lemuria tomorrow, Thursday the 20th, at 11:00 a.m. His first book, A Land More Kind Than Home, was hailed by readers and booksellers alike, with its blend of dark, religious fanaticism balanced by the innocence of a young boy who would do anything to protect his older, disadvantaged brother.

This Dark Road to MercyHis new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, is just as riveting. The story is told through the eyes, once again, of a child. Easter and her sister Ruby have been in the foster care system since their mother died of a drug overdose. Now their father has come back looking for them, and Easter suspects his fatherly concern is masking darker motivations. Easter has had to grow up too fast; with all she has witnessed and because of her desire to protect her sister, she has learned that sometimes hard decisions must be made by her alone — that adults can’t always help her.

Brady is Easter and Ruby’s guardian, and when the girls go missing, he is determined to find them himself. What he doesn’t know as he sets out is just how much trouble their father, a former minor league baseball player, is in. He is being tracked by someone ruthless, someone who is driven by revenge for something that happened long ago and has been fueling his single-minded rage ever since. What the reader discovers as the novel progresses is that everyone has secrets, dark spots in their history that might drive them to behave desperately.

Set during the baseball season when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire competed to break Roger Maris’s home run record, This Dark Road to Mercy is a fantastic sophomore effort by one of our favorite Southern authors.

This is an excerpt from Wiley’s blog entry about his visit to Lemuria in 2012:

photo by Tiffany B. DavisI drove across town to the famous Lemuria Books, where I met some incredibly kind and knowledgeable booksellers. I’d met the manager Kelly a few months ago at a convention in New Orleans, and she showed me the galley that I signed then; it said, “I hope I get to visit your store one day.” I resigned it and wrote, “I’m at your store right now.” I also met two fellow writers: Ellis, a short story writer who will soon be pursuing a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing, and Adie, a poet who will enter the low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific this fall. They’re proud of their store, and they should be; it has an entire room dedicated to fiction, one whole corner of which is dedicated to Southern fiction! Photographs of well-known authors who have visited the store adorn the walls. I gave a reading and signed books under the watchful eyes of Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Larry Brown, and Richard Ford. See a connection here? Mississippians love their home-grown writers almost as much as they love their barbeque.

We hope his second visit to Lemuria is as memorable as the first. Come out to the bookstore tomorrow morning at 11:00 to meet him!

A sneak peek at the books of 2014, part last

For my contribution to the 2014 preview, I’m gonna talk about some titles that I haven’t necessarily been able to read, but that I think you will be excited about because of who the authors are.

Frog Music, Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown, April 1st)

Frog MusicA few years ago, Emma Donoghue wrote a book called Room that was shortlisted by the Man Booker in 2010. I wrote about it here. It kept me up almost all night after I made the mistake of cracking it open at ten p.m. to “read a few pages.” Her new novel, Frog Music, while it doesn’t seem maybe quite as harrowing, is already getting great buzz and showing up on several other “must read in 2014” lists. It is based on an unsolved murder in San Francisco in 1876, and features a cast of characters as varied as a burlesque dancer and an ex-tightrope walker. Sounds different, no? I thought so. Can’t wait.

A Well-Tempered Heart, Jan-Philipp Sendker (Other Press, January 21st)

A Well-Tempered HeartTo say we’re “sneaking a peek” at this book is sort of a misnomer because it came out yesterday, but I’m gonna do it anyway. The first novel by German author Jan-Philipp Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, was a book club favorite of 2013. A young woman named Julia travels from New York to Burma trying to track down her missing father. Her journey leads her to the small village in which he grew up, where a mysterious stranger who may know something about her father — he certainly seems to know an impossible amount about her — begins to tell her the life story of a boy named Tin Win, a story of her father’s past. This sequel finds Julia ten years later, where again Burma is calling to her, this time to help her out of the funk her life has fallen into. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was a delightful read — heartwarming and true — and A Well-Tempered Heart promises to be also.

Saga 3, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics, March 19th)

Saga Volume 3Lemuria is in the process of beefing up our graphic novel section (we want to be cool, after all), so look out for it those of you who are saying “it’s about time.” The first two volumes of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples, are amazing. I will be the first to admit I don’t regularly devour graphic novels, but I loved these. The story is awesome, the characters are awesome, and the art is awesome. The third volume comes out April 1st, and I can’t wait! Even if you don’t normally read graphic novels yourself, come by and see what we have and think about picking up volume one today.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Random House, September 4th)

photo: Paul StuartDavid Mitchell has a new book this year! I don’t know anything about it — I don’t think many do (I found a teeny description in a BookPage article) — but I am so looking forward to it. Fans of his know what a versatile writer he is: he’s mastered everything from the nested narrative, speculative novel, Cloud Atlas, to the bildungsroman darling Black Swan Green. What can’t he do? The new one is called The Bone Clocks and it can tentatively be expected on September 4th. What more do we need to know?

Bark, Lorrie Moore (Knopf, February 25th)

BarkAnd finally, some short story love. Lorrie Moore’s writing is amazing. I loved her last novel, A Gate at the Stairs, but her short stories are even better. Come out to see her present her new collection, Bark, here on Thursday, March 27th, at a double event with Susan Minot! More to come about this exciting event later.

 

 

 

More, please!
in list form:

Can't and Won'tCan’t and Won’t
by Lydia Davis
stories (FSG)
April 8th

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami
(author of 1Q84)
novel (Knopf)
August 12th

Lost for WordsLost for Words
by Edward St. Aubyn
(author of the Patrick Melrose novels)
novel (FSG)
May 20th

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson
(author of Gilead)
novel (FSG)
fall 2014

Summer House with Swimming PoolSummer House with Swimming Pool
by Herman Koch
(author of The Dinner)
novel (Hogarth)
June 3rd

The Magician’s Land
by Lev Grossman
(author of The Magicians)
novel (Viking)
August 5th

New Life, No InstructionsNew Life, No Instructions
by Gail Caldwell
(author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home)
memoir (Random House)
April 1st

 

Home Made Summer

home made summerIt may feel like Spring is never going to come but it’s not too early to start dreaming about summer fresh meals with friends and family.  Keeping the kitchen cool while wowing your guests gastronomically can be a challenge during the summer. With the help of the Home Made Summer cookbook, summer in the south is able to coax the most creative out of us.

The first Home Made cookbook, written by Yvette van Boven, has been out for a few years. She’s based in Amsterdam, though the recipes, geared towards the do-it-yourself cook, often have a flavor of the Irish and French, both of which are influences on her. Home Made Winter was chock full of recipes for comfort food, and now, Home Made Summer, which has just arrived, will prepare us for the sweltering months ahead.

Yvette says in the introduction, “on hot summer days, few people are keen on spending long hours in the kitchen.” We concur. The cookbook is organized rather differently than many cookbooks, with the breakfast, lunch and tea time recipes being first and most important, followed by drinks, many of which include tonics and cooling remedies for the hot days ahead, and then, finally, main courses and desserts. Among the recipes you’ll find inspiration for the barbecue, accompanying salads that are a cinch to prepare, cold soups to relieve the hottest days, and drinks that will capture the flavor of the summer while giving respite from it.

Many of the recipes in Home Made Summer involve little cooking time, with many dishes that essentially look after themselves. When the summer months come, we are eager to spend our energy with our friends, not in the kitchen. This cookbook helps us do exactly that, while reminding us of the importance of eating healthy and sustainable food.

Home Made Summer by Yvette van Boven (Abrams, 2013), $35.

The Short Story Will Not Be Ignored: Part 2

So Hannah and I were talking about short stories and how much we love them because of George Saunders’s new book and our First Editions Club pick, Tenth of December. I told her — because she’s new and may not have experienced this yet — that we as booksellers come across a lot of readers who don’t like short stories. After our event on Wednesday was so successful, Hannah was convinced otherwise.

short story nook at lemuria

Great turnout and enthusiasm aside, it is true that while George Saunders may be pardoned, the short story is still under scrutiny by the general reader. The day of our event at Lemuria, Adrian Chen at Gawker blogged that George Saunders “needs to write a goddamn novel already.” And he criticized lovers of the short story for being fetishists: “Short fiction is the Hard Stuff—pure uncut stories prized by real literature heads. Novelists are trotted out on talk shows and op-ed pages to give their thoughts on the issues of the day. Many are openly egomaniacal. But short story writers are noble craftsmen, painstakingly assembling flawless sentences into a delicate storytelling apparatus.”

tunneling to the center of the earthPublishers can be biased, too; they know that a novel is often more marketable than a story collection. Being in the book business we know that many new writers are given a two book deal: the publisher will publish their stories as long they get a novel, too. But I often feel that for some writers, their stories are more focused. And of course that’s partly because a story is more focused than a novel. But there’s more to it than that. Hannah said it yesterday about Karen Russell. And the same is true of Kevin Wilson. His Family Fang was a great time, but in Tunneling to the Center of the Earth the quirkiness of his prose wasn’t as awkward; it confidently walked the tightrope between lighthearted and sober.

Some story collections to look forward to in 2013:

nothing gold can stayLemuria loves Ron Rash, and we’re super stoked about the movie version of Serena that will be released this year, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. His novels are great, but his stories will leave you stunned. They paint a tragic but poignant portrait of Appalachia. His new collection, Nothing Gold Can Stay, comes out February 19th, and Ron will be at Lemuria for an event on March 22nd.

we live in waterBefore you start to think I hate those filthy novels, the last author I’ll tell you about is Jess Walter. His novel Beautiful Ruins was on several best of 2012 lists. I know many of you loved this one, and Jess has a new book of stories coming out this year, called We Live In Water. I got my hands on an advanced copy and so far it lives up to his standards — the stories are about broken people doing beautiful things.

Finally I’ll leave you with some George Saunders quotes from Wednesday night. I’m sorry if you missed the event; it was really the best way to start off 2013 at Lemuria.

George talks about writing only stories:

“Art is not all that generous of a thing, it doesn’t let you do what you want always. Like Flannery O’Connor said, ‘You can choose what you write but you can’t choose what you make live.’”

“If I have an eight page thing I kind of know what to do. I have strong opinions about it and I know how to compress it. If someone says take that eight pages and make it fifty, I don’t mind trying but I don’t have a strong sense of what to do. … So far anyway whenever I start to write something longer it will get to a certain point and the energy goes down and some little voice in my head will say just cut it, and compress it, and then it works out okay.”

george saunders lemuria jan 23 2013 wide

George read the first part of the first story in Tenth of December, “Victory Lap.” Here’s what he had to say about his method of articulating the inner voice of a teenage girl:

“If you walk from here [Lemuria’s dotcom building] to that coffee shop across the way there [Broad Street] and it takes you forty seconds, there’s actual phenomenon occurring in your mind in those forty seconds. Can we articulate it? I don’t think so, but it’s a really fun thing to try. … It’s exciting to think about how you would come close to expressing actual mental phenomenon in prose. … So the first pass you do it for eighty pages and you go, ‘I’m a genius! Nothing happened — all he did was scratch his ass — but I got that down!’ And then you remember it’s a story, so you have to cross pollinate the mental phenomenon with some kind of physical action. That section I read was originally three times as long, but it was static. So on some fateful day you say, all right, I have to get this down to six pages, and at the end, something has to happen to escalate the action. So this guy shows up and then it goes from there.”

In praise of Katie Roiphe

Unless they’ve written a book I’m familiar with, I don’t recognize the names of the essayists in The New York Times Book Review. But when Katie Roiphe’s new book came out this fall, a book of essays called In Praise of Messy Lives, I recognized her name from an essay in the Book Review. Weird, I know, but it’s because her essay, on the front page, which is unusual in itself, was so fascinating. In “The Naked and the Conflicted,” Roiphe contrasts the treatment of sex by novelists of two generations, that of Updike, Mailer, Roth, and Bellow, with that of younger writers such as Jonathan Franzen, Benjamin Kunkel, Dave Eggers, and Michael Chabon. She asserts that the former group’s virility has been transmuted by the latter into a kind of “passivity . . . a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite,” where “the cuddle [is] preferable to sex.”

The essay caused a bit of controversy, with some folks reacting quite intensely: “Not only are you contributing to the total annihilation of the literary culture, but also to the destruction of our civilization.” She’s been described as “an uncomfortablist,” a term which, if a criticism, is perhaps less harsh, and one she herself admits is apt. In most of her essays, though, it works, as she critiques what in our culture seems like a trend of bourgeois conventionalism, for example, that our obsession with all types of “healthiness” elevates shopping at Whole Foods to an act of heroism.

If Roiphe’s personal essays can be a bit overbearing, it’s that her method of praising the messy over the conventional in her own case reads a bit like, “if your life is put together you are simply boring, ha ha I win because I have two children from two different men.” But when applied to our culture as a whole, this method elicits some fascinating stuff: could we love Mad Men because our conservative sensibilities crave the spectacle of stylish people who smoke too much, drink too much, and sleep around, or is our obsession with being the perfect parent doing more harm to our children than we realize?

Roiphe’s essays on literature though are by far the best part of the book; like “The Naked and the Conflicted,” they are unconventional yet close readings of works that remind us of why we like to read, and why we like to read about what we read. So I don’t mind that Roiphe makes me a little uncomfortable.

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