Author: Lemuria (Page 1 of 16)

Staff Pick: ‘Fire Sermon’ by Jamie Quatro

Jamie Quatro comes to Lemuria tomorrow (Thursday, January 25) to sign and talk about her new novel, Fire Sermon. We’ve already posted Jana Hoops’s interview with the author, and Lemuria’s own Kelly Pickerill’s review from the Clarion-Ledger. We’ve already selected it as our January selection for our First Editions Club, but so many of our booksellers loved the book so much, we wanted to tell you how this book’s reading experience moved us personally. We’re so excited about this book that we wanted to get you excited, too! We hope to see everybody tomorrow at 5:00.

Aimee:

When I first heard what the plot of Fire Sermon was, I was little hesitant. However, most of my coworkers that had read it were raving about it, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad I did! I took this home with me for Christmas, and it was the perfect book to curl up with in front of the fire (no pun intended).

Trianne:

I loved Fire Sermon because the way the story is told–through thoughts and memories, making the story feel familiar. Those things comprise the inner monologue we all have when contemplating our lives, the way we retell our history to ourselves to make sure we know who we are.

Guy:

Fire Sermon reminds us how easily desire can be set alight by anticipation, and, on my favorite pages, how desire remembered is just as combustible. Quatro’s powerful writing stitches together letters and narration seamlessly to yield a dynamic and moving portrait of a life combed through. With surety, she drives home the notion that the truth unfolded and untangled looks a little different every time we find it.

Dorian:

Jamie Quatro brilliantly captures the relationship between spirituality and desire, the eternal and the carnal. The language was so lush, but at the same intimate, as if it were reaching into my own ideas about faith and fidelity. Thank you, Jamie Quatro, for sharing a story of humanity, even when it’s unfaithful to itself.

Austen:

Quatro’s first novel is fire. She deftly flows through God and poetry here to explore the many wires that frame a life. A sensuous and heady cocktail of a book. Everyone should read this.

Hillary:

I loved Quatro’s lyrical writing style, how the story didn’t have a linear timeline and how thoughts varied throughout the book. I think this style of writing really gives the reader insight into the narrator’s mind and adds humanity to the novel. Even if you haven’t personally experienced some of the situations or circumstances that Quatro’s narrator has, you will still feel a connection of empathy, love, and desire to this book like you have not experienced before.

Kelly:

In Fire Sermon, Quatro plumbs truths about the gratification and restraint of desire, about the intimacy and estrangement of marriage, and about the steadfastness and inconsistency of faith…This is a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Maggie is a real human being, and Quatro’s prose never judges her, so the reader can’t either… In anyone else’s hands, the level of empathy might not be as strong; Quatro adeptly depicts a messy situation with flawed people in a way that connects us with our own shortcomings.

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Lemuria Community Favorites for 2017

Earlier, in December, our staff shared our favorite books that came out in 2017 in three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. But somebody had a great idea: instead of just sharing our opinions, why didn’t we share yours?

The rules are a little different this time, though: this is a list of people’s favorite book that they read in 2017, regardless of when it came out (not necessarily last year). Without further ado:

Kathie LottDisclaimer by Renee Knight; The Leavers by Lisa Ko; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

John Hugh TateA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard; A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Michael SteptThe Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Kirby ArinderThe Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith

Lee HowellThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Ed MoakAlone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory by Michael Korda; Camino Island by John Grisham; The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK’s Five-Year Campaign by Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie

Hannah HesterThe Fifth Season by N.K. Jenison

Kristine WeaverThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Kay HedglinEveningland by Michael Knight

Jeff Good, proprietor of Broad Street, Bravo, and Sal & Mookie’s – The Simple Truth About Your Business by Alex Brennan-Martin and Larry Taylor

Melvin Priester, Ward 2 City Council member – A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan; the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn

Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor (2004-2012) – Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Jim Ewing, Clarion-Ledger book reviewer – A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison

Jana Hoops, Clarion-Ledger author interviewer – Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones – The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

Michael Farris Smith, author of Desperation RoadStoner by John Williams

Angie Thomas, author The Hate U GiveLong Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Richard Grant, author of Dispatches from PlutoDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Howard Bahr, author of Pelican RoadHue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Matthew Guinn, author of The Scribe and The ResurrectionistDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Thanks especially to the readers and authors who helped compile this list, and thanks to anybody  and everybody who reads this blog and shops at our store. You make Lemuria exist, and on behalf of everybody who works here, we extend our deepest thanks. In the words (you’ve probably heard over our P.A.) of our muse, Ms. Jody, “This wouldn’t be a party without each one of you.”

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Staff Fiction Favorites for 2017

Last Tuesday, we brought you our favorite nonfiction books from the past year. Next week, we’re going to post our favorite children’s books from the experts in Oz. (Don’t forget to share with us your personal favorites; see below). But today, we’re going to share our favorites in the glamour category: fiction. These books made us laugh, cry, and helped us connect more deeply with the world around, like all great stories do. Without further ado, here are each of our staff’s favorite fiction books of the year:

  • John Evans, bookstore owner – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
  • Kelly, general manager – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
  • Austen, operations manager – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • austen lincoln in the bardo verticalIt was with wonder and awe that I read Lincoln in the Bardo. With his first novel, George Saunders subverts the structural integrity of the form nearly to collapse, but apparently, he can dance en pointe. Mr. Saunders was able to transmute the most somber subject into something both wildly entertaining and profound. This is a malformed and superb piece of art.

  • Lisa, first editions manager – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
  • Mark Helprin gave his first book to his friend and well-known writer John Cheever with the hope that he would write a favorable review. When Cheever rejected the book and wrote a review for another writer, Helprin described the rejection as a “double lightning bolt of anger and shame.” And so his first book, Dove of the East, has no blurbs on the dust jacket, just a photo of Mark Helprin on the back of the dust jacket looking rather melancholy. To this day, Helprin writes no reviews or blurbs for other writers, he does not long for prizes, and he occupies himself with a large life beyond writing his best-selling novels. He shared in the Paris Review that it was “Flaubert who said something like ‘live like a bourgeois so you can write like a wildman.’” Though others continue to blurb, I will not blurb Mark Helprin’s Paris in the Present Tense. Just read it and live wild.

  • Hillary, front desk manager – History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
  • hillary history of wolves verticalFrom the very beginning of History of Wolves, I could literally feel the anticipation building. I just knew something was going to happen, yet the shock factor was still there when it did. This is a eloquently written debut novel with a fascinating story. Emily Fridlund has a masterful way with words, no doubt, her writing is beautiful.

  • Clara, Oz manager – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead
  • clara prince oleomargarine verticalWhy is The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine my favorite fiction book this year? In publishing, it is not too rare for a well-known author’s work to be found and published posthumously. However, in the case of this book, Phil and Erin Stead managed to take sixteen pages of notes from a bedtime story that Mark Twain told his daughters, and turn it into a true literary masterpiece over a century later. Phil holds a conversation with the ghost of Mark Twain (which is hilarious) and Erin’s illustrations are airy and lovely, as always. They truly breathe life into the story. So what’s the right age for this book? I’d say somewhere from 6 to 96. There are a handful of times where I walk out of the store, a book under my arm, and race home to read it. Not only did I do that, but I felt somehow as if I was reading a lost masterpiece of children’s literature. There’s only one time I’ve had that experience, and it was with The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.

  • Abbie, fiction supervisor – The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
  • abbie confusion of languages vertical

    The Confusion of Languages is about two military wives who aren’t too fond of each other but have to band together to navigate life in Jordan. It’s a beautiful, well-written story about how kindness, friendship, and otherness translate between cultures.

  • Guy, First Editions Club supervisor – Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander
  • guy dinner at the center verticalDinner at the Center of the Earth gave me the chance to look closely at something, all at once individual and global, and to work backwards and forwards through its history. This is a wild, prismatic spy novel full of strange facets and wonderfully flawed characters. It’s fractured and beautiful and just what you need to puzzle over.

  • Andrew, blog supervisor – Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
  • andrew desperation road verticalDesperation Road is a stunning second novel by Michael Farris Smith. It’s long, elegant sentences bring urgency and dignity to two desperate citizens, a drifter with her daughter and an ex-con, living on the margins in south Mississippi. It tells the story of the tragedy that binds them together, and the hope that can bring them forward.

  • Pat, bookseller – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • pat exit westExit West is a short book packed with big ideas.  It’s the story of day to day survival in a mid-Eastern country where love and hope bloom in the midst of bombs exploding at any and every corner.

  • Ellen, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  • ellen heart's invisible furies verticalThe Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of the life of Cyril Avery, from conception to end of life. Cyril comes roaring into the world in Ireland during the year of 1946. He is alive during the heyday of the IRA and the height of bigotry and intolerance for homosexuals in Ireland, so he therefore is forced to hide his homosexuality for years. His story takes us to Amsterdam and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. Fact: Cyril has many hardships in his life. However, this book is not some unending sob story due to the fact that it is balanced with wonderful humor. This is a novel of redemption and it just couldn’t have been a better story. (I fear for the immortal soul of the person who does not love this book.)

  • Katie, bookseller – Human Acts by Han Kang
  • Kang’s second book published in English, Human Acts tells the story of the Gwanju uprising that occurred in South Korea in the 1980’s. This is one of the most beautiful, most powerful books I have read this year.

  • Jamie, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • jamie sing unburied square

     

    Nothing I read this year matched Sing, Unburied, Sing‘s lyric beauty. The characters are compelling and believable, and Ward’s prose is perfect.

     

  • Aimee, bookseller – Celine by Peter Heller
  • Of all the books I read this year, Celine has stuck with me the best. The writing style and the plot itself contribute to what I now call one of my all time favorite books. Celine is the woman I want to be when I’m in my 60s.

  • Hunter, bookseller – American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Trianne, bookseller – Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Fresh Complaint is a collection of short stories that is both practical and profound, capturing the lovely details of every day life while examining the underlying existential questions.

  • Taylor, bookseller – Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Julia, bookseller – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
  • Abigail, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  • Dorian, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Reading Sing, Unburied, Sing was like the shadow of Toni  Morrison’s younger self snuck up behind me and gave me something else to think about. Jesmyn Ward is an inspired voice sounding at a time when it is most needed.
  • Erica, Oz bookseller – Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  • Diane, Oz bookseller – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

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Did you enjoy our recommendations? We hope so–but we want to hear from you, dear readers! Tell us your favorite fiction, nonfiction, or children’s books published in 2017. Reach out to us on social media, e-mail us at blog@lemuriabooks.com, or come visit us at the store! All we need is your name and your favorite book of 2017, and a brief description like the ones above and a picture of your book if you wish. We will be dedicating a post next week to our the customers and community of Lemuria. Here’s to a happy new year, full of more great books!

Staff Nonfiction Favorites for 2017

We’re coming to the end of another exciting year for books. Below are a list of books that our staff consider to be the very best of the year in nonfiction, from the horrors of war, crime, and discrimination to the beauty of music, poetry, humor, and solitude. We encourage you to come to Lemuria and check these books out, either as a great gift for Christmas or a present to yourself to read in the new year.

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Did you enjoy our recommendations? We hope so–but we want to hear from you, dear readers! Tell us your favorite fiction, nonfiction, or children’s books published in 2017. Reach out to us on social media, e-mail us at blog@lemuriabooks.com, or come visit us at the store! All we need is your name and your favorite book of 2017, and a brief description like the ones above and a picture of your book if you wish. We will be dedicating a post next week to our the customers and community of Lemuria. Here’s to a happy new year, full of more great books!

Iles’ ‘The Bone Tree’ a gripping page-turner, all 816 of them

JOIN US TOMORROW AT 1:00 FOR A SPECIAL SIGNING EVENT OF THE BONE TREE BY GREG ILES!

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Even for readers of Greg Iles’ 788-page Natchez Burning, book one in the trilogy about unsolved civil rights murders set in Natchez, The Bone Tree has daunting heft with 816 pages. But if Burning were a jet runway, Bone Tree launches into supersonic flight. It starts off with a lightning pace and is engrossing until the very end that, surprisingly, seems to come too soon.

Natchez Burning set the groundwork of the characters, including protagonist Penn Cage, a novelist, one-time prosecutor and current mayor of Natchez, his fiancee Caitlin Masters, publisher of the local newspaper, and Cage’s father Tom Cage, a beloved longtime family physician. Bone Tree fleshes them out as living characters with their own strengths and foibles.

The first book set the plot in motion when these three main characters’ lives were turned upside down by the reemergence of the Double Eagles, a more murderous offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, that had aligned itself with one of the richest men in Louisiana just across the Mississippi River; and a corrupt relative of the aging Eagles who aspired to be head of the Louisiana State Patrol. The eruption of old horrors was prodded by a local newspaper editor who had been steadily digging into civil rights cold cases.

At the end of Burning, there seemed to be some hope for normalcy and the solving of heinous unsolved race crimes that had darkened the land for a generation; but at the outset of Bone Tree, all hope for an easy resolution is lost.

Jacket14Bone Tree immediately goes to the blackened heart of the South’s racial torture, lynchings and murder by zeroing in on the relations between the Eagles and Carlos Marcello, the notorious crime boss of Louisiana. Iles folds in the undeniable reality of the South’s sordid racial history and the history of vice and corruption in Louisiana. Within the framework of his fiction, these truths are starkly revealed in all their brutality. But he goes a step further in very convincingly weaving the story of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through his narrative.

Thus, the mystery of old race crimes intensifies with the larger question of the biggest unsolved murder in American history: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The missing link seems to be a Cuban connection, where the old racists were believed to have trained volunteers with CIA help for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Much of the mystery revolves around that question.

It’s said that fiction reveals the truth that reality obscures. Natchez Burning proves it by so honestly recounting the race killings of the South in the form of fiction, and so realistically portraying the killers, that the novel’s authenticity strikes true.

The Bone Tree goes even further: So deeply fleshing out the types of individuals who could have carried out the 1960s assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK, that what are often called “conspiracy theories” become not only plausible but seemingly self-evident. Adding to the suspension of disbelief are the reams of facts and the inclusion of recognizable public figures such as The Clarion-Ledger’s longtime civil rights cold case investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell.

Iles’ The Bone Tree is simply astounding. It’s astounding that:

816 pages can be a gripping page-turner;

It comes after 788-page volume that left readers hungry for more, yet didn’t lose any momentum even with filling in details to get new readers up to speed;

Only 24 hours goes by in the first 400 pages, yet it doesn’t lag;

It can tie the reader in knots until the very end.

With all its twists and turns, The Bone Tree is likely to leave the reader emotionally like a wrung-out dishrag, but thirsty for more.

 

 

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015.

 

Bragg’s ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ Teaches Writers How To Write

By Jim Ewing
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story should be included in every workshop on How To Write.

Jacket (6)Professors of English can point to its lyric prose that coils on itself like a snake. Political scientists and historians can find ample fodder for topics as diverse as the forces that brought the likes of Huey P. Long and Theo G. Bilbo to power.

Religious scholars and sociologists can refer to its accuracy in exploring the relationship between cultural conservatism and the moral implications of rock ’n’ roll. But readers are at once ensnared by the man Jerry Lee Lewis himself, whose music “made Elvis cry.”

As Bragg, a Southernor, well understands, we cannot fathom Lewis’s music until we have felt the lash and storm of his upbringing. Bragg traces Mississippi-Louisiana history from its violent, bitter beginnings of conquest, duel, slavery and song into the 20th century.

He paints the place with levees so tall “a man had to walk uphill to drown.” A cauldron of people, passions and violence, from Ferriday, La., to Natchez, Miss., to New Orleans, to Memphis, he lays out the landscape where Jerry Lee Lewis found form and substance, where gamblers and oil speculators, prostitutes and hoboes “came off the boxcars like fleas.”

Lewis’s rearing came amid the vast wealth of the few torn from the misery of the many dirt poor working people, great river floods, rampant political corruption, and The Great Depression’s soul-killing darkness — that spawned hungry children and heartbreak, whiskey, drugs and the devil eternally dancing in the shadows. Preachers and bootleggers sometimes were the same. They were his blood kin, as some of us admit are our own. They all knew they were sinners and The Killer seemed preordained to sing their songs.

Jerry Lee was born of the stuff of country legends, learning to croon at the knee of his father Elmo between his prison stints and sitting in a pew with his mother listening to the Pentecostals speaking in tongues.

885e64c67bedda87306decbcc5318Lewis credits a major influence Haney’s Big House, a black honky tonk in the Jim Crow South where white men feared to tread and “women toted straight razors in their underwear.”

“It’s where I got my juice,” Lewis told Bragg, giving his music its characteristic guts, grit and power.

Bragg details Lewis’s long march into greatness and despair: the honky tonks, women, pills, hit songs, fist fights, and scandal over marrying Myra, his 13-old-cousin — one of six marriages by the pioneer of rock ’n’ roll — some memories “like playing catch with broken glass.”

Along the way are music trivia gems, such as Lewis’s signature hit Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, supposedly written by a black man at a fish camp on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee while drunk and milking rattlesnakes.

Bragg’s genius is alternating laser observations about the man and his milieu with stunning word play wrapped in seemingly effortless but exhaustive research. Bragg proves himself to be a journalist’s journalist by turning painstaking reportage into art.

Bragg doesn’t just chronicle a man but a region, and leads us like a secular evangelist to reexamine our own songs and sins.

Of Lewis, Bragg reports: “He did some meanness, God knows he did. But the music — funny how it turned out — was the purest part.”

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015. Jim is a regular contributor to the Lemuria blog. 

The Marauders: Signed First Editions Available!

By Jim Ewing
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Jacket (3)On one level, The Marauders, a first novel by Tom Cooper, is the story of a treasure seeker with a metal detector looking for the buried bounty of Jean Lafitte.

Set in the fictional town of Jeanette in the Bataria region north of New Orleans where the famous pirate once roamed, it also is a realistic and detailed tale of despair among shrimpers and others who make their living from the water in the days after the twin tragedies of the Gulf Oil Spill and Hurricane Katrina.

In that way, The Marauders provides a fictional base for an all-too-real reality: the destruction of people’s homes, families, livelihoods due to natural and man-made disasters.

The plot is carried along by five sets of characters:
— Wes, a young man, and his father who lost their mother/wife to the storm surge of Katrina;
— Two felonious small-time hustlers who are seeking to rob and swindle their way to wealth;
— A set of monstrously evil twin brothers and their secret island of illegal marijuana;
— A miserable representative of the oil company trying get his former neighbors to sign on to a cut-rate settlement, hating himself for it and hating the region he has been trying to put behind him;
— The treasure-seeker, Lindquist, a one-armed man addicted to pain pills and living in the wreckage remaining from his broken marriage.

In the tradition of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Cooper with The Marauders uses fiction to expose to the public the grinding inequities and institutional unfairness facing a people trying to make do with less and less in a world where every card is seemingly dealt against them.

That story, in real life, is still playing out — witness the recent news stories where BP attorneys are disputing U.S. Justice Department claims that the accident “caused serious and widespread sociocultural harm to coastal communities.”

On a more symbolic note, the one-armed man, Lindquist, is a Gulf Coast Everyman desperately trying against all odds to find something valuable and good in the muck and ruin of a world breaking bad.

But to readers The Marauders is a good read filled with believable characters of the type found in this region. The suspense builds as the lives of those characters entwine with sometimes predictable and sometimes surprising results.

There are some criticisms that can be made. The plot moves slowly as Cooper spends a great deal of time building such a relatively large cast of main characters that exemplify the various facets of circumstances and despair arising from the disasters.

Then, some readers not familiar with the region might need that amount of detail. It’s well written and only slows the pace a bit. Too, Cooper could have added some layers of depth to the characters. More accomplished authors learn to weave small details that give nuance to relationships.  But these are minor flaws that come with time, and polish.

As a first novel set in New Orleans and environs, Cooper’s Marauders shines for its local flavor, colorful characters and picturesque scenes. Let’s hope Cooper continues to write more thrillers set in this locale for many years to come By the way, The Marauders would make a dynamite movie!

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015. Jim is a regular contributor to the Lemuria blog. 

Guest Post: Gifford’s Up-Down reprises Sailor and Luna saga

Special to the Clarion-Ledger

barrygiffordBarry Gifford explains in the beginning of his new novel that in ancient cultures, it was believed that there were five directions: North, South, East, West and Up-Down, which represented the navel or center. It’s an inward direction that his protagonist, Pace Ripley, intended to go in order to explain his life, which at this point had extended six decades.

It’s a good thing Gifford provides this road map because without it, one might be lost as to what to make of the rapid twists and turns of Pace’s life — or, rather, this series of bizarre incidents that form an amoral (from the standpoint of organized religion) morality tale.

The lessons can be as obvious as the necessity to face one’s own fears and let go of old demons to the inexplicable which also serves up the point that life often just is inexplicable. Or, as Pace is told when awakened from a dream by a voice in the darkness: “God is a disappointment to everyone.”

Pace is the son of Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune whose tales titillated readers for decades. He was a minor character, noted for the predicaments life seemed to offer him. He wandered out of the S&L tales as a young man by going to Katmandu and then marrying a New Yorker.

875491_1779185_lzGifford’s Sailor and Lula became popular in the 1990s. Readers might remember the film adaptation of the first S&L book Wild at Heart (1990) starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern.

In that one, Sailor gets out of prison for time spent protecting Lula that resulted in a manslaughter conviction, while Lula’s mother tries to keep them apart (a thread throughout the books). They meet any number of odd characters and situations that involve quick deaths when the plot gets sticky.

By any other author, such deus ex machina might seem contrived but Gifford pulls it off, mainly because his characters are often so unbelievably believable that when the unbelievable happens, it just becomes as believable as the rest.

While Gifford’s plots are rather languid and often marked by the aforementioned quick deaths, the reader doesn’t suffer, as the observations and interplay between characters are quite juicy (sometimes R-rated).

downloadThat continues in Up-Down, which is subtitled “The almost lost, last Sailor and Lula story, in which their son, Pace Roscoe Ripley, finds his way.”

Sailor and Lula fans will love this book and hope more “lost” tales will be found!

Biographies of Gifford state that his father was in in organized crime, and he spent his childhood largely in Chicago and New Orleans living in hotels. If so, that explains much of the richness of his writing, offbeat characters and random violence.

For new fans, the entire series is compiled in Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels (Seven Stories Press, 2010, 618 pages, $19.95).

Gifford obviously knows a great deal about Mississippi, using place names and common characters throughout his S&L books. The stories may be the closest Mississippi has to the equally wacky Serge Storms sagas by Tim Dorsey, who peoples his characters in Florida.

The Up-Down can be seen as a coda to the S&L books, or even a koan of sorts, to underscore the fact that life is not logical or comprehensible and it can only be understood intuitively, experimentally. That, also, may be considered wisdom.

 

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015.

Barry Gifford will be at Lemuria January 28th at 5 PM to read and sign from his book, The Up-Down. 

Disappearing Rosa Parks: Where Did All the Women Heroes Go?

Written by Johnathan Odell, author of The Healing and a new rendering of his debut novel, The View from Delphi: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League. Available on February 4, Rosa Parks’s 102nd birthday. 

When I was interviewing Mississippians for my book, an elderly black man talked about his days as a sharecropper. He summed up his experience like this, “When God handed out possessions, he must have give the black man the plow and the white man the pencil.” It was his way of saying that under Jim Crow, the black man did all the work, but no matter how big a crop you brought in, it was the figures the white man put down in his ledger that decided if there would be any money that season, or if the sharecropper would remain in economic servitude to the land owner.

I have also found that saying helpful in understanding the way the historical record is maintained as well. It’s now widely accepted that if a white man is writing the story, the role of blacks tend to get diminished as agents of their own liberation. They are often portrayed as longsuffering victims waiting to be saved by the benevolent acts of white people. Black heroes have a hard time finding themselves in print. My black friends call this “Killing the Mockingbird Syndrome”, for the way that famous book relegates blacks to pitiful, powerless dependents. As I say, though, we are becoming aware of this dynamic, thanks to a growing number of black historians.

But as I researched the Civil Rights period for “Miss Hazel in the Rosa Parks League,” I ran into another significant discrepancy in how the story is told.

To change up the saying a bit, if the white man got the pencil, and the black man got the plow, then the black woman got the harness to pull that plow through the stony fields of the Civil Rights Movement. Her acts of courageous resistance are even more overlooked by history than that of the black man.

I think there are multiple reasons for this. One is the nature of the violence during that time. Black men were constantly in the crosshairs.  Face it, most of racism in the South stems from white fear that black men want white women (and the deep insecurity that it could be reciprocal!). So the focus of white paranoia was on black men. They were the ones whites had to keep an eye on, so the risk was higher for them to overtly resist. Black women were the lowest of the low as for perceived power and threat to white superiority. They could get a lot of things done their men could not because they were more “invisible.”  They had jobs that took them into the most intimate spaces of the white life. They could come and go more freely. They could pool information, influence through personal relationship with white women. They were uniquely positioned to subvert white power, but it was from the shadows.

And of course patriarchy exists in the black community just as it does in the white community. The public spokespeople for African Americans have historically been male just as they had been for whites.  In the 1950’s and 60’s, if white male leaders were going to deal directly with anyone it would have to be black leaders who were also male. “Man to Man.” That was the culture. Newspapers, T.V, radio, all the communication channels that African Americans needed to get their message out were necessarily looking for the black male spokesperson for the real story.  The country as a whole wasn’t ready to see women of any race as leaders of a legitimate movement. The credible face on the evening news needed to be a Martin Luther King, not a Rosa Parks.

So it may have been a necessary convention, but the tragedy is that still we give those public male faces most of the credit, when it was an army of women who assumed the lion’s share of the risk and got the job done. That’s not a new story, and unfortunately, not a defunct one.

The truth is, when it came time to publically defy white authority throughout the South, it was black women who took to the streets, to the registrar’s office and to the whites-only schoolhouse. Mississippian Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the most influential figures in the Civil Rights story, male or female, put it bluntly. She said it wasn’t the male “chicken eatin’ preachers” who were the backbone of the movement, but the fieldworkers like herself, the illiterates, the mothers with nothing else to loose, the sassy “Saturday night brawlers.”

Even today, this bias for male heroes still serves to obscure the real contributions of women like Rosa Parks, who is often portrayed as a tired, longsuffering, meek woman whose feet were tired. When in actuality she was a seasoned activist, youthful and full of passion. She had been stepping out into the battlefield long before she got on that bus, and kept stepping long after.

 

Praise for MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE

“A terrific writer who can take his place in the distinguished pantheon of Southern fiction”

–Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini

“Here it comes—barreling down the track like a runaway train, a no-holds-barred Southern novel as tragic and complicated as the Jim Crow era it depicts…. This is a big brilliant novel whose time has come.”

–Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls and Guests on Earth

“With its deftly drawn characters, delicious dialogue, and deeply satisfying and hopeful ending, this fine novel deserves to win the hearts of readers everywhere. Book clubs, this one is definitely for you!”

— Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

“Odell vividly brings to life a fabulous cast of characters as well as a troubling time in our not-so-distant past. You won’t want to miss this one!”

— Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife and Moonrise

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: A Homecoming

Written by Mary Sellers

I recently returned to Jackson after having gone to college and subsequently staying an extra year in Oxford, MS. It was a strange return—I remember crying on the way home because of the empty room I was leaving behind, the memories that seemed to cease their glitter as soon as I removed all of my pictures from the walls. The room was bare, and I could see the thumbtack spots from my posters, the dust that had collected in the corners like small, grey clouds, my roommates’ faces.

But I moved, because deep down it was the right thing to do. I needed a fresh start because I wasn’t growing anymore in Oxford. I’d become stilted and a little depressed, and however much I still miss it, even now, it was just my time.

I was afraid of Jackson. Having grown up here, gone to school, and left, I never thought I’d be returning. Two years ago I would have literally laughed in your face. I’m only here for a year (well, that’s the plan, at least), but I was nonetheless terrified of losing myself, of becoming someone who I’d hate, who my Oxford self would hate. But instead, I found the warmth of friends, and for the entire first month, reconnected with some of my oldest acquaintances. I went to dinner, got lost in new places, and generally spent way too much money. But it was something I needed—a re-connection with the place I’d grown up in but never really experienced as an adult. It’s a completely different thing being old enough but young enough to enjoy the new Jackson. Luckily, I’m right in that sweet spot.

And to my surprise, it’s incredibly fun. The Fondren area in particular is astoundingly cool; the restaurants are innovative and young adult-friendly; the bars here give a few of my Oxford favorites a run for their money, even. I’ve embarrassed myself at Karaoke, I’ve gone to a street concert series, and I’ve sipped margaritas on the porch of Babalu, surrounded by people that I respect and admire. It’s a warm place, and vibrant, too.

Fondren Corner_DSC0934

I live alone, which I’ll admit has been an adjustment. But I wouldn’t trade my location for anything. I can skip across the street to McDade’s at any point during the day, which feels strangely nostalgic—I’ve never been able to walk to the grocery store before. The cashiers are coming to recognize me, even greet me, and I them. I take advantage of the plethora of coffee shops that are scattered around town. As a writer, I welcome a nice office filled with the nutty aroma of coffee beans and subdued keyboard typings. At night, I sit outside in my porch chair and listen to the shocking collection of cicadas around my house.

It’s still an adjustment, but I’m glad to say that Jackson is feeling more and more like home each and every day. It’s taken time, but thanks to a strong support group of friends, and my own desire to rediscover my hometown for all that she’s worth, I think I can finally say that I’m trying for happy.

 

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. Ken Murphy will be at Lemuria on Tuesday, December 23 at 11:00 to sign and personalize copies of Jackson. Don’t miss it! 

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