Naslund, Sena Jeter. Four Spirits. New York: William Morrow, 2003.
Reason read: Alabama became a state in December.
Stella Silver, at five years old, stands with a gun in her hand. Her father, over her shoulder, teaches her how to pull the trigger. He wants her to know “what happens to a bullet fired” (p 4). Welcome to Four Spirits. Sena Jeter Naslund sets out to tell the story of a group of ordinary people trying to live their lives in the deep south during one of the most tumultuous times in our country’s history, the early 1960s. Amid the pages of Four Spirits you will meet civil rights activists, racists, musicians, students, families. You will watch relationships fall apart while others thrive. Sacrifices made, lives taken, hope clung to, and most importantly, resilience take root. There is power in courage as the characters of Four Spirits will show you. Five year old Stella grows up to be a passionate intelligent young woman whose world is rocked when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Texas. But, she is just one character in a host of others who will break your heart. Amidst the turmoil and violence, people went about doing ordinary things, trying to live ordinary lives.
This is a tough book to read. For me, the domestic violence between Ryder and his wife was the hardest to take in, but be warned, his violence as a Ku Klux Klan member is far worse. The Klan is one of those realities of Birmingham, Alabama; their existence is something you wish you could pretend was not part of the historical fabric of our nation, but there they are.
As an aside, it gave me great joy that Ryder was afraid of Dracula.
I always seem to find Natalie connections. There is a reason why she wrote Saint Judas (Motherland album).
Lines I liked: “There’s a seed in me and it’s starting to grow” (Gloria says on page 89) and “Admiration and gratitude collided in her heart and scattered throughout her body” (p 68).
Author fact: Four Spirits takes place in Naslund’s home city of Birmingham, Alabama.
Book trivia: You get the sense Four Spirits is about four actual women when you read the dedication” Addie MacCollins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. They were killed on September 15th, 1963 in a Baptist church.
Nancy said: Pearl explained that Naslund “intersperses her fictional characters with real ones” (More Book Lust p 207).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).
So, by the end of November I was a blathering mess, wasn’t I? I know I was. Mea culpa. Three xrays, five vials of blood taken, one CT scan, and two therapy sessions later, here are the updates. The protruding ribs are being blamed on chiropractic appointments even though I felt the rib cage move before I started see Dr. Jim. The nerve pain is being controlled by medication. The spot on the lung and possibly tumor…no results as of today. White blood cell count still elevated. Possibility of cancer…still a possibility.
But. But! But, enough of all that. Here are the books: I have a week off at the end of the month so I am anticipating it will be a good reading month. Here are the books planned:
- Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess (EB) – in memory of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – in memory of Le Guin passing in 2018.
- Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund – to honor Alabama becoming a state in December.
- The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer – to honor women’s suffrage law.
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB) – to honor the wedding anniversary of Mark and Delia.
- Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger – in honor of the moon landing.
- Stet: an Editor’s Life by Diana Athill (EB) – in honor of Athill being born in December.
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (AB) – to continue the series His Dark Materials, started in November in honor of National Writing Month.
- The Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett (EB) – to continue the series Niccolo House, started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Squelched by Terry Beard.
If there is time:
- Black Tents of Arabia by Carl Raswan – in honor of Lawrence of Arabia.
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun – in honor of Jelloun’s birth month.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
This is another one of those times when I have to ask who doesn’t know the story of Scout Finch? I’m sure many, many people refer back to the movie and that classic trial scene, but tell me, who doesn’t know Atticus Finch at least?
The story is told from the viewpoint of six year old Scout Finch, a tomboy living in Alabama during the Great Depression. She is looking back on her coming of age, remembering the year when all innocence was lost. Scout and her brother, Jem, are typical children growing up in the segregated deep south. Their widowed father, Atticus, is a county lawyer appointed to defend a black man accused of attacking and raping a white teenager. This is on the periphery of Scout’s life. She is more concerned with the monster who lives nearby. In the neighborhood lives a recluse of a man few have seldom seen. He is the subject of gossip and rumors and legends because his existence is such a mystery. Naturally, the neighborhood children grow up being afraid of him. Scout doesn’t understand this is a prejudice equal to the racial prejudice displayed in her town against her father for defending a “nigger.” As the trial draws near the community begins a slow boil until it erupts in violence. While the ending is predictable the entire story is so well written it should not be missed or forgotten. Read it again and again.
Favorite lines: “Matches were dangerous, but cards were fatal” (p 55) and something Atticus says at the end of the book, “Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him” (p 273).
Postscript ~ There is a scene when Scout and Jem are taking to their black housekeeper’s church. The congregation sings “When They Ring The Golden Bells” by Dion De Marbell. All I could hear in my mind was Natalie Merchant singing the same song off Ophelia, last track.
Reason Read: September is Southern Month, whatever that means.
Author fact: Harper Lee has never wanted the attention To Kill a Mockingbird has afforded her. She shuns the limelight and has never written anything since.
Book trivia: To Kill a Mockingbird was made into an Oscar winning movie in 1962.
BookLust Twist: I can always tell when Nancy Pearl really loves a book. She’ll mention it even in a chapter it doesn’t belong in. In Book Lust it is in four different chapters, “Girls Growing Up” (p 101), “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960s” (p 178), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “What a Trial That Was!” (p 244). To Kill a Mockingbird is also mentioned in More Book Lust in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). Pearl is comparing Donna Tartt’s character, Harriet Dufresne (in The Little Friend) with Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Where the hell did December go? I really can’t believe the month went by so freakin’ fast. It’s as if I slept through most of it. In a nightmare state. Of course, work had a lot to do with missing the month. Staff reviews while trying to hire and trying not to fire while trying to work on my own resume was really surreal. Then there are the three family illnesses that have worried to distraction. Not to mention having two new very unpredictable cats!
Here’s what it was for books:
- Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress ~ in honor of Alabama becoming a state in December. I can’t imagine what kind of movie this would make. One side of the story is so serious while the other is so silly!
- Made in America by Bill Bryson ~ in honor of Bryson’s birth month. This was a little tedious after a little while.
- The Comedians by Graham Greene ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (fiction). This was also a movie, I think.
- Apology by Plato ~ in honor of the first Chief Justice being appointed in December. A classic I clearly don’t remember reading!
- Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti by Herbert Gold ~ in honor of December being the best time to visit the Caribbean (nonfiction). I am really glad I read this with The Comedians because they went really, really well together.
- Night Before Christmas aka A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore~ in honor of, well, Christmas! I have to wonder just how many variations of this story/poem are out there!
- The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. The Palace Thief has nothing to do with Iowa but Canin is a member of the Iowa Writers Workshop.
- Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth ~ in honor of New Jersey becoming a state and Philip Roth knows New Jersey oh so well.
- In the Gloaming: Stories by Alice Elliott Dark ~ in honor of Dark’s birth month. This was a little dour for the last book of 2010. Oh well.
For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I thoroughly thought I would enjoy My Nine Lives by Leon Fleisher and Anne Midgette. Instead I only tolerated it. Oh well.
Childress, Mark. Crazy in Alabama. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993.
Talk about crazy! This book drove me there! I called Made in America a book of multiple personalities. If that’s the case, Crazy in Alabama is a book of split personalities. Set in the 1960s, one half of the narration is dedicated to Lucille’s escapades in California. She’s seeking fame and fortune as a wannabe actress while on the run from the law with her husband’s decapitated head in a Tupperware container. The other half of the narration is from the perspective of Lucille’s nephew Peter Joseph (Peejoe). He’s in racially torn Alabama witnessing violence and civil unrest at its worst. While Lucille’s side of the story is insanely surreal, Peejoe’s is intensely serious. The disconnect between the two voices created a divide almost too big to ignore. Luckily, Childress pulls them together and makes the entire plot work…somehow.
Favorite lines: “She would miss her children but she had Chester’s head to keep her company” (p 37). Of course! Another favorite line, “My eye was the price I’d had to pay for seeing too much” (p 229). See the difference between Lucille and Peejoe’s worlds?
Author Fact: Mark Childress is also the author of three picture books for children.
Book Trivia: Crazy in Alabama was made into a movie starring Melanie Griffith in 1999. Haven’t seen it.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called Southern-Fried Fiction: Alabama (p 207).
Sorry – forgot to post this!
September. As the song goes, “wake me when September ends” (thanks, Green Day). I got married in September just so I would have one happy memory (my wedding was freakin’ awesome). It is the one good thing to look forward to celebrating each year. Except this year. Considering how bad this September has been I am amazed I even remembered I got married in this damned month. Between Indiana being sick dying (on our anniversary no less), the anniversary of my father’s passing (18 years), my grandfather still being in hospice and my other insane family issues I can’t sleep straight. I don’t know when I’ll find mind rest again. But, here are the books that kept me somewhat sane:
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre ~ I feel bad not being able to finish (or even like) this book. For years I’ve wondered about it.
- Moo by Jane Smiley ~ was this ever a movie? I still can’t get over how caustic it was!
- Wild Life by Molly Gloss ~ this should have been a movie, too!
- Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott ~ just told my mom about this book last night. Something I would reread if I had children.
- Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Robert Michael Pyle ~ this had me believing…for a minute.
- The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty ~ my biggest head-scratcher this month. Seems like I have read this before somewhere.
- The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler ~ it is interesting the way people have influence over others without wanting (or even trying). I read this in four days time.
- The Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddon ~ a little redundant but I read this in honor of back to school month and because I had it ready on a shelf.
- Report From Ground Zero by Dennis Smith ~ because I haven’t been sad enough
For LibraryThing’s Early Review Program:
- Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann ~ this was intense!
I was supposed to get another book but I haven’t seen it yet. I am not going to even mention the title in case it never arrives. Even if it does comes I won’t be reading it in September.
For fun (started):
- The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver ~ my husband bought this for me as an anniversary present because he knows I love, love, love Ms. Kingsolver’s work. And to think I didn’t get him anything. I did end up making one of this favorite meals for the very first time, chicken pot pie.
Siddons, Anne Rivers. Heartbreak Hotel. New York: Pocket Star Books, 2004.
Margaret Deloach (Maggie to her friends) is a good girl, a good, smart Southern girl who has everything going for her. She is popular and beautiful, a sister in the Kappa sorority and pinned to the ever handsome Boots Claiborne. Much is made of Maggie’s looks, her clothing, her sense of style. It isn’t until Maggie meets Hoyt Cunningham, a childhood friend of Boot’s, that Maggie’s moral compass and intelligence is exposed and challenged. Everything comes to a head when Maggie witnesses the brutal recapture of a black inmate from the county jail in Boot’s hometown. What makes this story so interesting is Heartbreak Hotel is a coming of age story set in the Civil Rights era South. It is lush with description, brimming with trouble. It is easy to see why it was a New York Times best seller.
While Maggie is admirable throughout the entire saga of Heartbreak Hotel I did have one small question. *Spoiler Alert* Maggie writes an opinion piece about segregation in Alabama. It coincides with the entrance of the state university’s first black student so racist tensions are already running high. Maggie’s piece strikes out at her finance’s family and the only way of life they had ever known for generations and generations. My question is this, how in the world did Maggie think she could write a front page article criticizing Boots and still have him as her husband? There is one scene that I find Maggie’s character to be completely unbelievable. Maggie’s column has made the front page only Boots hasn’t seen it yet. He has been away for a family funeral. When he returns they go to his fraternity for a party where Maggie is hopeful no one will mention the article to him. She even thinks she has a chance to tell him about it and “have a laugh over it.” I don’t know what she was thinking when everything up to that point indicates he will have a royal, violent meltdown.
Favorite lines: “And so reading remained one of Maggie’s small and constant rebellions” (p 11). I loved this line when I first read it and didn’t realize how much of a premonition it was to the tail end of the story. Another favorite line, “She passed a day in fitful, drugged sleep, in which deep snoring alternated with wild incoherent sobbings about guilt and blood and chewing gum and blonde whores and God” (138). That, my friends, is the epitome of a breakdown. Brilliant.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Southern-Fried Fiction: Alabama” (p 206). Alabama became a state in the month of December but I chose to read Heartbreak Hotel in September as another Back to School honor book. I had a few days left in the month and this book was lying around the house so I read it.