Monthly Archives: December 2007

Giveaway reminder, and Christmas survey

Just a reminder, the Wordamour giveaway is still going strong.  I have copies of Coraline, Nevermore and Evis and Olive to give away, and anything else I can scare up.  Anyone who comments on Wordamour between November 19 and December 19 will be entered (once for each comment).  I’ll do the drawing on the 20th and send out the goods the 21st.

So, it’s officially the holiday season, marked by the number of radio stations that have gone all Christmas all the time.  What is your favorite holiday song?

For me, it’s a three way tie:

1. Silent Night.  Can’t beat a song that got troops to stop fighting in the trenches on the Western front during WW I.  Also, Franz Gruber, the music teacher who wrote the music and played it that first night, Christmas 1818, on his guitar (the organ was broken) is my great, great, great, great grandfather.  I’m way too proud of this connection but there it is.  One of my life’s goals is to spend some Christmas eve in the Silent Night Chapel, in Oberndorf, Austria, where they recreate the scene of the song’s birth every year.

2. The Christmas Waltz.  “It’s the time of year, when the world falls in love. . .”  Well, I fell in love hard Christmas 1989 and the rest, as they say, is history.  So this song has special meaning for me.  ‘Nuf said.

3. Christmas in Dixie.  I’m such a sentimentalist, but I love this paean to my adopted South.  Ned Perme’s Christmas in Arkansas is a close second. So, weigh in. . .what are your holiday favorites?

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The Best Kept Secret in Wales is. . .

First, while I have you in suspense, a little backstory.  Last summer, at the Great Writing Conference, in Bangor Wales, I got to hear Harrison Solow, writer, teacher, and relatively recent LA to Wales transplant, read part of her essay on the best kept secret in Wales, which would be published in the fall Agni Review and which, during the session, she still managed NOT to reveal (nor have I, yet). 

“So, what IS the best kept secret in Wales?” I asked cheerfully during the question session at the end.

“You’ll find out when you read the Agni Review,” Ms. Solow replied coyly.

Now, the good news is, thanks to my husband’s dedicated  support of literary publishing, we actually get the Agni Review. And the “issue where all is revealed,” arrived at our home last week.

Backing up a bit more.  In her essay about the best kept secret in Wales, Harrison Solow commits a cardinal sin, at least in my mother’s eyes. 

For years, growing up, my mother tried to temper my enthusiasm for life (and people wonder where my 11 year old gets his) by gently suggesting that, “if you build things up too much when you tell about them,  people will invariably be disappointed.”

Well in her essay about the best kept secret in Wales, tenor  Timothy Evans, (there, the cat’s out of the bag) Solow really laid it on thick.  A humble mail carrier who’s studied with tenor masters and beat out lots of famous tenors you have heard of for international awards, Evans’ voice, according to the besotted Solow, guaranteed to invoke tears. 

Please stop, cringed this tenor-lover as she read this nonetheless engaging essay, her mother’s voice echoing in the recesses of her mind.  I just know I’m going to be disappointed if you keep going on like this, especially if I don’t cry when I hear him.

Yes, I am an amateur tenor lover, the kind real opera fanatics love to hate, who can usually be moved to tears with Nessun Dorma or Recondita Armonia.  Having mourned, just recently, the great Pavarotti, I wasn’t sure I could be so moved by anyone else just yet.

But of course, dear reader, as you must be predicting by now, after I put the cd that came with the journal (go Agni!) in our stereo(go Agni review!) and listened to the first track, it’s true.

I cried.

And so did Denise, over at the Newpages blog.  So I’m not alone.  Right now, there’s no way you can hear Mr. Evans unless you go out and buy a copy of the Agni Review or order a copy of it online.  But I’m telling you–you won’t regret it.

I’m always telling you that, aren’t I?  But really, it’s true.

Yes, Mom, I’m still overselling stuff. I can’t help it.

In other news, we were in Memphis last weekend for the St. Jude’s Marathon, which my husband ran for the third time!  Now, true to my nervous nelly form, marathons in which my husband runs are always a source of worry for me.  First, there’s just the idea of running twenty six miles for this non-runner (who’s no slouch-I do walk and enjoy a stationary bike 4x a week).  Then there are all the medical disclaimers in the race materials about how it’s not their fault if you collapse during the race.  And the ambulance parked at the finish line.  Finally, there are all the joggers themselves, grimacing and hobbling over the finish line or collapsing in pain just after they cross it.

Needless, to say, a lot of prayers get offered up in our house in the weeks before a marathon.  Silently, of course,  because to do so out loud would be to insult our determined runner.

And then my husband, who trains fastidiously for months before (the secret to his success), crosses the finish line, grinning like crazy, looking for all the world like he could just keep on going.

And I wonder–what was it I so worried about?

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Home at last. . .and a book discovery to share

In which our graying heroine is kidnapped just before Thanksgiving and brought to Lowell, AR,  forced to relax with family, eat delicious food (3 different kinds of risotto!) and endure FIVE days without web access!

Seriously, those five days and my travels have put me rather behind in more ways than one,  but I’ll make up for it.  So what did I do during those days, besides the activities mentioned above?  I read, madly, deeply, in ways I haven’t read since before the internet–and discovered a wonderful not-so-new author, Irene Nemirovsky.  What a find.

A Russian living in France in the pre-WWII years, Nemirovsky was a celebrated author when the Germans invaded and she was removed to Auschwitz, where she, and later her husband, were killed.  They left behind two young daughters, who were hidden and kept safe by loyal friends, and Nemirovsky’s journal, which the daughters carried from hiding place to hiding place.  Years later, when their children, now grown, could finally bear to read this record of the last year of their mother’s life, they discovered instead,  the novel, Suite Francaise.

Suite Francaise is about the German occupation of France in 1940-41 and it’s absolutely riveting and wrenchingly moving.  Comparisons to War and Peace (perhaps my favorite novel of all time) are not exaggerated.  No, it’s not that long but Nemirovsky had planned for it to be–if she was allowed to live.  Unfortunately, we only have the first two parts, roughly 350 pages. 

One would think that a novel written in the midst of such an occupation, with an axe literally hanging over the author’s head, would be a stinging condemnation of the German invaders.  But in actuality, no one truly escape Nemirovsky’s critical and yet generous eye.  She writes with the sure knowledge that the occupiers and the occupied are all pawns of fate, of powers far greater than they.  People fall in and out of love, they behave nobly and meanly, act selflessly and selfishly, concerned only about their own skins.  French class structure plays a large role and the French “collaborationists,” those who worked with the Germans to save themselves, often come off worse than the invaders. 

Included with the book is an enlightening preface to the French edition, as well as Nemirovsky’s letters from the years before she died, (heartbreaking, as they grow increasingly desperate) and notes for the novel (which details the other sections she hoped to write). Indeed, more novels should be published with such notes, they are that enlightening.  Should I ever teach a class in novel writing, I will include Suite Francaise simply for the notes. 

How did I discover Suite Francaise?  I picked up an advance copy of another of Nemirovsky’s novels, Fire in the Blood, which just came out, at the NWP conference.  Fire in the Blood, a novel of family intrique set in the south of France was very different, not at all on the level of Suite Francaise and disturbingly predictable.  But it was good enough to get me interested in the author’s story and I got hold of her masterpiece as soon as I could. I read it straight through in four days, stopping only to eat, admire the lovely ways in which my nieces and nephews (and sons) are growing up, adjudicate the occasional sibling argument, and watch the Razorbacks make football history.

So, there you are.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and get yourself a copy of Suite Francaise.  You won’t regret it.
Coming soon–the best kept secret in Wales and how my husband blew away the St. Jude/Memphis Marathon!

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