Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 28th, is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. As children we are fed a bunch of fairy tales about pilgrims and "Indians." Ignore that. We will gather tomorrow in small groups and large, family, friends and possibly a couple of total strangers from our third trip to the supermarket because my sister can't say "No" to anyone. She is kindhearted. I will spend tomorrow with people I love, people I like, people I can take or leave, and a few that could disappear into the nearest hole in the ground and no one would notice. There will be old folks, middle-aged folks (that would be me), young folks, a few small children and a couple of babies. According to my calculations, at any one time there could be as many as 30 people in the house. There will be a couple of loved ones we'll miss this year, my father and my Uncle Chad; both gone too soon, only a month apart.


The menu: turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, giblet gravy, corn, green beans, asparagus, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, butterscotch pie and strawberry cheesecake. As I left to come home this evening Grandma Jimmie had her head stuck in the fridge muttering about cookie dough. 

After we're all so stuffed we can't move it'll be time for football. The Aggies took off for another conference last year with their tails between their legs. This year we'll stomp on Tech.

Hook 'em!

Here's wishing a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013 National Book Awards

The 2013 National Book Awards (United States) were presented by the National Book Foundation at the 64th annual ceremony and benefit dinner in New York, New York last Wednesday evening, November 20th.

Toni Morrison presented the Literarian Award to Dr. Maya Angelou for outstanding service to the American literary community. This is the ninth year the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which was established in 2005 to recognize an individual whose work has enhanced the literary world during a lifetime of service.

E.L. Doctorow was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). The DCAL was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement.

For the first time, the National Book Foundation made available The Contenders: Excerpts from the 2013 National Book Award Finalists, a free National Book Award eBook series available for download in a variety of formats. Pretty handy. This way you can sample each of the finalists to help you decide which books you might want to check out of your local library or purchase.

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Drum roll please! And the 2013 National Book Award winners are...

Fiction: James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA)

Nonfiction: George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

 Poetry: Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems (Graywolf Press)

 Young People's Literature: Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Welcome Turkey!

This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Turkey to Texas. Hoş geldiniz!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Welcome Indonesia!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome Indonesia to Texas. Selamat datang!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Welcome Belize!

Oh I love y'all! Today I get to do this twice. This morning I am also delighted to welcome Belize to Texas. ¡Bienvenidos! 

Welcome Peru!

This morning it is my privilege to welcome Peru to Texas. ¡Bienvenidos!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

RIP Doris Lessing

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died yesterday at 94. Y'all go read The Golden Notebook.

Welcome Panama!

This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Panama to Texas.¡Bienvenidos!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Funeral Dress

By Susan Gregg Gilmore
Broadway Books (Random House), 356 pgs
Submitted by the publisher
Rating: 3

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore is pornographic. No, not sexually pornographic. This is Appalachia poverty porn. I felt like a voyeur reading this one, almost like watching a train wreck. It's already hideous and only going to get worse but you can't tear your gaze from imminent catastrophe. Is our gaze prurient? I felt like a tourist confronting Calcutta for the first time. Does the mere fact of bearing witness obligate us to action? Is there anything "mere" about witnessing? Should the witnessing compel us to action? If so, what sort of action?

Emmalee Bullard is nineteen, a high school dropout, seamstress (she makes collars) at the local shirt factory, virtual orphan, and new single mother of infant daughter, Kelly Faye. Emmalee's mother died of cancer when she was very young so she lives with her father, Nolan Bullard, in a two-room "house" (no plumbing, no running water, tar paper for walls and a roof with more holes than a cheese grater) in a holler of eastern Tennessee known as Red Chert. It is 1974. Nolan is ninety-three percent useless. He is physically and emotionally abusive, a drunk, and makes a habit of disappearing for days on end.

There is one point of light in all of this bleakness. An older woman at the shirt factory, Leona Lane, has befriended Emmalee. Leona knows that without intervention the infant will not live and Emmalee might as well not. So she talks to her husband Curtis (a saint, I'm pretty sure) and they plan to collect Emmalee and her baby from Red Chert and bring them to live in their trailer house on the top of Old Lick mountain. The trailer may sway like a drunk in a high wind but no drunks live there, which is a plus. Also, heat. Winter is moving in fast. The night before the Lanes are going to rescue Emmalee and her baby their pickup is forced off a narrow, twisty mountain road by a logging semi and both Lanes are dead on impact.

Emmalee hears the news the next day when Nolan is called out by Mr. Fulton, the funeral home director, to retrieve the bodies. She determines to sew Leona's funeral dress because nothing in Leona's closet or at the funeral home is special enough for the woman who was going to save her life. This seemingly simple gesture unleashes the following in the community: gossip, contempt, the identity of Kelly Faye's father, Baptists, fear, preachers, bigotry, betrayal, fury, social workers, envy, the Church of Christ, pride, greed, doctors, assault, battery, kidnapping, the sheriff, and I'm positive I'm overlooking several other factors. It all shakes out in the end but not in any way you might suspect. I'd like to commend the author for not going after an all-tied-up-in-a-bow-happily-ever-after-assured conclusion. In fact, the conclusion is satisfying but not actually a conclusion. See?

Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Funeral Dress is Susan Gregg Gilmore's third book. She has written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. Her first novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queenwas a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) 2009 Book Award Nominee. Her second novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, was named a 2010 SIBA Summer OKRA Pick.

So what's the take-away? Two things:

1) In answer to the ignorant question "Why doesn't she just leave?" please see page 319, paragraph two, in which Emmalee first steps foot in the Cullen Church of Christ:
The walls were a creamy white, and the windows were clear, not all different colors like they were at the Baptist and Methodist churches in Cullen. Emmalee darted like a field mouse trying to find cover. She longed to be back in Red Chert, hugged tight there at the mountain's base. At least there she understood the landscape. (emphasis added)
2) Mothering is essential. Emmalee Bullard needed mothering desperately, for herself and so that she would know how to mother Kelly Faye. Also, that mothering is not only acquired from mothers. Fathers can do it. Not Nolan Bullard, but human fathers can do it. Friends can do the mothering. From whom you get your mothering doesn't matter. What matters is that you get it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

International Writers Conference

OK, as promised (and only a few days late), I have added a page for international writers conferences to this blog. You can locate the new page just under TexasBookLover on the main page of this site. As usual I am quite sure I have not found every writers conference on the planet. If you'd like to add to the list please leave me a comment or send an email to Thank you!