Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

I just finished Wendell Berry’s 6th novel, Hannah Coulter, as recommended by Sara Steger, whom I met on the Goodreads group, On the Southern Literary Trail, which is a dedicated, enthusiastic reading group in tune with those great Southern writers worth knowing about.

If you’re unfamiliar with American author, Wendell Berry, here’s an introduction:

Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activistcultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hannah Coulter and am sharing my book review:

Hannah Coulter is a lyrical study in nostalgia, meandering, at times, just as life itself meanders in seeming slipshod episodes that seem incohesive until viewed in hindsight. But the telling of a life can bring it into focus, and the voice of Hannah Coulter, as she explains her life is the voice of gratitude as she builds linear connections with the full awareness that it is the seeming inconsequential, day to day gestures that make up a life.
I loved this book for its intimate introspection. The story is judicious in dialogue, preferring, instead, to gift the reader with the hidden heartbeat of Hannah Coulter, whom we meet as a callow girl and accompany as she grows wise and world-weary, deepens in self-possession, and all this without traveling far afield from the small rural farming community of Port William, Kentucky, whose sphere of activity is an agrarian culture with a network of neighbors who work together in perpetuating a salt-of-the earth livelihood.
The characters in Hannah Coulter are simply dignified. They are subtle souls, reverent of life’s small purposes. They are commonplace characters with depth and an eye to future generations. They are accepting people, tolerant of changing times even as they hold true to maintaining a less convenient way of life in the name of what they know and treat with the sanctity of tradition.
Hannah Coulter lives beneath the layers of plot and resides in the realm of character study. It is a slow growth story of the life of one woman the reader will come to know and cherish, for all her hard-won wisdom.

WP_20200719_09_14_20_Pro (2)

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

 

In Praise of Independent Book Stores

There’s nothing like times of disconnection to get you thinking about connections.

With worldwide activity essentially on pause, you’d think it’d be optimistic to take advantage of downtime. Typically, in the middle of the day, I’m at my desk working on something. Right now, I could be investing in my own long game, using time productively, filling in this unscheduled time with my self-appointed curriculum geared toward my May book release, or something along those lines.

Instead, I’m sitting outside holding Taylor Brown’s new book, Pride of Eden and thinking about connections. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon in Malibu, California. 75 degrees and the sun is shining through cirrus clouds with the ocean breeze just enough to make sitting outside pleasurable.

I can’t recall the last time I sat outside reading a book in the middle of the day. There’s a shade of guilt involved, but rather than calling it playing hooky, I’ll call it a guilty pleasure. I’ve never met Taylor Brown. I haven’t read the four books he wrote before Pride of Eden came out five days ago, but I got on board because of connections—the first being that this author posted a video of himself on Instagram, standing before pink, flowering shrubbery wearing a black mustache and beard, his baseball cap shading his black-framed glasses, his blue jean vest unbuttoned over his black t-shirt. When I pressed play, his Southern accent sprang like music to my ears, for I’ve been long in the wilds of California, and whenever I hear my own tongue, it sings like a siren call. I next did what any Southern author would do, upon realizing they’re egregiously unfamiliar with one of their own: I went straight to Taylor Brown’s website, unsurprised to learn we have people in common, authors Michael Farris Smith and Patti Callahan Henry to name just two.

The beginning of Pride of Eden’s book description reads: “Retired racehorse jockey and Vietnam veteran Anse Caulfield rescues exotic big cats, elephants, and other creatures for Little Eden, a wildlife sanctuary near the abandoned ruins of a failed development on the Georgia coast. But when Anse’s prized lion escapes, he becomes obsessed with replacing her—even if the means of rescue aren’t exactly legal.” Here’s what grabbed me about the back cover of Pride of Eden: Author Ron Rash writes: “Pride of Eden is a beautifully written, visionary novel of scarred souls seeking redemption not only for themselves but, in their limited way, for us all. Taylor Brown is clearly one of the best American writers of his generation.”

Let’s just say when Ron Rash speaks, I listen.

But back to connections during this disconnected downtime, and here’s where I show my true colors as a transplanted Memphian living in Southern California ( which natives call SoCal, but I digress.) Because the most salient characteristic of all Southerners is loyalty, I picked up the phone and called Novel Book Store in Memphis and ordered Taylor Brown’s book to be shipped to me “out here.” Believe me, if I’m going to buy a book, hometown girl is going to give hometown the business. But then I started thinking about Memphis’s other independent bookstore, Burke’s Books, and that fine figure of an erudite man, Corey Mesler, who not only owns Burke’s Book Store but recently had his novel, Camel’s Bastard Son, published by Cabal Books, which I’m itching to read. Two beats after calling Novel Book Store, I called Burke’s Book Store and ordered Camel’s Bastard Son, with the latest from John Grisham for good measure. Now, I’m thinking the good thing about Southern loyalty is that it’s not divided.

In this time of disconnection, I think it’s only reasonable to honor one’s connections, and the connections I’m thinking of now are those I have with independent bookstores. At the moment, they may not be immediately accessible, but I want to do my part in helping them thrive. Because the first thing I’m going to do once the worst is behind us is head to Memphis. And the second thing I’m going to do is visit both of Memphis’s independent book stores.

https://www.burkesbooks.com/

https://www.novelmemphis.com/

Southern Writers on Writing

The easiest way to portray how much I loved Southern Writers on Writing is to tell the truth as it happened: After reading each moving essay, I sighed and thought, “This one is my favorite.” Apart from the fact that I’m a lover of the first-person narrative, these confessional essays held me at every turn. What they all have in common is an honesty not easily revealed unless the recipient has earned complete trust. These essays are more than Southern writers pontificating on their “process.” These essays are personal—sometimes painfully so. As an assembly, they are variations of a truth that seeks to put into words the profound impact of what it means to be part and parcel of a storied land, more than the sum of its disharmonious parts. A sense of nostalgia runs through Southern Writers on Writing, and what strikes me most is its unified theme. Task a Southern writer with writing about craft, and invariably, all roads lead back home. Southern Writers on Writing is a treasure for both readers and writers. Each essay contains the intrigue of a gripping short story, and each compelling voice allures the reader’s undivided attention. Thank you, Susan Cushman, for gifting us with this book. And to each author who contributed to this gem, thank you for sharing your story.

My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy, as Told to Katherine Clark.

Oh, the gift of this delightful book. The thing about Pat Conroy is those who get him really get him and can never get enough. It has been repeatedly written that readers feel as if they know him. That he wrote in the first person was part of what spawned the relationship between Conroy and his readers, the rest of it is that he had an uncanny way of unabashedly calling things by name and spoke for us. And any Conroy devotee knew he was healing his shattered history by veiling it in fiction. We knew it and didn’t care because not only was he charming, he was a master storyteller. Conroy wrote from the center of his sardonic personality. Once he had you, he dove down to universal truth and brought you to your knees. This business of life is not for the meek, he suggested, but there is rhyme to it, poetry, in fact, and in his fiction, he figured out how to survive it.
My Exaggerated Life gives us the man behind the curtain. On its cover is Conroy wearing his infamous flight jacket and Citadel ring, which his fans will recognize as symbols of his personal narrative. Conroy was that kind of writer. His books were mind-altering drugs and his readers were addicts who had to have more. Katherine Clark has given us more in what seems to me a labor of love. That she spent two hundred hours listening to Conroy spill out his life over the telephone to assemble this book makes me jealous, but I’ll overlook that in favor of the resounding result.
What struck me most in reading My Exaggerated Life was the realization that there was no separating the man from his craft. It’s Conroy’s voice that does it. In these pages speaks a storyteller of the highest order telling an incredibly entertaining story, it just so happens to be culled from a series of events in his life. You can intuit the haphazard way he stumbled from cause to effect as his writing career took shape. Reading Conroy’s books always made me feel they were born without effort, so to discover in this riveting book just where the struggle had been hit me as staggering—not because parts were painful to read, but because he framed it in such a human way that readers will think, you too?
At the end of My Exaggerated Life, Katherine Clark shares the speech Pat Conroy delivered spontaneously before a crowd of adoring fans in Beaufort, South Carolina at his 70th birthday celebration. In it, Conroy claims “What I wanted to be as a writer, I wanted to be a complete brave man that I am not in my real life.” He did just this in My Exaggerated Life. In an act of bravery, Pat Conroy told his story, and author Katherine Clark captured it in a book that is one for the archives.