Sunday, June 3, 2012


Did you ever hear two words that sound prettier together than summer and reading? For me they evoke memories of a blissful state of being. I hate to sound cliche, but back when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s we didn’t have a lot of options for summer entertainment. We lived out in the sticks where we got three television channels. Now, this part may sound like Science Fiction but it was a time of no Iphones, no texts, no e-mails, Tweets, Facebook notices, LinkedIn messages, and so forth.

What we had were long, hot, humid days. Dull days if you didn’t have a library card. Salvation came when we climbed into the Ford Galaxie 500 and traveled to the Regional Library. Oh, to walk in and smell that particular odor of book paste mixed with air conditioning, and to see those card catalogues, those shelves bursting with books.

“Go choose your books, kids,” Mama instructed, and when I carried my stack of books to the check-out desk, my heart began to beat a little faster. I knew those words would carry me far from Athens, Georgia. I found out I could travel outside the perimeters of my own little white-bread world. I could go into other minds, other sensibilities, and into unimaginable experiences.

These summertime trips to the library kindled a passion in me that has never waned.  I’ve heard it said that you become your heart’s desire and I have become a story-teller. I write novels. Sometimes I must do other things, to provide those ‘other income streams’ a novelist needs.  So, I teach memoir writing classes and I edit other peoples’ novels.

My summer reading thus far has come primarily from these endeavors. I strolled along the ‘Memoir’ aisle at the library several weeks ago, looking for books to share with my students, and I pulled Mia Farrow’s What Falls Away, and  Suzanne Finnamore’s Split. I thought I was just going to dutifully plow through these autobiographies, talk about them to my students, and get back to what I really wanted to read. I didn’t know it when I checked these books out, but I could not put either down.

Let me tell you something, I don’t envy Mia Farrow her beauty nor her success one bit now that I’ve read the exquisite pain running beneath the surface of her amazing life. Woody Allen may be a brilliant filmmaker, but that man is a SNAKE!! Mia’s story is ultimately one of hope and courage in the face of pure evil. She’s had to call upon spiritual courage she gleaned from her convent education to sustain her. To keep her sane. I’ll never forget this book.

I opened the cover of “Split” and read the Author’s Note; “These pages embark on a gritty and absurd journey. My telling of divorce is probably not for the squeamish or the morally impeccable.” Boy, is Suzanne Finnamore right! But her voice – it is unique and it is powerful! She is a truly great writer, a master storyteller, the real deal.

Next on my summer reading list is Augusta Trobaugh’s, “The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society.” This book was originally published in 2005 by Dutton and I’ve been hired to edit it for its re-release by Belle Books. As the inside cover says, “The women of a small town’s bird watching society secretly plan to ‘eliminate’ the husband of one of their members in this modern spin on Arsenic and Old Lace. In a story replete with coconut cake, grits, and poisoned turtle stew . . . comes a delightful black comedy from a novelist at the peak of her powers.”  Trobaugh has created a memorable character in Dove, and in the end, I have to say, it’s a comforting read.

This morning (it’s Sunday) I’m cramming, reading Philip Yancey’s, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” This is because my friend Beverly asked me to substitute teach Sunday School for her. I thought to myself, “Okay, I’ll just spend half an hour reading Session Six, then I’ll be ready.” But, no. I made the mistake of reading a real-life story in the front matter of the book, about a woman who’d been renting out her two-year-old daughter to men interested in awful things. Haunting, challenging. But I will say this for Yancey. He makes you think, hard, and the man’s not partisan. He gets on to everybody from Fundamentalist Christians to politically correct liberals.

Last but not least, a book I’ve got on continuous loop - Donald Maass’s “Writing The Breakout Novel.” I’ve read it ten million times. I tend to be even more obsessive-compulsive about it when I’m at the tail-end of writing a novel because I want to make sure I’ve got all the right ingredients in there, and Scarlett Says is due to the publisher on September 1. Another reason I’ve been reading this book so hard is that I have a book called Twang hitting bookshelves in August, and for several months I’ll be getting up in front of folks, trying to sound literary, profound, as I talk about how I “gave my protagonist the inner fire that results in a powerful theme.“ I’m smiling, but I believe you can find almost anything you need in a book. Books enrich our lives.

Happy reading this summer!
Truly, Julie
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  1. Great post, Julie! What a wonderful love letter to summer reading.

  2. If you're looking for another beautiful memoir, I highly recommend Kathleen Finneran's THE TENDER LAND. I just finished it--heartbreaking and lovely.

  3. Great post! And I didn't know you were doing all that. We gotta catch up.

  4. Thanks, Brenda! And Judy, I'll add it to my ever-lengthening list of 'Books I Must Read.' Don't know if it's just me getting older (about to hit 50) or just desire following attention, but I'm loving memoirs these days!
    Oops - Ever the eternal editor, I see a mistake in my blog up there; I said Augusta Trobaugh created a memorable character in Dove, and what I meant to say was Beulah! Dove is a character in her novel Swan Place - another great Southern story!

  5. I remember spending sweaty summer days on the corner waiting for the bookmobile to arrive with its refreshing blast of cool air and its banquet of books. Now, all I have to do is flip open my iPad. Maybe that's the problem...sometimes is so easy, it's forgotten!

  6. Love this - love autobiographies - thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Thanks Melissa, Thanks Lisa! What nice things to read as I end my writing (and reading) day.
    Well, actually, my reading day will continue, and I'll probably fall asleep on Donald Maass's chapter on 'Contemporary Plot Techniques.'