Tag Archives: LSU

No need for fiction in Poor Man’s Provence

A while ago, I was assigned a story for 225 that included interviewing an author by telephone. I’d read her book and really enjoyed it and was very nervous at first (she’s a journalist! syndicated!), but she was so warm and genuine that I quickly felt like I was talking to an old friend. It was a wonderful conversation and yielded QUITE a lot more than I needed for my short piece. I also found out that the piece was going to run in the magazine after her appearance in Baton Rouge, so I asked my editor if I could do a companion piece here to encourage folks to read her book and go to the author event at which she’ll appear.

So, the deets.

The book is called Poor Man’s Provence and its author’s name is Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Her book was selected as Baton Rouge’s fall One Book One Community selection. This is a great program where community partners encourage all of Baton Rouge to read the same book twice a year and  provides tools and events for community dialogue. I encourage all of you, whether you live in Baton Rouge or not, to read this book, which is about Rheta’s experience of being more than a tourist but not quite a local of Henderson, Louisiana, deep in Cajun Country. The book has very short, engaging chapters and is a very fast, fascinating read, no matter how much you know about Henderson or Cajun culture.

One of the things that Rheta said that struck me most deeply, but I wasn’t able to work into the 225 piece was, “In the south, there’s no need for fiction. The truth is so rich.” As a fiction writer, I chose to see this as hyperbole, but it also strikes me as utterly true. No matter how strange our fiction is, it never can quite compare to the truth of the idiosyncratic way of life around us and the best novelists, in my opinion, write unbearably true things about people that just happened to not exist completely before they wrote about them.

Rheta’s voice vibrated with passion whenever she spoke with me about Henderson and the friends she made there and she writes that way about them, as well. It’s easy to feel like you’ve made a whole batch of new friends as you’re reading.

After you’ve read the book, go see Rheta speak August 20th at 7 p.m. at the Cox Communications Building on the LSU campus. When I asked if any of the “characters” (in more ways than one) would attend the event with her, she said she’d ask them if they’d like to. Regardless, Rheta will be there and so will many readers ready to discuss this incredible book. Good times will be had.

1588382184 300dpiRheta jacket photo crop

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Lazy last day of the year afternoon

I won’t call them resolutions (cause that’s just asking for trouble and, usually, failure), but there are a lot of things I want to change and accomplish in 2009. I’m excited.

So on this last day of 2008, let me post a couple of things that please and amuse me (my Top of 2008 list will be up later, just for you).

First, I adore this short piece about a 5 year old chef with a television show. I sent a link of it to a few of my favorite people and Mamma Mia! wrote back in an email: “I would probably give it a test run. He looks cute. Your dad and I watched that angry chef that goes to restaurants and helps them turn them around and the chef acted like a 2 year old most of the time.” Which made me laugh so hard I scared a few people. I have to assume she’s talking about Gordon Ramsey.

Checking out Living With Music today, I’m reminded of how much Norah Vincent rocks. A while back, I read her Self-Made Man and I continue to believe that every American man needs to read this book. Also, women and non-Americans. But, having met quite a few guys with Peter Pan syndrome who struggle to know how they’re supposed to be MEN in this day and age, I think they need to read a book about how a woman managed being a man for a year. We’re all a bit confused these days about what it means to be a woman or a man, to be ourselves and our genders. It helps that Norah Vincent’s a very good writer. (I met her when she came to LSU to promote S-MM, but I’m not posting the picture, sorry). Here’s my favorite part of her LWM playlist: “Here Comes the Sun, Nina Simone. I had to put Nina on this list, because, to my mind, her voice, her music, is proof of the existence of God. She makes me feel less alone in the world, which is why, even though she’s usually singing the lowest of the low down dirty blues, I feel better when I listen to her. Her cover of this Beatles classic is just about the only even vaguely upbeat song she sings that isn’t about sin, heartbreak, injustice or all of the above. Still, be warned, she’s not for the unalloyed. This is a long-steeped melancholic’s brand of sweet tart, so don’t try this at home. There’s always a bit of bite to the sugar in Nina’s bowl but, for my money, that just makes the pleasure last longer.” Looking forward to reading her new book, Voluntary Madness.

And we can’t forget GalleyCat and their Year in Publishing (wish, wish, wish, there was one link I could give you for all of them, but here’s January and December, just to get you started).

Look for the Top of 2008 List later today…

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Catching up

So the 9th Annual Spaghetti Christmas Dinner went off without a hitch, thanks to everyone who celebrated with me. Next year, we’ll have to do it up even better to commemorate a decade of spaghetti and friends. I’ll put together an album of pictures from all the s’getti dinners, I think and have that out for everyone to see. What began in a dorm room at LSU and just took place in an apartment in New Orleans is now a tradition going strong.

There are a lot of things I’ve been meaning to talk about. One is my growing appreciation for Barack Obama, my increasing delight that his inauguration is coming up. What’s to be so excited about? If for nothing else, I’m thrilled that our incoming president not only values reading and books, but is already a published author. I just finished listening to Audacity of Hope, read by Obama, and I’m looking forward to seeing him accomplish the things he discusses there – though it’ll take time and continued support. He has big ideas and big hopes for this country and I can’t believe it, but I finally have confidence in a politician.

Now, hoping that Obama and Oprah and continue to help the publishing industry (and the economy) make a comeback, here’s a plethora of humorous, terrifying, and informative links about these scary times in The Industry:

Which creative writing programs produce the “best” writers? (GalleyCat)
Publish your rejection letters. (GalleyCat)
This pisses me off, wish I wasn’t so jealous of a nine year old. (GalleyCat)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s new book. (GalleyCat)
The self-destructing poem. (GalleyCat)
Best American Short Stories will include online writing. (GalleyCat)
And online journalism is now eligible for the Pulitzer Prize. (GalleyCat)
Y.A. too sexy? (GalleyCat)
Elizabeth Alexander to read at Obama’s inauguration. (GalleyCat)

I honestly do read something other than GalleyCat, but they’re usually the ones I want to link to most. Is there a prize for that?

So what I’ve been loving lately: Barack Obama and his books, Krista Detor , Special Topics in Calamity Physics (I really wanted to hate this book, but I just can’t – it’s one of my favorites now) and Unaccustomed Earth, which I just finished (Jhumpa Lahiri is scary talented). Maybe I’ll do a list of 2008’s Favorite Things before the year’s over. Maybe…that’ll be really hard.

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