Kitty and I had a great time at the Oklahoma Celebration of Books in Tulsa last Friday and Saturday. We promoted the Oklahoma Center for the Book; talked with authors, readers and aspiring writers; and caught up with some of our librarian colleagues. Like Kitty, I was quite taken with the presentation by authors Sue Monk Kidd and Michael Cunningham.
I’m going to share another highlight of the event for me: the panel on Oklahoma Landscapes which was moderated by William Hagen. Panelists were writers Jim Barnes, Rilla Askew and Hannibal Johnson. The session focused on the importance of “place” in literature; or as Oklahoma Poet Laureate Barnes noted, a story without place is lacking soul. Every Okie knows that we, outselves—indeed, all Americans— have a problem determing if Oklahoma is southern, midwestern, southwestern, or part of the great west. (Just look at the comments on Steve Lackmeyer’s post on his OKC Central blog).
Certainly the diversity of the state’s landscape plays a role in this. Angie Debo noted that taking the shape of our state and placing it anywhere else on a map of the U.S. would not result in a greater diversity of terrain. Debo’s observations, it turns out, were right on: the EPA says Oklahoma is one of only four states with more than 10 Eco-Regions, and that it has the most Eco-Regions by mile than any other state.
Although the panel discussed Oklahoma’s diverse terrain and its influence on the feeling of place, a main theme of the session was on Oklahoma’s unique “place” in American history and culture. It is the place, Johnson said, where three races—European American, Native American, and African American—came together under extraordinary circumstances. All came to this land, Johnson said, for different reasons, but all came because of a great promise; and it was the breaching of this promise for two of the races that frame a unique narrative of Oklahoma history. This theme is echoed in Askew’s short stories and novels as well.
During the course of the panel, Askew’s essay Most American came up. This essay has been published in both Nimrod and in the book Voices from the Heartland, a collection of writings by Oklahoma women. The essay is an eloquent and provocative piece of writing that speaks to the soul and heart of our state and its people. It’s as good an answer to who, what and where we are as anything ever written about our strangely wonderful home.
Most American by Rilla Askew on Google Books.
I wish Oklahoma had more book festivals, I always feel energized after attending. This weekend at Celebration of Books in Tulsa was no exception. Michael Cunningham and Sue Monk Kidd did an outstanding job of speaking at the opening night event. They both reminded us that reading is a way of seeing our connection with each other. Reading lets us have insight into another person as we take up residence in their skin, at least for a few 100 pages or so. Both were charming, intellectual and humble. The venue at the newly rennovated Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame was open and intimately inviting.
Of course during any event such as this, one person speaks to you louder than another. Michael Cunningham told a story about his days working as a bartender, getting to know the evening club hostess and her unexpected role in cementing his view of audience. Helen was a single parent with children to raise, two demanding jobs and a love of reading. Michael called her the “avid reader”. She would work all day, cook and raise childen but before going to sleep make an hour of time to read. They were talking books, she into the latest crime/mystery novel, he into much higher brow fare. He suggested, with the arrogance of youth, that she should try Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.
About a week later, Helen proclaimed she liked Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and he was better than the Follett she was reading but not as good as Scott Turow! Michael Cunningham said Helen was the reader he hoped he was writing for. One who has no pretension of what should be good or bad, but enjoys the story and the writing for the pleasure it brings.
It made me smile, because I’m just a reader, I come from a long line of Helens. While we’re never going to the pen the great novel, or attend Yale to hear Mr. Cunningham teach, we’re going to read his written words, and those of others with voracious enthusiasm. Thanks to the authors who remember we’re out there. Thank you Mr. Cunningham.
If you missed Michael Cunningham, please go to the Steven Barclay Agency website and check out all the videos.
I purchased at the Celebration his book Speciman Days, so here’s a short clip with Michael Cunningham discussing this title.
The YouTube description says this is “an impromptu and unconventional domino line at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s ACES Library. As a conceptual art project, it pokes fun at and criticizes the monotony and strictness of institutions and libraries.”
Yeah, either that, or it’s what bored academic librarians do during Intersession; you know, when there are only about five students on campus.
Either way, it’s pretty darn fun!
Kitty and I are heading to Tulsa tomorrow for the Celebration of Books. We’ll catch up with you next week. In the meantime, enjoy your Library YouTube Break!
Last August, I was harping about waiting from the third installment of Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games Trilogy, Mockingjay. Well I’ve finally read it, and I’m not disappointed. From my previous post, you can tell how much I admire this work.
I won’t get into specifics here. You can read about the trilogy’s plot and theme in that previous post.
What’s so admirable about the work to me—beyond the imagined world, plot twists and tight writing—is the author’s uncompromising vision of the main character, Katniss Everdeen. This girl can be stubborn beyond belief, infuriating to the max, and independent to the extreme. She has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and has a special art for assessing a situation and then doing the most unexpected things. She also has a steady moral compass, is fiercely loyal to family and friends (the few she has), and has a problem with issues of trust. Yet all of these are the qualities that allow her to survive in a futuristic hell of devastating war and poverty.
Would she have been as believable in a third-person narrative, or a narrative with multiple viewpoints presented? I don’t think so. Throughout the trilogy, Katniss is the sole voice of the story, and we only see the action through her eyes. We hear no other character’s thoughts or can surmise no other character’s motivations. All we know is what Katniss is thinking, what Katniss is seeing, what Katniss is hearing. And as a result, we are with her, and only her, all the way to the end.
Not once did I believe Collins’ betrayed the nature of Katniss as the story progressed. The author knows this character inside and out. She is what she is. The world may change, but Katniss remains Katniss.
There be spoilers: As far as the book’s ending, let’s just say there is some controversy out there. Four Oklahoma youth librarians take sides about it on this podcast. Finish the trilogy, and then have yourself a cup of tea while you listen to their discussion about Mockingjay.
Our Literary Cat says next week is Banned Books Week. Thanks for the reminder, cat!
For your viewing pleasure: a list of twelve books guaranteed to turn (almost) anyone into a censor from the great site Booktryst. We like this site because it tends to give us the oddball and offbeat side of the book world, as you can see from this post, or this post. And what about this post!?
We also like Booktryst because one of its contributors is a former Oklahoma librarian, Cokie G. Anderson. Cokie is basking in the sane temperatures of the Great Northwest now, but she still loves her some books!
OK, we’ve given you fair warning. Time to select a banned or challenged book to read sometime between September 25 and October 2.
And as always, do let us know what you’re reading. We love hearing from you.
Working with youth librarians has inspired me to pick up some children’s books and young adult novels that are quite appropriate for adults as well — Neil Gaiman‘s The Graveyard Book and Suzanne Collins‘s miraculous Hunger Games Trilogy, for example. Although marketed to younger readers, they sacrifice nothing when it comes to imagination, artful writing, and expert plotting. Like all good fiction, they have plot points open to interpretation, they beg for analysis, and, more than anything, they’re fun to talk about!
A book jacket quote from the The Times in London says it’s “one of the best fantasy novels written for a long time.” I agree with “one of the best,” but I would say this is more a work of science fiction.
Incarceron takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has picked itself back up with some unique solutions. Because of the devastation wrought by war and technology, people in the former UK live under a peculiar protocol of behavior and lifestyle (think Victorian England) in order to prevent change, technological progress and the possibility of future devastation. The idea is to create a paradise “free from the anxiety of change.” Another paradise is also envisioned: Incarceron, a prison that “could be no kinder or more compassionate (a) guardian for its inmates.”
The two worlds live apart and ignorant of each other, with each side believing the other is a paradise. This is far from the truth. Outside is stagnant, depressive and filled with dangerous political intrigue. Inside has become a downright nightmare that would be at home in a Harlan Ellison story.
Only the Warden of Incarceron knows where the prison exists, and the story revolves around the warden’s daughter Claudia and a young Incarceron inmate named Finn. The two find themselves with keys to the prison, technological wonders that allow them to communicate with each other. Scattered bits of memory convince Finn he has lived outside the prison, and he wants to escape. Claudia is convinced Finn is, in actuality, the “dead” prince Giles who was cheated out of his rightful title by her father and Giles’s conniving step mother, the Queen.
What follows is a trip of wonder, danger and surprise as Finn and his band navigate within the vast prison to find a way out, and Claudia navigates the deadly political games in the outside world. Surprise is the key word here, and readers can’t help but experience a jaw dropping moment when they discover where and what Incarceron is.
There be spoilers here: Three Oklahoma youth librarians discuss Incarceron in this podcast, and it’s a delight. Careful, though, if you’re planning to read the book. If that’s the case, better to devour this great novel, then come back and listen in on the discussion.
New from the Okie Bookshelf.
War Party in Blue: Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army by Mark van de Logt.
A history of the Pawnee Scouts, from their perspective Between 1864 and 1877, during the height of the Plains Indian wars, Pawnee Indian scouts rendered invaluable service to the United States Army. They led missions deep into contested territory, tracked resisting bands, spearheaded attacks against enemy camps, and on more than one occasion saved American troops from disaster on the field of battle. In War Party in Blue, Mark van de Logt tells the story of the Pawnee scouts from their perspective, detailing the battles in which they served and recounting hitherto neglected episodes.
Employing military records, archival sources, and contemporary interviews with current Pawnee tribal members—some of them descendants of the scouts—Van de Logt presents the Pawnee scouts as central players in some of the army’s most notable campaigns. He argues that military service allowed the Pawnees to fight their tribal enemies with weapons furnished by the United States as well as to resist pressures from the federal government to assimilate them into white society.
According to the author, it was the tribe’s martial traditions, deeply embedded in their culture, that made them successful and allowed them to retain these time-honored traditions. The Pawnee style of warfare, based on stealth and surprise, was so effective that the scouts’ commanding officers did little to discourage their methods. Although the scouts proudly wore the blue uniform of the U.S. Cavalry, they never ceased to be Pawnees. The Pawnee Battalion was truly a war party in blue. —Excerpted from the University of Oklahoma Press website.
Facts: Pub. Date: September 2010
Publisher: FaithWords. Format: Hardcover, 272p.
- ISBN-13: 9780446580366
- ISBN: 0446580368
From Publishers’ Weekly :
Bestselling author and TV preacher Meyer takes a step beyond her bestseller Battlefield of the Mind. She offers a 12-step program to help readers conquer the negativity that naturally plagues the mind, leaving readers free to enjoy life and pursue their goals. Using themes from other books in her ample catalogue–worry, perseverance, managing emotions–Meyer breaks her suggestions into several digestible lists, backed by a “Power Pack” of Bible verses at the end of each chapter. She offers enthusiastic encouragement, but also requires action, here in the form of practice, discipline, and continual meditation on the 12 motivational thoughts. Critics of the positive thinking movement (Meyer obliquely acknowledges a debt to the pioneering Norman Vincent Peale) will continue to find downsides in this book, among them failure to sufficiently acknowledge the pain of suffering and an ignorance of intractable mental illness. Critics of Meyer will say she sounds like an infomercial (“You will see amazing results”). Yet her many fans will continue to appreciate her upbeat attitude and her ability to offer practical tips on the toughest topics. (Sept.)
ISBN: 9780061474149; ISBN10: 0061474142; Publisher: Avon ;
Format: Mass Market PB; Pages: 384; $7.99
Inside the book it says the fourth in the Sweet Justice series, but I think it is the third, with the fourth one, Reckoning for the Dead not out yet.
The man she’d trust with her heart could sabotage everything…
When terrorists attack a Haitian missionary school, brutally killing their hostages and posting videos of the senseless murders online, time is running out. Sentinels’ agent Alexa Marlowe is forced into an unlikely alliance with a relentless mercenary. But he is no stranger.
Jackson Kinkaid witnessed the raid, and only he can track the killers to their mountain stronghold. Guarding a dark secret, rumored to sell his services to the highest bidder, Jackson is not the same man Alexa once knew. And although he can lead her to the terrorist leader she’s been ordered to take alive, how can she be sure he won’t sabotage her mission to save the one person who got him through the worst nightmare of his life?
—-excerpted from the Jordan Dane website.
Comment: She’s a good author to read for suspense with a romantic twist.
You have to be kiddin’ me
They wouldn’t do those unspeakable things”
That’s a Flaming Lips quote up there, from their 1992 song You Have to Be Joking. When I first heard it, I thought about DM Thomas‘s 1981 novel The White Hotel. I was 23 or 24 when I read what would become his most famous and controversial work. I was just a young man; similar, I suspect, to my impression of the narrator in the Lips tune: a young person who is just waking up—really waking up— to some disturbing truths about the world.
I certainly knew about the Holocaust from school, from documentaries on television, and from magazine articles. I even had parents who were alive when Hitler’s Final Solution was revealed to the world, and we talked about it with each other. But I never really felt the horrifying nature of this event until I read this novel. We armchair travelers go many places, and occasionally we are taken to a place that can only be described as life changing.
The White Hotel is a strange novel. The reader often has to wonder if particular passages are dreams, fantasies, or realities. It is the story of a woman named Lisa. We read an erotic poem she has penned. We follow her psychoanalysis and therapy for “sexual hysteria” by Sigmund Freud. We learn of her childhood and a traumatic event during her young years. We see her in a torrid love affair at The White Hotel. Ultimately, we follow her to her very end at Babi Yar.
Millions died at the hands of the Nazis in the real world, but that huge number can be too abstract and unfathomable to process and feel. One person died in a work of fiction, and I was depressed for days.
Even Thomas’s final chapter, in which Lisa and the other fallen are reborn to continue in an afterlife that strangely resembles our own world, did not really lift my spirits back up. Perhaps it is not meant to. Perhaps this final chapter is about us, continuing our lives after tragedy, because that is the only sane choice.
Something inconceivable has happened, but we march on.
Related: Not coming to a theater near you:
22nd Annual Oklahoma Book Award Competition Open
Rilla Askew is Lifetime Achievement Winner
Entry forms for the 22nd Annual Oklahoma Book Awards competition are now available, according to the Oklahoma Center for the Book in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. The Oklahoma Book Award program is designed to recognize and promote Oklahoma’s working writers as well as outstanding books regarding the state. Entries are being sought in five categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children/young adult, and design/illustration.
To qualify, books must have been published between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2010. In addition, the author must reside or have resided in Oklahoma, or the book must have an Oklahoma theme. Finalists in each category will be selected and announced in February; winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on April 9, 2011.
In addition to the five categories listed, the Center for the Book presents the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award for a body of work contributing to Oklahoma’s literary heritage. This award was named for the Norman, Oklahoma, historian, Arrell Gibson, who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book. The 2011 recipient is author Rilla Askew.
Born in Oklahoma’s San Bois Mountains, Askew grew up in Bartlesville and spent her early adulthood in Tahlequah. She moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, but soon turned her efforts to writing. She is the author of several books including The Mercy Seat, nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Dublin IMPAC Prize, and recipient of both the Oklahoma Book Award and the Western Heritage Award in 1998; Fire In Beulah, winner of the American Book Award and the Myers Book Award; and Harpsong, recipient of the Oklahoma Book Award, the Western Heritage Award, the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West, and the Violet Crown Award from the Writers League of Texas.
Previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners include mystery novelist Tony Hillerman; Librarian of Congress Emeritus Daniel Boorstin; Newbery Award winner Harold Keith; Savoie Lottinville, who served as director of the University of Oklahoma Press for 30 years; Hugo Award winning science fiction writer R.A. Lafferty; Kiowa poet and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist N. Scott Momaday; historian John Hope Franklin; children/young adult author S. E. Hinton; novelist Jack Bickham; author and award- winning reporter Michael Wallis; children’s author Bill Wallace; adult and children’s writer Joyce Carol Thomas; and The University of Oklahoma’s renowned literary journal World Literature Today and its programs. Other winners are Native American poet Joy Harjo; nationally known mystery writer Carolyn Hart; science fiction and fantasy master C.J. Cherryh; noted historian Bob Burke; internationally known Tulsa author and lecturer Clifton Taulbert, and David Dary, well known author and emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Oklahoma. Last year’s recipient was photographer David Fitzgerald.
For more information on the book awards, including submitting entries, visit the website at www.odl.state.ok.us/ocb or contact Connie Armstrong, executive director, Oklahoma Center for the Book, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 200 NE 18th Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73105; or call 1-800-522-8116 toll free statewide. In the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, call 522-3383.
If you want thoughtful discussion of books and other literary related topics, including books in the news, then make The Millions your site to visit. Every time I go there I am amazed at what their feature writers have hit on this week. And the articles are interesting, not condescending bookspeak. They are not fluff either. They actually believe you are a reader and would like to talk to you about reading and authors.
And I even like it after this jab at librarians, (some of us are pretty grim), Reading Just for Pleasure. Perhaps more of a jab at the entire academic dismissal of reading except as something you do for a grade. I hope Chris Graham can forgive, because this librarian does more reading for pleasure than anything else.
So pull up to the computer, or your electronic device of choice and have a conversation with The Millions who read.