I did an 'event' yesterday at my long-time favorite little bookstore -- I was a regular customer at Accent on Books on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville long before I became an Author.
It's the closest bookstore to where I live, being on the north side of Asheville in the area I often do my shopping. Downtown Asheville is terrific and has another wonderful independent bookstore but it's not as convenient -- the parking thing -- plus it's farther away.
Accent on Books is the kind of friendly, cozy, neighborhood bookstore everyone should have near at hand. Their inventory is carefully selected with a discriminating eye to quality. No, they don't have every book you ever heard of (they could order it though) but their selection is exquisite and they have far more books that I really, really want to read than I could possibly afford.
I was amazed, back in October when I was doing last minute shopping for John's birthday and decided I would love to give him a book of various chicken breeds. I stopped in at A on B, just on the chance . . . And they had one! Gorgeous glossy pictures of every weird sort of chicken, duck, and goose with emus and such to boot! It's The Little Bookstore That Could!
There's something about a bookstore -- going in and looking at all the books, picking them up, leafing through them, being seduced by a beautiful cover or an enticing review. It will be a sad day, if we lose these little bastions of culture.
There was a gratifying turnout yesterday -- some folks I'd met before, most new to me. Some had read all the books; others hadn't read any -- yet. So I rambled on, read bits of Miss Birdie's book, answered questions, and the whole thing felt like being in someone's living room, talking about books. And not just mine. There was an enthusiastic recommendation for Mark de Castrique's Blackman's Castle and votes for Ron Rash's Serena and all of Barbara Kingsolver's stuff . . .
That's the kind of folks you run into at these nice little bookstores. And that's why I always encourage folks to support their local, independent booksellers. These businesses are already feeling squeezed -- between online sellers and the big chains, it's harder and harder for the indies to keep afloat. Add to that, these tough financial times and it's enough to make a bookseller groan.
I'll be doing a few more local signing events (see the calendar over there>>>) and hoping lots of people decide to buy my books as gifts. If you 'd like to share Elizabeth and her world with a friend as a Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanza/Solstice/any reason present and you'd like to embellish this (very economical) gift a bit but can't make it to one of my events, I can offer you lovely bookplates, signed and personalized as you specify.
All they'll cost you is the bother of sending me a self-addressed, stamped envelope with directions for the personalizing. Email me -- vicki_laneATmtnarea.net (there's a hot link on my website but I can't put one here) and I'll give you the address to send the SASEs to. And I can put the bookplates in the mail the next day so you can have them in plenty of time for whichever holiday it is you're celebrating.
As you see from my pictures, you have a choice -- the photo of moonrise, taken from my porch, or the tasteful border of violets, taken from the internet. Let me know which you would want.
So here's your chance to kill many birds (figuratively, of course) with one stone. Buy a new book for a friend -- support an author, give that friend a trip to the mountains (if you buy the right book.) Buy that book from a local independent bookseller -- support a valuable community asset!
The news story yesterday that a Long Island Wal Mart stock clerk had been knocked down and trampled to death by crowds breaking down the doors in their eagerness to save a few bucks is deeply disturbing.
I understand that for a lot of folks, hitting all the sales on the day after Thanksgiving is a kind of a sport -- scoring the latest electronic goodies at a big discount, getting a new TV that will cover a wall, loading up on all the trophies that make one an outstanding consumer. Others probably feel that it's their only chance to give their kids a Really Big Christmas -- the kind the TV commercials have them conditioned to expect.
For the merchants, especially in these dismal financial times, pre-Christmas sales may be the difference between solvency and Chapter 11.
But really -- a greed so overwhelming that people don't notice frail human flesh underfoot as they race for the plasma TVs?
Mob mentality -- a fever that takes hold and reduces a group to its lowest common denominator. It's frightening.
Later in the day, my spirits were lifted, I have to admit, when I received an email from a family member who shall be nameless, telling me that her husband had just served up some 'steaming bowels of turkey gumbo.'
Made me laugh out loud. If I'd been drinking coffee, it would have come out my nose.
Sophie, (my French translator in Paris) sent good wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving and in her note said "I understand Thanksgiving is at least as important - if not more - than Christmas in the United States."
My initial reaction was something like, Oh, heavens, no -- in the US, Christmas isn't just a day but a season that extends for some folks from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year's Day with gifts and church and Christmas carols and cards and parties and traditional events like The Nutcracker, and decorations that can range from a simple wreath on the door to decorated trees in every room and twinkling reindeer on the lawn.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is just one day -- lots of cooking, lots of eating -- how could it approach the importance of Christmas?
But in talking with some of the folks gathered at our house today, I came to realize that it's all the things that Thanksgiving lacks that makes it such a pure holiday and one almost immune to commercialization.
For us, it's simply a day to be thankful and to enjoy the company of family and friends -- no gifts, no cards, no pre-or post Thanksgiving parties. The stores don't play Thanksgiving Muzak at you (even if there were a canon of Turkey Day tunes, the stores are already playing Christmas ditties.)
So we shove the furniture around and rely on sawhorses and an old door to make a table big enough for all of us; we prepare and eat far too much food; drink a pleasant amount of wine; and enjoy being together for a long afternoon -- a kind of low key warm-up for the demands of the coming Christmas season.
A few days ago, on one of my posts, a comment showed up from Marta McDowell, a name previously unknown to me. Marta quoted Emily Dickinson and aroused my curiosity.
First I found her blog and her website (from which all these pictures are borrowed.) Those of you all who are gardeners or would-be gardeners or just like beautiful pictures and excellent writing owe it to yourselves to look at Marta's blog. Like me, she's fond of bugs and rocks and flowers. And she travels and photographs all sorts of interesting gardens.
Marta's website makes me wish I were closer to New Jersey where she teaches lots of interesting classes -- including wreath-making. A woman after Elizabeth's heart. And mine.
But, alas, I won't be traveling to NJ for classes. I will, however, put this gorgeous book that Marta co-authored on my Christmas wish list. It's on Amazon and you can look at a few pages to get a sense of the lovely writing and the amazing arted-up photo/collages.
Below is Marta's deer fence. I have to admit to a severe case of envy. But as my garden is a great deal larger than my budget, such a fence is nowhere in its future.
I emailed Marta to ask permission to talk about her and use her pictures and to ask how she stumbled on my blog. Turns out an Elizabeth fan (also named Elizabeth) in Hendersonville is a friend of hers and sent her the link.
After the rowdy color and all-encompassing, over-the-top shout of the autumn foliage, I find myself looking for the grace notes of the small, quiet things. It's like going from sitting in the midst of an orchestra that's playing The 1812 Overture to listening a simple tune on a bamboo flute.
A chance composition of snow, a pine needle and the lovely curve of a fallen leaf on a spray of shore juniper has the spare beauty ofikebana.
Echinacea's dark seed heads are striking accents, as well as a promise of more purple cone flowers to come.
A curled leaf could almost be a rose unfurling.
Siberian iris seed pods peep open to show off their shiny black fruit.
There's always something interesting in the garden, especially through the close-up lens.
At one point yesterday, there were eight dogs clustered in the area around the fireplace -- our six plus Justin and Claui's two. Carolina football was on (don't ask) and as I tried to thread my way among the people and dogs to put another log on the fire, John commented that I looked as if I were playing that party game from some years back -- what was it called? -- oh, yes, Twister.
This is pretty much how yesterday went -- the dogs napped; I brought my laptop downstairs to write by the fire because my workroom was too cold for anything approaching comfort.
Miss Birdie is still leading me in strange paths -- tango, films of the Thirties, raven mockers, eugenics, and more.
And the characters are really telling me the story now. I begin a scene and they take it where they want it. Sometimes they even turn out not to be who I thought they were.
I wouldn't have it any other way -- It's like watching a movie in my head and hurrying to record the action and the dialogue. Except that these character are often prone to wordiness and I have occasionally to rap on their heads and beg them to get to the point and not be so enamoured with their own silly conversations.
Getting closer. But, oh, for the luxury of several years to research and polish!
"Schools are closed in Mitchell, Yancey, Madison . . ."
Yesterday's snow and those words on the radio took me back twenty-some years.
Those were the magic words we waited for back when our boys were young. A few blowing flakes the night before would arouse our hopes and as soon as we woke, we'd turn on the radio. Sure, the ground was white outside but we're just high enough up the mountain that there might be no snow at all down on the hard road, half a mile downhill. So we waited for the radio to confirm our hopes.
The roads are key. Our county is large and doesn't have the snow removal capabilities of northern states (like New York, where my sister-in-law tells me they have 28 inches on the ground.) Their schools rarely close and their roads are kept clear, though snow piles higher and higher on the shoulders, but here in Madison, with only one high school and buses traveling long distances on sometimes not-so-great roads, a little snow in the upper reaches of the county is enough to shut the whole system down.
"No school!" we'd holler upstairs to the boys and all of us would pull the covers higher to catch an extra bit of sleep.
Eventually there'd be the chores to do and a lovely Little House In The Woods day would follow with cocoa and popcorn, cookie making, reading by the fire, maybe a pot of soup or chili simmering on the stove. If there was enough snow for snow balls and snowmen, that was on the schedule, as was snow ice-cream.
These lovely unexpected holidays were treasured -- though I must admit, there could be too much of a good thing, as in the memorable January-February of '78 when schools were closed for six weeks.
They say this winter may be colder than usual. Children all over the county are probably keeping their fingers crossed.
After the freezing temperatures of the past few nights, most of the garden looks pretty sad. Tender plants have collapsed in sickly green puddles and once lush leaves are are withered. But the pyracantha berries are a cheerful sight, bright and gleaming, now that I've ripped away the blackened morning glory vines that had covered them.
Green and vigorous, the Italian flatleaf parsley is ready to do its part as a breath freshener, a garnish, or an ingredient. I picked a bunch last night and cut it with scissors over the pilaf that was our supper.
And the hardy purple sage is ready to flavor our Thanksgiving turkey. The beautiful pebble-textured leaves are so strong smelling that I don't find many other uses for them. But I'd grow sage just for its good looks.
These three abide.
I wrote my title -- meaning only to refer to some plants that were hanging on but was immediately reminded of the Biblical verse "And now abideth Faith, Hope, and Charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
Good words, even if they are attributed to Paul, probably my least favorite of the presumed authors of the Bible. He just doesn't seem all that loving -- Charity being from the Latin caritas which means love.
In this dark season, as the economy plunges daily, I'm afraid we're going to need a good bit of all three -- faith, hope, and charity.
Good grief -- and here I was talking about what's left in the garden. I didn't mean to go all gloomy and portentous on you.
Malaprop's Books is a fine independent bookstore in downtown Asheville and the booksellers there have been supportive of Elizabeth from the beginning, thrusting her on all comers who wander in off the street looking for books about the area.
1. Coming in at number one (no surprises here) was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (she who is richer than the queen.)
2. Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell, a critically acclaimed local story by a local guy.
3. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a great story with a surprise ending.
4. Oh, my goodness! Look who's fourth!
5. Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon An addition to this hugely popular series.
6.The Inheritance of Loss byKiran Desai Kiran Desai's first novel, "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard," was published to unanimous acclaim in over twenty-two countries. Now Desai takes us to the northeastern Himalayas where a rising insurgency challenges the old way of life. In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga lives an embittered old judge who wants to retire in peace when his orphaned granddaughter Sai arrives on his doorstep. The judge's chatty cook watches over her, but his thoughts are mostly with his son, Biju, hopscotching from one New York restaurant job to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS, forced to consider his country's place in the world. When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai's new-sprung romance with her handsome Nepali tutor and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they, too, are forced to confront their colliding interests. The nation fights itself. The cook witnesses the hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge must revisit his past, his own role in this grasping world of conflicting desires-every moment holding out the possibility for hope or betrayal. A novel of depth and emotion, Desai's second, long-awaited novel fulfills the grand promise established by her first.
7. The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar and Neil Gaiman "The Good Fairies of New York" tells the fish-out-of-water story of two Scottish thistle fairies who find themselves in Manhattan. The fairies hook up with two humans, Kerry (complete with colostomy bag) and Dinnie (antisocial in the extreme), finding time to help both get their acts together. A book that brings together race riots and Scottish folklore, "The Good Fairies of New York" is anything but a typical fairy fantasy.
8. And in eighth place . . .
9. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk - A fascinating and challenging murder mystery/love story set in the competitive community of manuscript illustrators in Istanbul.
10. And for the trifecta. . .!
So, it's not the NYT bestseller list --- I still thought it was pretty cool . . .
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