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“...each different face bright and burning as sparks of fire...”

In Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding, Ellen Fairchild navigates the outdoor darkness at her daughter's wedding reception in the Mississippi Delta, circa 1923:

Ellen strolled under the trees, with Battle somewhere near, looking among the dancers for her daughters. The lanterns did not so much shine on the dancers as light up the mistletoe in the trees. She peered ahead with a kind of vertigo. It was the year - wasn't it every year? - when they all looked alike, all dancers alike smooth and shorn, all faces painted to look like one another. It was too the season of changeless weather, of the changeless world, in a land without hill or valley. How could she ever know anything of her own daughters, how find them, like this? Then in a turn of her little daughter India's skirt as she ran partnerless through the crowd - so late! - as if a bar of light had broken a glass into a rainbow she saw the dancers become the McLeoud bridesmaid, Mary Lamar Mackey (freed from her piano and whirling the widest of all), become Robbie, and her own daughter Shelley, each different face bright and burning as sparks of fire to her now, more different and further apart than the stars.

That's seven characters mentioned in one paragraph, but only a fraction of the sprawling Fairchild clan, plus their plantation workers and townspeople. The sheer quantity of characters is both a strength and weakness in the book. If I recall correctly, Ellen and Battle have nine children, but I can't even name them all.

February 28, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“A person who does not believe in tomorrow does not repaint his house.” - Henning Mankell, writing about Angola in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (2006)

February 23, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Language lives longer than people and therefore its permanence is vital. It moves us from one generation to the next; it’s immortal. Writing isn’t elitist: it’s the deepest thing we have. It’s as essential as breathing. It brings other paradoxes to us through language.” - Edna O'Brien

This year's Irish March will be devoted to the fiction of Irish women writers. O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs is up first. I really enjoyed her Wild Decembers a few years ago.

February 22, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“His writings writhed and ached with twists and turns and tergiversations, inept words, fanciful repetitions, far-fetched verbosity and long Latin-based words.” - Muriel Spark, describing her character, the fictional writer Hector Bartlett, in her novel A Far Cry from Kensington

I really need to finally read Spark.

February 20, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies.” - Joseph Conrad 

February 17, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Though I am sure you would enjoy a visit as much as I did, I think that, in the long run, the Scandinavian sanity would be too much for you, as it is for me. The truth is, we are both only really happy living among lunatics.” - W.H. Auden 

February 16, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Mr. Hemingway’s style, this prose stripped to its firm young bones, is far more effective, far more moving, in the short story than in the novel. He is, to me, the greatest living writer of short stories; he is, also to me, not the greatest living novelist.” - Dorothy Parker

February 5, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“…building chicken coops, or possibly, bungalows…

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This is pretty cool: when George Ade, the wildly popular Chicago-based humorist of the late 19th Century, left that city to return to his native Indiana, he built Hazelden Farm along the banks of the Iroquois River, near the village of Brook. The farm included a top-notch golf course. Today, the course still exists, as Hazelden Country Club, as does his house, which is maintained by Newton County as an event facility. Also, adjacent to the property is the George Ade Memorial Health Care Center. And I never realized, until just now, that Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University (his alma mater) is co-named in his honor – certainly a very rare distinction for an American writer.

No less of an authority than William Dean Howells was once convinced of Ade's great potential as a fiction writer. From Donald L. Miller's City of the Century:

For a time, Howells believed George Ade might be the one to produce the "great American novel," but Ade squandered his promise by going after the money. In 1900 he left the Record, where he made sixty dollars a week, and began writing fables in slang for a syndicate "wizard," earning over a thousand dollars a week as his "share of the conspiracy." He became further sidetracked when he began writing successful dramatic comedies for the Broadway stage. "The show shops had me hooked," he wrote, "and the syndicate wouldn't let go of me, and between the two I was constantly incited and urged to do the most dreadful things to the English language."

Poignantly, in his later years he reflected on the literary success of his fellow Hoosier, Theodore Dreiser, while downplaying his own material success:

"While some of us have been building chicken coops, or possibly, bungalows, Mr. Dreiser has been creating skyscrapers."

Adjusted for inflation, his $1,000 per week in 1900 is equivalent to $1.4 million per year today. For that kind of cash, I would bet that even Dreiser would have been tempted to forsake serious fiction.

February 5, 2018 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...various winding, enchanted-looking initials...”

Eudora Welty, from One Writer's Beginnings:

My love for the alphabet, which endures, grew out of reciting it but, before that, out of seeing the letters on the page. In my own story books, before I could read them for myself, I fell in love with various winding, enchanted-looking initials drawn by Walter Crane at the heads of fairy tales. In "Once upon a time," an "O" had a rabbit running it as a treadmill, his feet upon flowers. When the day came, years later, for me to see the Book of Kells, all the wizardry of letter, intial, and word swept over me a thousand times over, and the illumination, the gold, seemed a part of the word's beauty and holiness that had been there from the start.

The book is a collection of three lectures which Welty gave at Harvard University in 1983. I'm enjoying it quite a bit - I love the gentle sweetness of her voice, which is even more prominent in memoir than in her fiction. I'm reading the book as a warmup for my next Welty novel, Delta Wedding. I'm intent on completing my reading of her five novels by the end of next year; after Delta Wedding, there are just two more: The Robber Bridegroom and Losing Battles. The latter figured prominently in What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, which I read and loved last year.

February 1, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)