Saturday, June 28, 2008

Inspiration: Cartoon Characters

There's a great article in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Inspired by a Bunny Wabbit" by Billy Collins, a former US poet laureate. I'll admit that I was wary; the accompanying illustration shows Warner Bros. classic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck frolicking in togas (see above). Jeez, what's that all about? But my skepticism was unfounded. It's one of the best responses to the perennial question asked in interviews and during the Q&A sessions at readings, "who or what is the inspiration for your work?"

Collins notes that writers typically cite people who write in the same genre. For example, a poet lists other poets and a novelist other novelists. "But the truth is that influence enters us from all sides. It is the chlorine in the flood of experience that spills continuously into the conscious mind. A short-story writer may have been influenced by 18th-century Dutch painting as much as anything else - or by his mother's cooking."

Ok, perhaps I am just taken with Collin's dexterity with words and agile / somewhat quirky mind. My favorite sentence in the whole piece is as follows. "Clearly, Bugs Bunny knows as much about leaping, not to mention whirling, zooming, and of course, hopping, as any of the great Spanish poets whom Bly credits with the knack of slipping through walls from one room of the psyche into another." It's a beauty to behold a poet writing prose.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 30th-July 4th)

We had a great turn-out, approx. 40 people, for the Evening with an Author featuring Martha Stamps (Lit Magic Pick of the Week). As I've said before, Martha is one cool lady and last night's presentation was further proof of it. She covered a wide variety of topics from how she became a chef to the importance of buying locally grown food to how to make "real" mac & cheese. Her passion for good food, her family and preserving the South's unique culture shown through.

Thanks to everyone who came out and in particular to the fifteen people who stayed for the dinner and music. It was a pleasure to get to know you better and further expand on the subjects raised during the presentation. We'll be back at Martha's at the Plantation next month with Craig Havighurst on Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. For a full schedule of events, please see our website.

The Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 30th-July4th) is supporting Books from Birth of Middle TN, a non-profit that provides free books for all children ages 0 up to 5 in Davidson, Williamson, and Sumner Counties. The group's fiscal year ends on June 30th. For more information on giving, please see this link.

Donate to Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee
for $13.60, give the gift of reading to a child for a year!
for $68, sponsor 5 children for a year!
for $270, sponsor 20 children - a whole classroom - for a year!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Starting the Morning Off Right

What a wonderful way to start the day. This morning, I got to hear local author Robert Benson read from Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard. There is nothing quite like hearing an author read from his/her own work. The words take on a new meaning when they are said by the person who wrote them. It was particularly fun to hear Robert read a selection from Digging In as he had been a featured speaker at Evening with an Author last spring.

Have you found that the same passage can resonate with you differently depending on when you came across it? If you had asked me, I would have said that Robert's writing is highly contemplative and beautifully written; he's a storyteller who is influenced by his faith. By contrast, today I was struck by his dry wit and sly sense of humor. Was it the presentation or where I am in my life? Probably both which is why I love attending readings. You cannot help but be moved by them.

If you are yearning for a bit of Lit Magic, come join us tonight at Evening with the Author featuring Martha Stamps. For more details, please see the earlier post titled Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 23-27). Thanks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Picture Books and Chapter Books

Ginna and I have written more than a few posts about kids and reading, so here's my list of favorites. Many of them may appear to be obvious picks and I'd love to hear further suggestions, especially since tastes change and what I loved way back when may bore and/or horrify today's savvy pre-teens.

Picture Books and Beginning Readers:

1. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett
2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney--this one won the American Book Award
3. Imogene's Antlers by David Small
4. The Library by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small
5. But No Elephants by Jerry Smath
6. Most anything b Kevin Henke: Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Owen, Chester's Way

Chapter Books and Up:

1. The Judy Blume Oeuvre: SuperFudge (the first chapter book I ever remember reading), Tales of A 4th Grade Nothing, Freckle Juice, etc
2. The Beverly Cleary Collection: Oh Ramona and Henry Huggins
3. The Betsy-Tacy, and Tib Series by Maude Hart Lovelace
4. The Anne of Green Gables Series by Lucy Maude Montgomery
5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey (It's great, seriously.)
6. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (an all-time favorite)
7. The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin

There are so many more. There's Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Chasing Vermeer, Madeline L'Engle's books. I could just go on and on.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Fewer Kids Read..."

There's a down right depressing article in today's Tennessean titled "Fewer Kids Read for Fun or Even at All". The first few paragraphs are particularly depressing as they show in percentage terms the decrease in reading among this cohort (see below).

Ok, so what can we do as a community to reverse the trend? The answer is to make books more relevant to each and every child. It's a tall order but how can we afford not to? This is a responsibility we all must shoulder, individually and collectively. I have put down a few suggestions. Please add comments and/or email me with additional suggestions.

1. Create a reading culture. Make books a part of your everyday conversation. Talk with kids about the books you are reading. Talk to them about books they are reading at school. Give books as gifts. (See earlier post titled Kid Reading. For example, if your high school son or daughter is interested in baseball give him/her the Michael Lewis book Moneyball. It's about the statistics of baseball. A little creativity in making the connection between what they are interested in and a particular book will go a long way.) Bribe them if you have to. (For example, we can go see the new Narnia movie if you read the book by C.S. Lewis).

2. Support programs that focus on reading. Consider volunteering for one of the literacy groups or at your local library (see earlier post titled Literary Center: Education.) Consider sending a donation.

3. Educate yourself on the issue. Find out more about what Humanities TN is doing to educate our youths outside of school. Read the articles that come out on education and books. Discuss them with your friends, co-workers and children. Make the issue relevant and help to raise its awareness in the community.

From today's Tennessean article
"Many kids in the U.S. are too busy, too distracted and, in some cases, too tired to read books for fun, a new survey finds, suggesting that schoolwork, homework and diversions such as YouTube and Facebook keep them from regularly enjoying a good book.

The findings, recently released by children's publisher Scholastic, echo those of the National Endowment for the Arts, which last year said that, from 1984 to 2004, the percentage of 17-year-olds who "never or hardly ever" read for fun rose from 9 percent to 19 percent.The new survey finds that, on average, one in four kids read for fun every day — but that 22 percent rarely, if ever, do.

And as kids get older, it finds, the percentage who rarely read for fun grows from 8 percent to 37 percent.

About one in four say they "have trouble finding books that I like," a breathtaking admission in the age of chain bookstores, librarians' blogs and blockbuster children's series such as Harry Potter. (Scholastic is the series's U.S. publisher)."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 23-27)

Lit Magic's Pick of the Week (June 23-27) is Evening with an Author featuring Martha Stamps. We're trying something new this month by having it at a restaurant, Martha's at the Plantation. I get a total kick out of how The Tennessean described the series, "a monthly opportunity for local literary aficionados to connect with writers in the fresh setting of an art gallery." (My description is simpler: it's all about Books, Wine and Smart Conversation.)

The format will be as follows:
6:00pm people arrive and have a glass of wine
6:05-6:1opm remarks by Ginna F.
6:10-6:45 presentation and reading by Martha
6:45-7:00pm Q&A and group discussion
7:00pm people have a last glass of wine

Date and Time: Thursday, June 26th from 6:00-7:00pm**
Place: Martha's at the Plantation (Belle Meade Plantation, 5025 Harding Road)
Featured Author: Martha Stamps on The New New Southern Basics: Traditional Southern Food for Today. Books will be available for purchase and signing.
To RSVP, please send an email to

** Note: For those interested, you can stay for dinner and a musical performance by Deirdre Jenkins. The price for dinner and music is $25. Dinner is at 7:00pm and music starts at 8:00pm. Please call the restaurant directly at (615) 353-2828 to make your reservation. For more information, please see

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Arts

As a writer, I envy visual artists. Painters and sculptors and photographers make things, they take their ideas and turn them into something tangible. Prose and poetry are just as valid and exalted as the visual arts, yes, but I can't hang poetry on my walls or trade one of my short stories for a friend's villanelle.

And then sometimes, I love the sound of a word or the turn of a phrase so much so that I wish I could grab hold of it; William Carlos Williams'"This Is Just To Say" is one example. Local artist and poet Anne Doolittle did the cover art for Sigourney Cheek's Patient Siggy, and in her work she engages the written word, takes the act of reading even further into the realm of action.

Other artists incorporating text into their work are on display at the Main Branch of the Nashville Public Library. In Works with Words artists explore the "interplay between text and image" in everything from painting to collage to comic books and photography.The exhibit has been up since March, and it's set to close June 22, so if you haven't made the effort to see it, time's running out.

Opening July 13th and running through August 31st at the Library's Main Gallery, though, is an exhibition entitled Beyond the Page: Carol Barton's Art and Influence. Barton runs Popular Kinetics Press and as a visual artist creates handmade artist's books. She's scheduled to give both a public lecture as well as a workshop on how to make pop-up books. Also on display will be work by local artists who have studied with Barton.

The Big Read

In yesterday's PublishersLunch, a daily HTML email for the publishing industry with 30,000 subscribers, there was a brief mention that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will give grants of $2+ million to local communities to support The Big Read (see this link for the press release). My curiosity was piqued. Below is what I learned.

The NEA is providing individual grants --ranging in size from $2,500 to $20,000-- to 208 libraries, municipalities, and arts, culture, and science organizations across the country. The grants will be used to support educational programing centered around one of twenty-three titles (a few favorites from the list are The Great Gatsby, The Age of Innocence and To Kill a Mockingbird) during the 2008-2009 school year. A handful of institutions in TN were awarded grants (see list below).

I am seriously impressed. This program just makes good sense. If you want to increase interest in books --and by association literacy and education-- develop programs that will get a whole community talking about a specific book (we talked about this idea in an earlier post titled "Literary Center: Book Clubs). And since the funds are managed by local organizations, it is likely that they know which book and the type of programming that would best resonate with their audience. Hats off to the NEA!
Grant Recipients in TN
E.G. Fisher Public Library
Athens, TN
To Kill a Mockingbird

South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance
Columbia, TN
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center
Huntingdon, TN
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

YWCA Knoxville
Knoxville, TN
The Grapes of Wrath

Rhodes College
Memphis, TN
A Lesson Before Dying

More about The Big Read:
"The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

The Big Read answers a big need. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young. The concerned citizen in search of good news about American literary culture would study the pages of this report in vain. The Big Read aims to address this crisis squarely and effectively. It provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, an ambitious national publicity campaign, and an extensive Web site providing comprehensive information on authors and their works.

Each community event lasts approximately one month and includes a kick-off event to launch the program locally, ideally attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (panel discussions, author reading, and the like); events using the book as a point of departure (film screenings, theatrical readings, and so forth); and book discussions in diverse locations and aimed at a wide range of audiences.

The NEA inaugurated The Big Read as a pilot project in 2006 with ten communities featuring four books. The Big Read continues to expand to include more communities and additional books. By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the U.S. will have hosted a Big Read since the program's 2007 national launch."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

For Sale: Independent Bookstore

A bookstore's demise is a sad occasion for sure, especially so if the bookstore is an independent. As reported in Out and About and Shelf Awareness, Nashville's OutLoud! Bookstore is up for sale. In a press release posted on their website, owners Ted Jensen and Kevin Medley reveal that due to current health problems, they are looking to sell their store after 12 years in business. Says Jensen, "We hope that we can find a person or group, such as a community Co-Op, who could continue and grow what we have started." If no buyer is found, the store will shut its doors at the end of the year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kid Reading

For the past few years, baby showers have begun to outnumber weddings on my social calendar. Rather than making the hard choice of whether to give the bride and groom a salad plate from their everyday china or a platinum colander from Williams-Sonoma, I'm now shopping for kid's books. And it's only kids books; because though I realize that bottles and burp cloths are practical and things a new mother can put to use immediately, I make my living reading and writing. Books are what these kids are getting. Plus I have no children, and aren't we the friends with the free pass on impractical gifts?

Not that books are impractical. They aren't. Baby may need a few years before she can read Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, but it's an investment piece. Some bequeath savings bonds; I gift the Treasury of Beatrix Potter.

At the University of Mississippi, Claiborne Barksdale and the Barksdale Reading Institute are investing in children too. Established in 2000 with a generous $100 million donation by founders Jim and Sally Barksdale, the Institute is dedicated to increasing reading awareness and literacy in Mississippi schools and targets children in grades k-3rd grade. (In an earlier post, Ginna mentioned similar organizations: Book'em, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, and the Governor's Books From Birth Foundation.)

I attended graduate school at Ole Miss and several times while I was there, I heard the Institute's Chief Executive Office, Claiborne Barksdale (brother to founder Jim and a Vanderbilt alum), speak. Each time, his message was compelling; the most riveting and/or horrifying detail of his speech being the statistic that the state of Louisiana predicts the number of prison beds it will need by the reading level of its 3rd graders. As Barksdale explained, if a child can't read by the third-grade, his or her chances of catching up become a lot harder. The reading material they're expected to learn and absorb becomes more difficult, the math more complicated.

If there was ever a reason to give a child a book, there it is.

This past week, I learned it's never too early to start reading to a child either. I was at the home of one of my best friends, a place where nervous sorts should never tread. She has two children, a 3-yr. old and a 14-month old. The former was doing what all 3 yr. old boys love to do: taking every Thomas the Train/fire engine/miniature construction vehicle he had and spreading them out across the floor. The 14th- month old has just learned to walk and can't imagine not taking advantage of her new-found mobility. (She's also my god-daughter so I think she's extra smart.)

I didn't know if reading to baby Addie would do much to distract her from climbing the walls, but I reasoned it was worth a shot. I picked up the Itsy, Bitsy, Spider. I began to read. Lo and behold, and surprise, surprise, the child sat still. She smiled. She reached for the pages and when I was through reading, held up the book for me to start the reading all over again. If she wasn't hooked on reading, then I certainly was.

Now I'm compiling a list of books That Every Child Should Read. Or at least have a go at. In a future post, I'll share my picks, and if others have ideas and suggestions, please do share.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pick of the Week

As is often the case, I found the Q&A portion of tonight's reading (Lit Magic Pick of the Week) the most interesting part. The author of The Row and the Boulevard, Daniel Killman, explained in very real terms how the publishing industry is changing. As a self-published author who used Lightening Source (part of Ingram Book) to publish his book, he explained how he had never met anyone at the publishing company which struck me as strange given the importance of relationships in the industry. Everything is done remotely via the Internet. He uploaded the book and cover art and voila printed books arrived on his doorstep, four days later. The same holds true if he wants to make any changes to the text. All he has to do is upload a new pdf version of the manuscript, provide Lightening Source a disc with the Parisian font used in the chapter headings, and bound copies are sent to him a few days later. (The only downside in his opinion is that during this period books are shown as out of stock in book ordering systems such as Ingram's Ipage.) Think about it. This is quite radical. Hypothetically, if we both bought copies of The Row and the Boulevard, the content could be completely different in our two versions and we'd never know it because the cover art and ISBN number would be the same. There would be no indication anywhere that our versions were different. We would have to do a page by page comparison to discover the differences. This makes the content of a book quite similar to that of a website. Changes can be made, more or less, on the fly and there is no evidence that they were made. While such a process empowers an author, I cannot help but feel a bit nostalgic. In my mind, a book represents permanence; there is a gravity to the ideas housed in a hard cover book because they are immovable. Given the technological advancements made in print on demand and short run printing, this may not be the case going forward. I wonder how our relationship with books and authors will change because of it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Show & Tell: Sony Reader

What a classic situation. At about 7pm last night, you would have found nine of us sitting in a circle discussing the book club selection, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. (A great book by the way. Just know that the first half is hard going. Did you see the movie Blood Diamond, with the kids who are drafted into the army and given tons of drugs and big guns? You get the picture; it's totally heart wrenching and enlightening.) As the tenth member sits down amid "sorry I'm late", someone asks her, "where is your book?" She holds up her Sony Portable Reader. A few of us may have gasped out loud. Technology had arrived.

After the initial shock wore off, we launched into a 5 minute discussion on electronic readers (the more popular Kindle vs. Sony Portable Reader), their product attributes (How many books can it hold? Apparently, it can hold 80-90. Cool. When would you download a book rather than bring a traditional one? Is wifi necessary?) and price points ($400 for Kindle and about $100 less for the Sony). All the while, the reader was passed around the circle so each of us could experience what it is like to read a page in this new format. I have no doubt that in 6-12 months, a percentage of us will have adopted the new technology in large part because our friend likes hers. This is the power of word of mouth recommendations.

More information on electronic readers, can be found in this CNET article. A Wall Street analyst projects that Kindle will generate $750 million in revenue by 2010 (assumptions: unit sales jump from 189,000 to 2.2 million and price of device falls from about $400 to $300. Hmm... Will the tipping point happen that quickly? It'll be interesting to watch.) Another article in Forbes compares the two products and asks which product has the potential to be disruptive to the book industry. Amazon's Kindle wins because of its potential to change how books are distributed and produced.

They say you have to see it to believe it. Well, now that I have and I am one step closer to buying one myself. I also get why the media is fascinated by the topic -- these devices will take hold and will change how we consume information.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"United We Read"

I jokingly told a friend that I was going to make up bumper stickers with a slogan along the lines of, "United We Read: Support Nashville's Authors". (It's a play on words -- albeit an inelegant one -- on the one used by the local restaurant guild Nashville Originals.) After looking over this week's Bestsellers List for Nashville, I'm thinking it's not going to be necessary. Seriously, 60% of the list is made up of books written by local authors (see below for titles listed in bold). How cool is that? It also makes me pause. What forces are coming into play to make this possible?

Generally, there are one or two authors represented on the list on any given week (very unscientific guesstimate based on my recollections having read the list for over a year). To begin with, we need to credit Davis-Kidd as the list mirrors its sales for the week. The store and its staff are great supporters of local authors. This support comes many forms: it hosts book signings/readings by local authors; gives prominent display to books written by local authors as well as hand-sells them to customers looking for a good book; sponsors the Southern Festival of Books; and hosts the Women's National Book Association's (WNBA) monthly meetings, many of whose members are authors. We also need to credit the local media for its support of local authors. A few people in particular who come to mind are Jonathan Marx at The Tennessean, Margaret Renkl at Nashville Scene and Twanda Coleman & Meryll Rose at Newschannel 5. We also need to give credit to the authors who have not only written interesting books but also made the effort to connect with the local audience by doing multiple readings in the area. Lastly, we need to credit the readers who purchased the books written by local authors. Can any single factor claim credit? I think not. All of them together created buzz around the books which translated into book sales.

I am proud to live in a community that loves books and supports the local talent who produces them. Perhaps I will have those bumper stickers made up after all....

Davis-Kidd Booksellers*
1. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
2. Miscarriage of Justice by Kip Gayden
3. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
4. Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
5. A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

Non Fiction
1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
2. Life is a Gift by Bob and Judy Fisher
3. A Guitar & a Pen by Robert Hicks
4. Audition by Barbara Walters
5. What Now? by Ann Patchett

Source: The Tennessean, Arts & Entertainment Section, p. 25 (6/8/08)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 9th-13th)

(Photo: Rick Bragg, Lit Magic Pick of the Week)

Wow. Double wow. Rick Bragg has this speaking thing down. (He is easily one of the best speakers I have heard all year). Apparently, it is a well-known fact, as it was a standing-room only crowd at B&N Cool Springs. There were approximately 70-80 people packed in, many of us tucked in the aisles craning our necks to catch a glimpse of the silver-tongued author. He indicated that he recognized 3/4 of the audience and that the next time everyone should bring someone new. If that's the case, the powers that be should have him at War Memorial like Ira Glass and charge for the tickets. His adoring fans/groupees, and I count myself among them, would appreciate a chair --smile. If you missed him last night, I would recommend picking up the audio book of his newest, The Prince of Frogtown, which he narrates. His storytelling is rife with nuance and contradiction, both of which are accentuated when read aloud.

Lit Magic Pick of the Week (June 9th-13th) is The Row and the Boulevard by Daniel Killman on Thursday, June 12th at Davis-Kidd at 7pm. It's described as "Nashville music industry figures cross paths with the city's socially elite in a tale of addiction, scandal, betrayal, broken dreams and possibly ... hope." This 90+ degree heat just begs for some light summer reading. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Literary Center: Book Clubs

At Breakfast Club of Nashville this morning, I spoke to the group about the blog and what Lacey G. and I are trying to accomplish. I explained how this blog was my personal antidote for combating superficiality by slowing down and giving some serious thought to issues that I am passionate about, most notably books and the importance of Nashville embracing its place as a national literary center. At the end of my remarks, Marsha came up to me. She noted that the prevalence of book clubs in Nashville seems to indicate our individual and collective interest in books and discussion. Today's entry is dedicated to Marsha, thank you for sharing the insight. I could not agree with you more.

If you ask anyone, especially a woman, about her interests outside of work and family, you are likely to hear about her book club. Her eyes light up as she tells you about the most recent book they have read and how the group discussion broadened her perspective. A book club serves multiple functions. It is a great reason for a group to get together on a regular basis, generally once a month, to discuss issues and socialize. It is generally considered a "safe" place to explore ideas and the learn more about yourself and your fellow members. There are not that many venues in today's busy world that encourage us to slow down and think about a single issue for 60+ minutes. We are all too busy rushing around crossing items off our to-do lists. While we are out in the world, many of us remain isolated and unconnected.

Now, imagine how powerful it would be if every book club in Nashville read the same book during a single month. The issue in the book would be considered by the individual, the individual book clubs and by the community as a whole. Knowing that others had also read the book would open up a new sort of dialogue; it grant permission to take discussion to a deeper level. Isn't that want we all yearn for? The ability to know ourselves and be known by others? Perhaps this is a way we could do that. I believe that this sort of dialogue would also help us as a community; it would build community. Ideas would be exchanged between individuals and groups at a viral speed. We would be better suited to identify the issues that are most important to us, like education and economic growth, and the means to address these issues as the initial bonds will have have been forged.

There was an interesting article in The Tennessean in April about how colleges -- Sewanee, Belmont and Middle TN State University -- are requiring that all incoming freshman read the same book. This is very similar to what I am suggesting for us as a community and what The Tennessean organized in 2003. "Common books have emerged in this age of social fragmentation as powerful platforms for those seeking community — just look at the proliferation of "one city, one book" programs (The Tennessean organized the Big, Big Book Club for Nashville in 2003) and even Oprah's influence. Books prompt us to examine the important questions in life, unlike, say, what might come up in your softball league."

Simply put, book clubs and the discussion they generate have an opportunity to radically alter our community. I invite you all to join in the discussion. Together, we can transform Nashville into a nationally recognized literary center.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Summer Book Series

Have you been wanting to join a book club? Is your book club on summer break? Are you a closet foodie, like me, who loves reading about subject? Have you been hankering to get back into the classroom but have limited time and money to devote to the pursuit? Well, I may just have the perfect solution for you....

The Women's National Book Association (WNBA), Nashville Chapter and the Beaman Library at Lipscomb University have partnered again this year to present the Summer Book Series. The programs are free and open to the public and run from 7:00-8:30pm at the Ezell Center, Room 136, at Lipscomb University. See the WNBA website for more information.

Food For Thought: Reading and Writing about Food
June 9th: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
June 16th: The Omnivore's Dilemma
June 23rd: Like Water for Chocolate
July 7th: My Life in France
July 14th: The Measure of Her Powers: an M.F.K. Fisher Reader
July 21st: A Debt to Pleasure

Special thanks to fellow WNBA board member and director of Beaman Library Carolyn Wilson for putting together this delectable sampling of food writing. We hope you will be able to join us for one of all of the programs.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Storytelling: To Kindle or no?

In an article this past Sunday in The New York Times, journalist Edward Wyatt asked, "Is the electronic book approaching the tipping point?" Writing from Book Expo, he describes Amazon's Jeff Bezos as "evangelizing" about the Kindle, his company's top-selling electronic reader, and publishers and book sellers as worried and increasingly uneasy as a result.

For me, when it comes to electronic readers, I haven't taken a Chicken Little approach (books are over, publishing's dead, pencils are obsolete) so much as the If I don't look at it, it's not really there view. I like the look of books, the feel of the paper and the binding. Reading becomes tactile with a book in hand. And besides, electronic readers don't look good stacked on a shelf.

But I'm going to have to confront them; computers--and electronic readers--aren't going anywhere. That's an obvious statement for sure. I may even end up buying one someday. Electronic books are cheaper and then there's the convenience factor: how many times have I gone on vacation with a suitcase of clothes and a second bag of books. (Having 2-3 books of differing genres means there's no risk of running out of reading material or of becoming stuck with a book that bores you. Just switch to the next one.)

As far as the Kindle goes, what's interesting is Bezo's claim that readers of electronic books are still buying hard copies (perhaps even more so) and that the Kindle does not, in any way, signal the death of physical books. In my favorite quote of the article he says, "Anything that lasts 500 years is not easily improved upon...Books are so good you can't out-book the book."

He's right. But I'm still wary, maybe even a little scared of what the rising popularity of electronic books could mean. A big change is going on, and book publishing as we know it today will not be the same ten, twenty years from now. Maybe not even five. This change, though, doesn't have to signal the end of publishing. It could, even, be the equalizing force between the small presses and the big NYC publishing houses.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Literary Center: Cultural Impact

This post is part of a series on the importance of Nashville being recognized as one of the leading literary centers in the US. The first two posts focused on education and the economic impact. We will now spend some time on the cultural impact.

As a born and bred New Yorker and recent transplant to Nashville, I can attest that the city's rich cultural scene was a key factor in my decision to move here. There are plenty of places that matched the other criteria on my list -- medium sized city, attractive city & surrounding area, affordable cost of living, nice weather and have at least one major university -- but very few that possess that special something which can be described as the "cool factor". Now don't get me wrong, I am no 30-something hipster. A "cool place" in my book means that there is a wide variety of interesting things to do and see (galleries, music venues, lectures, historic houses/gardens etc..). It's a place that values creativity, diversity and discussion. I am happy to report that Nashville has met and exceeded my expectations, in large part because of its people (so warm & welcoming & interesting) and it possesses a dynamic literary scene. This scene was not apparent day 1 but reveled itself over the course of 6-8 months. Given its potential impact from an education, economic and cultural point of view, we should work towards heightening its visibility and the links between the individuals and organizations comprising it. We will all benefit and Nashville will be a better place for it. Do you have suggestions of how we can accomplish this goal? Add a comment or drop me an email.

For more evidence on Nashville's "cool factor" see below:
I am far from alone in recognizing the strength of Nashville's cultural scene. In fact, Nashville is ranked 3rd in the nation for cultural amenities according to a study published by See this link for the Nashville Business Journal's article on the subject. And in 2006 Kiplinger ranked Nashville as the #1 Smart Place to Live (criteria: ideal city is fun, vibrant and affordable). See this link for more details.

Dictionary Lit Magic

Lit Magic's list of TN Authors just keeps growing and growing. That's exciting. I've been saying for a while now that something is going on here in Middle Tennessee. Ginna has too. That's why we started Lit Magic.

But this author list, wow, it really keeps on growing and growing. So, hard as it's been, we've set some criteria. An author--as regards Lit Magic--is anyone who has published a book.

Because, see, a writer, now, that can be anyone from a newspaper columnist to a book reviewer (ahem) to the person who crafts those really great emails their friends can't help but share as forwards. A list of writers could--and would--go on forever.

As far as publishing goes, there's no hierarchy, no value assignments. Lit Magic is judgement-free. Small independent publishing houses are treated just as royally as the behemoths in NYC. That's the Lit Magic way.

Conclusion? If you're a writer and you haven't yet written that novel. Start to it. Written your magnum opus? Let's publish that baby. We want you on the list.

(And if there's an author we should know about that isn't on our list, please tell us and we'll add him/her.)