Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Worthy Nightmares

This time each year I see such a strange dichotomy: horror films and images of death juxtaposed alongside Disney princesses and babies in pumpkin suits. This morning, though, as I rode to work listening to a scene from James Frey's Million Little Pieces, the book that caused Oprah such controversy awhile back, I lived vicariously through my worst nightmare.

Using all too well the age old advice, show don't tell, Frey gives every detail of his experience in the dental chair, having four teeth replaced and repaired with no anaesthesia. In fact, he spent the greater part (during a double root canal) strapped down, holding two tennis balls with a Babar the Elephant book held firmly to his chest.

I won't skirt the issue: I suffer from dental phobia. Sure, I know that modern advances have changed dentistry (although I still can't find a dentist who offers routine laughing gas for all procedures, something I truly desire), but I suffer from a long history of dental anguish--abcess at age four, an old Army dentist who drilled through my tooth into a nerve (also when I was four). I endured cavities upon cavities no matter how often I brushed and flossed. As a result, riding in to work, I might as well have been sitting strapped in that chair with Frey, overwhelmed by the smell of burning teeth, feeling grit under my tongue, the halogen lights in my eyes, the sharp metal probing my teeth, my gums.

This Halloween, I don't worry about vampires, ghosts, or goblins. Just keep the dentists away from my door.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Embarrassment of Riches

After several years of intending to attend the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee, I actually made it there this past weekend. October is by far my busiest month, with a number of conferences calling to me, while my husband is heading off to the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC. Still, the location of this festival (in the same town with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren) has more than its share of attractions to me, and the line-up looked great.

I didn't arrive in town for the Friday sessions, so I tried to avoid even looking at that schedule, sure I would be sick to know what I'd missed. I did, though, manage to hear from a number of writers I read and admire--Lee Smith, Ron Rash, Rick Bragg, Sonny Brewer, Tom Franklin, and Brad Watson--many of them whom I had discovered through Lemuria's First Editions Club.

I also made sure to hear Louis Sachar, author of, among other things, Holes, a YA novel I enjoyed that was made into a successful movie. Even though I had to sacrifice another couple of tempting sessions, I managed to see the screening of Hey Boo, the documentary Mary Murphy has been making about the making of To Kill a Mockingbird, which gave birth to her book Scout, Atticus, and Boo, which I read this summer. This film, not released yet, is unmistakably a labor of love. She's managed to talk to not only many well-known writers and celebrities, but she also interviewed Nelle Harper Lee's older sister, Miss Alice, still practicing law at 99, as well as the couple who befriended Lee in New York City when she was writing and gave her one year for Christmas a year off work to finish the book.

Of course the festival also had its share of exhibits--lots of books and book related merchandise (including the t-shirts I had to have). The weather couldn't have been nicer, and I left town with a few more good reads, lots of book notes, and a longer-than-ever "must read" list.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sharing Books

To lend books or not may not have the gravity of Hamlet's question of simply being, but I will admit that I feel such contradictory impulses. First, I know that I have a genuine need to talk about books I read with others who have actually read too. I know that sharing one of my books doesn't guarantee that will happen. (In fact, I know because of the number of borrowed books sitting unheeded on my shelves. They ooze guilt.)

Only through trial and error do I learn who returns books. I can tell you any number of people who are in possession of books that belong to me. (If you are reading this and you have my John Updike, Gertrude and Claudius or Leif Enger's Peace Like a River then yes, I am talking to you.) I had to wait a dozen years to get my copy of Hondo--not the Louis L'Amour cowboy novel but a biography of Hondo Crouch by his daughter Becky--and I only got that one back because I saw it on the bookshelf at the home of the guilty party and stole it back.

I'll also admit that I am a book thief, but not without guilt. After reading Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women, I was ready to read Little Men. My great grandmother had a copy she had borrowed from a friend who died before she returned the book. For some reason, I didn't read her copy but instead borrowed a copy from a friend's brother. He too died while I had the book. Coincidence? I don't know. But I'm not lending a copy to anyone.

Actually, I try to practice book amnesty regularly, giving back books to the friends to whom they belong, not admitting whether I've read them or not. This clears room for more books too.

Meanwhile, I've realized that one of the few drawbacks to reading eBooks is the inability to share them. I always feel guilty recommending a book to a friend, who asks, "May I borrow it?" I have to admit that I don't have a copy to share. Fortunately, this isn't enough of a drawback to deter me. After all, they have the option of buying the book or using the old library card.