Tag Archives: Flannery O’Connor

Why I Love Book Blogger Appreciation Week

BBAW 2016

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to read that Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi of The Estella Society (one of my very favorite blogs) were bringing back the very fun book blogging event known as Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW).

I always loved this event for many reasons — the camaraderie of those of us who love reading and writing about books, discovering new blogs to follow (one can never have too many, as my Feedly proves to me every day), and celebrating what we do as book bloggers.

But this event is special to me because it represents, for me, my introduction to this wonderful book blogging community 7 years ago.  I had just started my blog in August 2008 when Amy from My Friend Amy  decided to create, as the ladies from The Estella Society wrote: “an online festival for book bloggers called Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Her intent was simple:

Acknowledging the hard work of book bloggers and their growing impact on book marketing and their essential contribution to book buzz in general, I am excited to announce the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together. And of course, shower each other with love and appreciation.

For me, BBAW came at the perfect time. I was new to the blogging world and to find other people who also loved reading as much as I did — and, who, even more unbelievably, loved WRITING ABOUT THE BOOKS THEY READ  — well, this was a game changer for me.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that book blogging changed my life. I’ve made new friends from all over the world who I would never have met otherwise.  I’ve traveled (by myself!) to New York City for the Book Blogger Con (back when it used to be called the Book Blogger Con), spoken at Podcamp Pittsburgh, and started writing book reviews for our local newspaper. I’ve connected with some of my favorite authors and met new writers who have become some of my favorites. I’ve learned about the publishing industry and strengthened my own writing. I’ve increased the number of books I read each year and discovered new writers and genres.

If you’re new to my blog (either because of finding me via BBAW or Listen to Your Mother), welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.

By way of introducing ourselves for BBAW, we’re asked to tell about five books that represent ourselves in some way or our interests/lifestyle. Looking through my Goodreads list, here are five that seem fitting:

B is for Betsy - orig

B is For Betsy by Carolyn Haywood

In a January 2009 blog post called Happy 111th Birthday, Carolyn Haywood!, I wrote about why B is for Betsy (and all of Carolyn Haywood’s books) were important to me as a child. “The Betsy books were just the beginning of my love affair with books. I still have the same feeling upon discovering a new author, a new work of literature (and your books were, most definitely, literature), a book that pulls me into its world.” 

Stones from the RiverStones from the River, by Ursula Hegi

I read this because OPRAH TOLD ME TO.  (It was an Oprah Book Club selection.) And I’m so glad she did, because this was one of those books that found me at precisely the right time.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

The Collected Stories by Flannery O’Connor

In college, I took an English course called “Faulkner, O’Connor, and Morrison” which introduced me to the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. That was more than 25 years ago now, but I can still remember how in awe I felt when I first read her work.  Her stories made me fall in love with the short story and, of course, with every word she wrote.

Making Peace with Autism

Making Peace with Autism, by Susan Senator

When our boy was diagnosed with “clinical features of autism spectrum disorder” shortly after his second birthday, we were lost. What we needed — instead of the badly-photocopied article that the “specialist” practically tossed at us as she dismissed us from the tiniest exam room in all of Philadelphia — was some reassurance that our boy would be OK.  That our family would be OK. Susan Senator gave me that hope during some very dark days and for that I am very grateful.

Little Nightmares Little Dreams

Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, by Rachel Simon

When this book came out in 1990, I went to a local writing conference where author Rachel Simon was the main speaker.  That book and that event sparked a friendship with Rachel that I am so grateful for, as she is one of my writing mentors.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week continues for the next four days, with writing prompts and much more bookish fun.

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Book Review: Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer

Frances and Bernard

Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
208 pages 

This, right here, is one of my newest favorite books.

How can it not be, with its nod to my beloved Philadelphia and Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors?

Well, not Flannery exactly. In this novel,  the character of Frances Reardon is considered to have been inspired by the Southern writer; the Bernard in the title is poet Robert Lowell. Both real-life authors met in 1957 at Yaddo, a writers colony, and started corresponding shortly thereafter. Hence, Frances and Bernard is based on that correspondence and the relationship – what was and what could have been – between the two intriguing artists.

To quote the summary on Goodreads, this is a novel about

the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives …. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?

I can’t say it any better than that. Some of us have been lucky enough to experience such a fast, deep friendship. If it was a long time ago, Frances and Bernard will transport you right back to those heady, talk-about-anything-while-baring-one’s-soul days.

These are fascinating people. I was already a fan of Flannery O’Connor’s, but I admit I hadn’t read nor known much about this period of her life nor her connection with Robert Lowell, so Frances and Bernard was a treat.

Frances and Bernard is the rare sort of book that allows the reader to transcend reading. You forget you’re reading and instead you delve right into the prose and you become immersed in the beauty of the words because Carlene Bauer’s writing – as Frances and Bernard – is so damn good. Every single line.

Like these:

“Irish girls from North Philadelphia can’t afford to think that they will be fine without the benevolence of the New Yorker, even as they give the New Yorker a Bronx cheer.” (pg. 76)

“Am I from Pittsburgh and just don’t know it? Someone else misidentified my city of birth as Pittsburgh.” (pg. 113)

“She [Frances] does not know anyone who has written and mothered, so she thinks it impossible. (I actually don’t either – all the women writers I know are libertines.) But she needs to be in control, and she has chosen to be in control of the people in her stories.” (pg. 135)

Here’s what I know about Carlene Bauer; she is definitely in control of the people in this, her debut novel.

5 stars out of 5.  Highly recommended.


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Sunday Salon: February 16 edition

The Sunday Salon

I’ve noticed that a few of my blogger friends have taken to writing their Sunday Salon posts in the list format below, so I decided to borrow it for those times – like today – when I can’t quite get it together to write a whole narrative-type post. 

Time and Place // 4:20 p.m., our living room. The Husband is reading (about an hour ago he finished Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington D.C by Kenneth J. Winkle and now he’s onto Fear Itself: The New Deal and The Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson); The Boy is on the computer and The Girl is in her room.

Eating and Drinking: At the moment, I’m not eating anything.  I’ve been sticking to my gluten-free diet for several weeks now and I’m pleased with how that’s going. Today was my first headache in about 3 weeks, and it was quite manageable. A nuisance, really. Compared to what I’m used to, three weeks is an eternity for me to go without any sort of headache.

Frances and BernardReading // I am absolutely loving Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer. This is the sort of book that just absorbs you, that makes you forget you’re reading, you know? Carlene Bauer does a magnificent job of drawing one into the fictitious lives of writers Frances Reardon and Bernard Eliot, who are very much inspired by the relationship of real-life author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) and poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977), who met at the writers’ colony Yaddo.

Hoping to finish this one up tonight.

I’m also reading a bunch of new-to-me blogs, too many to mention. For whatever reason, I’ve gone on a major blog-adding binge and … well, my Feedly is at unprecedented levels. It’s bad, folks. Really bad. But there’s some damn good stuff out there, so don’t believe all those dumb-ass reports that blogging is dead. It’s not.

Watching // THE FREAKING SNOW. AGAIN. Oh, and apparently we are the only people who aren’t watching the Olympics. I know they’re inspiring and all, but this go-around I just … I just can’t. Plus, I have enough of the Winter Olympics in my own driveway, thank you very much.

Listening // to a classical music station that The Husband has playing on Sirius XM radio.  I admit, it’s nice and relaxing listening to this while watching the snow, but I could be just as relaxed listening to this on the deck if it was 80 degrees outside.

(Oh, wait, scratch that … The Boy has just put on the Wii, so there goes the classical music. I’m now listening to the not-so relaxing tunes of Wipeout.)

Making // Something for dinner. Eventually. I guess. Grocery shopping did not happen as planned this afternoon, thanks to the non-stop snow that started when I was in church and hasn’t let up since. – UPDATED TO ADD: Dinner was chicken tenders and mixed vegetables for the kids, and gluten-free potato gnocchi for me and The Husband. (DeLallo gets major thumbs up from me for their version.)

Blogging // Not much of anything, I admit. I’ve been slacking here on the blog since I went back to work full-time in October. You’ve probably noticed.  It’s not as easy to keep up with as it used to be, even when I had a much-longer commute. I’m not sure why that is, honestly. I’m trying not to let it bother me, but it does. I do have some pre-written reviews for this week, and I need to write one for a book that is overdue at the library. I also have some other posts in mind.

Hating // Need I say it? The damn weather. I can’t take much more of this.

Loving // The new gluten-free Girl Scout cookies.

Hope your Sunday is going well!

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Book Review: Ford County, Stories by John Grisham

Ford County
Stories by John Grisham 
308 pages 

Oh, I hear you.  I know what you’re thinking.  John Grisham?!  What the hell, Melissa, did you fall into a time capsule from 1991?

Yes, this would be the same John Grisham of bestselling The Firm and The Pelican Brief fame.  And the Ford County of this short story collection’s title is the same Ford County in which Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, is set.

It’s been quite some time (since the early 90s, in fact) since I’ve picked up a John Grisham book, and I suspect that might be the case for you too. But as any of the Southern lawyers within these (and any other of his) pages would do, my job here as a reviewer is to convince you that these stories are just as good as we remember Grisham to be from back in the day.

They really, really are.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical too.  I mean, how many more stories of crooked lawyers and backwoods bumpkins and get-rich-quick schemes could Grisham have left?  As it turns out, at least 7 of them – the ones contained within Ford County.  And these 7 are pretty damn good.

The Flannery O’Connor-esque characters are what you’ll remember most from these stories: wheelchair-bound Inez, who takes a road trip with two of her sons to visit another son on Death Row; everyday ho-hum Sidney, who unleashes a latent gambling prowess to get revenge on his ex-wife (and rich at the same time);  alcoholics who are road trippin’ it to Memphis to donate blood for a friend, but who can’t seem to avoid stopping at every bar along the way; a whistleblower at a retirement home whose motives aren’t the least bit ethical or moral; the night of vengence enacted on a lawyer at the hands of a family that hasn’t forgotten their losing case; and Adrian, who comes home to Ford County to die of AIDS and finally finds peace.

As much as I liked these stories, I’ll admit that Ford County might not have been one that I would have picked up on my own.  It was a Christmas present from my mother in 2009, and it has been sitting on the TBR shelf ever since.  But I happened to spot the audiobook in the library and I listened to the first two stories – and really, really liked them. When I went through three DNFs during one week, I thought I could get some sense of accomplishment by knocking off a TBR book, and I also wanted some semblance of a comfort read.  When I spotted this on the shelf, I realized that I only had five stories left in this one, so … there you go.

(I liked the two stories that I listened to on audio, and would recommend that, particularly for a road trip since there are a few road trips featured within this collection. Grisham’s narration is okay, but the stories are suspenseful enough to keep your attention.)

I’m not saying this is an absolute, OMG-you-gotta-read-this-immediately type of book. Rather, this is one that is worth taking a second look at if you are thinking (as I was) that you’re beyond the likes of Grisham and not interested in his brand anymore.  These stories are ones that are surprising, perhaps especially so in how much you just might be surprised to find yourself enjoying them.


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