Being Best Friends with Brine Shrimp

This week in our Summer Reading Series, Trisina, Blair’s publicist, talks about her summers in Utah and the memorable scene in a book that finally brought her to tears.

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I imagine most teenagers spend the summer at the beach, frolicking in bathing suits, playing volleyball in the sand, and watching the sunset. My image of a typical teenage summer is very cliche.

summer gif photo: summer (animated gif) summer.gif

But not my summers. I grew up in Utah very pale and very . . .

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So the beach was off limits to me.

And I know what you’re thinking: I don’t know what she’s complaining about. Why didn’t she just swim in the Great Salt Lake? Right?

Uh, WRONG. I don’t know about you, but I think being intimate friends with brine shrimp is overrated. I’ll take the mountains over shrimp, seagulls, and salt water any day.

brine vs mtns

That meant I spent a lot of summers camping, hiking, and generally raising a ridge-line ruckus. It was great. But more than that, it was also a great place to catch up on some light summer reading, like Crime and Punishment.

51y0rkji55l-_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa300_sh20_ou01_I know, I know, I KNOW. If I had just read the stupid thing when I was supposed to, at the beginning of the summer, I could have spent the rest of the summer reading fun and whimsical things like Bridget Jones’s Diary. But I’m a procrastinator. I’ve accepted it. You should, too.

So. Crime and Punishment. Random House calls it the story of “an impoverished student living in a garret in the gloomy slums of St. Petersburg, [who] carries out his grotesque scheme [of murder] and plunges into a hell of persecution, madness and terror.” Not usually what you would think of as summer reading, but truth be told, I wasn’t that upset about it, even if I did procrastinate. That’s the glory of being a book nerd; you don’t really mind catching up on reading. 

Now, hand in hand with being a book nerd is crying. Book nerds love to talk about all the books that have made them cry, like somehow you really love books only if they make you sob.

And if you know me, you know that I’m a crier. A straight-up, soggy-eyed mess. The number of things that make me cry are endless: Sarah McLachlaninfused animal cruelty commercials, A River Runs Through It (obviously), marriage proposals, other people crying in front of me, King Kong (yes, the one with Jack Black), and hunger (so help you God if you stand between me and food).

Things that Make Me Cry

But here’s the thing. I don’t cry at books. I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m emotionally removed. I’m in it with the characters. I gasp and laugh in all the right places. But crying? Please. I’m an adult.

That said, here’s the caveat. I was 17 or 18, lounging about in a lawn chair, reading Crime and Punishment at our campsite when I got to Raskolnikov’s dream. In it, he’s a little boy walking through town with his father. When they pass the tavern, they see a skinny little mare hitched to a cart much too big for her. Raskolnikov and his father witness a crowd of drunks pile into the cart at the urging of the horse’s drunk owner. They all know that the horse won’t be able to pull the weight, but the owner is determined to make her carry them all at a gallop. He whips her despite all her trying, and several others join in. Raskolnikov is horrified and runs to the horse, trying to protect her. The whips catch him in the face, but he doesn’t feel it because he’s so upset. Eventually, the owner beats the horse to death with a crowbar, and Raskolnikov is powerless to stop it. “The poor boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.”

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From “New Girl”

And that, my friends, is my most memorable summer reading experience. Bawling, while camping, about a horse that died in a dream I didn’t even have. Even now, I’m still a bit of a mess about it.

crying gif photo: crying how i met your mother crying.gif

From “How I Met Your Mother”

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Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series. Happy reading!

Blair Author Organizes Mayoral Conference to Aid in Disaster Relief

koch_kathleen

Kathleen Koch, an award-winning broadcast journalist and former CNN correspondent who authored the Blair title Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered (2010), has used her experience with disaster relief to organize a mayors helping mayors project. This project brings together former Gulf Coast mayors with current New Jersey mayors to share lessons learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the aim of facilitating recovery from the impact of Superstorm Sandy. This meeting will occur at the Bayshore Conference of Mayors on Friday, May 17, in Keansburg, New Jersey.

Koch, who has spoken to survivor groups from both Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, came up with this idea of a mayoral conference late last year and has been working to bring the Mississippi and New Jersey delegates together ever since.

Read more about Koch’s mayors helping mayors project and who will be attending at MoreMonmouthMusings.

rising_from_katrinaRising from Katrina is a story of the kindness of strangers, of minor miracles—and, above all, of how despite bureaucratic snarls and insurance battles a region rolled up its sleeves and rebuilt. It is also the story of a veteran reporter who, struggling to maintain her objectivity amid loss, traveled her own personal path from devastation to recovery.

Blair Books in Action (or How I was Reminded of my Love for Music) by Artie Sparrow

Carl Perkins transcendent musical moment on stage in Winston-Salem.

Carl Perkins’ transcendent musical moment on stage in Winston-Salem.

Good fiction takes you to places a million miles from the hassles and annoyances of everyday life.  Blair’s new title Long Gone Daddies is good fiction. It’s a tale of a struggling band with a conflicted leader. It talks about Carl Perkins, and that took me to a place from my past.

The Winston-Salem where I grew up was a different place from the Winston-Salem where I currently live. Back then, the streets were paved with golden tobacco leaves. Well, not quite, but there was a lot of money around. One of the things the money was spent on was a big street festival put on every September by the Arts Council, the Carolina Street Scene. Artists and craftsmen from all over would come to sell their wares. (My parents still drink out of wine goblets purchased there 35 years ago.) The festival also brought in internationally renowned musicians. Some I’ll always regret missing (Mose Allison, Muddy Waters). Others I’ll always cherish getting a chance to see (Dizzy Gillespie, Bo Diddley).

Carolina Street Scene Poster courtesy of the MIlton Rhodes Center for the Arts

Carolina Street Scene Poster courtesy of the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts

I vividly remember seeing Carl Perkins in 1983. I don’t remember how much I knew about Perkins at the time. I probably knew his biggest hit, “Blue Suede Shoes,” and that he was the least famous member of the Million Dollar Quartet. I definitely didn’t know the back story, how he was supposed to be bigger than Elvis but things didn’t quite work out. It didn’t matter. What I saw that September day was a transcendent musical moment. I define transcendent as when someone is doing what he does better than anyone on the planet and having a great time doing it, feeding off the energy of the crowd. Long Gone Daddies says this about Carl Perkins: “Carl’s guitar, it could power a train. Carl’s guitar could bring the freight.” For one glorious afternoon, I was lucky enough to be standing next to the tracks as the train went by, feeling its power and gazing in awe at it.

Perkins' blue suede shoes

Perkins’ blue suede shoes

Perkins was a rock-and-roll messiah. Someone who could make you believe in the power of music, no matter how jaded you were. I’ve seen hundreds of live music shows. I’ve forgotten more acts than I remember. But Perkins really stuck with me—what a great guitar player he was, how much stage presence he had, what a great performer he was.

Over the years, music has become less important to me, getting shunted behind other distractions. Long Gone Daddies reminded me of a part of my life I used to really enjoy. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a transcendent musical moment. I should check the calendar of The Garage (www.the-garage.ws), the local bar where the Drive-By Truckers played all the time before they got famous. Maybe the next big thing is playing there this month.

Blair Prepares for World Book Night by Shannon Pierce

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An excited recipient from World Book Night 2012

This Tuesday, April 23, is the second annual World Book Night U.S. and Blair could not be more excited to be participating! Individual and groups of volunteers will head out into their communities armed with books and a passion to spread the love of reading.

April 23 was chosen for World Book Night as it corresponds with the UNESCO International Day of the Book, Shakespeare’s birthday, and the anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’ death. Blair was thrilled to be a part of the initiative last year and we are eager to get out there again.

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North Carolina rocks World Book Night.

Blair staffers aren’t the only North Carolinians who will be putting books into the hands of unlikely readers. The North Carolina Triangle area is the 7th top region in the country by givers per capita. Way to go North Carolina!

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Our books are ready and waiting for eager readers!

This year Blair staff members will be handing out copies of Fahrenheit 451 in front of the BB&T Ballpark before the Winston-Salem Dash baseball game. Check back with us here to hear how it goes!

Blair Books in Action (or Fishing is Dangerous) by Heath Simpson

Heath and Fishing

One spring, I went fishing on a beautiful North Carolina urban lake. I cast out a tiny lure, meant to be food for bigger predators. Under water, something crashed into it with force. I was ready for minnows but not a shark. Fighting and swirling through the water was an armor-plated, primordial gar!

Taken from FisheriesSociety.org

Taken from FisheriesSociety.org

This fish had a mouth like an alligator. On nature programs, they always clamp the alligator’s mouth shut so I used my hand to do the same. Bad idea! The creature thrashed and sliced grooves in my palm with its razor sharp teeth. Luckily a friend’s medicine cabinet was a block away. In 20 minutes, the blood had clotted, and I went back to fishing. The gar had freed itself.

Unfortunately for me, Blair hadn’t yet published Fishing North Carolina, a fishing guide from expert Mike Marsh. Next time, I’ll be sure to reference this book.

For more fishing stories, check out Growing Gills by David Joy and Brook Trout and the Writing Life: The Intermingling of Fishing and Writing in a Novelist’s Life by Craig Nova. 

Look for another installment of Blair Books in Action next week!

Batter Up! by Artie Sparrow

Chasing_Moonlight_pbkBaseball’s Opening Day is Sunday, March 31. Back in college, I’d spend Opening Day hanging out in front of the Frank Porter Graham Student Union at UNC. (Truthfully, that’s what I’d do most days I was in college.) I learned a bit about Frank Porter Graham while I was in school there—how he was a progressive far ahead of his time, and how his brief career as a United States senator ended after one of the nastiest election campaigns ever, one in which his opponent printed flyers with the headline, “White People, Wake Up.”

Artie in College

Me in college on the steps of the cafeteria, about 200 feet from the Student Union

It wasn’t until I started working at Blair that I learned about Frank’s brother Doc Graham. Somehow, I managed to avoid ever seeing Field of Dreams, in which the great Burt Lancaster, in his final movie role, portrays Doc Graham, a former baseball player whose entire big-league career totaled half an inning. Chasing Moonlight tells the story of Doc Graham. It’s a great story for spring, when thoughts turn to rebirth. The book is mostly about Graham’s career away from baseball. When his dream of being a major-league ball player didn’t work, he pursued a degree in medicine.  He ended up having a long and productive career as a pediatrician in northern Minnesota, where he left a legacy of being a truly decent person, someone who made the world a better place.

So when you’re watching games or just pondering life, remember Moonlight Graham. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you want, but there’s almost always another path you can take

Blair Books in Action by Debbie Hampton

The mantel at my grandparents’ house in Charlotte /Christmas 1961

The mantel at my grandparents’ house in Charlotte /
Christmas 1961

Recently, my teenage daughter went on a Friday-evening “date” with her dad. It was a rarity that I had an evening to myself—me, my glass of wine, and my remote control. No sooner had my derriere hit the sofa that I noticed the Christmas tree staring at me from across the room. Yes, it was February 15, and my tree was still up. And I was reminded that this was not due to procrastination but infatuation instilled in me through family traditions that celebrate our strong faith-based belief.

Christmas 1958 with my grandfather Long and my cousins

Christmas 1958 with my grandfather Long and my cousins

Moving forward from my favorite time of year is never easy for me. I plan the month of December all year long. And those who know me will vouch for it. Shopping starts in January (yes, it does), I make gifts all year, but mostly I anticipate new memories made and reuniting with my family during gatherings that cannot be matched.

AmericanChristmasesThat is why I love Blair’s American Christmases: Firsthand Accounts of Holiday Happenings from Early Days to Modern Times by Joanne Martell. The entries range from how the Christmas tree has evolved through history, to how Santa got too close to the candles in 1890, to how firecrackers were once a cherished and much-anticipated stocking stuffer, to the invention of the ornament hook, to tales of soldiers singing “Silent Night” far from home, to Pete the Christmas goose, who laid an egg and was renamed Petrice in time to be wreathed in parsley on a platter. The stories, both heart-wrenching and heartwarming, allow one to reflect on personal memories and long to relive them.

So, in closing, here’s one of my own Christmas happenings, hailed as my family’s all-time favorite, retold every year and partially captured by the new camera I got from Santa. In the meantime, 247 days to go, sigh . . .

Christmas morning, 1972 / My grandmother Fisher proudly modeling her new boots in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that my brother found for her—at her request--in the woods behind her house. This was only moments before she literally slid off the living-room sofa onto her knees after way too many glasses of Christmas Morning Sherry--all in the presence of a special guest, her old-maid china-doll-like Sunday-school teacher, whom she had invited to join us because she had no other living family. The sherry-induced slide to the floor is a priceless visual memory and an account I could add to my own volume of Christmas happenings.

Christmas morning, 1972 / My grandmother Fisher proudly modeling her new boots in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that my brother found for her—at her request–in the woods behind her house. This was only moments before she literally slid off the living-room sofa onto her knees after way too many glasses of Christmas Morning Sherry—all in the presence of a special guest, her old-maid china-doll-like Sunday-school teacher, whom she had invited to join us because she had no other living family. The sherry-induced slide to the floor is a priceless visual memory and an account I could add to my own volume of Christmas happenings.

Blair Books in Action (or How Blair Books Saved My Relationship) by Shannon Pierce

Travis and me in front of the Biltmore House

Travis and me in front of the Biltmore House

I am a North Carolina newbie. I moved down here from the D.C. area with my boyfriend, Travis, a few months ago, and I am truly enjoying living in Winston-Salem and working at Blair. But I didn’t start out that way.

Winston-Salem is about a six-hour drive from D.C., and neither Travis nor I was at all familiar with the area or with North Carolina in general. Travis came down a couple of months earlier than I did, and on my visits prior to my own move, he would take me to Winston-Salem attractions, such as Old Salem, Salem Lake, and local hiking trails. I was disappointed to be leaving Northern Virginia, but all of my trips to N.C. were fun, so I was eager and hopeful about the change.

travis hiking

Travis hiking

But then I got down here, and Travis dropped the ball. He stopped trying to find fun things for us to do, since he no longer had to sell me on it: I was here. And rather than take any responsibility for the situation or make the effort to entertain myself, I wallowed in my resentment. HE had made this decision for us, and it was up to HIM to make me like it.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Me hiking

Me hiking

Fortunately, during this time, one of my first tasks at work was to check e-book conversions of Blair’s backlist titles. I skimmed through a wide offering of books devoted to highlighting attractions and activities in North Carolina and the South in general. Confronted daily with all that the region has to offer, I was robbed of my excuses for complaining. If I chose to be discontent, it was my own fault for not taking advantage of the opportunities around me.

So Travis and I started doing the things suggested in Blair books. We went hiking (Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers), we tried new restaurants and recipes (Well, Shut My Mouth: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook), and we checked out the local museums (North Carolina Weekends). With so many excursions to look forward to, I was far too busy to bemoan the losses I had supposed I suffered.

Travis approves of Blair books at Biltmore.

Travis approves of Blair books at Biltmore.

Last weekend, we took the recommendation to visit the Biltmore Estate from Travel North Carolina. I had only heard vaguely of Biltmore, associating the name with expensive hotels. I did not know that it is actually the largest private residence in America, open for visitors, and completely amazing. We ended up spending a total of seven hours within the estate grounds and had not exhausted all of its possibilities. It is definitely worth checking out.

Travis in the Biltmore gardens

Travis in the Biltmore gardens

My original aim for this blog was to focus on our trip to Biltmore, but when I examined the true nature of how Travis and I have put Blair books into action, I realized that it has been much bigger than any one trip or outing. Blair books opened up the possibilities of my new home to me and even made me like it. They not only saved my relationship, but they saved me from myself.

Me in the back of Biltmore

Me in the back of Biltmore

Look for another installment of Blair Books in Action next week!

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Trisina Dickerson, Publicist at Blair

This is me:

Me and Not Me

Since joining Blair last fall as the Sales & Marketing Intern, I’ve graduated to Publicist. This is me publicizing:

Trisina

Yes, I have two TARDISes at work, and though it may not look like it from this picture, I do in fact have two arms.

I hope you all have enjoyed The Book that Smacked Me Upside the Head seriesEveryone at Blair has been a great sport, and I’m so grateful to work with such easily suggestible people. And because they’ve been so honest about discussing their life-changing books, I think I should repay them by ‘fessing up to my own. So here it goes:

World, I’m a voyeur.

Ok, that sounds bad. Let me clarify. Not this kind of voyeur:

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More like this kind of voyeur:

funny gifs

One of the first books I remember finding and buying on my own, a truly independent adventure, was Sharon Olds’s The Unswept Room. I was in junior high and was both shocked and enthralled by the intimate details she included in her poetry. I couldn’t believe she walked around in the world without a permanent blush! (For those who aren’t poetry nerds, Sharon Olds could be classified as a present day confessional poet in the vein of Sylvia Plath.) Bottom line, I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about everyone’s personal lives (including my writing professors who became completely different people in their books and the perfect source of gossip with my other writing friends).Olds and Didion

Eventually, I expanded my voyeurism from poetry to creative non-fiction, where I found another book that changed my life–The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. In this book, she recounts the year following the death of her husband and revisits the event again and again, sometimes with clinical distance and at other times with emotional desperation. She ties in their daughter’s illness, who at the time of John’s death was in a hospital, unconscious and suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. But the book becomes more than a portrait of Didion’s marriage or a cry for answers. She reflects on what it means to age, exploring how John’s presence changed the way she saw herself: “Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.” In addition to coming to terms with his death, she must also reconcile herself as an older woman, not a girl in her twenties. And she finds herself with “magical thinking.” She writes, “We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

I admit that it’s pretty dark to spend your nights and weekends reading about death and grief, but reading books like Didion’s helps me to understand myself and the human condition. It brings home poignant thoughts like “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” It’s admirable for an author to write this honestly; doing so makes reading an intimate experience, a chance for the reader to peer into the lives and thoughts of others. But to me, this very voyeurism is the reason why books are important. It makes us see the world and ourselves in a new way. Being #booksmacked shapes us.

P.S.

This blog took a pretty hard right turn into seriousville so happy booksmacking!

 

Blair Staffers Take Boston (and Freeze in the Process)

Last Wednesday, Steve and I left cozy North Carolina for Boston. “What’s in Boston?” you may ask. WELL, aside from Harvard Square, eclectic restaurants, and blizzards, Boston was the spot for this year’s annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. Blair and numerous other publishers set up shop at the Hynes Convention Center to schmooze writers from all over the world. Blair had a prime spot at the convention, and we displayed our books proudly:

Blair Table

Blair books, WHAT! WHAT!!!

And we had plenty of authors at our booth, including Steve Almond, author of God Bless Americawho stopped by to say hello.

Steve Almond at the Booth

Clearly, something very interesting is happening behind me.

Though the Hynes Convention Center has an adjoining Sheraton hotel, Steve and I weren’t able to reserve rooms there because the hotel sold out within the first few days of conference registration! Crazy, right?! Instead, we stayed at the Doubletree hotel just off the JFK/UMass T-stop (I sound so Bostonian!), which gave us a chance to ride the subway every day and really experience the city.

Boston Subway

Random subway-ites

Steve on the Subway

Steve taking the train seriously

It also gave us the chance to experience some good, ol’ Northeastern snow.

Boston in Snowfall Compilation

Boston = some snow + very wet feet

The highlights of our trip included eating at the Dumpling Café in Chinatown:

Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown

Attending the awesome panels AWP offered this year:

In a Panel at AWP

Visiting the Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square:

Harvard Bookstore Compilation

Yes, I totally am the lame nerd who bought a Harvard T-shirt despite never attending the school or having any affiliation with the university AT ALL.

Introducing Steve to shawarma:

Shawarma

I can’t even look at this picture without wanting to book a plane ticket back to shawarma heaven. Nom Nom.

And making time for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:

Domed Ceilings at MFA

A domed ceiling at the MFA in Boston

The museum had works by amazing artists including Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh.

MFA Compilation 2

But Steve said his favorite was the one below “because [he's] a simple man”:

Crystal Jars at MFA

Whereas I liked this man’s sassy pants:

Sassy Pants at MFA

Look at him! Too sassy for his pants!

But my favorite was the postcard exhibit:

Publishing Postcard compilation

Wait a second! That bottom one on the right … is that? Couldn’t be. But I think … OMG, it is!

Look closely:

Blair Staff Recovering Books at MFA

It’s the Blair staffers re-covering books at the last staff meeting!

Both Steve and I agree, though, the BIGGEST highlight of our trip was seeing all of our friends.

Friends of Blair Compilation

Thanks to all the folks at Lookout BooksHub City PressSweet: A Literary Confection, and Press 53 for making Boston one of the best Blair trips ever!