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

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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:

funny gifs

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!

“Un-bee-lievable!!” by Shannon Pierce

Woody Durham Cover and Author Shot

Tomorrow, March 2, marks the 39th anniversary of one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball history. On this day in 1974, the UNC Tar Heels made up a difference of eight points within the last 17 seconds of the game to forge a tie with Duke. Coach Dean Smith then led the team to victory in the overtime. Hear announcer Woody Durham and other members of the Tar Heel community talk about that memorable feat here:


Pick up a copy of Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice to learn about more great North Carolina basketball moments from a man who witnessed them all.  Rah, rah, rah!

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Artie Sparrow, Office Manager at Blair

Artie and Psychotic ReactionsMy friend Phil Morrison gave me a copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung for Christmas one year when I was in college. Twenty-five years later, it’s the most dog-eared book I own. It’s a posthumously released anthology of writing by the legendary music critic Lester Bangs.

The important thing about Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung isn’t the musicians and songs Bangs writes about (even though it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who cringes whenever I hear “Carolina in My Mind”), but the life lessons he imparts while doing so:
Psychotic Reactions
Be honest,
Be kind,
Merely puking on yourself is not going to change anything,
It’s ok to change your mind about something,
Don’t be afraid to take chances and risk looking foolish,
Always be receptive to new things and experiences.

A particularly eloquent rant refuting the nihilism of Richard Hell got me through the angst-filled early 1990s, when I was an underemployed, love-struck, self-destructive hipster doofus. It’s too lengthy to reproduce in its entirety, but the salient point is this:  “There are glints of beauty and bedrock joy that come shining through from time to precious time to remind anybody who cares to see that there is something higher and larger than ourselves. And I’m not talking about your putrefying gods, I am talking about a sense of wonder about life itself and the feeling that there is some redemptive factor that you must at least search for until you drop dead of natural causes” (from page 267 of the original paperback edition).

Artie at Home

Note: Behind Artie is Phil Morrison’s first movie, Tater Tomater.

I don’t think Bangs intended to provide life lessons. I think he just wanted to get paid and have fun, which is another life lesson he almost subliminally imparted.

On a practical level, the book did change my life by indirectly showing me the easiest way to remove shrink-wrap from CDs. Its review of the Peter Guralnick book Lost Highway exposed me to the music of songwriter James Talley, who showed me how to open his CD when I bought one from him after a show. The trick is to slide your fingernail down the hinge where the case opens.

Thanks, Lester, and thank you, Phil.