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.

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The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Guest Blog Post by Debbie Hampton, Director of Design & Production at Blair

Debbie and MonetAt age three, I drew big black stick figures on my parents’ living-room wall as high as my little toes could get me. I actually remember the whole thing—the color of the wall and even the texture of it showing through the stroke of the crayon. The memory is that vivid. What I don’t remember is what happened once the masterpiece was discovered.

But whatever did happen didn’t leave me with a fear of crayons. My childhood and teenage years were spent with pencil, pastel, charcoal, or paintbrush in hand; I was the strange one in the neighborhood who sat outside for hours, drawing or painting anything that caught my eye. I even attended private art lessons given by a resident crazy lady. I should’ve had a beret. In high school, it was pretty evident that I was headed toward art school. There was never a question in anyone’s mind, from friends, teachers, or especially my parents. So off I went.Monet and Modern Art

But I started to have big doubts. What kind of career could I have? Would an art degree give me enough money to support myself? I presented another career plan to my parents on a weekend home, and it was quickly nixed. Defeated, I went back to Art History 101, a freshman requirement that demanded the purchase of some monstrous books, namely H. H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art.

This book changed everything. It sealed the deal for me. I took every art history course I could for the next four years, exploring painting, life drawing, sculpture, graphic design, calligraphy, bookmaking, etc. There is something about the curiosity that arises from any work of art—what the artist was like, what kind of life he or she lived, and what in that life influenced every nuance of the work. It didn’t matter if it was Manet or Warhol; I was enthralled.

To this day, that book has a special place in my home, on a shelf with others that have meaning for me. And still it provides inspiration—to my teenage daughter, who dreams of fashion design, and to me, as I have finally gotten back to the easel and, alas, even the wall, where I paint murals! Because being creative is a way of life in our house.

Look for another installment of The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head next week!

Why we’re excited about our fall titles (and why you should be, too!)

Some of our fall titles have been getting some press in the aftermath of Book Expo America, so we thought we’d share a preview of what’s to come. We’re excited to bring these books to you this autumn, and here’s why, in our own words:

The Politics of Barbecue
A novel by Blake Fontenay
September 2012

From editor Steve Kirk: Seriocomic. There’s a word that hasn’t come to mind in a while–probably because quality novels in the mold of Fontenay’s Politics of Barbecue are few and far between. A serial arsonist wants to burn down Memphis. An up-and-coming “producer” would turn it into the porno capital of the East. A beef mogul would steal one of its best assets–a new barbecue museum–for his own hometown. The mayor doesn’t care what happens as long as graft flows into the pockets of his quilt-patched overalls. All of this leaves a pair of Wiffle ball-playing slackers as the last best hope for saving a city that’s equal parts eyesore and landmark. Joining forces with a more-than-she-seems starlet and a crossbow-toting billionaire bum, they set Memphis on its first baby steps toward renewal.

With all that going on, it’s no wonder that Library Journal included The Politics of Barbecue in their Editor’s Picks from Book Expo America 2012.

Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice
Woody Durham with Adam Lucas
September 2012

From Debbie Hampton, design and production director: Leave it to sentimental me to get all teary while reading Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice—a voice inked to my idyllic youth in a family of Tar Heel fans. As a 15-year-old, I had a Carolina-blue room with one wall dedicated to the Tar Heel player I had a crush on—with his pictures and a big ol’ 13, his number.  When not actually in Chapel Hill at the games, my family and I were glued to the TV. It was yours truly jumping and screaming among the men in the family, who would sit there stoically, trying to hear. Men—how can they just sit there?

Reading Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice brought back all of those memories. Immediately, I recalled the sound of Woody’s voice doing the play-by-play (of course, the men in my family never heard it). It sent me straight to YouTube to recount some of those heart-pounding moments set to the tune of Woody’s voice. Even though I later married an N.C. State grad and “converted,” I could still recall the names of the faces in the photos of players from the ’60s and ’70s. Yes, I’m giving away my age. There will be many Tar Heel fans reminiscing with this book, which for me was a scrapbook of fond memories and sounds.

Losing My Sister
A memoir by Judy Goldman
October 2012

From Brooke Csuka, publicist: I have two and a half sisters. No, really. I have an older half-sister from my father’s first marriage, and he ended up with three girls once he married my mother.  Ballet practice, Disney princesses, dress-up shoes–then teenage jealousy, competition–you name it, we shared it. So when it comes to sisters, you can call me an expert.

I think that’s why Judy Goldman’s Losing My Sister speaks to me the way it does. Beyond being a beautifully written memoir that flows like poetry–the author is a poet, after all–it’s just so true.  Along with the joy, the humor, and the fun of sisterhood comes the agony of loss and heartache of illness, and Goldman captures it beautifully as she and her sister, Brenda, deal with the deaths of their parents to Alzheimer’s and cancer and then Brenda’s own sickness. Even Publishers Weekly agrees: “Goldman beautifully renders the complexity of sibling relationships with candidness, tenderness, and sorrow…[her] book speaks to the human ability to forgive and attain a measure of peace amid loss.” As Jenny Lawson says, this book “made me hug my family a little bit closer.”

So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind America’s Bloodiest Day
James and Suzanne Gindlesperger
September 2012

From Katie Saintsing, editorial assistant: When I was a kid, my parents took my brothers and me to Boston; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia: places rich with American history. A book like So You Think You Know Antietam? would have been an excellent resource to have on these family vacations. James and Suzanne Gindlesperger have told the story of the battle of Antietam in an interesting and accessible way, and with its color photos, maps, and GPS coordinates, the book makes a great companion on trips to the battlefield. So You Think You Know Antietam? guides readers to each of the battlefield’s monuments and explains who the markers are for, but it also illuminates the most engaging details of the battle: Readers will find out who the “Red Legged Devils,” the “Black Devils,” and the “Jackass Battery,” were, what a “witness tree” is, and who the youngest casualty from either army was. I found the story about Colonel John B. Gordon to be one of the most interesting. Gordon was wounded five times and fell forward with his face pressed into his hat, which rapidly filled with blood. It was a hole shot through the hat that saved him from drowning in his own blood, and Gordon went on to become governor of Georgia.

On a recent trip up through Virginia, my mother took every sign for a Civil War site (and there are a lot of those on the highway in Virginia) as an opportunity to say how much she’d like to go on a tour of all the Civil War battlefields. I think So You Think You Know Antietam? (as well as the authors’ earlier book, So You Think You Know Gettysburg?) might be just the thing to help her to start planning her trip.

Chefs of the Mountains: Restaurants and Recipes from Western North Carolina
John E. Batchelor
October 2012

From Margaret Couch, accounts payable: I’ve always wanted to revisit the mountains of North Carolina for a vacation. My husband and I are celebrating a significant wedding anniversary this year, and since we actually honeymooned in the mountains, we thought it was the perfect opportunity for another visit. Commemorating special occasions always requires food, so naturally I looked at Chefs of the Mountains by John Batchelor as a good resource for restaurants while vacationing. There are so many restaurants with fascinating stories about the chefs that it will be difficult to narrow it down to just one. But since the restaurants are organized by locale, I just need to decide what town to visit. There are lots of restaurants in Blowing Rock and some of them have hotels or inns attached—same with Asheville. There are also featured chefs and restaurants in Boone, Valle Crucis, Banner Elk, Linville, Spruce Pine, and Hot Springs. I guess it won’t matter which place we plan to visit because there will definitely be a great restaurant wherever we choose to go. Now I just need to make a decision!

Check back later this summer–we’ll start previewing titles from our distributed presses.