Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart."  ~ Maya Angelou

I love to read... always have... I was just wondering if you, who are reading my blog, would be interested in knowing about some writers I love, but you may not be aware of. If you're not interested, you're excused... If you are, though, here are a few of my very favorite books. Oh, and I'd LOVE to hear what you think of them.

If I were stranded on a deserted island... well, I'd die of heat stroke! Anything over 75 degrees, and I'm roasting... But if I were stranded on a 75 degree deserted island and could have only ONE book, it would be West with the Night by Beryl Markham. 

You needn't take my word for it, though. Here's what Ernest Hemingway said of her one and only book when he wrote to Maxwell Perkins: "Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could write and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But (she) can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard other people's stories, are absolutely true... I wish you would get it and read it because it is a bloody wonderful book." Hemingway never said that about another writer...

Beryl Markham moved to Kenya with her father when she was 4 years old, and she lived there the rest of her life, mostly. It's named West with the Night because she was the first pilot ever to fly across the Atlantic from England to the American continent, against the wind all the way. Lindbergh, remember, flew across the Atlantic first, but that was WITH the wind, not in the face of it the entire flight like Ms Markham did! 

This book is autobiographical and her life is the most amazing conglomeration of events you can imagine. However, each chapter can stand fully by itself as a perfect short story! I began teaching the chapter "Praise God for the Blood of the Bull" to my high school classes a full year before it became a part of the UCLA curriculum. It recounts Ms Markham's childhood hunting adventure with a group of neighboring Maasai warriors, and it's "bloody wonderful!" Another fascinating chapter/short story is "He Was a Good Lion." There is not one superfluous word in any of her writing. You are simply there with her until you close the book... and you're still there for a little while after that.


On that deserted 75 degree island I hope never to be stranded on... somehow, I would have smuggled a second "first choice" book in my back pocket. It's named I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. Of course, I would also have teased my hair so frizzy and tall that inside it I could have smuggled Fred Chappell's companion book Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

Could there be a more different book from Beryl Markham's book? Nope! Fred Chapell is a "Southern writer," and I just don't think that there is another writer anywhere, ever, who writes like he does. The book is magical, sooo funny, so sincere, so unpredictable... I Am One of You Forever is about a few days in the life of a young boy who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. It's successor, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, is one day in the life of this same main character who is now a school teacher.

I'm simply not a good enough writer to tell you about this book, but there are national book reviewers who can. So I'll show you their words, instead.

"I am honestly convinced that Fred Chappell is one of the finest writers of this time, one of the rare and precious few who are truly 'major.'" ~ George Garrett

"Chappell... creates a sort of magical realism set to fiddles - now funny, now sad. and full of turns and surprises throughout. Chappell combines an almost numinous gift for describing nature with a series of interwoven rustic tall tales such as Twain (or Faulkner) might have told."  - George Lyons (Newsweek)

"It is a novel to read and reread for its tales, its lovely cast of characters, and its poetry. It is also a novel to put on the shelf with Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty." - George Core (Washington Post)

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