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Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta’

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Hello, everyone. March is (nearly) over – I don’t think anyone expected this month to go the way it has. But here we are. Photo of the last stack of books I was able to pick up before my beloved Boston Public Library closed for a while. And here are the ones I’ve been reading:

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, Marisa de los Santos
It is impossible to overstate how much I love de los Santos’ work. I turned back to this novel for some deep soul comfort, just as everything was going sideways. It’s the story of Clare, who inherits a house right after she calls off her wedding, and Edith, who gave Clare the house. Lovely, luminous and wise, like all her books.

Every Reason We Shouldn’t, Sara Fujimura
Olivia Kennedy is the daughter of two Olympic champions, and she had medal dreams, too, until a disastrous performance. When speed skater Jonah Choi starts skating at her parents’ ice rink, Olivia is forced to deal with her fears (and she might also be falling in love). Sweet and funny – I especially loved Olivia’s friend Mack, aspiring roller derby queen.

Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels, Hannah Ross
Cycling has long been a male-dominated sphere, but women have been riding for decades and they’re damn good at it. Ross charts the history of cycling and feminism, and calls for more representation in the industry and better bike-friendly infrastructure. (Yes please.) Well-written, informative and interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 9).

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagán
Libby Miller has always tried (relentlessly) to look on the bright side, since losing her mother to cancer at age 10. But then her marriage implodes in the same week she’s diagnosed with cancer herself. Libby escapes to Puerto Rico, where she tries to avoid (but eventually sorts out) her feelings about treatment and her future. Surprisingly light and funny for such serious subject matter.

The Downstairs Girl, Stacey Lee
Chinese-American Jo Kuan and her guardian, Old Gin, don’t quite fit on either side of Atlanta’s strict racial divide. When Jo loses her job as a milliner’s assistant, she becomes a maid and also starts writing a newspaper column (anonymously). I’ve enjoyed Lee’s previous books, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, and I really liked this one: it draws together race, family, horse racing and feminism, with warmth and wit.

The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life, Samantha Seneviratne
I grabbed this at the BPL: mouthwatering recipes and brief essays about (among other things) navigating a divorce? Yes please. I liked the author’s voice and have marked a couple recipes to try during quarantine baking.

I’d Give Anything, Marisa de los Santos
At eighteen, Ginny Beale loves her life (in spite of her difficult mother): she has a brother she adores and fiercely loyal friends. But one terrible night changes everything. Nearly twenty years later, when Ginny’s marriage falls apart, she learns some new truths about that night, and about herself. Moving and lovely and well written, like all de los Santos’ books (see above). To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, Hope Jahren
I loved Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read back in 2016. This slim book is a cogent, straightforward explanation of how population growth, technological advances and (hugely) increased consumption of energy and food have led us to the current climate crisis. It’s packed with data but highly readable. The diagnosis is daunting, but Jahren does offer some practical tips and reasons for hope.

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief, Anna Meriano
Leo Logroño is finally learning some of the magic recipes that her family uses at their Texas bakery. But when her paternal abuelo shows up, telling her new things about her own magic, she’s not sure what to believe. And a new café in town just might mean trouble for her family. I like this sweet series, and this book was a fun conclusion.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I love them and it’s especially important to support independent bookstores right now. 

What are you reading?

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It would be a stretch to say I measure my life by the Olympics, since I’m not all that athletic and I don’t follow most of these sports in the intervening years. But my memories of certain Olympic Games are definitely tied to memories of what was going on in my life at that time. As we’ve watched the drama and glory unfold in London, I’ve been remembering other Olympic summers.

The first Olympics I remember were the ’92 Barcelona Games, not so much for the Dream Team (though I did watch them) as for the gymnastics. My sister is the one who took lessons, but my whole family watched in awe as Vitaly Scherbo dominated the men’s competition. The Berlin Wall hadn’t been down all that long, and there was a lot of confusion over where, exactly, all these countries from the former Soviet Union were located.

(Twelve years later, as a college student, I walked through Montjuic, the area of south Barcelona containing many of the Olympic venues. After nine days trekking through six Spanish cities and a near-miss when terrorists bombed the train station in Madrid, an afternoon in Montjuic, with its pools and parks, was balm to my soul.)

olympic pools montjuic barcelona spain

Olympic pools in Montjuic, Barcelona

I was 12, just old enough to be captivated, when the Magnificent Seven dominated the women’s gymnastics competition in the Atlanta ’96 games. I cut out newspaper clippings of Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller and their teammates, to glue into a scrapbook streaked with red, blue and silver glitter. I remember Dominique Moceanu’s sassy floor routine to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and standing in the living room gasping and cheering as Kerri Strug completed her historic pair of vaults. Every time they show that clip on TV, I can hear my dad’s voice saying, “Girls, you’re watching history.” And we were.

The 2004 Athens Games began as I returned to Abilene to begin my junior year of college (after spending the spring in Oxford). The day after the Opening Ceremonies, my friend Cheryl was killed in a car wreck, leaving our Oxford group stunned and numb. Those Olympics are mostly a blur now, though I remember spending hours at the house we called House 9 (our group’s headquarters till we graduated from college), watching swimming and diving and gymnastics without really seeing them, trying to take in what had happened. The joy of the Games was a stark contrast to the first real tragedy I’d ever had to deal with.

When J and I got married in June 2008, we inherited an old, bulky TV from my parents – an unwieldy number, nearly as deep as it was wide. We had neither a cable subscription nor a sufficiently wide stand, so we set it in the corner of our living room (classy, I know). Between finishing a master’s thesis (me), working on graduate school assignments (Jeremiah) and unpacking our new home and settling into life together (both of us), we watched Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin wow the world in Beijing, and watched Michael Phelps rack up more and more and more medals, and flash that smile of his after every race.

This Olympics began for us in D.C., where we toasted the London opening ceremonies with tea and scones at Jaclyn’s house. We’ve had the TV on every night (unusual for us), watching the stories unfold. We particularly love the swimming (Michael Phelps! Missy Franklin! The entire U.S. team in relays!), the gymnastics (Gabby Douglas and the whole women’s squad), and women’s beach volleyball (Kerri and Misty!).

The Olympics are the only sporting event which excites both of us equally (I’ve been yelling at the TV even more than Jeremiah). We make fun of the commentators’ hyperbole, we beg for more coverage of  non-U.S. athletes, we roll our eyes at the hundreds of commercials. But we can’t tear our eyes away. We love the thrill, the glory, the drama, the stories. And I love that the Olympics, winter and summer, are now bound up with the story of our life together.

What do you love and remember about the Summer Olympics? I’d love to hear your memories.

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Well, here we are again, folks – delving into Part 4 of Gone with the Wind, which takes us through Scarlett’s second marriage, the beginning of her career as a businesswoman (which scandalizes Atlanta), and deep into the years of Reconstruction. As this part opens, Ashley has come back to Tara and it seems like everything will be fine – but of course, that’s not quite how it works in the postwar South. And as Part 4 unfolds, we realize that the end of the war hasn’t ended the trials of the South – in fact, the struggle has just begun.

Every chapter in this section has something in it to break my heart – the threat of high taxes on Tara, Scarlett’s attempt to wheedle money out of Rhett Butler (wearing a dress made from Ellen’s green drapes!), her second marriage to her sister Suellen’s beau, and the increasingly desperate actions she takes to make more money. Scarlett changes in this section into someone cold and hard – the total opposite of the gentle, gracious mother who raised her and whom she always idolized. Some of her actions make me furious; others make me shake my head, but it kills me when she confesses her recurring nightmare to Rhett: she’s terrified of going hungry again.

It’s also worth noting that Scarlett feels remorse – for the first time in her life – after the KKK incident in which her husband and another man are shot and killed. The remorse doesn’t last long, but it softens her for just a moment, makes her human. I wonder, if she had sat with her guilt and regret a bit longer instead of drinking it away, if it would have changed her. As it is, I think she begins her final downhill slide into a callous, lonely, alcoholic life when she lets Rhett talk her out of feeling guilty, and agrees to marry him although she (still!) doesn’t think she loves him. (Part 5 is so full of sordid tragedy that I’m rather dreading picking the book up again.)

And speaking of remorse, guilt and innocence, I love Rhett’s solution to the problem of proving where Ashley and the other KKK members were on the night in question – he swears they were all at Belle Watling’s brothel with him. Finally, he has done a gallant good deed for Atlanta society, but he’s done it on his own terms, and the Old Guard – except for Melanie – don’t appreciate it one bit. What a perfect piece of irony! (Side note: having grown up with a totally different, entirely negative perception of the KKK, Mitchell’s defense of it horrifies me.)

If you’re reading along, or if you’ve read Gone with the Wind before, what strikes you about this section?

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After blazing through more than half of Gone with the Wind last month (and writing recaps of Part 1 and Part 2), I put the book down for a while, because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the read-along at Erin’s blog. However, it’s time to head back to Atlanta – and Tara – as we discuss Part 3.

In some ways, the Scarlett I see in this section is the Scarlett I like best – the one who steps up and does what is needed, whether that’s delivering Melanie’s baby, getting herself and several others safely back to Tara, and taking over the running of Tara after finding her mother dead and her father unbalanced. (This broke my heart – I love fiery, blustery Gerald and I’d forgotten how lost he was without his wife.) Scarlett is still a teenager (though she’s a widow and a mother), but she has to do a lot of growing up very quickly, as her father, her sisters, the slaves and Melanie look to her for guidance and strength.

I’d forgotten about the scenes with Scarlett’s neighbors, the genteel families of the County who are struggling to escape starvation, and missing their men who are still gone. It broke my heart to ride along with Scarlett as she visited them, though I appreciated the wise words from sharp-eyed Grandma Fontaine about how terrible it can be to face the worst, because then you can’t ever really fear anything again. I do love the neighborly spirit that persists in the County, everyone sharing what they have, though they’ve soon got nothing left.

Melanie, though weak from childbirth, continues to display that “thin line of unbreakable steel” at her core – helping Scarlett beat out the flames after the Yankees set fire to Tara. And Dilcey, the O’Haras’ half-Indian slave, is impressively hardworking and patient. This section of the book is often nightmarish – trauma piled on top of trauma. But some of these characters show their better sides in the face of such tragedy.

Another character we meet here, whom I admire, is Will Benteen, a one-legged Confederate soldier who comes to Tara for food and comfort, and stays because he grows to love it. He and Scarlett oth harbor a fierce love for Tara, and they gradually come to run the plantation as partners. Scarlett, of course, never has the sense to appreciate people for their full value, but she is grateful for Will, whose shrewd business sense, gentle spirit and untiring work ethic help keep Tara and its inhabitants from starvation.

Finally, there are some great dramatic moments in this section – Scarlett and Melanie fleeing Atlanta with the leaping flames in the background; Scarlett raising her fist to the sky and declaring, “I’ll never be hungry again!”; Scarlett shooting a Yankee deserter in the front hall at Tara; and – as the section ends – Ashley returning to Tara. (I love Will for restraining Scarlett here, letting Ashley and Melanie have their reunion.)

The story, of course, is far from over – Parts 4 and 5 yet to come. If you’re reading along, or are a GWTW fan, what do you think of this section of the book?

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