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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Carolina picks

J. Peder Zane, books editor of The Raleigh News & Observer, has published a new column, Books on the Tar Heel Mind: 32 writers of our region weigh best fiction of the past 25 years, that defends "lists" while it takes a jab at the "parochialism" of the recent New York Times list of "the best" fiction of the past 25 years.

I had the fun of being a pick--or perhaps I should say, one quarter of a pick--as well as the fun of being asked to contribute a pick. It is pleasant not to be wholly forgotten at home, even when one has been dragged away to a Yankee snow drift. The heat kicked on this morning. That's June 12th. It has been known to snow here in July...

Here's the pick:

A final tossup

Louis D. Rubin Jr., the distinguished writer and founder of Alqonquin Books of Chapel Hill, refused to play favorites -- at least not absolute favorites.

"It really isn't possible for me to select a best novel of the last 25 years," he says. "I'd have to choose between Clyde Edgerton's 'Raney' (1985), Lee Smith's 'The Last Girls' (2002), Jill McCorkle's 'Ferris Beach' (1990) and Marly Youmans' 'The Wolf Pit' (2001). How could I possibly do that? Of course I'm biased! And I'm probably forgetting someone."

And here's my choice:

* "Eudora Welty: Stories, Essays, and Memoir" (1998).

"Measured by my desire to reread, Welty's stories reign. ... I knew the stories in high school, and had the scary thrill of eating lunch with their sharp-witted author at college. And all these years later, I still want to go hunting for a drowned bride with William Wallace and to sit on a stile in the rain with Virgie Rainey, listening to the magical beat of the world." -- Marly Youmans.

I am the only non-Algonquin writer of that foursome... I have a wide, deep respect for Louis Rubin--a writer of fiction and nonfiction, a critic, founder of the Hollins College writing program, holder of a chair at UNC, and founder of Algonquin Books.

Take a look at the list before it vanishes into archives. It's fun to see what the "picks" are. Mine was the first Library of America volume awarded to a living U. S. writer.

I know the eminent Mr. Keillor does not waltz by the Palace at 2:00 a.m. However, the e-aetherial plaints and comparisons emitted by the Palace may have wafted west and touched his tender sensibilities, because on the morning of the 13th, he read a poem by Yeats and one by Wilbur. No dull professors drinking coffee and reading the newspaper with a dog. No women having to pee while chatting on the phone. No lack of music and general scratchiness on the ear. Hooray!I hope he'll have a greater number of contemporary poets who have a love for singing-school in the future.

The picture above is from Laurelines, the blog of Laura Murphy Frankstone (Creative Commons license). And it's a writer's cabin--once belonging to playwright Paul Green--now ensconced in the botanical gardens at Chapel Hill. I often paused there, and my children always loved to peek into the loft and run in and out the doors. I love the shimmery light on the tin roof in this drawing.

As you can see--or not see--that's a complete fiction because the Blogger image upload has been ailing lately, and at the moment it's as dead as a crooked old roofing nail. You'll have to imagine it, visit Laura, or wait until Blogger rises from its sickbed--and then I shall add the playwright's cabin. Picture anon, I hope.


  1. How wonderful to be in the company of Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, et al! Louis Rubin was right---you're damned good, M. 'Wolf Pit' gave me vivid dreams for days and days.
    It must really feel wonderful to be so far away, but not forgotten.

  2. Hi Marly,

    I am impressed by the list. I can also say that I LOVED Wolf Pit. I could not put it down when I read it last summer before NCCAT.

    I have been off a bit taking care of babies. My daughter and my granddaughter. My daughter was put to bed with this second pregnancy as well, but now I have a grandson born yesterday. His name is Lucas and he was 7lbs and 7oz. and looks just perfect. He stared at me intently for about 3 min. while I spoke my first words to him. Already a bright lad.

    My granddaughter likes him, but I think has not realized at 18 months old that he is here to stay.

    I heard from Vanessa, she is building a house. She is the only NCCATer I have heard from.

    Did you get my check? If not would it be okay if I resend it?


  3. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Laura! Mostly I do feel wrapped in the obscurity of distance--it is far in so many ways.

    Ditto to Donna. And no! I went out of town for the weekend and didn't swing by the p.o. first. It's hard to get five off... I'll go check-for-check today and get back to you if it's missing. You're just suffering my neglect because you didn't come in with the herd. I'll put it on my Tuesday list.

    Congrats on having another smart little baby in the family. Fun to have a new baby for recreational tossing...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.