|The Author, not Mr Benedict.|
|My Friend, Mandy|
A – Describe the literary significance of this book, based on its techniques, the lessons it teaches and its continuing impact on contemporary, everyday life.
B – Describe, by listing the symbols and themes in the work, the points the author was trying to make.
C – Tell the story of the book.
|A sure sign of winter – smoke
coming from the fireplace
“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him with the old deceptions. It was pitiful in a way, and yet cheering– even exhilarating. He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.”
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the matteress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
Which is better? That depends on the story, or even what point the story is at. A story can decrease the narrative distance during crisis points, which increases the tension and urgency, then re-establish the distance again, once the crisis has passed. The point is, the success (or failure) of a story often depends on how it’s told. Next time you find yourself getting involved in a story, mentally backup (if you can) and check the language. Is it written in present tense, with the minimum of emotional signposts (verbs like thought, decided, believed, said) and lots of sensory cues, you’ll know why you are getting pulled under. You’re in the Deep End of the POV.
According to my mom, the best writer in this genre was Gladys Taber, author of the Stillmeadow series. In book after book, Ms. Taber recorded life at her New England farmhouse, Stillmeadow. She was not a farmer or a New England Yankee from birth so her stories deal with learning to live in a place like Stillmeadow, a 300-year-old farmhouse with neighbors whose families had been there almost as long. Some of her “Country Living” experiences were good, some were bad and a few were downright painful but all of her stories made you feel at home like you were as much a part of the Stillmeadow life as the tea kettle or a shelf of preserves. Mom loved to read almost anything but she always seemed more serene after reading those Stillmeadow books. I couldn’t wait to grow up and find the domestic chroniclers that would speak to me on such a basic level.
It took awhile but when a friend introduced me to John Chancellor Makes Me Cry, it was like meeting a BFF or getting the keys to the kingdom. This was an introduction to everyday life in the “New South”, where the women who were raised to join Junior League, ran businesses and corporate departments instead but still cherished their domestic life. Everything was here, from those who still lived on the land to the god-awful traffic on Peachtree; from blizzards and tornados and the fear of a lost job through coastal vacations, Christmas, and the rococo radiance of Spring in North Atlanta. For years, JCMMC, has been the book I run to when I felt like a stranger to my life and I needed serenity in my soul. But books like these are few and far between
Which brings me to something I thought I’d never see again, a new(er) book about everyday life. My Southern Journey is a collection of Rick Bragg’s essays about life in the American South. His is not the same South in JCMMC; life’s been harder on Mr. Bragg’s family. But there is still that bone-deep sweetness that comes with knowing a place and its people so completely, of a life measured in years and seasons instead of moments. And, in writing about what he knows best, Rick Bragg touches the bits of life we all love. Damn few of us will be whisked away to a haunted English estate but who doesn’t know about the post-dinner catnap that feels like the best sleep in the world?
There are books on cooking and beautifying the home and books about people overcoming dreadful obstacles. There is also, of course, a universe of novels but there are too few volumes that deal with everyday life, the fact (not the art) of living. These are the stories we can identify with, the ones that really speak to the human heart. They’re the Chronicles of Life.
If there are books on everyday life that you love or would like to suggest, please tell me in the comments below!
Unless something unforeseen and terrible happens this is where I’ll be on Friday evening, probably overwhelmed by stage-fright. If you’re interested but you can’t be there, they issue podcasts of their broadcasts. (So if I’m really bad, you can hear me mess up over and over and over!) No matter what happens, I’ll always be grateful for what I’ve already learned from those wonderful people at Arc Stories. They’ve taught me something of what it takes to improve a story.
Have you ever seen an abused or neglected pet? A creature that nobody loved? They huddle at the corners of our towns and houses, too frightened to approach us for help. Have you watched them with their matted coats and terrified eyes, keeping their distance on unsteady feet? If you have, you’ve seen Ada Smith, the narrator of The War That Saved My Life.
“She was not a nice person, but she cleaned up the floor. She was not a nice person, but she bandaged my foot… and gave us two of her own clean shirts to wear…Miss Smith was not a nice person, but the bed she put us in was soft and clean, with smooth thin blankets and warm thicker ones.”