Sep 4, 2013
Commonplace Books, a look at Southern fiction, and recommendations for Late Wife: Poems and The Funeral Dress.
I'm very pleased to welcome Susan Gregg Gilmore to the podcast, as my guest co-host this week!
Many years ago, I came upon the concept of a "commonplace book," which, according to Wikipedia, was historically something used "to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas." These days, commonplace books are often used to note quotes from books, something that I began doing in 2006, then put aside in favor of Goodreads. I recently rediscovered my commonplace book, and I intend to start writing in it again. How do you keep track of literary quotes you love?
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to discuss Southern Literature with Susan. Of course, saying something is a "Southern" book indicates the setting, but Susan believes that setting consists of religion, dialect, food, and culture, as well as the actual physical topography. Susan discusses the importance of story in the Southern culture, possibly stemming from the storytelling traditions of the Cherokee and Scotch-Irish residents and settlers.
Susan recommends Serena, by Ron Rash, as a wonderful example of setting in Southern fiction. It's also a book you should read before the movie comes out later this year. Other recommendations include Lee Smith's novels Oral History, Fair and Tender Ladies, and Saving Grace. For short fiction, Susan suggests the title story in Mary Hood's collection How Far She Went as being perfect for fans of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. In fact, you can find the whole story here. Lastly, she recommends the works of Larry Brown and William Gay, two Southern writers the literary world lost too soon.
Susan tells us about Late Wife, a collection of poetry by Claudia Emerson which explores her first husband, her new husband, and grief, through epistolary novels. Susan feels it's important to read poetry, especially for writers, because they can learn economy of language.
I chose to tell you all about Susan's new book The Funeral Dress, but I didn't think about how hard it would be to describe her book while she was sitting right next to me. Nerve-wracking! I truly loved Susan's story of Emmalee Bullard, a young, unwed mother, who loses Leona, her only ally in town, then does what she thinks is right to honor her friend. Beautiful characters and the wonderful Appalachian setting make this a novel worth reading, discussing, and recommending.