Don’t Know Jack About Jane

Emboldened by the confession of book website guru Carol Fitzgerald–she who runs ReadersGroupGuides.com and BookReporterCom, not to mention I don’t know how many other book related websites, I have a confession to make.

Here it is. I never read Jane Austen. YES! You heard right. Hiss, boo, throw shoes, denounce me as the poser I am. But somehow I have reached mature adulthood without ever embracing Janeism. I want to, I really want to read Jane. But I haven’t yet.

I sat all the way through a screening this morning of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB with my movie critic friend Eleanor, hoping not to be found out. The movie, by the way, is utterly charming and lovely. And Hugh Dancy, the actor who plays Grigg, the sole male member of the book club, is a stone HOTTIE. I think I can say with some authority that if Grigg ever wanted to come to my book club, we would all be all over that like stink on a dog. Wooh! I am getting positively warm thinking about that. Oh, wait. Maybe it’s a hot flash. Or the fact that it’s ninety-leven degrees in my corner of Atlanta.

And at lunch afterwards, I managed to chat casually about the movie without giving away my hideous secret. Then, I go home and open my email, and what do I find–the Bookreporter email with Carol’s own public confession. I find it positively liberating to own up now.

That night, in a near frenzy of movie-watching, my friend Anne and I went to see BEING JANE AUSTEN. Another wonderful movie–made even more lovely by the fact that through the magic of cinema we were transported to cool, rainy 19th century England instead of sweaty, sweltering modern-day Atlanta. At dinner afterwards, I admitted my heresy to Anne.

How did it come to pass that I could reach mature adulthoo9d without reading Jane? In high school, I took all kinds of advanced, honors English classes, with titles like Analytical Writing, and British Poetry and Drama, and American Prose. I read most of the required stuff, including almost the entire D.H. Lawrence oeuvre, yes, including LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER–which my friend Fletcher kindly swiped from his mom’s slip drawer for me. I swear, I don’t think Jane was on the syllabus. Of course, I did go to high school back in the dark days of polyester bell-bottoms love beads and mood rings, but I honestly don’t remember being asked to read many authors of the female persuasion. We read JANE EYRE, of course, but most of the other stuff we read, it seems to me, was the work of DEAD WHITE GUYS.

So. I’m putting it out here. If I’m going to read Jane, and I swear, I am, where should I start? Your suggestions are humbly solicited.

What I’m reading, what I’m loving

Don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Atlanta, it is hotter than the hinges of hell. Perfect reading weather, to my way of thinking. So here’s what I’ve been digging into, and digging.

1. SUMMER AT TIFFANY by Marjorie Hart. 51k The Booklist review says it all: “Although the country is still at war, Manhattan during the summer of 1945 is an intoxicating place, especially for two fresh-faced young coeds who step off a train from Iowa armed with little more than their youthful exuberance and the name of a very influential contact. The combination is enough to land Marjorie and her best friend, Marty, jobs as pages at the prestigious Tiffany & Co., making them the first female employees ever to work the sales floor. From this groundbreaking vantage point, the girls see and do it all, from assisting notorious gangsters and international playboys at the jewelry counters, to rubbing elbows with celebrities at the city’s legendary nightclubs, to glimpsing General Eisenhower during his triumphant victory parade, to kissing soldiers in Times Square on V-J Day. Remarkably, this winsome memoir was written 60 years after that giddy summer spent pinching pennies and dreaming of diamonds, yet Hart’s infectious vivacity resonates with a madcap immediacy, delectably capturing the city’s heady vibrancy and a young girl’s guileless enchantment.” Carol HaggasCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved/

Such a charming book! I read this on vacation in Mexico, loaned it to the other posse members who also loved it, and even bought a copy to send to my Aunt Alice. Would love to see a movie adaptation.

2.SERVICE INCLUDED: Four Star Secrets of An Eavesdropping Waiter, by Phoebe Damrosch. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that this book was edited by my own editor at HarperCollins, the fabulous Carolyn Marino. At the risk of being accused of nepotism, let me just say that SERVICE INCLUDED is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the workings of Per Se, the Manhattan restaurant owned by celebrichef Thomas Keller. Damrosch became the first female captain at Per Se, and decided to write about it while in grad school. The book pubs in October, so make sure you order it.

3.THE OVERLOOK by Michael Connelly. Anything Connelly writes is amazing. This is the book form of a serialized story that first ran last year in the New York Times Sunday magazine. It’s twisty, dark, and another satisfying outing for Connelly’s detective, Harry Bosch. This is one of the few mystery series I always read–in addition to Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series and Lisa Scottoline’s legal thrillers, and Jan Burke’s Irene series.

4. A HOUSE IN THE SOUTH: Old-Fashioned Graciousness for New-Fashioned Times by Frances Schultz and Paula S. Wallace.
I’m a sucker for interior design/shelter books, and this is a lovely one with gorgeous color photos of grand and simple homes around the South. I picked up my copy at E. Shaver Fine Books, one of my all-time favorite indy bookstores in Savannah. The girls at Shaver’s never steer me wrong.

Other things I’m digging: iced tea. I’m moderately famous for my iced tea–I always use Luzianne’s family-size teabags, three to a pot of boiling water to make a big pitcher of tea. ‘Mater sammiches. Home-grown tomatoes out of my neighbor’s garden, Pepperidge Farm hearty white bread, Duke’s Mayo, lots of salt. Here’s a great iced tea cocktail I pulled off the Luzianne website:

Bourbon Street Iced Tea
Preparation Time: Quick
2 cups boiling water 1 Cup orange juice concentrate 1.5 cups lemonade concentrate 2 quart size or 8 cup size Luzianne Tea Bags 1 Cup bourbon, (optional) 3 cups cold water.

Movie update: The old mister and I went to see THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM Friday. The perfect escape vehicle for a steamy summer night. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is the poster-boy for Post-Modern heroes: brooding, but not in a snivelling way, sensitive–he doesn’t even try to jump Julia Stiles, and buff–but not in a Matthew McConaughey look-at-my-abs-look-at-my-ass kinda way.

Flipping Out

Okay, I know everybody says this–but really, I am not a FAN of reality television. Well, with the exception of watching DANCING WITH THE STARS, but really, that hardly counts. So Mr. Mary Kay was out of town Tuesday night, and I’d been seeing these previews, so I finally found the BRAVO channel on my television, and I had to suffer through the Kathy Griffin’s B-List, or whatever it is, but then……Yes…..Wait on it.
Flipping Out. http://tinyurl.com/2gqdhs. What is not to love about an obsessive-compulsive gay man flipping houses in LA? And this OCD guy, whose name is Jeff Lewis, is just so bizarro, I couldn’t stop watching. He has an executive assistant who is also a white rap artist, who looks like a Julia Louis-Dreyfus wannabe. He has a Hispanic housekeeper who reminds me of Rosario, the housekeeper on Will&Grace, several other houseboy type guys, multiple pets and multiple psychics. And he flips houses. And since I’m starting a book about a woman who flips an old house–this counts as research. What could be better? Anyway, the properties Jeff flips are much more upmarket and glam than those nasty teardowns you see people flipping on HGTV. So now my life will be worth living until the fall, when Gray’s Anatomy comes on again.

Junkin’ Journal

The junk posse was all atwitter this week about a big estate sale that started Friday. The dealer having the sale sent out an advance e-mail that had us salivating. Historic Buckhead mansion! Nine-acre estate! Like that. Jinxie and I got ourselves over there before the 9 am start time, climbed the looong driveway up to the manse, which was a breathtakingly beautiful 1920s Tudor Revival. About 30 people were already lined up to get inside. We were positively tingly with anticipation. And then…..bupkus. Some decorator had perpetrated a massive fraud upon these home-owners, selling them boatloads of hideously expensive brand-new crapola. We’re talking purple leather sofas, “art” that looked like it had been picked up on clearance at Michael’s, and the gaudiest damned be-fringed, swagged, tasselled window treatments ever. Jinxie’s friend Nancy, who has exquisite taste–(we are considering allowing her to join the posse on a permanent basis)–summed it up. “Looks like a Haverty’s show house,” she sniffed. Of course we were dying to know the story behind the estate sale. One of the helpers confided that the owners were in the process of a divorce, and that the wife had left the premises. Apparently she took whatever good stuff there was, because the only signs of female habitation I saw were the stacks of Manolo and Jimmy Choo shoe bags she left behind. So we trudged back down the driveway and went on our way–antique-less. Just goes to show you can’t judge a sale by the address. We had better luck on Saturday, where we went to a sale at a much smaller, but ten times more charming stone cottage. I got a small mahogany table to put between the beds in my guest bedroom, and some Waterford-looking cut-glass old-fashion tumblers for Mr. Mary Kay, who likes to sip his bourbon from a heavy glass. I’ve got my eye on an Empire dresser, so I may go back tomorrow to see if the prices have been reduced. It is totally against my constitution to pay full price at an estate sale. I shall keep you all posted.

Summer Movies

I’m in a bit of a summer movie blitz here. Okay, actually, I’ve seen a total of 3 new movies this summer, but that’s a lot for me. The blitz started in June, when my chick posse saddled up for a night at the drive-in. We’re lucky in Atlanta that we still have a cool drive-in, The Starlight Six, http://starlightdrivein.com/ on Moreland Avenue.

We’re also lucky that Jinxie, a charter posse member, happens to own a very cool candy apple red ’71 Chevelle Malibu convertible, which we call Big Red. Jinxie’s husband, Michael J. Shyster, attorney at law, took the convertible in lieu of legal fees some years ago, and now Big Red is the star of many local parades–and was also my daughter Katie’s getaway car after her wedding two years ago. So, the posse loaded up Big Red with some dinner and a cooler of adult beverages, and off we went to the Starlight, to see what was billed as a summer chick flick, KNOCKED UP. You apparently don’t see a carload of menopausal white women riding around in a vintage red convertible on Moreland Avenue these days, because we created a bit of a stir, with much horn-honking and throwing down of gang signs–at least, we think they were gang signs. At the Starlight’s ticket stand, the kid who took our money stared longingly at Big Red and said, “Man, this ride is cleaaaaannnnn,” to which Jinx, our resident Junior League reject responded by chirping, “Thanks! My husband just washed it.” KNOCKED UP proved to be a bit, um, crude for us. Especially since we’d wanted to see the movie based on the fact that we are all big Grey’s Anatomy fans, and the star of the movie, Katherine Heigl, plays Izzy on Grey’s. The posse members are not prudes–after all, each of us is raising teenaged boys–but really–we were not prepared to see Izzy engaged in–how shall I put it? Doing it doggy-style? Mercy!

Last night, we went back to the Starlight to see another summer blockbuster, I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY. Really, we wanted to see NO RESERVATIONS, but it apparently hadn’t opened yet. The premise of this little gem is two New York City firefighers pretending to be gay and entering into a domestic partnership arrangement, in order to secure city pension benefits for Chuck–or was it Larry’s? poor motherless children. Adam Sandler is the star, and since he co-wrote and produced the movie–he got to be the hyper-hetero chick magnet, and Kevin James got to be the brunt of all the lame-o fat boy jokes. I didn’t outright loathe Chuck and Larry, but I am puzzled about how this boy’s locker room flick managed to earn $34 million its opening weekend. Or maybe I’m not really puzzled. Chuck and Larry is raking in bajillions because it is a BOY movie. Boy movies are high concept, lowbrow vehicles for stars like Adam Sandler and Will Farrell and that ilk. Despite the fact that it didn’t have a big name boy star, KNOCKED UP, which has already earned $143 million this summer, is, in my opinion, in reality a boy movie too, because boys went to the movie in droves–hoping to see Katherine Heigl’s tatas, and women like the chick posse went because we were hoping for a true chick flick, which it wasn’t. Women’s movies–like, say, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, or THE QUEEN, when they are made, which isn’t very often, are critically praised, but you’re not gonna be watching them at the Starlight anytime soon. All of this concerns me, as a writer of women’s fiction, because, let’s face it, the audience for a Diane Keaton movie is the same audience I’m looking for with my books. And more is always better. Which brings me to the third movie I watched this summer.

It’s not officially out until August, but a movie publicist in Atlanta sent me the DVD, to ask if I would give it a blurb. This is what I guess you call a “small indy” movie, but I loved it. RANDY AND THE MOB is about a small-town Southern guy, Randy, who is a loser, but doesn’t know it. Randy is a wannabe big wheel, who gets himself into financial hot water and turns to a loan shark–who turns out to be–you guessed it–a member of the mob. RANDY AND THE MOB is funny in a subversive, charming way. It reminded me a little of a contemporary O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? I watched it in my living room, with my 20-year-old son Andy. At first, Andy totally didn’t get Randy. After all, there were no car chases, no exposed nipples, no fart jokes, and at no time did Bruce Willis dangle from the wing of an exploding airliner. Still, once he settled in, Andy laughed and giggled right along with me. We even managed to have an interesting conversation about the movie afterwards. I have high hopes for Randy and the Mob. It would be nice to see it unexpectedly take off. It would be even nicer if the people who make movies would make more of them for viewers like me–and the chick posse. And viewers like you, too.

Craigslist–I’m addicted

It’s all my daughter’s fault. When Katie and Mark were buying their first home last year, she called me, ecstatic about the appliances she’d bought off Craigslist.
In case you’ve been living in a cave, or, like me, you’re tragically unhip (more about that in a future blog) Craigslist.com, according to Wikipedia, is a centralized network of online urban communities, featuring free classified ads, personals and forums, sorted by various categories. Craigslist operates in around 450 cities, all over the world. And did I mention that the listings are often accompanied by photos? Quel frommage!
By surfing Craigslist Phoenix, Katie managed to completely outfit her kitchen and laundry room with new or near-new, top of the line stainless steel appliances for less than $2,500, which is what her daddy and I had agreed to kick in as our contribution to their new house fund.
Like any innocent, I started out small with Craigslist Raleigh. We were moving into a temporary apartment that did not allow pets, so I had to place our parrot, Lola, with a new family, in a hurry. I posted the Lola ad, and before my computer’s keyboard had cooled off, droves of people were calling and emailing me, begging me to let them adopt Lola. Within a day, Lola had been picked up by a loving new owner, and I was on my way to trouble.
I want to hate Craigslist. After all, I made my living as a newspaper reporter for 14 years, and of late, Craigslist, with its free classified ads, is being blamed for the Total and Complete Demise of American Journalism as we know it. Newspapers have lost billions in classified ad dollars, because Craigslist is giving it away—FREE! According to Wikipedia, Craigslist’s sole source of income is paid job ads in markets like San Francisco, New York, LA, Boston, DC and Seattle, and apartment broker ads in New York. Wikipedia says the company serves over 5 billion page views per month, which makes it the 9th busiest website in the US.
Let’s face it, like many of you, I’m addicted. And this time my online jonesing is a baaad mo-fo. Worse than eBay. Worse than checking my books’ sales ranking on Amazon.com. Worse even than Googling my own name to see if anybody’s written anything cool about me lately.
Craigslist is instant gratification. Like when I was outfitting my front porch, I went on and typed in a search for patio furniture. I found a wrought iron end table for $15, and half an hour later, I was unloading it from my car. As a junker, I’ve always checked newspaper ads to see what estate sales were coming up on weekends. Now, with Craigslist, I can check every day of the week, because, since the ads are free, people are posting early and often. Right now, I’m enjoying a $50 antique oriental runner that I found at a moving sale on Craigslist—and down in storage in my basement is a Henredon sofa, loveseat and coffee table for my son’s future apartment—bought at that same sale for $250.
Now I’m pimping Craigslist stuff for friends. Found Shay a leather sofa for her den, and after I told Susie about Craigslist, she found a vintage Raleigh bike for her college-age daughter for $45. She’s also negotiating for Indigo Girls concert tix she found there.
Just as good as the merchandise is the undeniable entertainment offered by listings, which are seemingly unedited and unexpurgated. Katie and I have taken to emailing each other our favorite bizarre-o listings. Like the ad for a full-length mirror, which featured a photo of the mirror’s owner—vamping in said mirror. Or the ad for a haunted barstool, or somebody who wanted to increase the size of his goat herd, in exchange for welding services. Misspellings are a way of life on Craigslist. Witness listings for “rot irn”, “armwar,” and “hugh”—as in “hugh sofa for sale.” Last month, one reader posted just to upbraid Atlanta Craigslist ignoramuses for their shortcomings in spelling, while somebody else posted to let the world know that “Amy in Midtown” was nothing but a poser.
Today I checked the barter classification, and found a cosmetic dentist who is willing to trade dental services for a kitchen re-model, and somebody else who wants to trade his collection of python snakes—eek!!!!—live snakes!!!—for a lawnmower. I’m telling ya, you can’t make this stuff up. There’s gotta be a book in here, somewhere.

My Sister Susie

When I started this blog three weeks ago, I thought it would be all grins and giggles. Funny how life slaps you upside the head, isn’t it? A week ago Monday, my husband and I were coming back from a fun vacation in Cozumel, where we’d rented a house with four other couples. That’s when I got the call from my brother in St. Petersburg, telling me my big sister had been in a horrible car accident in South Georgia. She’d been on her way to Atlanta, to visit my family for the Fourth of July. She never made it.
Instead of hosting a covered dish supper on the fourth, which was our plan, we had a family reunion in our hometown of St. Pete. My younger sister Patti, and her family flew in from England, another brother and his family came from Tennessee, and my daughter Katie and her husband flew in from Phoenix.
We had a beautiful service, and we did what families do—we laughed and cried and ate and drank and re-told funny family stories. But I wanted to tell you all about my sister Susie. She would have been 55 in November. My mom was 18 when she got pregnant with Susie, and only 20 when she had me—in fact, Mom had five babies in six years.
Susie was the one who taught me to read before I went to first grade—not because she was so sweet, but because she was tired of my pestering her to read to me. When she was just a kid, she read those old Cherry Ames student nurse books—and decided she would grow up to be a nurse.
She was an action junkie. She started out working labor and delivery wards in big city hospitals, and when that wasn’t exciting enough, she switched to emergency room nursing, working in ERs in St. Pete, Miami, Jacksonville and Chicago. She spent years working in Grady Hospital’s ER here in Atlanta—she called it the Friday Night Knife and Gun Club. Later she did AIDS research, and after that, she switched to being a hospice nurse.
My sister never married and never had kids of her own, but she adored my two kids, and fussed at and spoiled them like they were her own. After my mom died suddenly three years ago, she became my Dad’s primary care-giver, eventually giving up her job and home in Atlanta to move back to St. Pete to take care of him.
Susie had a huge, generous heart, a machine-gun wit and a motor mouth to go with it. She lived like she drove—full-speed, flat-out, take no prisoners. On Monday, my sister Patti and I stopped by the funeral home and picked up Susie’s ashes. We took her out to the cemetery where our parents are buried, and sprinkled her around their headstone. Then we drove over to the house we grew up in, and we sprinkled her around the yard. We took her down to the park where we all played so many hours as kids, and sprinkled her around the playground and the swingsets. Then we took her down to the place on Tampa Bay where we used to play pirate and Huck Finn, and sprinkled her in the water. I brought some more ashes home with me last night, and in the next few days, I plan to plant a tree and sprinkle her in its shade. I think she’d like that.

My first post!

June 25, 2007

Look at me—I’m blogging. Welcome to volume 1, issue 1 of The Kudzu Telegraph.
As a failed journalist, I’ve had the urge to blog for ages, but my editor wouldn’t let me until I finished my new book. Jeez, don’t you hate it when you have to eat your veggies before you can have dessert? The good news is, DEEP DISH is done—at least my part of it, anyway. Now the cover genies and marketing mavens take over. Look for DEEP DISH in February. All I have to do is start a new book.

Easy, right? I have what I think is a great title, and a great idea. The cast of characters is coming together in my head. This weekend, I was at a friend’s house, reading a cookbook, and in the author acknowledgements I found a name I love—Dempsey. They spelled it differently, but my gal spells it this way. I think I know her last name too. I’m trying to figure out where this book is set, exactly. All I know for now is that it’s in a small town in Georgia. Maybe Madison? I had lots of fun writing HISSY FIT, which is set in Madison, one of the most beautiful towns in the South. So. Maybe Madison. This is the fun part of a new book. The possibilities are wide-open, limitless choices, huge optimism. Remind me of all this—nine months from now, when I’m trying to finish the freakin’ thing—tearing my hair out in frustration and anguish, sick to death of writing, ect. But right now, everything is shiny, glittery, wonderful, thrilling.

Speaking of thrilling, my junk posse and I had a fab weekend. We lit out fairly early Friday morning, heading for an estate sale in Druid Hills, which is a lovely old neighborhood in Atlanta—the real-life setting for the movie Driving Miss Daisy. Susie and I were in my car, about a block from the estate sale, when Susie screeches “Oriental rug! Oriental rug on the curb!” Right then and there I flipped a U-turn. We whipped into the driveway of a dilapidated house under renovation, hopped out, and yes, there on the curb was an actual oriental rug. A huge rug, all wadded up and left to die right there on the curb. So we did the humane thing. The two of us hefted it up and into the back of my car, screeching and laughing like a couple of loons. We could tell it was a very old rug, and that the colors were good. Susie needs a new old rug for her dining room, and these were the very colors she needed. Still laughing like loons, we motored on to the estate sale. At one point, Susie, who is usually a genteel Southern Lady, master gardener, Eucharistic Minister and recovering Brownie leader, pumps her fists in the air and hollers “Whoo-hoo! Who needs cocaine with a rush like this!”

The sale was excellent, by the way. I scored an empire mahogany card table, some sterling silver doo-dads and some vintage linens, among other things. We found a great 1920s wrought iron patio settee for Ellen, who, unfortunately, has an actual day job and couldn’t go with us on Friday, and Jeanie and Sharon, two other posse members, also found some good stuff. We all met back at my house to unload my car, at which point we unrolled the rug in my driveway to get the first real look at it. As we suspected, it was a good rug. As in, old. Susie and I left to go to some more estate sales, still stoked about the rug. We were so stoked, in fact, that I made up a song. Sung to the tune of “Oh Happy Day”—you know, the gospel number—it goes like this: “Oh Happy Day. Oh Happy Da-ay-ay-ay. (Oh Happy Day) When Jesus Threw. When Jesus Threw-ew-eew. (Yes Jesus Threw) Yes, Jesus Threw. He Threw that Rug Away! The chorus goes something like this: He Threw That Rug! Right on the Curb! We pulled right up! And threw it in the Car.
Oh Happy Day!

Did I mention we were stone-cold sober, driving around the finer neighborhoods in Atlanta singing the rug song at the top of our lungs? After a couple more stops—including our traditional junk posse lunch spot, The Oak Grove Market, we decided to drop the rug off at Sharian’s, in Decatur, to have it cleaned. The nice men at Sharian’s were very approving of our find. Turns out the rug is Persian, an antique Mahal, 10-by-13, the exact size and colors Susie needed. The men pointed out that the rug had about an inch coating of animal hair and reeked of cat pee. No worries. Sharian’s can get anything out of any rug. We left joyously, still singing the rug song.

That afternoon, we started scratching. And scratching. It seems our curbside find was flea-infested. I spent a very uncomfortable Saturday signing books at a Kroger in Buckhead, trying to find a way to discreetly scratch the flea bites in my cleavage. Not fun. The interior of my car has now been carpet-bombed with flea-killer. Oh Happy Day!



Here I am with two nice sisters at the Kroger signing.