Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nagging Questions Answered

J.K. Rowling answers a lot of questions about Deathly Hallows and the whole series in general.

Most surprising revelation? The Thatchers and the Riddles = second cousins.

Well, not really, but it would explain a lot.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blogathon Post Index

I suspect we'll be taking a few days off here, but in case you missed the Blogathon, here are some of the things we wrote about yesterday. Enjoy!

Books Reviewed:

Restoration by John Ed Bradley
Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite
The Worthy: A Ghost's Story by Will Clarke
This Wheel's On Fire by Levon Helm
1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose
Dead Above Ground by Jervey Tervalon
The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
Eden by Olympia Vernon
The Untidy Pilgrim by Eugene Walter
The End of California by Steve Yarbrough


Eugene Walter Doggerel Poetry Contest
Everette Maddox 14th Way of Being Looked at By a Possum Contest
Patterson Hood Southern Song Lyric Contest
Rickey and G-Man Soul Food Cook-Off

Gulf Coast Culture and History:

Excelsior Band
George Ohr
Galveston Flood
Mobile Mardi Gras
NOLA Links
Walter Anderson

Gulf Coast Libraries:

Cameron Parish Library System
Hancock County Library System
Harrison County Library System
Jefferson Parish Library System
New Orleans Public Library

Other Book-Related Lists and Posts:

Fiction About Libraries
Fictional Books in Fiction
Mississippi Writers
Pulp Covers


Thanks everyone for reading along with us today. We got to chat with some great people, our monitor, Jaynee, was terrific, and we enjoyed seeing the lengths to which these other fools were willing to go for a good cause.

Sponsors can be added for the next two days, but geez... right now, our total is at a kind of jaw-dropping $2,032.00. Thanks everyone for your support.

And, in case you missed something you'd like to have seen, I made up a handy index of our posts. It's the irrepressible librarian in me.

Books Reviewed:

Restoration by John Ed Bradley
Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite
The Worthy: A Ghost's Story by Will Clarke
This Wheel's On Fire by Levon Helm
1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose
Dead Above Ground by Jervey Tervalon
The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
Eden by Olympia Vernon
The Untidy Pilgrim by Eugene Walter
The End of California by Steve Yarbrough

Gulf Coast Libraries:

Cameron Parish Library System
Hancock County Library System
Harrison County Library System
Jefferson Parish Library System
New Orleans Public Library

I want to add a Gulf Coast Culture and History section, but I also want to give Brady a chance to say his goodbyes before we retire for the morning, so I'll add it later. Here he is:

BP:Just wanted to add my thanks to Mary's. First off, to those who read/commented/submitted verse about possums: thanks for keeping us entertained, awake, and feeling like we weren't just sending 1s and 0s into the cold, uncaring ether.

Second-wise, to our sponsors: Wow. That's really all I have to say about that. And, of course, thanks.

Finally, thanks to Mary for suggesting we do this. She pretty much rocks.

You Are All Winners!

I loved this picture of George Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi, so much that I thought it needed to make a second appearance. This seemed as good a time as any.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our contests! Over the 24 hours of straight posting, blog comments were like an oasis in the desert. But contest entry comments were like an oasis that served martinis and snack mix. Everyone's entries were terrific, and reading them was really a highlight of our day.

The winners of the This Book Is For You Blogathon Contests are....:

The Eugene Walter Doggerel Prize: Jeremy!
The Rickey & G-Man Soul Food Cook-Off: Kim!
The Patterson Hood Southern Song Lyric Contest: John! Or as I know him, Dad!*
The Everette Maddox 14th Way of Looking at a Possum Contest: Pat and Bob Woolf!

Jeremy wins the highly entertaining first edition of Party Fare (1960); Kim wins the Glamour Magazine After Five Cookbook (1952), along with fancy pants recipe cards of selected entries; Dad wins the pulp magazines; and Pat and Bob get the first edition of Tennessee Williams's Memoirs.

Also, if the person who wrote the Plaquemine possum post wants to speak up, we'd like to send you a little something, too.

Thanks everybody! One more post - I think I can do that.
* I know, I know... giving the prize to my own dad. But there were only three entries, and we knew all three people. Plus, the man did *research* with dates and stuff!

Okay, So It Was More Than I Could Chew

Earlier yesterday, in the full flush of "having just woken up," I may have made some rash claims about finishing writing, arranging, and recording a tune.

It is with great regret that I admit defeat. The song whooped me.

How, you may ask, does a song whoop you? It steadfastly resists all attempts to construct a decent vocal melody. It refuses to accommodate any of the words you can think of to use for lyrics.

Most importantly, it is deuced hard to sing (key-wise) and - somewhat surprisingly seeing as how I wrote it - difficult to play correctly.

Now, on a day when I was not dropping what I was doing every half hour to raise money for library relief or to assist milady while doing same, I probably could have figured out what needed to be done. As it was, taking our downstairs neighbor into account, it was time to put away the noisy things before I got done.

But though I am bloody, I am unbowed. When I finish it, I'll post it here. And it will be...adequate. Maybe even (dare I dream?) catchy.

Until then, here are some pictures of cute animals to distract you from - as Patton Oswalt might put it - my "failure pile in a sadness bowl."

Last Call for Contests/Favorite Fictional Books


As per the headline of this post, last call for contest submissions is in 30 minutes at 5 a.m., Pacific Time. Still time to get last minute submissions in!

Second: My Top 5 Favorite Fictional/non-existent Books, and why they are awesome.

(Yeah, I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel for posts at this point.)

5. The Necronomicon, from The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness. It bites. It turns people into Deadites. And it's wicked sarcastic. Most recently seen being used for, er, "bathroom reading" by a zombified Incredible Hulk. (Long story.)

4. Since we're talking about books that bite, I'll throw in The Monster Book of Monsters from the Harry Potter series. What the hey.

3. Destiny of the Endless's tome, The Sandman. It has everything that has ever or will ever happen in it, which explains why it's chained to Destiny like a suitcase nuke. But not even he knows what's on the last page. If it was me? I'd peek.

2. Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooey, Calvin and Hobbes. Judging by the title, I'd like to read this book. On the other hand, if it can get Calvin to go to sleep, it'd probably put normal humans in a coma. As opposed to now, where I lay awake nights wondering what a gooey kablooey is.

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. No contest, really, even though I suppose it's really more of a book-on-tape.

Edited to make my sleep-deprived prose less obtuse.

What I've Been Reading During the Blogathon

I'm one of those people who always carries a book around, just in case I have a dull moment that needs filling over the course of my day. So yeah, even today, of all days, I've been paging through a couple of titles.

First is Olympia Vernon's Eden, a story about Maddy, a teenage girl sent to care for her estranged, dying aunt. It's written in a lyrical style, almost stream of consciousness at times, but never inaccessible. There's also a dark, malevolent current running underneath the whole thing. I'm about 70 pages in.

I actually did finish The Worthy: A Ghost's Story by Will Clarke, but just don't have the energy to write a longer review.

It's a nasty little piece of dark comedy narrated by a 19-year-old LSU boy who happens to be dead, murdered by his own fraternity brother, Ryan Hutchins. As one Ms. V. Mars said, "Every school has its obligatory psychotic jackass. He's ours." Ryan Hutchins beats up hookers and his girlfriend, snorts coke, abuses pledges, and commits multiple homicide, all the while being thought a great guy. And Conrad, our young ghost pledge, wants revenge in the worst possible way. I'm sure LSU really dug the publicity.

And there's a goat on the book jacket. Like the old adage that you can't show a gun in the first act unless it's fired by the third, you can't put a goat on the cover of a fraternity book unless something unnatural is going to happen to that goat by the end of the book.

That's just how it crumbles, cookie-wise.

Putting My Grad Skool Sleep Deprivation Training to Good Use

When Mary ran the L.A. Marathon, I made these little jokes about how full of vim and so forth she was at mile 8, running backwards as she passed us to wave, compared to mile 23.

Payback's a booger.

See, Mary can nap. Me? Not so much. I go down, I stay down. Her? Ten minutes of shut-eye and she's rarin' to go.

Adding insult to injury, my cat - faithless little traitor that she is - has positioned herself directly in my line of sight and is sleeping as hard as she can.

The only thing that's keeping me going at this point is that, as a grad student, sometimes I get to grade papers until around this time. That, and the Diet Coke. And the cocktail I am so going to pour myself at 5:30 a.m.

Peering blearily around the Blogathon, I've found for your perusal the following sites that have been entertaining me to no end.

1. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I've been digging the heck out of (Parenthetically Speaking). Comic books! And, most recently, people dressed as Zatanna. Wait...crud...ComicCon was this weekend, wasn't it?

2. Food & Music. Who doesn't like those? Martians, that's who. Martians. Also, bonus points for all the stills of old ephemeral films.

3. The Smarmy Carny. While most of the carnies I've met have been less smarmy and more twitchy, this is grade-A smarm. And I know from smarm.

Finally, I'd like to say a big thanks to Abby over at Abby's Blogathon, who's been commenting up a storm despite being deathly ill. Rock on. And consider a Neti pot; I think those things are actually magical.

You Can Absolutely Judge a Book by Its Cover

Oh, pulp. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love the covers. So tawdry. So wrong. So very right.

I love the smell of the cheap paper and cheaper glue.

I love the hamfisted writing, the ludicrous plots; they're like little Roger Corman films in book form.

I love that you can buy them for about a dollar or two at most used book stores.

I love that although there is absolutely nothing of any redeeming quality in 90% of them, reading them doesn't feel like wasting precious hours of my life, as does dumb-TV-watching. Because, hey, I'm reading.

And I love the promotional copy, which almost never fails to mention the hair-color of the dame in question. While the front covers get most of the attention, someday someone will hopefully put together a book about the fearless editors whose job it was to come up with gems like the following:

Carla was a beautiful redhead in a skin-tight yellow sheath. Rick thought they could play a swinging scene together. Then she did a disappearing act. . .
Marty was a beautiful blonde. And Rick was more than willing to put in a good word for her. Until he found out she did her talking with a pearly Colt. . .

DIRTY PICTURES. "These photos were found in the wallet of your ex-husband," he said. . ."They are the most shocking I have ever seen in my twenty-two years as coroner. . ."
[I'm gonna pause so you can let that one sink in. - bp]

There were lots of salacious photographs being circulated around Porthtown. Pictures of some of the town's most respectable citizens, snapped when they were least expecting an audience. And almost every time the camera clicked, a maddened murderer would strike!"

And last, but not least, from The Flight of the Stiff: "Corpses fly as well as bullets when Pete McGrath battles an underworld gang to save the life of a hot-blooded redhead."

FYI, in that one there is as promised a corpse that flies. Although I'm not sure if "being flung by a catapult through the window of a distant mansion as a message" counts as flying.

Edited to Add, in Response to a Question from Mary: No, I did not make any of those up.

Academic Librarians Need Love Too

KHD sends a very sweet story about a librarian at Rhodes College in Memphis. We've been pretty heavy on the public library stories during the Blogathon due to author bias. But college librarians make a big impact on people, too, whether it's showing them how to do research or just giving them enough confidence to navigate those big, scary academic libraries which are, I swear, all designed by prison architects and Foucault afficianados.

And I actually know the librarian she's saying such glowing things about because I worked in the library at Rhodes. He is a really good librarian, and a very kind man, too.

KHD says,

"Paul Williford pretty much got me through Rhodes. I don't know if you remember but pretty much all of the references I needed for my International Studies papers had to come from the University of Memphis library. But their library scared me b/c it was so big and I never could operate their computer system correctly. So absolutely every research paper I had to write started with Paul Williford's help.

I'd walk into the good ol' Burrow Library, go straight to his desk and then tell him my topic. He would pretty much do all of the research for me and then give me a list of magazine articles, etc. to find (and where they were located) when I went to U of M. I blame him for my complete lack of being able to find good articles for research, but God am I grateful for him. I almost called him to help me with one of my Vandy papers, but I called you instead.

I also don't know if you remember this, but you know how I got paid to be the Sou'wester [newspaper] business manager? I felt guilty getting the commission I got when I didn't even work that hard and you guys busted tail and got nada. So I gave all but $75.00 away. $500 went to my high school's drama department, but the rest I used for $100.00 gift certificates to Folk's Folly for those at Rhodes that had influenced me. Those people were Brenda Somes (IS dept secretary), Michta, John Kaltner (religion prof), Kathleen Laakso (for letting me come back to Rhodes a month late that last semester and pretty much keeping tabs on me that entire, god-awful time) and Paul Williford.

I knew he would recognize my face if he saw me, but felt pretty sure he had no idea what my name was. And I was right, but he looked me up in Faces [our campus directory] and sent me the absolute nicest thank you note I have ever received. He even referenced some of the papers I had written."

Remember Rita: Dispatch from the Cameron Parish Library

Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Rita swept west and made landfall at Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. Areas of the Gulf Coast that had been spared the brunt of Katrina were devastated, including many Louisiana libraries.

One of the hardest hit was the Cameron Parish Library System. Three of four library branches were destroyed, with their entire collections -- the Main Library, the Grand Chenier Library, and the Johnson Bayou Library. The fourth was flooded, and 33-40% of collection was destroyed.

Charlotte Trosclair, Director of the Cameron Parish Library System told me that often, libraries hit by Rita are excluded from some funding efforts that go to help Katrina libraries only. However, despite its name, the ALA Hurricane Katrina Library Relief Fund does provide funding to libraries hit by Rita.

The pictures above are, from top to bottom, the Main Library, the Grand Chenier Library, and the Johnson Bayou Library. As you can see, all three were reduced to rubble.

Notes From My Dissertation

I'm not going to go into too much detail here with the wheres and wherefores, but my dissertation research (surprise) involves a lot of digging through old documents, specifically those pertaining to certain historical hurricane-type things. Lately I've been collecting and analyzing* old documents relating to the Galveston Storm of 1900. It was a doozy. But don't take my word for it. . .

"A summary of conditions prevailing at Galveston is more than a human intellect can master. Briefly stated, the damage to property is anywhere between fifteen and twenty millions. The loss of life can not be computed. No lists could be kept, and all is simple guess work. Those thrown out to sea and buried on the ground wherever found will reach the horrible total of at least three thousand souls. My estimate of the loss on the island of Galveston and intermediate surrounding district is between four and five thousand deaths. I do not make this statement in fright or excitement. The whole story will never be told, because it can not be told.
"The necessities of those living are total. Not a single individual escaped property loss. The propery on the island is wrecked, fully one-half totally swept out of existence altogether. . .The help must be immediate."

R. G. Lowe - Manager, Galveston news

And then there's this, Clara "Red Cross" Barton's response to claims that the needs of Galvestonians had been met:

“. . .there is nothing that can exceed the spontaneous rush with which we spring to the relief of the first cry of distress that goes out, unless it should be the readiness with which it is forgotten after the first effort, and the proneness to feel that nothing more in that line can be needed, and the impulsive spirit waits for something new.”



* For those of you who find qualitative methodology interesting, I am using the constant comparative method to try and pin down those pesky meanings. Hermeneutariffic!

Sins of the Mothers

Dead Above Ground by Jervey Tervalon

Set in 1946, Tervalon's Dead Above Ground follows the story of the Du Champ's, a black family living in New Orleans. Adele, the eldest daughter, has always had a weakness for men. And despite the fact that she's married to a devoted, decent man who can "pass," her mother has always turned a blind eye to her running around on him.

That is, until Adele takes up with Lucien Faure, a dangerous playboy and sometimes pimp. Then, Helen Du Champ comes down on her daughter and her lover with all the fury she can muster. But it's not enough. Adele won't.. or can't give Lucien up.

Younger daughter, Lita, has never understood why her mother is so lenient with Adele and so strict with her. She also can't understand what makes Lucien any worse than Adele's other paramours.

The story then falls into flashback, as Helen tells her daughter about her startling past and reveals the real reason Lucien is so dangerous to Adele. There's an old score to be settled, and most likely, it will end bloodily.

The book has an interesting structure, and packs a lot of family history, New Orleans atmosphere, and dark secrets into a scant 200 pages. Not a word is wasted, though, and Tervalon's novel is shocking, powerful, and engaging.

Two Completely Unrelated Things

A) It is lunatic night on our street, apparently. Also, it seems that "directly outside our window" is a really good place to have extended, loud, group arguments. At least, it must be, because there's been about four in the last hour and a half. If it keeps up, next week I'm putting up a velvet rope and charging a ten dollar cover.

B) It's not important why I was looking up Civil War-era slang a few weeks ago. It only matters that I was.

Because now I'm going to share it with you.

Words/Phrases I'd never heard before:
-grab a root (have dinner)
-desecrated vegetables (dehydrated veggies)
-paper collar man (rich guy)

Words/Phrases I had no idea were from that era:
-sawbones (doctor, as in Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy)
-snug as a bug (I'm guessing "in a rug" came later.)
-tuckered out (ditto for "plum-")

Words/Phrases that amuse me:
-"mustered out" (done got killed, used ironically, hence the ironyquotes (tm), natch)
-scarce as hens' teeth (pretty much what it sounds like, which is "rare")
-see the elephant (combat or, er, some of the other things soldiers tend to get up to, nudge nudge, wink wink)

Get Those Brain Juices Flowing

It's getting into the tough, lonesome hours of the Blogathon, so I say, what better way to push the cobwebs from your eyes than by doing one of our Gulf Coast-themed contests!

For those inclined towards cookery, submit your best recipe for soul food, comfort food, food that tastes like home to The Rickey and G-Man Soul Food Cook-Off

If poetry is your thing, we've got two. Submit a comical, nonsensical, dipsical, doksical, hortatory, plumatory, amatory, or otherwise wacky verse to the Eugene Walter Memorial Doggerel Contest.

Or! There's also our Everette Maddox 14th Way of Being Looked at By a Possum Contest, where you write a stanza about a... um... 14th way of being looked at by a possum.

And if you're a music person, there's the Patterson Hood Southern Song Lyrics Contest. Potts says that nowadays all the good southern poets just become musicians. Submit your favorite lyric by a southern artist or band - blues, jazz, southern rock, gospel, country, you name it.

You have until 5am PST, winners will be announced at 5:30 PST.

But be warned. My dad discovered Blogger today, and he is a competitive fella.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Sure Am Using the Word Bildungsroman a Lot Today, But If the Genre Fits. . .

Eugene Walter won the Lippincott Award for The Untidy Pilgrim, his first novel. Its opening lines are often quoted, at least around certain parts:

"Down in Mobile they're all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy's county seat."

The novel follows our protagonist - who isn't named, so I'll just call him "Fosdick," which I stole from Horatio Alger, who really has a way with names - from his family home in central Alabama down to the coast, where folks are "Frenchified," and thus (he has been told) not to be trusted. It's good, if ultimately useless, advice, because it doesn't take long before our hero is drinking in unsavory dens, carousing with all manner of eccentrics, and falling in love with his uncle's (much younger) wife.

A surprising amount of the book is taken up with sittin' and visitin', eating and drinking, and the telling of outlandish stories/really good gossip about relatives who never actually appear in the book. This is more charming than you might think. The repartee is witty, the eccentrics truly eccentric, and the prose bops along breezily (although a face-saving side trip to New York after a speakeasy punchout does slow things down a bit).

In short, The Untidy Pilgrim is ribald, witty, and altogether refreshing, especially when you set it alongside the Falknerian school of Southern Gothic gloom'n'doom. It's like the sherbert course of Southern Lit...

...if sherbert were surprisingly healthsome to the brain and soul, moreso even than broccolli. . .

...which, I suspect, the author would suggest is often the case.

Library Testimonials: Potpourri

A couple of brief testimonials to keep the Library Lurve going strong as we enter the "late-night-oh-what-have-I-done" phase of der Blogathon.

First off, Sally sent us this little gem, regarding the good folks at the Jefferson Parish Library:

The Jefferson Parish Library opened soon after was a welcome home to many. No carpets, few staff, but the books were ok, and the computers were in full use. This was great, when so many people couldn't get into their homes.

And, our good buddy Larry Harnisch, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about L.A., had this to say in the comment thread of an earlier post, but it's so good, we're printin' it twice:

The first library I truly learned to use was turned into a church after Naperville, Ill., built a bigger building and I guess that's kind of appropriate.

I don't precisely worship libraries--but close. I may not get to museums all that often, or concert halls or the theater, but it's a poor week when I don't get to a library.

I started young. I was a precocious reader and at an early age entertained myself in the stacks reading all the back issues of Boys Life (where I picked up no end of unused knowledge about knots, woodlore, campfires, blazing trails, etc.)

My next big discovery, and it was a major one, was the academic library, which I began using in high school. An even bigger card catalogue! Way more books! Way more periodicals! Way more old newspapers on microfilm!

[...clipped for length, as I've gone mad, mad I tell you with editorial power, and also, you can see the missing bits here. - bp]

I see libraries as vast, well-organized repositories of knowledge. The delight is coming across some long-neglected volume and giving it another chance, however brief, to be read again. A city without libraries is like a city without churches.

That's why I'm glad to be taking part in your little fundraiser!

We Wuz First...Mostly.

Okay. So here's the deal.

Yes, New Orleans Mardi Gras is a great deal of fun. Yes, it is the nation's premier celebration of most of the seven deadly sins. Yes, if you show them, odds are they will throw them.


For the record, and I'm sorry Nawlineans but y'all know we Mobile folks do get going on this topic...

...we wuz first. Mostly. French settlers had likely been celebrating here and there, hither and yon, and probably at "Pointe du Mardi Gras" (est. 1699), but it would not have been the parading/trinket throwing/revelry in the streets sort of affair we now know. So: same name, different party.

In 1704, Mobile was made the capital of French Louisiana. Shortly thereafter, organized Mardi Gras celebrations begin. In, ahem, Mobile.

Skip ahead to 1831, where the Cowbellion de Rakin society Mobile...founded, no less, by a Pennsylvanian. (He died of yellow fever shortly thereafter, of course.) They paraded on New Years, and in 1852 began organizing Mardi Gras balls. So: parades, just a little early. And Mardi Gras balls.

1856: Parading Cowbellions move to New Orleans, and begin parading on New Years. A year later, another group of Mobile Cowbellions (and some of the Strikers Independent Society) move to New Orleans and help start the Krewe of Comus, who then started themed parades, the whole "Krewe" thing, and various modern Mardi Gras traditions.

So, to be fair, fully modern organized Mardi Gras coalesced in New Orleans, sure. But the parading society and the Mardi Gras ball started a few miles to the east, is all I'm saying.


I'm not sure who started the whole "You Show 'Em," thing, though I'm thinking it was probably y'all. But...uh...we have moonpies! And, um, far less vomit.

In closing, I guess we can share.

With much love,

your cousin Mobile

Blogathon Round-Up

Okay, so I was off posting comments, and I dropped by hello! yoshi to get in on the movie quote action. And I totally did not read and follow directions, submitted my answer to the wrong place, and messed it all up. So, I can't show my face over there again, but YOU can, and should!

And speaking of trivia, there's all kinds of fun, Simpsons-related contests and quizzes going on over at Welcome to the Monkey House.

At Life is RANTastic!, the Rocker Chick is getting down with her bad self, posting music rants, possible late-night trivia, and Q&A

And speaking of Q&A... Have you ever wanted to ask a question of a real, live oracle? Well, at Betty Baker's Blog, you can do just that.

Finally, at KMRL Mojo Radio Live, a variety of blogger DJs are making your Blogathon mix tape so you don't have to. They're also featuring Blogathon bloggers, including yours truly at around 5am PST.

Update: yoshi has forgiven me my gaffe.

Some Great NOLA Links

Thanks to my lovely sponsor, Jill, for passing this along:

"First, a little something music-related. A dear friend of mine moved from Milwaukee to NOLA in 1992 to pursue his love of jazz music. He's one of the many who returned after the hurrication and has been trying to maintain some semblance of sanity in an insane post-K NOLA world. His band, the Hot Club of New Orleans, has a website replete with music samples here. I'd be a fan even if I weren't biased. Their slogan is 'Rebuilding New Orleans one song at a time.'

Secondly, a couple of NOLA blogging solidarity nuggets... Don't know if you're familiar with Metroblogging, but I'm a fan of the folks who do it in NOLA. They can be found here, and provide a good sample of how bad things still are down there.

Lastly, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was kind enough to let me blog for them over the course of a week the first time I visited post-K. It's a heavy violence against women focus, but ifin you're interested, that can be found here."
I'm listening to the Hot Club of New Orleans album samples right now, and they are fantastic. And here's an excerpt from Jill's excellent MJS series:

"Every single person I met offered their gratitude that we were there. My friend, his friends, restaurant owners, service providers - every last person thanked us for being in New Orleans. Some of their appreciation was because we came all the way from Wisconsin to pitch in. Much of their gratefulness stemmed from the simple fact that we haven’t forgotten them."

I got the sense from a number of people that they fear they are in this struggle alone and that the nation has long stopped noticing what they are going through. They are aware that the storm no longer drives the national nightly news, despite the fact that Katrina-related stories fill the New Orleans Times-Picayune every day."

State of the Blog and of the Bloggers

Potts is making progress on his song, although he's torn up the house in the process. As we speak, there's a snare drum in the middle of the dining room floor, guitar cases everywhere, and our boy from Bammy is sitting in the shower recording vocals because the acoustics are good.

Still, I think he may just finish the thing.

We've passed the $2000 mark on our sponsorships - wow! I'm in awe. Thank you all so much for your generous pledges!

And I wanted to clarify the rules on Brady's contest, as I have received a few complaints that they are too hard. Blame Potts and his fancy, wordy wording. Sigh... boys.

The Eugene Walter Memorial Doggerel Contest:
Rules: Compose a couple or a few lines of nonsense/less-than-serious verse. Verse, as the back jacket of one of Eugene's poetry collections puts it, that is "satirical, lyrical, comical, paradoxical, dipsical, doksical, hortatory, plumatory, amatory, bibliophilic, astrophilic, botanophilic, ailerophilic, gustatory, fun-cranky, and whoopsical". Post 'em in the comments.

Difficulty: No limericks.
Prize: a first edition of Party Fare by Victor MacClure, published 1960; it's one of those entertaining guides that mostly contains recipes for wild cocktails and punches, and no solid food more complicated than a cheese plate - fun reading!

The Patterson Hood Southern Song Lyrics Contest:
Rules: Post your favorite lyrics by any artist or band from the South - blues, jazz, country, southern rock, soul, gospel, you name it.

Difficulty: No Drive-By Truckers or John Murry
Prize: two pulp magazines; a 1952 issue of Fantastic featuring, oddly, a short story by Truman Capote and the 1946 Avon Annual, 15 Great Stories of Today, including stories by Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, and Ernest Hemingway.

Enter away, boys and girls!

And Speaking of Gulf Coast Art

Restoration by John Ed Bradley

Restoration has a premise so engaging that I was prepared to forgive it nearly anything after reading the jacket blurb. And when all was through, there was some forgiving to be done.

But first, the plot, which is super juicy. A Moviegoer-esque narrator named Jack Charbonnet quits his job writing for the Times-Picayune and moves into a garconniere behind a grand old rotting New Orleans mansion owned by a frail recluse. At a dinner party, Jack meets Rhys, an art restorer, and though she initially dislikes him, the two forge a tentative friendship over their shared love of obscure southern art.

When Jack's realtor discovers a previously unknown painting by a tragic and gifted New Orleans painter, Rhys is called in to restore it. At the auction, museums and private collectors come crawling out of the woodwork for a shot at getting their hands on a rare Levette Asmore. But they're no match for the rich, boarish, and none-too-subtlely named Tommy Smallwood, a holy terror at art auctions who has the charming habit of making his female companions count the slaves in large plantation paintings (he wants one with over 40).

The best parts of the book involve Jack and Rhys's search to unearth the mysteries surrounding Asmore's life and death. It turns out that Asmore's controversial and brilliant career was eclipsed by his bizarre suicide. Asmore was commissioned by the WPA in 1941 to paint a mural on the history of transportation in the United States. Instead, he created an erotic street scene that featured black and white figures dancing together. Shortly after an angry mob forced Asmore to whitewash his masterpiece, he threw himself from the Huey P. Long Bridge. The more they research, the more Jack and Rhys suspect that the mural might not have been destroyed after all, and hatch a plan to rescue it.

Still, Restoration has problems. Relationships between characters are underdeveloped, the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, and the dialogue is kind of awful - didactic, exposition-y and unrealistic. But despite these flaws, the search for Asmore's lost mural and for the details of his shadowy existence make the book worth reading.

Dispatch: Harrison County, MS

The good people of Harrison County got hit hard: Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, D'Iberville, Saucier...the list goes on...took a beating, and their libraries were badly damaged, when they were left standing at all.

Biloxi Public LibraryFour of the thirteen Harrison County libraries are listed as still closed, and of the nine that remain open, three are temporary libraries set up in trailers.

Happily, it seems that the downtown Biloxi Library may be salvageable, and Harrison County just received a grant to help with the reconstruction of the Gulfport library. Still, they've got a long way to go.

Pass Christian Public LibraryThe pictures to the left are of the Biloxi (top) and Pass Christian (bottom) libraries. Breaks my heart.

So thanks again, donors, for helping out. Me, I'll be visiting that neck of the woods in the coming months for dissertation research...mmmmmm, archives...but more about that later tonight. Here's a hint though.

Sometimes a Man's Just Gotta Paint

On our last visit home, back in January, we took Mary over to Ocean Springs, MS to see the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. It was still closed due to hurricane damage, but it's since reopened and the next time you find yourself in coastal Mississippi, you should definitely make time to check it out.

Anderson, born in 1903, was the Bob Pollard of painters (at least in terms of being extremely prolific, prone to using whatever was at hand to make art, and maybe being just a little bit off), producing thousands of paintings and drawings, many of which were discovered after his death.*

Anderson was also known for taking off fairly regularly to satisfy his muse, which meant rowing about 12 miles out to Horn Island with art supplies and *maybe* a tent, staying for days if not weeks, and painting everything he saw.

His watercolors and prints are amazing - we have a print and it's one of our favorite pieces of art, next to a pop-style portrait of Mary and a series of prints by another friend of ours. But my favorite pieces of his would be his murals.

Anderson moved out of the house and into a cottage later in life, and then commenced to paint murals on the walls of the cottage, in between trips out to the island. He painted the walls. He painted the doors. There are murals covering every inch of the place. It's amazing.

You can see some of his work online here (scroll down and click on "Walls of Light" for the murals), and you can also check out this new book of his murals.
* The NY Times likened him to a "Gulf Coast O'Keeffe," but I like mine better. Georgia O'Keeffe never made a record like Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand, I'm just sayin.

5 Great Books About or Involving Libraries

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl: I know Matilda has a really awful home life in this book, but I love that at the age of 4, this genius child toddles down to her local library to read Hemingway.

2. The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken: This bittersweet tale of the romance between a librarian and teenage giant is affecting, and not as "ripped from the Fark headlines" as it sounds.

3. Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library by Eth Clifford: Again, as a child, the idea of being locked overnight in a public library sounded like absolute heaven. Now, if it was the L.A. Central Library, that probably would have freaked me out a little, but a nice small town library... what better place to be stranded in a snow storm?

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: Francie is a bookish child who spends a lot of time at the Brooklyn Library, and the passages about her visits there should be read by every librarian as instruction on how NOT to do the job.

5. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami: Now, I haven't read this one, but I intend to and I feel like, since it's Murakami, it's a pretty safe bet to recommend. Besides, check this out:

"The novel, Murakami's 10th and his first big one since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in 1997, features a 15-year-old boy who runs away from his Tokyo home shortly before his father's body is discovered in a pool of blood and heads for distant Takamatsu. There he meets a mysterious librarian, who may or may not be his long-lost mother, and a sexy hairdresser, who may or may not be his vanished elder sister. Filling out the cast is an old man who lost his memory in an apparent UFO encounter but gained the power to converse with cats." (from Time magazine review)

That sounds like good readin' to me.

We're All Mad Potters Here

I'm going to take a little break from books, and switch to Gulf Coast art for a change.

George Ohr was a 19th century potter whose mantra was "no two alike." And he meant it. Even today, potters can't quite figure out how he did some of the things he did.

He was also known as a rather colorful fellow. Now, I live in L.A., so I know a think or two about flakes and eccentrics, but honestly, I think the South has the market cornered when it comes to the care and nurturing of those we call "characters."

But while Ohr cultivated his reputation as an eccentric, he was deeply dedicated to his art, and a dogged worker. When his studio burned in 1894, over 10,000 pieces were lost. So he made more.

You can read more about Ohr at the Ohr O'Keefe Museum website, and see more examples of Ohr's pottery here.

And good news! About a month ago, the museum got the green light to rebuild both it and a replica of the Pleasant Reed House, a landmark of 19th century African-American culture in the Deep South.

Prizes, Fabulous Prizes!!!

The halfway point! Huzzah!!

So, true to form, Mary's Soul Food and Possum contests are coming along nicely, while neither of mine has any entries.

Fine. Be that way.

Or don't! Plenty of time still left for those who want to win all sorts of interesting prizes. Look to the menu bar to your right...thar they blow, ahyarrrr.

In other news. . .

Blogathon 2007 has surpassed the $100,000 mark overall. I hear the kids these days say "Woot!" in such circumstances, but what do I know? Woot!
We have procured Indian food. It is...adequate.
Song progress: Bass part was a booger, but it's down on tape now. It's starting to shape up into something like a weird Everly Bros. tune they did after a few too many hard ciders down at the drive-in. I was going for, like, lo-fi zydeco but that's what came out. Huh.
We at TBIFY have just about broken $2,000 for the ALA Relief Fund. Assuming we finish.

Coming later: more book reviews, more shenanigans, jazz bands, the Secret History of Mardi Gras, and more. Stay tuned...we're not going anywhere.

Mary Has Bad Taste

In a sure sign of blogging-induced fatigue, I am now going to deviate from the post I had planned in order to pose the following question.

Ever read a book that you thought was, say, very good, and your spouse/s.o./best friend/readin' buddy thought it was dullsville/crapola/otherwise without merit?

Mary and I go back and forth on a number of things like this, i.e. "Spoon: superb crafters of pop goodness or one-trick ponies whose trick is getting old?" or our long-running "Which is the better Replacements album: Tim or Pleased to Meet Me" debate.

(Mary says Tim, and she is wrong, wrong wrong.)

Getting back on track, our next book is one of those divisive little texts; I dug it quite a bit, Mary just couldn't get into it. But I want to plug it anyway. Michael Knight's Divining Rod.*

Knight reminds me of a suburban Tim Gatreaux, if that makes any sense to you. (If it doesn't, go read some Tim Gatreaux, dangit!)

I'd say more, but, er...out of time.

* Also, I think I went to school with the guy for a year when he was in high school and I was in the 6th grade, or something like that.

What Does Your Library Mean To You?

Patty writes:

"I just want to come at libraries from a different direction. I'm a novelist, and obviously my mind filled itself up and contorted itself the right way during early years in back stacks of libraries. But now libraries do something new and special for me. They put my books in people's hands when otherwise those people wouldn't see them. A bottom-line-focused writer might say, "Well rats, every checkout means one fewer purchases," but a writer who just plain old loves to be heard sees it differently. Libraries amplify my voice."

What does your library mean to you?

Blogathon Round-Up

Here are some more lovely blogs by lovely people - stop by and say hello!

Something Simple Art: features of Etsy artists and their products; you might want to hide your wallet, or at least set yourself a spending limit before you go over, especially if, like me, you like crafty things, but lack the motor skills to make them for yourself

For Great Justice!: this is one of the blogs I sponsored, and they're blogging for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Darn hilarious stick figure comics - the past couple of hours have been Harry Potter-themed (image from their post here).

I Am No Longer That Girl: entirely Veronica Mars-themed! Love it!

Katherine of Padua: just did a post asking what is your favorite comfort book... gotta go comment on that one.

If You Read Only One of the Books Reviewed Today, Make it This One

1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose (available August 2007; thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a reader's copy)

A reporter for the Times-Picayune since 1984, Rose has covered everything from the city's crime to its nightlife, and despite being a Yankee transplant, it's hard to imagine anyone with deeper pride in and love for New Orleans.

In the days immediately following Katrina, Rose and other reporters returned to the city to put out a paper, covering the news from their bicycles. By now, everyone has seen the images from the Lower Ninth Ward and the Superdome, and knows about the colossal, nightmarish tragedy of incompetence that followed on the heels of the storm. But what Rose writes about in his columns is a tragedy of a different sort.

After the Convention Center and the Superdome were evacuated, after the floodwaters subsided, the remaining population of New Orleans set about the task of putting their lives back together. The columns, published between 2005 and 2006, compiled in 1 Dead in Attic describe exactly what that process means, and the toll that it took on those who chose to rebuild in the face of civil unrest, civic inaction, and several kinds of bureaucratic hell. And to read Rose's columns is to watch a witty, intelligent, empathetic man slowly crack up under the burdens of stress, heartbreak, frustration, and loss.

In a straightforward and unapologetic voice, Rose writes about the "thousand yard stare" of survivors, the uncontrollable crying jags. The gamut of ugly, messy human emotion that rears its head after "the Thing" has range as well as teeth, and Rose's stories embody the gratitude, gallows humor, sadness, desperation, pettiness, and rage welling up in himself and those around him. Some of these stories are easier to get through than others.

In "Enough To Feed an Army," Rose describes finding a freezer-full of perfectly intact and gorgeous steaks a week after the storm, which he and friends cook up for the California National Guard to say thank you. It's a sincere, beautiful story, devoid of any schmaltziness. And there are other stories where Rose can't help but wonder at the wonder of it all. To be alive, to have hope, to go to Jazzfest is sometimes enough. Except when it isn't.

Despair peeks around the corners of a seemingly humorous column about going through airport security with a suitcase containing 15 naked Barbie dolls for his daughter while she and the rest of his family stay in Maryland with his parents. Later in the book, as post-traumatic stress and depression set in, Rose's humorous stories become scary-funny.

He accosts a random stranger he catches littering, participates in a passive-aggressive neighborhood refrigerator-dumping war, blacks out while covering a story and spends an afternoon on a sidewalk drifting in and out of consciousness. Rose milks these stories for laughs, and sometimes you catch yourself smiling even as a little voice in the back of your head says, "This isn't funny."

These stories culminate in Rose's widely syndicated essay on his decision to get help for depression, "Hell and Back." It's a remarkable piece of writing, and you can read it here.

The book is a must-read for those seeking to understand the aftermath of the storm, beyond FEMA trailers and the Superdome - the real day-to-day in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Tucked in there as well is a subtle message to the rest of the country about what New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast need today, almost two years after the storm.

In one column, Rose writes, "Tell them that New Orleans is still the best city in America. Tell them to come see for themselves, that we're happy, hopeful, joyful, and celebratory still. Then tell them this: New Orleans is a broken, suffering mess, weakened and scared... Got that? It's simple: Everything is fine here. But it's not fine."

More of Rose's column are available at

From the Jefferson Parish Library

"After Hurricane Katrina hit Jefferson Parish on August 29th, the library krewe (the library director and members of the maintenance and outreach departments) was back in the parish less than 24 hours later dealing with damaged library facilities and resources. Krewe members stayed at East Bank Regional until October 1. Other library staff reported for work on October 3rd.

Because FEMA and the American Red Cross had not yet arrived, the library krewe was pulled from making repairs to prepare and distribute food and was unable to salvage portions of the collections at Lakeshore and Gretna and contain the damage at Belle Terre and Grand Isle."

"Fifteen per cent of Jefferson Parish Library's collection of approximately one million items has been lost.

Gretna branch (above):
"Gretna library’s roof was destroyed by the storm. The entire collection and contents of the building were lost."

Grand Isle (right):
"Katrina ripped the air conditioning unit off the roof and tossed it to the ground like a rag doll. This resulted in a very large hole in the roof. Due to the humidity, lack of climate control, and moisture coming in from the hole in the roof the entire collection and all items inside the building were lost."

But the Jefferson Parish Library System is building back, and building better. Jefferson Parish Library has spent $4.6 million on clean-up activities and expects to spend another $10-$14 million on repairs to the 14 of their 16 libraries that were damaged by Katrina.

And the parish library did something really great to in the aftermath of the storm, offering free guest library cards to the residents of parishes whose library services were decimated, including Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes. They had a little, and many parishes had nothing, so they were happy to share the computers, the books, the databases, and everything else. Hats off!

The Library Director Lon Dickerson wrote a terrific article about the recovery process that you can read here.

Not Just an Arcade Fire Album, You Know

John Kennedy Toole, The Neon Bible:

Okay, so Confederacy of Dunces it ain't. But it's not trying to be, either. This slim little novel, written by Toole when he was sixteen and published posthumously, brings to mind To Kill a Mockingbird or the stories of Peter Taylor, and if it isn't the equal of his other novel, well, he wrote it when he was sixteen. Unless you are, like, Salman Rushdie or Milan Kundera or something, I'm guessing you hadn't written a novel by then, so: Quiet, you.

It's a Southern Gothic bildungsroman, set during and immediately after WWII, and the rhythm of the book is slow and languorous. Breaking up monotony (the protagonist's, not ours) are revivals, bounders, fallen women singing the devil's music, and increasingly dire times at home. It does, to be fair, get a little draggy in places but then again: sixteen. By the end of the book you can see Toole's future novel peeking out from underneath the prose.

I've heard it said that Neon Bible is only for Toole completists, but I'd disagree. It doesn't have the go-for-broke insanity of Confederacy, and it unearths very little new ground as far as "Small-Southern-Town-Coming-of-Age" stories go, but it's a charming little book and manages to pull off a child protagonist without descending into mawkish sentimentality.*

Also? SIXTEEN, man. Jeez.

* Of course, when your family is so poor you cut up old clothes for curtains, and you're pretty much eating dirt for dinner to stave off the hunger pangs, it's a little hard to be that all that sentimental about it.

More Than I Can Chew, Redux

Quick update on the recording process:

Washboard, unplugged hollowbody, snare and tambourine rhythm track: Done.

Likelihood that anything but the snare and tambo will be audible in the final mix: 66%. (alpha=0.01)

Those rhythmic slip-ups, especially towards the end: "Those aren't mistakes. They're jazz."*

Chorus: Written.

Verses: Not so much.

Next up? Bass, then write another post, then guitars, then make up some words (Oddment! Flibber!), then another post, then run around in circles blubbering like an infant.

Onwards! We're not even halfway done!

Also: Bored? The good folks over at (blogging for the Heifer project) have the cure: Go kill some zombies.

* Thanks, Mystic Gonzo Minstrel Band!

Local Boy Makes Good, Then Makes Bad

The End of California by Steve Yarbrough

There's something about the state of Mississippi that causes writers to make up towns to exist there. In the case of Steve Yarbrough, that town is Loring, somewhere in the Delta between Memphis and Jackson. But while Yarbrough's previous books about Loring have been set in the first half of the 20th century, The End of California takes place in the present day.

Hometown hero Pete Barrington flees Fresno with his family in the wake of scandal, infidelity, and professional disgrace, and returns to the only home he's ever known. His California-bred wife and daughter are decidedly unthrilled about the move, but determined to keep their family together. Pete quickly falls back into the role of local golden boy, coaching the struggling high school football team to victory, and drawing patients away from the incompetent local practice. He also falls back in with his high school buddy, Tim, now an alcoholic public defender with a failed marriage behind him.

Life goes on. However, not everyone in Loring is in love with Pete's memory. Piggly Wiggly manager Alan DePoyster has spent a long time in church learning forgiveness and love, and despite the crap deal that his parents and Pete Barrington handed him in high school, he's managed to live a good and decent life, with a loving wife and a gem of a son by his side. But when Pete returns to Loring, Alan's old rage begins to simmer, with tragic consequences.

While I expected a routine story about middle-aged people who have ruined their lives, Yarbrough's graceful writing and carefully layered plot make The End of California anything but routine. Books about small town malaise haven't been done to death - they're just rarely done this well.

If you liked...: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry or Empire Falls by Richard Russo, this book is for you.

Blogathon Round-up and Sponsorship Update

Great news, everyone! So far, we've raised $1667 for the American Library Association Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund! Big thanks to all of our great sponsors! If you'd still like to sponsor us, you can do so here.

And here are a few links to my fellow Blogathon participants that you might want to keep an eye on. They've been keeping me out of trouble all morning.

Nancy's Baby Names: Since she's blogging for First Book, Nancy's been writing about great names from children's literature. Did you know that the name Jethro means "abundance"? I started reading her blog when she charmed me with a post about the most popular baby names in the 1880s.

Iron Chef Moo: Iron Chef Moo has been cooking up a storm all morning with her four theme ingredients - garlic, cheese, wine, and chocolate - and everything looks delicious. Except for maybe the wasabi tiramisu.

Feral, Not Homeless: Lindsay is writing about feral cat rescue, and including very touching stories about the cats she's cared for.

The Pragmatic Hedonist's Food & Movies: very cool historic travel postcards from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, as well as assorted cat and pop culture stuff, too (and obviously, I got the image posted above here).

I Aim to Misbehave: She loves Joss Whedon and Butch Walker which pretty much makes her aces in my book.

The Everette Maddox 14th Way of Being Looked At By a Possum Poetry Contest

During his lifetime, Everette Maddox was an academic, a college professor, an odd-jobber, and a barfly. But he was also one of the greatest under-sung poets of this nation, and the unofficial poet laureate of the French Quarter. Starting in 1979, he hosted poetry readings at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, and his memorial there reads simply, "He was a mess."

One of my favorite Maddox poems is a spirited riff on Wallace Stevens's "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" called "13 Ways of Being Looked at By a Possum." Here are a few memorable stanzas:

I awake, three in the morning, sweating
from a dream of possums.
I put my head under the fuzzy swamp of cover.
At the foot of darkness two small eyes glitter.

From the grey pouch of a cloud
the moon hangs by its tail.

Drunk, crawling across a country road tonight,
I hear a shriek, look up, and am paralyzed
by fierce headlights and a grinning grill.
I am as good as gone!

The contest: Write a stanza in which you describe a 14th way of being looked at by a possum.

Post your stanza in the comments here. The winner will receive a first edition of Tennessee Williams's Memoirs, worth at least twice, and maybe three times what I paid for it. It's quite snazzy.

Here's my sample stanza:

Three small children with sticks
poke at the furry mound by the side of the road.
"Dead," says one.
"Fakin'" says another.
The third bites back a yelp
as a tiny gray eye glares at him, then winks.

All entries must be sent by 5am Pacific Time; winners will be announced in the next to last Blogathon post.

A Word About the Contests

We've got 5 contests planned for today, and we're just rollin' them all out early because you can submit your entry until 5am PST Sunday.

I just added links to the contest posts on the sidebar so they're easier to find.

Poetry, song lyrics, and soul food so far. Enter away!

Five Great Writers from Mississippi Who Aren't William Faulkner

1. Larry Brown
Must-read: Big Bad Love
2. Richard Ford
Must-read: Independence Day
3. Donna Tartt
Must-read: The Little Friend (one of my all-time favorites)
4. Eudora Welty
Must-read: The Optimist's Daughter
5. Shelby Foote
Must-read: The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862 to July 1863

Contest: Eugene Walter Memorial Doggerel Competition

"I'll celebrate all wayward things
From man's mind born:
The private elves of disprespect
No less than unicorn."
--Eugene Walker, "The Fireworks at Versailles"

Eugene Walter was a man of many talents: prose, poetry, essays, cookbooks, marionette shows, socializing. Upon his return to Mobile after years spent in New York, Paris, Italy, and the Arctic Circle, Eugene moved back to Mobile and took up residence in a house lent to him by the city.

It was promptly trashed by Hurricane Frederick. Eugene threw a dinner party the next evening. As he put it in Katherine Clark's excellent life history/oral autobiography Milking the Moon, "Today may bring money in the mail. Today may bring a hurricane. You have to be ready for either one. In either case, give a party."

I'll be posting a review of his prize-winning novel, The Untidy Pilgrim, later tonight. But now I'd like to open up the Eugene Walter Memorial Doggerel Contest.

Your job? Compose a couple or a few lines of nonsense/less-than-serious verse. Verse, as the back jacket of one of Eugene's poetry collections puts it, that is "satirical, lyrical, comical, paradoxical, dipsical, doksical, hortatory, plumatory, amatory, bibliophilic, astrophilic, botanophilic, ailerophilic, gustatory, fun-cranky, and whoopsical". Post 'em in the comments.

Difficulty: No limericks.

To get you started, here's a link to an mp3 (scroll down and click) of Eugene reading the "The Fireworks of Versailles", brought to you by the good people at Nomad Music Studio, where you can purchase a cd of Eugene reading his poems and stories, and singing his songs.

And here's one of my favorites of his:

"Young Poet to Old Anthologist"
by Eugene Walker
(From The Pack Rat & Other Antics, 1937-1987)

When I tear the sun from his socket
And rearrange the stars in rows,
Cause the sea to blacken and churn,
Casting up green goblins on prosaic shores-
When you behold me, on a moonless night,
Clad in ire and white fire,
Then O then indeed
You shall be very sorry
You were not listening when I spoke.

Library Testimonial from NOPL

While preparing for the Blogathon, I got some really great letters from people around the country about what their library means to them. The first I'll share comes from Barbara Trevigne of New Orleans.

Dear Mary,

I live in New Orleans, Louisiana. As Cultural Historian, much of my research is done at the New Orleans Public Library on Loyola Avenue. I have used the services of this facility for the past thirty years, locating death records, birth records, wills, succession, Court of Probate records, emancipation records, records of the mayor, Spanish and French colonial records, census records, newspapers from the seventeenth century, and so much more.

When Katrina struck, so many of us wondered if our "ancestors paper trail" was lost. Irene Wainwright and Wayne Everard, our two archivists drove from their safe place to New Orleans to determine the extent of damage. They braved unspeakable traveling conditions to get to New Orleans, and endured the horrors, the smells, and sights they witnessed. They did all this because THEY CARED.

The Louisiana Collection located on the third floor of the library has scholars, and people from all parts of life researching the history of the Colonial people who made New Orleans the great city she is. Aside from those librarian as Tito, Colin Hamner, Pat and Rodney who are no longer employed at the library, we have Steven and Maya. Gregory Osborn is still with us, and is an exceptional scholar and researcher who is versed on the Creole culture. Needless to say, he is especially held in high academic and social esteem.

Valencia Hawkins and her staff on the second floor of the library are ever in tune with the needs of the community and patrons. Valencia and her staff work very hard to deliver programming to attact the young and the senior resident.

I remember the first day the library opened after Katrina. There was a rush to enter and people were lined at the door. There were no need to speak words of thanks, we could tell in each other's eyes, the smile on each other faces, the firm hugs we received, that we were all where we needed to be.

It is with great pride I write on behalf of these people who receive very little job compensation, but loads of kudos from the patrons.
Barbara, thank you so much for writing.

Contest: Patterson Hood Commemorative Lyric Bonanza

Once upon a time, in Muscle Shoals Alabama, there was a cookin' house band, and they had this sound. Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Willie Nelson, Skynyrd...the list goes on and on...made some of the finest records ever put to wax at 3614 Jackson Hwy.

Fast forward a generation or so: Muscle Shoals Rhythm Session bassist David Hood's son, Patterson Hood, and the Drive-By Truckers release a string of albums - Gangstabilly, Pizza Deliverance, Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and A Blessing and a Curse - that put their contemporaries to shame and stand with the best of both the 70s golden age of southern rock and the 90s alt-country boom.

What can I say? Grotesque/hilarious short stories? Dense and nigh-impenetrable novels? Great songs? We sure can write good.

So, in honor of the boys (and lady) from Alabama, we're having the Hood/Cooley/Isbell DBT Songwriter's Contest.

Your job is to post in the comments the best line (or few lines) you can find from an artist from Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana. It can be blues, jazz, country, whatever - the lesser known, the better; that way, we'll all be winners, as you'll introduce us to some band we've never heard of. (Bonus points will also be awarded for rare/late-career but still great/album-only tracks from more established artists.) Maybe say a bit about the band or artist as well. Heck, if you want to post a link to some songs of theirs, that's cool too.

There's a prize, too.

Difficulty: DBT and John Murry & Bob Frank are off limits, for the obvious reason where the former are concerned, and because I'm friends with the latter, and would never hear the end of it if John's writing didn't win.

Fantasy + History + Disaster Fiction = Whoa.

Stormwitch by Susan Vaught

Hurricane Camille, fantasy, historical fiction, the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King, African history, Freedom Summer, Amiri Baraka, Jim Crow, Amazon warriors, the KKK, and voodoo. All in one book. Written for a YA audience. I read this book straight through in a two hour sitting, and then my head exploded out of sheer admiration.

Then I put my head back together again so I could tell y'all about it.

The year is 1969, and 16-year-old Ruba is forced to leave her beloved Haiti after her grandmother, Ba, dies. She moves to Pass Christian, MS to live with her paternal grandmother, who tells her not to wander too far from home and to keep her head down when she talks to white people. In Haiti, Ruba was a storm warrior alongside Ba; together, they conjured, danced, and drove back hurricanes and controlled the weather. Ruba is descended from Amazon warrior women - she doesn't keep her head down for anyone.

Ruba's confidence, pride, and power attract the attention of local Klansmen, who are determined to teach the "juju girl" a lesson. But Ruba scarcely has time to contend with them because there's a storm in the air, and her senses tell her it's an evil one that could kill them all unless she stays to fight it. You all know of it as Hurricane Camille.

Vaught does a good job of characterizing the differences in ideals between older and younger African-Americans, and in allowing the generations to learn from one another. At the beginning of the book, Ruba thinks Grandma Jones is a complacent fool, but as she learns more about the role Jones played during Freedom Summer, she begins to reconsider. Likewise, Grandma Jones's attitude towards Ruba and her firebrand friends also changes throughout the course of the book.

Crossing fantasy with historical fiction, Stormwitch is a truly inventive, ambitious, and impressive novel that can be enjoyed by adults and young adults alike.

Hancock County, MS

As any librarian will tell you...or the spouse of any librarian...libraries are much more than book despositories. Libraries are also public spaces, community resources, and storehouses of all sorts of valuable information, records, and professional know-how.

The Hancock County Library System sent us this note, and I'll shut up now, because they pretty much say it all:

Immediately after Katrina, many residents needed to contact family and friends by using the satellite telephones or the computers with wireless Internet access. Others needed copier and fax services or a table to spread out documents and fill out forms, or just a quiet, air conditioned building with clean restrooms. Some just needed a respite from the devastation outside and came in to read a newspaper, find out about friends, enjoy the air conditioning and the clean restrooms.

They came every week to get a copy of the daily disaster recovery news published by the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center. The Kiln Public Library became the Volunteer Registration Center for volunteers to register and residents to request assistance. The Bay St. Louis-Hancock County Library was used by the Department of Human Resources to distribute more than 6,500 disaster food cards.

Whatever their reason, they found a place where they could receive comfort and sometimes a listening ear from a courteous, professional, understanding staff. The library provided the calmness and connection in a world that was otherwise totally devastated.

A year after Hurricane Katrina, more than 3,000 people a month come into any of the three branches of the library system. And, both the Bay St. Louis-Hancock County Library and the Kiln Public Library provide free meeting space to community organizations, including the Hancock County Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Renewal and Rebuilding.

Congressman Gene Taylor and his wife, Margaret, are two residents of Bay St. Louis who lost their home and everything they owned to Katrina. Margaret Taylor, a long-time user of the library, said on a recent visit, “This library has become an oasis in the midst of devastation. Thank you for what you are doing for the community.”

To the staff and administration of the library, it is just part of their job and their mission of “providing the right information, at the right time, in the right format while acting as a conduit to and from other information sources and services.”

(You can see more photos and learn more about Hancock County libraries here.)

A Thin Line Between Brave and Ludicrous

So, the object of this here blogathon being the raising of money for hurricane-battered libraries, we thought it proper to share our own Katrina story, or more accurately, my folks' Katrina story.

Weird and creepy moment of foresight: A week before the storm formed, my faculty advisor and myself were walking over to grab some coffee, and talk somehow turned to New Orleans, and I said to him, "If you've never been, you really should go soon. It's one of the great cities of the world, but it's due to get hit by a big hurricane one of these days, and the levees aren't in the greatest shape, and given the local terrain, if they ever break it's gonna fill up like a bowl."

So the storm forms and it's on its way.

I call home: "Y'all leavin' or stayin'?"
Home: "We're staying."
Me: "A'ight."

Then the storm gets bigger. My phone rings.

Dad: "Here's the info on our will, and this is what you should do if a tree falls on us."

Mobile, as we all know, got relatively lucky. Dauphin Island, not so much. I found the webcast and watched the Mobile news feed and commenced to pacing back and forth. I called home during the storm and got through.

Dad: (sounds of wind) "Hello?"

I recall stories of my dad spending most of Frederick sitting on the upstairs porch.

Me: "Are you outside?"
Dad: "Yeah. I had to get some important stuff out of the car."
Me: "Don't you think you should be inside?"
Dad: "Ow!"
Me: "What?"
Dad: "Oh, nothing...shingle just hit me in the arm."

Pacing resumes. The next day I get up, look at the web, and see that Dauphin Island has a new channel through it and several bridges are out, and Mobile has been (relatively speaking) not as bad as it could have been. I call home.

Me: "How's things?"
Dad: "The house is alright, but there's a little roof damage. I'm at the office."
Me: "What are you doing at the office?"
Dad: "Sitting at my desk, looking up at the sky."
Me: "Oh. How's your computer?"
Dad: "Full of water. I just poured it out."

Long story short, we lucked out, the next issue of Mobile Bay Monthly made it to press, and I figured out where I got my sense of gallows humor from.

And, last but not least, special thanks to MBM for their donation to the Blogathon.