Reading Matters

Memoirs, biography, two poets to shout about

I started the day – the day I’m writing this – by opening online the Oct. 16 issue of The Oxford American and devouring two articles: A Q&A with Tamara Saviano, whose biography of folk singer Guy Clark is just out: “Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark” (a gift to my son Hugh for his birthday), and a short essay by Frances Mayes of Hillsborough about her mother Frankye’s recipes, which she culled from two church missionary circle publications, as well as a few other sources.

I keep dipping back into David M. Spear’s “Playing with Dynamite: The Story of One Newspaper Family in the South.” Spear is the grandson of Sherwood Anderson, and it was Anderson’s daughter and her husband – both New Englanders – who founded the paper in Madison (N.C.) during the Depression. Gossipy, anecdotal and spicy.

Another memoir that held me fast (on a long car trip) is Danielle Trussoni’s “The Fortress: A Love Story,” about her crumbling second marriage to a Bulgarian pianist and the 13th-century stone fortress in southern France they bought to shore up the relationship. Her descriptions of life in Aubais, a medieval village in the Languedoc, almost override the heartbreak of her tale.

I’ve also fastened onto an old memoir – Katharine Butler Hathaway’s “The Little Locksmith.” Lee Smith praises it in her memoir “Dimestore.” I had to be nudged because the wimpy-sounding title did not appeal. Nothing wimpy about this dynamo of a woman, stricken with spinal tuberculosis in childhood and determined to take control of her life. If you ever have fears, if you ever have doubts, if you ever need courage to keep on going, you must read the incredible story (first published in in 1943) of this woman’s triumph over fear and adversity.

Two new poetry collections will leave you gasping: Former N.C. poet laureate Joseph Bathanti’s “The 13th Sunday after Pentecost,” about growing up Catholic in Pittsburgh, is rich and ballsy, funny and tender. Bathanti at his dead-level, most engaging best.

And Davidson’s Alan Michael Parker, who has hit his most brilliant stride with this new collection, “The Ladder,” which includes these lines from the title poem: “But Master, the ladder. / I hitched up the ladder to every height, / and still the moon rolls away. / Above the clouds / the airplanes are small and cold, / and the ladder sways. / Teach me to climb / down from ambition.”

Reading: A hot-diggedy experience.