Monday, October 4, 2010

Countdown to Southern Festival of Books: 4 Days -- Oktoberfest & Review of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

The Southern Festival of Books
The week of the Southern Festival of Books has finally arrived, and I couldn't be more excited! In addition to SFB, Oktoberfest will also be in Nashville this weekend. The annual event held in Nashville's historic Germantown neighborhood will be on Saturday from 9am until 6pm. For more information, check out their website. I'll be heading over there at some point for a break from the book talk and some delicious German food.

The Southern Festival of Books website is now full of up-to-date information, including the most recent author list and the latest schedule of sessions. The Festival will begin this Friday morning and run through Sunday afternoon.

Lee Smith is an author I have loved for so long. One of my favorite bookish memories is of driving with my mama to see Lee Smith (and other authors) at Ole Miss's annual Conference for the Book. Smith and a trio of musicians read from and performed songs based on her novel Fair and Tender Ladies. It was a magical session that transformed a book I loved into a book I was entranced by. Smith does novels well, but in my opinion her true talent lies in her short-story writing. Her Me and My Baby View the Eclipse is one of my all-time favorite short story collections, but Smith's newest collection, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, has just become a close second.

Smith's newest story collection is very similar to her previous works, in that she introduces characters who are interesting in spite of (or perhaps because of) their everyday commonness. Smith is the ultimate character builder; she shows rather than tells her readers about the cast of characters she creates in her works of fiction. While Smith is also a masterful storyteller, her strength is in the people who populate her tales.

Fourteen stories are included in this collection, seven original stories and seven which had been published previously. Two of my picks for best in the collection are "Toastmaster" and "Tongues of Fire," both told by a child narrator. Although Smith writes eloquently as an adult narrator in many of the other stories, its her child narrators' voices that shine in Mrs. Darcy. "Toastmaster" is related by a somewhat awkward pre-teen boy who finds his voice one night at dinner. "Tongues of Fire" is also about voice, but also relates deeply-rooted family problems and the complex mix of naivete and wisdom children seem to simultaneously possess.

Several of the other stories focus on the opposite end of the life cycle, growing older. Smith draws these older characters with just as much skill and grace as her young narrators. In "Intensive Care," a man faces the death of his second life love, not long after his divorce; in the previously-published "Between the Lines," a small-town newspaper columnist reveals her own newsworthy secrets; in "The Happy Memories Club" an elderly woman joins a new writing club at her nursing home; and in the title story Mrs. Darcy loses her inhibitions as she grows older and lives for herself rather than for others.

I can't wait to hear the venerable Lee Smith read from and discuss this latest story collection at the Festival on Saturday. She will appear on Saturday morning at the Festival's Breakfast with Authors from 9:30am until 11am, then she will speak in her own session that afternoon from 4pm to 5pm.


  1. Hi Joanne, I'm probably going to go on Sunday and I'm thinking about attending this event:

    12:00-1:30 pm, War Memorial Auditorium : Don't Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit : Sonny Brewer, Rick Bragg, William Gay, Cassandra King, Tom Franklin

    Are you going?

  2. I'm not a hundred percent sure that I will be at the Festival on Sunday... I'm heading there today in just a little while! But that session looked good to me (I LOVE Rick Bragg & Cassandra King), so if I go, I will be there. I'll try to let you know prior to so we can meet up. If not, enjoy!



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