Friday, October 23, 2009

Epitaph, Elegy, and Eulogy

My neighbor loves holidays, and the Halloween decorations have been up for a couple of weeks. There are more tombstones, ghosts and goblins than I can count across the road. My own children are inordinately fond of Halloween, and their favorite way to celebrate is to find a really good "haunted house" or see a movie with a horror theme. They recently asked hubby to order something about zombies from Netflix for this year's celebration.

The tombstones of Halloween are phony, and literature, by definition, is fictional. Still, some of the greatest lines in all of western literature are from eulogies, elegies, and epitaphs.

Of course, a eulogy is the talk given at a funeral, which differs from a funeral sermon, in that it is a remembering rather than a message for the audience. Shakespeare's famous tragedy has Mark Antony eulogizing Caesar with these words, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." In a more humorous vein, George Carlin supposedly said, "I'm always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I'm listening to it." Despite the growing popularity of all hallows eve, most folks do not want to dwell upon death. Indeed one of my husband's friends says, "As long as you are not in the headlines or the obituaries of your local paper, you are doing okay." Hubby heartily agrees. A guy at my church quips, "It is better to be seen than viewed." Most of us feel that way.

The elegy is rare these days, since there are fewer poets, and fewer still who actually have talent. When I was in high school, I was struggling with my homework, and while standing at the counter in her kitchen, my mother proceeded to explicate Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." Only after she patiently led me through that poem did I realize the awe inspiring capacity of the educated mind. Mom did not finish college, but she was there to learn, and the knowledge she gained she used. Her explanation, done with no research at all, was superior to what most high school instructors could do. No one wrote an elegy for Irene, but when I remember all she did for me and for countless others, I covet the skill of someone who can write verse.

My parents are buried in one of those modern cemeteries, where the grave markers are so low that a bushhog can travel, unimpeded, across the graves. While efficient, such graveyards lack character. Older cemeteries have stones, large and small, marking the graves with sayings known as epitaphs. My sister enjoys visiting graves of famous and not so famous souls, reading the words of remembrance. Regardless of how the individuals lived their lives, the words used after death are usually flattering. As Thoreau stated, "The rarest quality in an epitaph is truth."

Others have said something similar, but Billy Sunday said, "Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper."

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Old Books = New Treasures

Somewhere along the way I went from being a reader to being a collector. Oh, I still read rather a lot, but much of my pleasure reading is from electronic sources— online articles and news, posts on internet forums, even eBooks downloaded to my aging Palm Tungsten E. But, I still enjoy books, and I especially love prowling used books at some of the vendors in my area. A couple of weeks ago, I took some books that didn't win a spot on my keeper shelf to The Bookstand of Northeast Georgia, which is located at Banks Crossing. This store is bright and looks more like a "new book" retailer; there are no musty smells or books which look like they came from great-grandma's attic. The shelves are well stocked and the merchandising is similar to a chain bookstore, with sections for the Oprah bookclub, and most big name authors have their own section. Indeed, there are plenty of new and very recent items there, including my own books, which are part of the local authors display. I used part of my trade-in credit on books by my current favorite authors, including paperbacks by Christine Feehan and Merline Lovelace. Both of those ladies turn out suspenseful yarns.

On Saturday, while my son was at a martial arts lesson, hubby and I spent an hour perusing titles at The Corner Bookstore in Winder. Located in an historic building on a side street, this large bookstore has a vast inventory. In some ways, it is diametrically opposed to The Bookstand; it is old and while it is fairly neat, the books are jammed together due to excess inventory. There is an isle over 20 feet long devoted to "classics." Organization is far more broad at the Corner Bookstore, with science fiction and fantasy shelved together, and new books will be displayed beside books which are decades old. I found some current titles which I just bought for general reading, but I also scored some wonderful collector items: a hard cover copy of Heinlein's Friday, a paperback Modesty Blaise title, and a copy of the long out of print Shakespeare Alive. For those who are not teachers, that last title is the best book I have seen for teaching about how Shakespeare's England figures into his work, and it is a keeper for any English teacher.

To say that one person's junk is another person's treasure is a cliché, but in a used bookstore, that is certainly true. For less than the price of a really good dinner, I came home with both current reading and some book collector treasure.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Local Authors at the Maysville Public Library

Maysville, Georgia, is a quaint little town, sitting astride a railroad and the Banks County, Jackson County line. I know a few folks there, and I've dined at The Fat Finch and The Burns-Telford House. From time to time, I have traveled through, the town on my way to Homer, Lula, and Commerce, and the Victorian architecture stands out. Like many small towns, it has a library branch, and I am going to join fellow authors Caine Campbell, Jaclyn Weldon White, and Malcolm Campbell at an event there, on Saturday, November 7, at 11:00 in the morning. Our connection, other than living in Jackson County, is that each of us has been reviewed in Living Jackson Magazine, published by Roxane Rose. We are all going to speak a bit about our writing, and we will sell autographed copies of our books. Last year, I met Ms. White at an event in my hometown, and she is a multi-published author. I've known Caine Campbell since we hawked copies of our books at the holiday market in Jefferson, back in '05, and I met Malcolm (no relation) the previous year. They are both highly intelligent and genial fellows, and I look forward to the event.

Please join my fellow authors and me at the Maysville Public Library on the first Saturday in November.

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