Reviewing the book for Chapter16.org, Kristen Iversen applauds the author for illuminating this little-known segment of World War II history, with its glimpses of women entering the workforce unaware of the project's true scope:
Recruits to the Clinton Engineer Works were promised opportunity and steady, good-paying work at a time when many Americans were struggling. For women in particular, Oak Ridge offered not only a way to help the war effort, but a path to a different kind of life that included educational or professional opportunities they might not have had otherwise. From farms and small towns, women came to Oak Ridge filled with hope for a solid job, a bit of adventure and perhaps a chance at romance. “The Project liked high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds,” Kiernan writes.
The Girls of Atomic City vividly brings to life the day-to-day details of living in a hastily constructed town. There are rules and guards at every turn. Despite cramped quarters, poor food and few leisure activities, life goes on. Shoes are lost in the seemingly endless mud, and women resort to walking barefoot through the gunk, heels held high over their heads. In a town filled with 20-somethings, marriages and babies were part of the picture. Kiernan quotes one young woman’s explanation for her apparent lack of curiosity about the nature of the work she was doing: “Then we started stewing about the furnace and the mud and the [baby] sitter problem — and forgot all about the project.”
Kiernan will be speaking about the book, which The Daily Beast called a combination of George Orwell and Margaret Atwood, at Parnassus Books tonight at 6:30. Feminists of all stripes, oral history buffs and fans of wartime storytelling should gather in droves to hear Kiernan speak about the fascinating women she interviewed — some of whom discussed their experience publicly for the first time.
Jess Walter is more than a novelist, more than a poet, more than a journalist: He's that old-fashioned kind of author who can fairly call himself simply a writer. Walter writes novels (six of them so far), short stories (his first collection, We Live in Water, was released earlier this year), poems (he says he's written only two that he actually likes, although his fifth novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, is full of them), journalism (criticism and features for the likes of Harper's and Esquire), narrative nonfiction (his first book, Ruby Ridge, is a work of investigative reporting), and screenplays (next up: the film version of his newest novel, Beautiful Ruins). Even as a novelist, Walter is not a hedgehog but a fox, moving agilely between genres, subjects and literary styles, always with his finger firmly on the pulse of the world: The Zero is his 9/11 novel; The Financial Lives of the Poets considers the world financial collapse in microcosm; Beautiful Ruins offers a hilarious send-up of reality television.
Among other things. In fact, Beautiful Ruins is itself a showcase for Walter's outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. Ultimately a tender love story about a provincial Italian boy and an aspiring American actress, the novel moves gracefully through both time and space, with settings that include contemporary Hollywood, the Cinque Terre region of postwar Italy, and a wild hopscotch from Rome to Edinburgh, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and remote regions of California and Idaho. Parts of this inimitably inventive novel are written in gorgeous, lush prose that might as well be poetry, while other sections are deployed in language that's witty, sly, dark, bitter, poignant, comic or coarse, depending on which character is featured and which form Walter uses to convey that bit of narrative. (In addition to the usual mechanisms of the novel, Beautiful Ruins includes sections of a memoir, a play, a movie pitch, and someone else's novel.) No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives like "a literary miracle" (NPR), a "high-wire feat of bravura storytelling" (The New York Times Book Review), and "a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate" (Kirkus Reviews). "Why mince words?" wrote Richard Russo: "Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece."
2. Semple's appearance tonight is part of a cool Parnassus program called "Wine with the Author," where the store basically pours you a glass just for showing interest in a book and author the staff loves. Real life should be more like this. (This should tell you something: The next such event is with The Yellow Birds author Kevin Powers May 21.)
Your efforts on behalf of the Global Amphibian Assessment have been so appreciated that a species of frogs discovered in Sri Lanka was named for your daughter. Can you explain your enthusiasm for amphibians?
God bless you for asking this question. My boyfriend, George Meyer, and I got interested in frogs over 20 years ago when we learned they were mysteriously disappearing. As of today, 40 percent of all frog species are on the verge of extinction. This is due to habitat destruction, global warming and a mysterious deadly fungus. It turns out frogs are more susceptible than any other animal to man's heedless consumption and environmental annihilation. (Sorry you asked?) Anytime we can help out the frogs, we do.
4. You'll want to read the book and meet the author before the movie version comes out. (It's being adapted by the screenwriters behind an audience favorite at this year's Nashville Film Festival, The Spectacular Now.)
5. Did we mention the wine?
Thompson grew up in Atlanta, but she left the South 20 years ago. Her book, which was published last month by Simon & Schuster, explores that complicated identity and all the ways it's changed since the days when the South was first defined as a place for old-fashioned, agrarian values — a definition largely credited to W.J. Cash’s 1941 book The Mind of the South, from which Thompson’s volume borrows its title.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Dwight Garner wrote a fairly mediocre review of The New Mind of the South, saying that it lacks Cash's deep historical awareness.
It is among the disappointments of Tracy Thompson’s new book, The New Mind of the South, that it leans upon Cash’s title while not coming to terms with his masterpiece at all. Where his book was cerebral and probing, hers is featherweight and breezy. Reading it is like watching someone on a Vespa pull up alongside an Allied landing craft left over from D-Day.
Among Garner’s criticisms are that Thompson treats her subject matter with too much levity, as in her description of important South Carolinan author and clergyman Charles Woodmason as “a kind of 18th-century Frasier Crane.”
But don’t the changes from prosaic to pop-cultural exactly mirror the point of redefining southern identity? Isn’t Roy Blount Jr. more of a clown than Tocqueville could have ever dreamed?
Suzanne Richter is a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Look for more Poetry in Motion winners on Country Life throughout the month.
We've been following Neil Gaiman with extra enthusiasm lately. Ever since the announcement that he would be stopping in Nashville during his Last-Ever Book Tour in July, Gaiman's been edging ever closer to our Endless-loving, American Gods-worshiping, Stardust-forgiving hearts. So finding out that Gaiman gave the keynote speech at last week's Digital Minds conference in London — and that it's a rousing, imaginative call-to-arms, natch — was really just icing on the cake. While his wife was writing questionable poetry, Gaiman was tossing around anecdotes about Douglas Adams, how Kindle proves that content will triumph over packaging, and that in the future, we won't need gatekeepers as much as we need guides.
Here's an excerpt:
In the first pages of Jill McCorkle’s luminous new novel, Life After Life, a dying man instructs his caregiver to keep a written account of each patient she tends, recording a few facts about their lives, as well as their favorite memories and bits of wisdom, and, of course, their last words. “Don’t ever let us disappear,” he says. That directive takes on an ironic cast as the multi-layered story of progresses. Virtually every character in this heavily populated novel, from a lonely little girl to an eighty-five-year-old woman on the cusp of death, is haunted by the memory of some lost loved one. Far from disappearing, the dead are ever-present.
The novel is set in a retirement home, Pine Haven, in fictional Fulton, North Carolina, where an assortment of feisty old folks has created a contentious little community that mirrors the world they’ve retreated from. There’s a yoga-loving lesbian; a lecherous, wrestling-obsessed man with dementia; a Bible-thumping widow who keeps a scrapbook of clippings about murder; and a former lawyer—a Jew from Boston—who has made the unlikely choice to come to Pine Haven for reasons she can’t reveal. The eighty-five-year-old, Sadie, is a former schoolteacher who functions as the peacemaker and social core of the group. A loving woman who “has always seen the sunnier side of life,” Sadie creates fantasy photographs of herself and her fellow residents, providing artifacts of the lives they wish they had lived.
The event is presented by Parnassus Books with partners Humanities Tennessee, TPAC and the Nashville Public Library Foundation, and the $30 ticket will include a copy of the book. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the 25th annual Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word, presented by Humanities Tennessee, which takes place Oct. 11-13 at Legislative Plaza and the Nashville Public Library.
Gaiman will sign as many copies of the new book as anyone wants to bring, and then one additional book or piece of memorabilia for each person.
We'll update with a sale date as soon as that information is available.
Say “rock star of the Christian church” around any of my friends, and I’ll bet at least half of them would mention the sarcastically winking “Buddy Christ” from Kevin Smith’s Dogma, and another half might quote that episode of King of the Hill where Hank tells a Christian rock band, “You’re not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ’n’ roll worse.” But in certain circles, Rob Bell — founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and current rock star of Christianity — is controversial for other reasons.
He’s seen as a heretic among many evangelicals, who view his teachings as dangerous and anti-Christian. After reading through several of his books — including 2012’s Love Wins, where he argues that the traditional Christian view of Hell is flawed — and watching a trailer for his new book What We Talk About When We Talk About God where he compares old ideas about Christianity to junky Oldsmobiles, all I can say is … I totally get it. Depending on your point of view, Bell could easily be either a powerful teacher, a heretical false prophet, or irrelevant, as Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta puts it: “Arguing about whether or not Hell exists is like arguing over whether a unicorn is white or pink. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference because the whole premise is faulty to begin with.”
Which side are you on? Decide for yourself when Bell gives a free talk 7 p.m. tonight at Vanderbilt's Benton Chapel, open to the public.
It’s a simple idea, but one so successful that it’s earned Stevens Nashvillian of the Year and Tennessean of the Year nods (from the Scene and The Tennessean, respectively), a Frist Foundation award, and a spot on the White House’s “15 Champions of Change” list. Her new book Snake Oil tells the stories of the women she’s worked with, as well as her own highly personal motives for taking on this work. Stevens discusses the book at a Salon@615 event 6:15 tonight at the downtown Nashville Public library, 615 Church St.
That comment was so May 22.
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