Years ago I read Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun--years before I began blogging. I have a vague recollection of enjoying it, but I wonder if I appreciated her prose and elegant writing style back then. I suspect not, since it has taken me so long to pick up another book by her. Not that that stopped me from adding other books by her to my shelves. She has been one of my 'mean to read more by' authors. When I was offered a review copy of her recent memoir I couldn't pass it up and I am so glad that I didn't. Maybe I am just in the mood to read a memoir, or something about the American South. I am certainly ready for another good nonfiction read. But whatever the explanation, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir has come along at just the right time for me.
I love her writing style. I didn't realize she was also a poet, and I wonder if that is what makes reading her writing so pleasurable. Poets seem to have a certain way of looking at the world, of ordering their thoughts and choosing vivid, descriptive language for their prose. Mayes is writing about her Southern upbringing, and her return home to her roots, but she moves from topic to topic so seamlessly. One thought seems to segue naturally into the next without you even realizing it. I'm not far in, but this is not your traditional autobiography. She begins by writing about returning home to the South on a book tour, how her stay--not in her childhood home--is almost too familiar and she must leave the B&B for some other place that is nondescript and neutral. But by the end of her brief stay she has decided to move back home.
She writes about William Faulkner and his home, which she visits. She says, "In high school, I could fall into his sentences that meandered like old rivers curving back and snaking forward." I think she must have found inspiration in his writing, as meandering is not so very far off from my own first impression of her writing here.
I'll write about this book properly later when I finish (which hopefully will not be too far off), but I have marked a few passages from my reading to share and give a teaser of her writing style. In that same author tour she is sitting in a restaurant reminiscing--the memory brought on by the sweetness of the sugar in her drink . . .
"Such sweetness, the South. My high school love and I parked on sandy country roads to listen to Cajun music from New Orleans on the radio. We rolled down the windows for wafts of plums, wild violets, and dusty cotton fields; the night chorus of stridulous crickets and tree frogs accompanied the music. If I mistook the drift of honeysuckle for the scent of his hands, the nectar inside the bloom for the taste of his hard mouth, then the mistake was well made."
I have a very vivid imagination. I'm a visual person. If I can see it and imagine it in my mind, I can remember it, and it's this sort of writing that I most enjoy. And with nonfiction, I like the eloquence of the language along with all the detail, which is always so fascinating for me.
"We live in a plain, two-story pale yellow Federal house, a former tavern and inn on the Eno River in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Built on the burned foundations of a 1770 structure, the house dates from 1806. Thomas Jefferson was president; Lewis and Clark prowled the Northwest; the Napoleonic Wars raged, and Beethoven wrote his fourth symphony--none of which was of immediate concern to the farmers who hauled their grain to the gristmill and stopped in for a pint of ale, or, if the river flooded, an overnight st the Coach House."
This is the sort of book that calls out for the reader to take it slowly and fall into the prose, which I want to do. If I didn't have so much work at the library at the moment, I think I would arrange a little vacation time to curl up with my book and relax and spend all afternoon reading. Maybe I'll cave into temptation yet.