Spring!

Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.

Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.

I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.

Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.

Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.

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Spring is most definitely here.

Book Review: Leaving Oxford by Janet W. Ferguson

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A year ago, Sarah Beth LeClair was a rising star in her advertising firm in LA, living in Malibu, and living with her doctor boyfriend. But then the accident happened. After that, the freeways, the memories, and the ghosts of LA were too much and Sarah Beth moved back home to Oxford, MS.

Still an advertising prodigy, she’s gainfully employed, but Sarah Beth has a secret. Her anxiety about driving on a highway is so debilitating that she can’t leave Oxford. When she gets outside the city limits, she has a panic attack. So she doesn’t leave.

Oxford is also home to the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, and the cutest offensive coordinator of any football team in history. Jess McCoy’s career is on the rise, too. Ever since he decimated his shoulder playing college ball and realized he couldn’t play pro, he’s wanted to coach in the NFL. And the opportunity is right around the corner.

The only problem for Jess is that he meets the beautiful and captivating Sarah Beth and begins to have feelings for her that he’s never experienced before. Suddenly, the thought of leaving Oxford isn’t quite as appealing as it was before…

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Real talk: a year ago I would have loved and adored most of this book (I would have still had a bone to pick, but more on that later). I wanted to love it now. I’m from Mississippi. Ole Miss is the rival to my own alma mater, but I could let that go for the sake of a cute, clean, Christian romance set in my home state. But it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Sigh.

There are several things it had going for it. It had a fun meet cute. It was clean. It was Christian based fiction, which I know is not a pull for a lot of people, but I’m a Christian and I like it. Football. Mississippi. A ridiculous and adorable dog.

A year ago the only thing that would have gotten on my nerves was some of what she wrote about coaching. My family is heavily involved in college sports. In the acknowledgments, Ferguson thanks former members of the Ole Miss coaching staff, so I know she at least asked a few questions. However, there were some inaccuracies that the average reader might not have noticed. Because college athletics were a part of the livelihood of my home for many years, I noticed.

Still, I could have gotten over that. Most people, even hardcore college football fans in Mississippi would have skimmed over it without much thought. I could swallow that. And a year ago, I might have. But after studying crafting and editing blogs and learning to look beyond my own perspective, there are some other things that don’t quite work for me.

Some of the dialogue feels stilted or in the wrong character voice. It’s a small thing, but it happens in several places and suggests an editing issue. And it’s not the only one.

Oxford, MS has never been this white. Is it possible that Sarah Beth’s social circle and the staff she interacts with at Ole Miss, and her office building in LA are all (except one Latino man) white? Yes, it’s possible. But when she writes about Oxford, she talks about driving through or around different areas of town and never acknowledges any character, and I mean anyone who is Black. That’s hard to swallow. The population of Mississippi is nearly 40% Black. That number gets higher in certain areas of the state. The university staff as a whole is about 30% Black. So to write a book set entirely in Oxford, Mississippi and not have a single Black character is at best incomplete. And neither the author nor anyone in the editing and publishing process seemed to notice.

I don’t have anxiety. Sarah Beth’s reluctance to accept her diagnosis and her struggle regarding using prescribed medications could be true to form. I don’t know. But the author’s treatment of diversity makes me think that a sensitivity reader should probably have been called in for this too.

I’m not trying to rip Ms. Ferguson apart. I’m saying that this book had potential, but fell short. It still has some cute scenes. I loved her line about how Mississippians feel about North Carolina and the return zinger. But I feel like this reads more like a manuscript draft than a polished and published novel.

Book Review: Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant

I had a few DNFs this week, but was reminded of this gem when I recommended it to someone and don’t regret revisiting it.

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Richard Grant is an English ex-pat who has been living in the United States for a number of years. While living in a small New York apartment, Richard took a trip with a friend of his to Mississippi. On a whim, he buys an old plantation house and moves into it with his girlfriend. And thus is the start of hilarity and truth.

Neither Richard nor his girlfriend are familiar with Mississippi, much less the Delta–not named for a geographical delta, but actually an alluvial plain. He is now a resident of Pluto, a town named for the mythological lord of the Underworld. And after stories for critters in the walls, battling bugs, and his initial feelings of complete isolation it doesn’t take much to figure out why.

He meets many interesting people along the way and starts to unravel the mystery of why the Delta is so different not just from the rest of the Mississippi, but the rest of the country. It is its own beast, something that fascinates Grant enough that he becomes enamored of his new home. A self-proclaimed nomad, he puts down roots.

But his transition is not without difficulty, and he relays stories as only an outsider can. Making friends with a Blues legend, an eccentric millionaire, a Hollywood celebrity, a local hunter, a cookbook queen, and many more, Grant doesn’t shy away from his observations about the racial tensions of the area or the major structural problems of the small towns throughout the region.

Despite its lingering problems, Grant declares that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America.

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I was born in the Mississippi Delta. The pictures across the top of my blog all come from places and events near my hometown. My entire family, including my step-family, originates from the same area. And this book brilliantly captures what makes the Delta so utterly unique.

The book barely scratches the surface on a lot of issues, both because it would take thousands of pages to delve deeply and the friendships with locals that help make the book what it is were still developing while he wrote it. But as I read it, I laughed until I cried. And on a couple of occasions, I just cried.

I moved out of the Delta when I was still in elementary school, but returned to visit family frequently throughout my childhood and young adult life. I can say with honesty, that it’s hard to recognize how weird of a place it is until you step outside of it. And seeing it through an outsider’s eyes is always both hilarious and humbling.

That’s the essence of this book. It’s a true account of this man’s experience as he tries to figure out how we, the people of the Delta, came to be the way we are. He talks about how his revelations affect his view of Mississippi in general and the Delta in particular. And let me assure you, the Delta is indeed a space all its own. I noticed in college at Mississippi State that most kids say things like “I’m from the coast,” or “I’m from Jackson,” with the same voice inflection that most people would say “I brushed my teeth this morning.” It’s just a fact. But when people say “I’m from the Delta,” it’s different. It’s a story. And Richard Grant wrote his book based on his attempts to figure out that story.

I didn’t read this book alone. My sisters and my stepmother read it and we would text each other back and forth about things we read. Mostly we were laughing at what the author thought was so utterly strange that was completely familiar to us. So if you want a pretty spot-on account of what makes the Delta tick, this is a great resource.

 

10 Things About Mississippi

Today is the tenth! As promised, here is my first 10 things on the 10th post. Since it’s a quick turnaround, I’m going to share with you about something I already know a bit about–my home state of Mississippi! While there are far more than ten interesting tidbits I could share with you about Mississippi, rules are rules. So sit back and get your learn on.

 

  1. Many people know that Morgan Freeman, Jim Henson and Oprah Winfrey were originally from Mississippi, but you may not know that Lacey Chabert and James Earl Jones are also from Mississippi, and Parker Posey–while not born there–grew up in Laurel, MS.

 

  1. Again, while many know that athletic stars such as Archie Manning and Brett Favre are from Mississippi, you may not know that Cool Papa Bell–said to be one of the fastest players to ever play baseball–, Steve McNair, Travis Outlaw, Walter Payton, and Jerry Rice were all born in MS too.

 

  1. Musicians from the state include 3 Doors Down, Lance Bass, Brandy, Ray J, Jimmy Buffett, Bo Diddley, Faith Hill, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Denise LaSalle, Elvis Presley–he moved to Memphis as an adult, but is from Tupelo, MS–, Leontyne Price, Charlie Patton, Charlie Pride, LeAnn Rimes, Conway Twitty, Muddy Waters, Tammy Wynette, and Hayley Williams. This list is, of course, not all-inclusive.
  1. Root Beer, as we know it today, was invented in Biloxi, MS in 1898 by Edward Adolf Barq.

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  1. The Teddy Bear gets its name from President Theodore “Teddy Roosevelt”. President Roosevelt was invited on a hunting trip in Mississippi. When the party caught a bear, they offered to let the President fire the kill shot, but he deemed the situation unsportsmanlike and refused to fire the shot. The toy, originally called “Teddy’s Bear” appeared on the market almost immediately after the story hit newspapers.

 

  1. Burnita Shelton Matthews, the first woman appointed as a judge of a U.S. district court was from Mississippi.

 

  1. Dr. James D. Hardy performed the first human lung transplant in 1963 in Jackson, MS.

 

  1. The X-Men Comic Book character Rogue was a self declared Southern Belle from Mississippi.

 

  1. S.B. Sam Vick from Oakland, MS played for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. He was the only player to ever pinch hit for Babe Ruth.

 

  1. William Faulkner, John Grisham, and Eudora Welty are well known writers from Mississippi. However, you might not know that Richard Wright, Angie Thomas, Charlaine Harris, and–contrary to what his nickname might suggest–Tennessee Williams are also from Mississippi.

 

So there you have it. A lot of very talented and very smart people, not to mention some cute toys and delicious drinks, hail from Mississippi. There are many other interesting facts about the people and places of Mississippi. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but I thought I would share a few things with you to whet your appetite. Don’t let the drawl fool you. For all our faults, we’re a pretty interesting crowd.