Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Report/One Writer's Beginnings

One Writer's Beginnings
by Eudora Welty
nonfiction, 1983, 1984
finished, 6/12/08

As you may see, Tom gave me this book for Christmas 24 years ago and it is time I read it! I thought I'd include a picture of the bookmark because I thought it was cute of Tom, and also because it really shows the time: a computer book - computers were still pretty new at that time; and a record - there were still records then! At least teddy bears are timeless.

The book is divided into three sections: Listening, Learning To See, and Finding A Voice. The writing is so quiet, so clear, so perfect that I felt in the presence of true greatness. I mean, I've enjoyed her fiction writing over the years, and used to love when she was on the Dick Cavett show, but to read this is different. Her words about her family, her childhood, her house, that sleeping porch will stay with me. So very many books are described as 'beautiful' but this one really is.

Eudora (I can't bring myself to call her 'Welty') calls herself calls a 'hidden observer,' and I knew just what she meant. I love to hear stories, and conversations without having to be part of them. I love the way she would say, when seated between her mother and another woman in the car on a Sunday ride, 'now talk.' That's the way I felt when my parents and their friends would settle down of an evening in the living room with cake and coffee, and I could stay up a while and listen. I tried to be very quiet, thinking they might forget I was there.

She lived in the thriving, growing Jackson, Mississippi, but visited in the summers, the mountains of West Virginia where her mother grew up, and the farm of her father's childhood in Ohio, so she really got to experience three different, really quite different, ways of living. They traveled by car and by train.

The swaying porter would be making ready our berths for the night, pulling the shade down just so, drawing the green fishnet hammock across the window so the clothes you took off could ride along beside you, turning down the tight-made bed, standing up the two snowy pillows as high as they were wide, switching on the eye of the reading lamp, starting the small electric fan - you suddenly saw its blades turn into gauze and heard its insect murmur; and drawing across it all the pair of thick green theaterlike curtains - billowing, smelling of cigar smoke - between which you would crawl or dive headfirst to button them together with yourself inside, to be seen no more that night.

Isn't that just wonderful? Don't you wish that you could sleep on such a train?

She writes of her parents:

When they decided to marry, they saw it as part of the adventure of starting a new life to go to a place far away and new to both of them, and that turned out to be Jackson, Mississippi.

After her father died:

It came back to me that my mother had said he'd offered her a choice between the Thousand Islands and Jackson, Mississippi, as their future home, and she'd chosen Jackson, Mississippi.

As this was my second reading in the Southern Book Challenge, Y'all, it got me to thinking, what if Eudora Welty's mother had chosen differently? Would her writing have been different? Not Southern, certainly, but my guess is, it would have had the same gentle regard for people and for story. But who really knows?


  1. What a lovely review! I loved this book when I read it last year. It's so beautifully written.

  2. I'm not so sure about the cigar smoke smell on the curtains, but the rest of it sounds just right.

    What happened to your post with the poem about Throwers Out and Keepers In? I read it earlier and have been thinking about it - I'm a keeper who tries very hard to de-clutter! I never kept proper diaires - I just used them for such exciting records as "went shopping" "dentist" etc, so I haven't had the problem of sorting those out - they went long ago. Sometimes, though it's good to have a good clear.

  3. Thanks, Robin. I thought of you as I read it.
    Margaret, I deleted it. Something inside me told me that I didn't want to publish it.

  4. I did this as a book discussion so long ago I've forgotten most of it, but I remember she had a lot to say about the Jackson library. Will you be doing something for the "sense of place" contest this year? You might can find some pullman cars for the quote. It is a sense of place, right!?! We will just have to make sure it is chuggin' through a southern town.

    Yes! What if her mother decided on Thousand Islands!?!

  5. Hi Nan, it has been awhile since I left a comment but I still visit you everyday! I have to tell you that I miss your "Sunday Supper" posts!

    I remember when this book was first published and wanted to read it but never did. I'm glad you reviewed for it is now on my list of books to read.

    And I love Tom's list that you taped inside the book. I sometimes buy books at a thrift store and often find the most interesting papers and pictures left inside by the previous book owners. Another bit I like about buying used books are the inscriptions written by the person giving the book as a gift to someone, and the underlining, highlighting, or comments written in margins.

  6. Hard to believe this book was published 24 years ago...or longer? I came to it late, perhaps 10 or 12 years ago.
    Eudora made a nearly annual visit to a Southern writers' festival I frequented--before I fully realised I was meant to be a writer myself. She was utterly charming, extremely wise, and her voice...I can still hear it in my head and I suppose I always shall. Especially when I read her books. We always *forced* her to read Why I Live at the P.O. and she always complied, with wonderful grace and humour.

  7. I'll check into the 'sense of place' Maggie.
    Catherine Mary, I'm so, so glad you left a comment. I've wondered about you and tried to find a new blog but haven't been able to. I've missed your voice. I like those things about old books too. I miss the old days at the library where you could look at the card in the back and see who else had read the book. Years after my mother died, I was thrilled to find her name from long ago. I'll be over to visit you.
    Margaret, I remember her voice from the Cavett show, and how wonderful it was. I'll bet there's a you tube of her somewhere. I'll have to go looking.


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