Researching The Sixties

Y'all please excuse my typos -- I go back and fix 'em as I find 'em. Daughter Hannah wrote me last week: "(side note -- when I was typing this i made several typos, which reminded me of your recent blog post...)" hahaha... le sigh....

On to research and writing.

This is the routine: Rise in the early-morning dark and write while the world is asleep. As the daylight comes, stretch and turn my attention to what I need next. This morning I have reached an impasse in what I know; I need to do more research. And to that end, time to order some of the books and DVDs I have earmarked for research. This happens in several ways, and here's how it happened today:

[Aside: This will be a long post about process. Come along if you like -- it will seem like I'm wandering, but I promise it all comes together in the end... sort of like my notebook wanderings.]

Again -- how it happened today:

Interlibrary Loan: who can live without ILL? I have used the ILL at my library so often in the four years I've lived here, the folks who work in that department and in my branch know me by name and face. I have used ILL over my lifetime for learning about everything under the sun: gardening, design, cooking, parenting, biographies, out of print you-name-it, everything.

The good news about my particular library system is that, unlike nearby (and closer, branch-wise) DeKalb County, my county library system does not charge me for ILL books it finds outside its library system: My tax dollars put to good use. I love to see where these books are found; they often come from university libraries that I would otherwise not have access to.

ILL books ordered this morning:

THE BIG RED SONGBOOK (just because... I want to write something about the labor movement one day, and today this book came back into my orbit, so I just ordered it. Also, the 1968 book in my trilogy will deal directly with the labor movement, within the story I tell.)

THE MOVEMENT AND THE SIXTIES by Terry H. Anderson. I may want to buy this book, but I want to see it first. Here's part of the book blurb:
"We were young, we were reckless, arrogant, silly, headstrong--and we were right. I regret nothing!" So spoke Abbie Hoffman, recalling the '60s 20 years later. Anderson memorializes Hoffman's words, along with quotations from rock lyrics, SDS slogans, and official pronouncements from the likes of Spiro Agnew, Richard Daley, and George Wallace. He tracks the boomer generation's progress from the civil rights and free speech movements to, after the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, what approached civil war.

Yep, that's what I'm writing about.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SIXTIES COOL by Chris Strodder. I most likely don't need to purchase this book, but I want to learn from it: "Aimed at baby boomers as well as their kids, author and Web designer Strodder has provided more than 250 profiles of actors, musicians, writers, politicians, athletes and others who defined a decade."

You can see, if you follow the above links, that I often research online to find titles, then see if my library has them. If it does, I order that way first, then make a buying decision. So I also, today, placed library holds for books my library has in its system but not at my branch. I may want to purchase these books for my home library, but I want to look at them first. Not all of them are Sixties related, but I have far-ranging tastes and always stumble across books I've been meaning to read forever (or since last year).

Library holds placed this morning:

1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD by Mark Kurlansky. "By any measure, it was a remarkable year. Mentioning the Tet offensive, the My Lai massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the Prague Spring and its backlash gives only the merest impression of how eventful and transformative the year must have felt at the time." Yes, indeed. The third book in my Sixties trilogy takes place in 1968. I am writing the 1962 book now, but the research goes across the decade, and I want to see this book now -- I know that each year is informed by the previous ones and I want to watch the transformation.

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. I haven't read it yet; I want to. And, I am working on a memoir, in off-, odd-hours. I know this book is fiction; maybe mine should be, too. So, a way to learn...

by Dave Eggers. I am fascinated by what Dave Eggers is doing with his life and career. I first read about his values and commitment in The Progressive (you can read an excerpt here). It helps me to read about how others decide to structure their gifts and give back. It also helps to read good writing. See previous entry.

A HIDDEN WHOLENESS: A JOURNEY TOWARD AN UNDIVIDED LIFE by Parker Palmer. Nancy Johnson turned me onto Parker Palmer, after I posted about my tough day with first graders last week. She recommended a book she's using in her graduate level English class, Palmer's THE COURAGE TO TEACH. You'll find it listed below. I'm interested in how people nurture their inner lives and balance them with their outer responsibilities and needs.

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK: LISTENING FOR THE VOICE OF VOCATION, also by Parker Palmer. "What do I do with my life? What is my purpose? Where is the meaning to what I do? Is there a right choice?" These were questions that fueled my twenties. Now I have twenty-somethings of my own who are asking these questions. I want to be able to say something wise to them; I need to refresh my memory and listen for a while. I have characters in my fiction -- I am creating them now -- who are asking these questions, so this reading will fuel my fiction as well.

HUNGRY PLANET: WHAT THE WORLD EATS by Peter Menzel. I can't wait to read this. Have been resisting buying it. Savoring it through the library is good enough, I'll bet. What books do we need to own? That's always a question with me, and one I will return to often, as I post about that personal canon I've blogged about before. At any rate, HUNGRY PLANET will give me perspective, and I need that, as I write my fiction. The Sixties trilogy will span continents and countries: Cuba, Vietnam, Europe, the U.S., Canada... for starters. How do we eat, around the world? I need to know.

THE TASTE OF COUNTRY COOKING by Edna Lewis. Another book I've wanted to read for years. Do you keep lists of books you want to read eventually? I do, and this one I plucked from that list this morning. I am betting that Edna Lewis cooked a lot like my character Partheny in HANG THE MOON, my 1966 novel. And besides... good writing, again, is such a pleasure to read. Food writing and recipes are some of my favorites -- witness the recipes and the food in my Aurora County trilogy!

Okay. So much for library holds and ILL. Let's move on to used books. From abebooks I ordered:

Three more Parker Palmer books, each under five dollars: TO KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN: A SPIRITUALITY OF EDUCATION; THE ACTIVE LIFE: WISDOM OF WORK, CREATIVITY AND CARING; and THE COURAGE TO TEACH. I need inspiration right now. I'm hoping I find it in Parker Palmer's words. I've been feeling low about teaching, while at the same time I feel fascinated by why and how we teach. I read this quote recently in Christopher Alexander's A PATTERN LANGUAGE (a book I read and reread):

"In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students -- and adults -- become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching."

He's an opinionated guy, Alexander. (This is pattern 18, "Network of Learning.") I'm intrigued by what he says. And I'm on a quest to learn more... which will inform my teaching, and my writing.

Done with libraries and used books. On to the purchases from my local independent bookstore as well as a few DVDs from amazon:

THE SIXTIES: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT ALTMAN. This is my can't-resist purchase and my most expensive item. I can't order it through ILL -- it's less than a year old -- and my library system doesn't have it. Neither does next-door DeKalb County. "Publisher's Weekly Starred Review. Those nostalgic for the free love era will revel in this handsome, oversized collection of gritty photographs by celebrated photographer Altman. A master at catching his subjects at the moment of emotional overload-whether they be mischief makers, war protestors or musicians-the black and white photographs collected here are pure nostalgia, making a powerful you-are-there impression that simultaneously highlights the era's distance-chronologically and otherwise-from the current moment." This is a good bet for purchase, so I'll purchase it now.

FORREST GUMP (DVD). Yes, it's on television every 15 minutes. Yes, I've rented it and watched the extra material. It would be good for the research library for several reasons, and the cost on amazon this morning was $7.99

THE SIXTIES: THE YEARS THAT SHAPED A GENERATION. DVD. I have rented this from Netflix and need to own it.

THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: RFK (made me cry) and THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: LBJ (fabulous, really), both DVDs. I have rented and watched them more than once, and now will own my own copies, which I will refer to, I know, many, many times.

IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER'S MANIFESTO by Michael Pollan. I tried to resist this purchase. I can't. (hmmm... two can't-resist purchases in one order... maybe I'm slipping...) It reminds me in tone and fact of a book I bought years ago that is disintegrating now, I have read it so often: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT NUTRITION by David R. Reuben. It's out of print. And Pollan's book is right for our time -- Reuben was ahead of his time. I want this book to help remind me of what I need to know as I navigate the next 20 pounds in WW and the next 20 years of my eating life... which will affect my writing life. Ha!

I can justify anything! Can't we all. Let's see. IN DEFENSE OF FOOD -- I would be number 26 on the hold list at my library. I'll wait. I have time. I'll move it from the "buy" pile to the "library" list.

All these books and DVDs will inform and enhance the Sixties trilogy and change my life in their subtle ways. They will certainly feed my soul. Some of them will be part of a bibliography I am creating for the Sixties trilogy. Last ordering/research time I ordered from abebooks TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS: A SIXTIES READER -- it's fantastic -- and Todd Gitlin's book THE SIXTIES: YEARS OF HOPE, DAYS OF RAGE. I like Gitlin's work and have seen him interviewed several times in the documentaries I have been watching for over a year now, in preparation for writing this trilogy.

There is more to researching than books, but I'll stop here and write about my collection of LIFE Magazines another day -- Hannah, Dear Summer Research Assistant of Mine, are we still planning to storm the stacks at Oglethorpe University?

I'm collecting newspaper articles as well, from the 1960s and from today. With the passing of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., I've been particularly interested in the articles that have been written looking back, and sometimes cataloguing for me the actual articles of that time in history. I love this about our digital age. (You can see I have a bias for The Washington Post, my old-stomping-grounds newspaper... but there are many others in my collection as well.)

I have a long list of books and documentaries and movies and music I still want to order, and have several piles of same that I have ordered and am in the midst of reading or re-reading or studying, marking up, making notes... when does the writing start?

I maintain that this IS writing, or part of it. And I am moving my narrative forward, as well. This 1962 story of Franny, age 12, and her younger brother Drew, who wants to be an astronaut... there is a gravel pit, a dog named Jack, an older sister, Jo Ellen who might be a Communist spy, not to mention Uncle Otts, who wants to build a bomb shelter in the front yard... this story is holding me captive each morning. I wake up thinking about it, can't wait to sit down in the dark while the great horned owl outside my window calls the morning up, and find out more about what happens.

I want to chronicle here how the story and the research meet, and how they stay out of each other's way (please, God). I want to figure it out as I go along, and find ways to give birth to this new way of storytelling I'm experimenting with.

If you've got titles -- movies, documentaries, books (fiction or non), songs, structures, meanings... comments are on and the work has begun -- I welcome your input. I need it! This is a massive project... more will be revealed. :> Thanks to those of you who have already passed on titles -- I will compile and comment on these, soon.

For now, if you've stayed with me this far, you deserve to watch this video a reader passed on to me last week. Notice how "white" the Sixties seemed from this filmmaker's perspective until mid-decade... interesting. There is little mention of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement or the space program, but then, this is more of a cultural history:

"Our SAT scores were higher. We diagrammed sentences and had to memorize The Gettysburg Address."

My character Franny loves diagramming sentences... how about that. In 1962.

I love research. Duh.

Actually, I love learning. And writing. And stories. The Sixties are full of compelling stories. They are my childhood, these stories. And now I want to share that time and place and story with readers.

1 comment:

  1. Hello -
    I hope you've had time to finish Edna Lewis' boo, A Taste of Country Cooking.
    I am a filmmaker in Atlanta. I read your latest blog with the mention of Edna Lewis and her recipes.

    I just wanted to let you know I produced a 21 minute documentary about Miss Edna Lewis and its viewable in its entirety on Internet at a Gourmet Magazine website:

    and at a Georgia Public Broadcasting website:

    My documentary is called Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie.

    My website, has more information about the film and the story of Miss Lewis.

    Bailey Barash


Howdy. Moderating comments to prevent spam. I'm sure you're not that. Thanks for your thoughts! Write on, warrior on. Make art.