Thursday, March 14, 2019

Margaret Verble

Margaret Verble is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Her first novel, Maud's Line, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Verble's new novel is Cherokee America.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to buy a whole bunch of wildly different kinds of books in a one or two day period. Then I stack them on my bedside table, and select them for reading according to how I’m feeling at a particular moment, usually in the evening. If I’m writing on the early drafts of a novel, I go lightly on fiction, more heavily on background sources for my work, biographies, histories, or true crimes. Of the books I’ve read in the past two months, my favorites are these:

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Sanders, is the best novel I’ve read in a couple of years. It’s innovative in style, evocative of deep emotion, historically grounded, and spiritually intriguing. I will read it again. And again. Once is not enough to grasp fully its genius.

The Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch, by M.V. Ingram, was first published in 1894, and is the best account of a mystery that hasn’t been solved to this day. I grew up in Nashville hearing about this witch, which haunted the John Bell family in Robertson County, TN, from 1817 to 1821, and then again for a two week period seven years later. The witch was seen and heard by hundreds of people, including doctors, lawyers, legislators, preachers, and Andrew Jackson. The accounts of the phenomenon are so astonishing that I was worried I’d been tricked by a book that wasn’t what it purported to be. So I went to the online newspaper archives of the Nashville Tennessean to be sure it was really published over a hundred and twenty years ago. I quickly found it reviewed on June 26, 1910, as an old, but fascinating, read.

To help correct my deficiencies from being raised in the segregated South, I try to regularly include African American literature or history in my reading. I recently finished Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920. This isn’t the first book I’ve read on this particular subject, but the scholarship is sparse, and I am unaware of any first-class literary fiction that brings this fascinating caste of people to life since Edward P. Jones’s masterpiece, The Known World.

I generally avoid memoirs. I think too many are written, most of our lives aren’t as extraordinary as we think, and biography is a more honest endeavor. That said, I’ve recently read Tara Westover’s, Educated. I found it a harrowing page-turner, hard to put down, and so packed it could be the foundation of an entire semester’s inquiry into the psychology of abuse, the relationship between hyper-religion and mental illness, and the pathology of patriarchy. It's as good as everybody says.

Finally, last night I finished Andrew Morton’s, Wallis in Love: The Untold Story of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman who Changed the Monarchy. I worked in the U.K. for nine years, and used to have a home there close to the edge of Windsor Great Park. I loved that home and miss it, so I often dip into British literature and history. This is neither the most scholarly nor most scandalous biography of the Duchess of Windsor I’ve ever read, but it certainly held my attention. I was sorry when it ended.
Visit Margaret Verble's website.

--Marshal Zeringue