Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Encounter of the Too-Distant Kind with My Heroine

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Encounter of the Too-Distant Kind with My Heroine

Article excerpt

MONDAY EVENING I went to a chain book store to hear one of my favorite authors, Bailey White, read an essay about advertising.

"When you watch a pig drink beer," she said, "the whole world changes."

The reading was a bit of a let-down. This had less to do with Bailey White than with the digestive tract of an espresso machine, (what's a book store without an espresso machine?) which gurgled and hissed over her soft South Georgia drawl.

White's predominantly female audience - about 70 of us - had been herded into a narrow aisle in the fiction section. They ran out of chairs. I didn't mind standing. But every time the woman behind me exhaled, it stirred the hairs on the back of my neck. It made me feel a little panicky, like a heifer in a loading chute.

White arrived gripping a white canvas satchel as if it were her one friend in the world. She is a pretty, fragile-looking woman in her mid-40s. Her fine features, pale skin and wide eyes give her face the mysterious, melancholy air of Buster Keaton.

Her glossy brown hair is cut in a modified bowl just below her ears. She was wearing a pale blue denim jumper, a crisp white linen blouse, a string of jade beads and sandals. She looks like the sort of woman who smells of soap, not perfume, although I didn't get close enough to tell. Her manner is that of the grade school teacher she is: reassuring, pleasant, matter-of-fact. Approachable, though not inclined to press herself on others.

White read standing in front of a table in mid-aisle, with half the audience looking at her back. On the table were stacks of discounted copies of her first book, "Mama Makes Up Her Mind," her new book, "Sleeping at the Starlite Motel," and some audio-cassettes.

I encountered White for the first time while I was stuffing lemons into a chicken and listening to National Public Radio. It was her voice, as much as her story about a man with a pair of glasses with an artificial ear attached to it, that caught my attention.

Her slow, unsteady voice - she sounds as if she has swallowed a cup of coarse sand with a molasses chaser - led me to assume she was pushing 80. Thereafter, each time I heard her on the radio talking about cows in the moonlight, or the ghost of E. …

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