This spring my husband and I ventured out on what I called The Grand Inland Southern Tour. En route to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, our road trip took us through Birmingham, Alabama by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee. After we sated ourselves on gumbo, etouffee and jazzy blues in the Big Easy, we breezed through Natchez, Jackson and Oxford, Mississippi, then up the Natchez Trace Parkway to Nashville, Tennessee and back home to Virginia.
The journey inspired this summer’s reading list, a mix of new releases and books from the literary archives.
Fist up, Alabama. As Harper Lee, who calls Monroeville, Alabama home, doesn’t plan to write a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, read Charles Shields’ biography of the legendary author, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.
Birmingham resident Fannie Flagg has the summer’s quick and fun read covered with her latest The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Visit Ms. Flagg’s website to watch her interview with Southern Living Magazine and learn how she got her stage name.
And speaking of Southern Living Magazine, the articles on pruning crepe myrtles are no longer the reason I reach for it while in the grocery store check-out line. News journalist Rick Bragg’s noodlings about his mama, fishing, and stray dogs on the magazine’s back page are as down home as the fried chicken recipes. The man’s got a silver tongued pen. Try his memoir about growing up in Alabama, All Over But the Shoutin’.
While driving through New Orleans’ Uptown District, I thought about Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth. A story teller at the top of her game, Ms. Smith uses New Orleans and Asheville, North Carolina as settings in her tale of tortured and tender souls. Read it to discover the genius of Zelda Fitzgerald, who was born in Montgomery, Alabama.
On to Mississippi, the Magnolia State. While my husband stopped at a Natchez coffee shop for his afternoon jolt, Miss Seren Dipity escorted me across the street to the local independent bookstore. On the counter right next to the cash register sat native son Greg Iles’ latest, Natchez Burning. Miss Dipity insisted I buy the 788 page tome. Tuck it into your tote bag for the beach. It’s a page-turning-can’t-put-it-down yarn.
Also on my list this summer is Eudora Welty’s short novel The Optimist’s Daughter (Pulitzer 1973). After driving by Miss Welty’s Jackson home, my husband was coaxed into traveling two hours out of our way to pop in to see William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak on The University of Mississippi campus at Oxford. When we identified ourselves as Virginians, the docent shared with us Mr. Faulkner’s thoughts on Virginia civility, saying, “Mr. Faulkner said Virginians were snobs and he liked them just fine.” My grandmother would call that a left-handed compliment.
If your summertime plans don’t include a trip to the Deep South to view the muddy Mississippi River and eat fried alligator, perhaps you can make a virtual visit by reading these tales about a place where “the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.”
See you under the sun umbrella and happy reading!