Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Southern Lit Rant

Being from Tennessee, I have great affection for southern literature and southern authors. When people talk about southern authors, they almost always think of Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, etc. Now I think these writers hold a well-deserved place in the literary canon, but lately I have been reading (and thoroughly enjoying) books from (shall we say) less recognized southern authors, such as:

Bloodroot by Amy Greene
 Living as close to the Appalachian Mountains as I do, I felt a personal connection to the landscape and the characters while reading this book.  Spanning over several generations of a family, Bloodroot tells the haunting story of Myra Lamb from the perspective of different members of her family. She is a powerful character, and people in her life (and readers) are drawn to her in a way that is difficult to explain. I highly recommend anyone who is a fan of southern lit to get a copy of this book. It is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start In the Morning by Celia Rivenbark
If you have never read Celia Rivenbark before, you should. She is absolutely hilarious! This is her newest book, which features more essays about life in the south (specifically North Carolina). She offers her frank opinions of contemporary American culture, such as pageants, vampires, celebrities, parenting, and just about anything else you can think of. I read this book out loud to my husband and we both cracked up through most of the chapters.

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell
Cataloochee will forever be one of my favorite books. Offering another look into mountain life, Caldwell documents the lives of several generations of Appalachian families in the years leading up to the creation of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. I am guessing that the Carter, Banks, and Wright families are fictionalized versions of existing Appalachian clans. The family history is so incredibly detailed that Caldwell provides a genealogical map at the beginning of the novel (which you will definitely need). Cataloochee tells the story of a generation of people who are nearly lost to the world - people with a great connection to their homeland but also displaced by it. I cannot recommend this book enough, people!

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
How did I make it this far in my life without having read this book sooner?? This collection of short stories offers a glimpse into southern life in the early to mid 20th century. Touching on subjects of race, religion, salvation and much more, Flannery O'Connor captures many aspects of the southern experience. Some of the stories were slightly less memorable to me (ie: "The River", "A Temple of the Holy Ghost"), but stories like "The Life You Save May be Your Own,"A Stroke of Good Fortune," and of course "A Good Man is Hard to Find" are utterly unforgettable. For a book written in 1955, Flannery O'Connor writes about some pretty controversial topics, such as racial tension, unwanted pregnancies, and misguided preachers.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) is Rita Mae Brown's controversial and often banned book that features one of the first literary lesbian protagonists. The novel tells the story of Molly, who is the incredibly self-aware daughter of a poor family in Florida. Molly is proud to be who she is, which makes very hereasy to root for.  Her story takes readers all over the country as she pursues her goal to be a famous film director. The novel is quite charming, but my only criticism would be that it ended rather abruptly for me.

Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
According to Wikipedia, Fannie Flagg and Rita Mae Brown were once lovers, so i wanted to read this book right after Rubyfruit Jungle. I absolutely adore this book. The characters are so well-developed that I found myself missing them when the book was over. Most people have probably seen the movie, but I would still recommend reading the book. The main story is about Idgie and Ruth - two women who run the Whistle Stop Cafe in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s, which was a very tumultuous time in southern America. The story is told to us through Ninny Threadgoode, as she tells the story to Evelyn Couch. Ninny and Evelyn's own dynamic is interesting to watch unfold, as Evelyn (a discontented houswife) is sort of mentored by the elderly Ninny. This book is so much more detailed about the town's history and the individual stories of the characters that it is definitely worth reading, even if you have seen the movie.