Going South: 3 Books That Explore Life Below the Mason-Dixon Line

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In The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir author Harrison Scott Key tries to explain the southern United States:

“The South is a strange place, one that can’t be fit inside a movie, a place that dares you to simplify it, like a prime number, like a Bible story, like my father.”

For our latest round of Shelfie picks, we return to our friends at Square Books, located in the historic town square of Oxford, Mississippi and boasting three separate buildings and its own café. Back in September, they gave us three great books to keep you up past your bedtime. This week manager Lyn Roberts is focusing on the rich tapestry of the South.

South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature by Margaret Eby (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015)

SouthTowardHome“Some of America’s literary giants hailed from the South and that is what Margaret Eby chose to explore in her memoir/travelogue South Toward Home. Eby, a Southerner herself, visits the homes and haunts of Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Harper Lee, Harry Crews, John Kennedy Toole and others in an attempt to arrive at an understanding of Southern literature, and by proxy, the South itself. Of these authors, she wrote— “All rejected the visions of the South presented to them, the costume shop version of Southern-ness that didn’t jibe with their understanding of their surroundings.” In the end, Margaret Eby does not discover the solution to the riddle of the South, but her musings on her wanderings leave the reader with more to think about.”

 

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

DispatchesFromPluto“Richard Grant, a British travel writer, has published notable books on his travels in Africa and the lawless lands of the Sierra Madre in Mexico, but he couldn’t be more of an outsider to the South. And yet, since his first visit to Mississippi over 10 years ago—on a story about Fat Possum Records and the Hill Country bluesmen they were recording—he has returned to the state more than a dozen times. He became enchanted with an old house on Pluto Plantation in the Delta, convinced his fiancé to move there with him, and set about exploring the landscape, befriending the neighbors, and making a home there. The result is Dispatches from Pluto, a report on one of the most contradictory places in the country, from someone who loves it, but nevertheless refuses to gloss over the inequalities there.”

 

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

DeepSouth“Paul Theroux is a writer of dozens of books, fiction and non-fiction, but he’s perhaps best known for his travel writings. He recognized that while he had traveled extensively to locations exotic all over the world, he had never taken a good look at the South in his own country. Setting out from his home in Massachusetts, Theroux drove through the South for over two years, encountering people and observing and recording it all in Deep South. Known for his curmudgeonly style, Theroux is softened by the South, but critical as well. During his travels he attends gun shows in various states, perhaps looking to have some stereotypes reinforced, but he also points out a few unjustified preconceptions and pays tribute to some gifts of the region.”

 


About The Contributor

Ben S. Dutka figured it all out too late. He got his degree in Psychology and realized years later that he wanted to write for a living. He now has 16+ years of digital and print journalism experience and currently entertains an ongoing love affair with the greatest literary classics (he savored every page of "War and Peace" and thought it could've been longer, and he will finish Proust's "In Search of Lost Time"). He also loves crossword puzzles, tennis, the outdoors, and working on numerous novels. One of these days, one will get picked up...and when it does, the world will make a little more sense.

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