Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Southern Writers

As a southerner, I'm always proud to hear people from around the country talking about the history of great southern writers. Being from Mississippi, I'm always particularly proud when I hear William Faulkner and Eudora Welty extolled as two of the finest writers to come out of the tradition of southern writers. But too often it's those two giants along with Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Margret Mitchell, Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Wolfe that are the main authors included in the discussion. Now, I would never argue the merits of these wonderful writers, all are more than worthy of the highest praise we can give them. All have various styles but yet retain their true southernness regardless of their subject. (With the possible exception of Capote) But most of these great authors, especially Faulkner, have been relegated to being enjoyed only in high school and collegiate class rooms. The thought of a teenager today intentionally picking up As I Lay Dying or Absalom, Absalom to read without it being a course requirement stretches the imagination. Sure, there are many teenage girls that will probably endeavor to read Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece Gone With the Wind, but most will probably prefer to watch Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh spar on DVD. And who could blame them, it's a terrific piece of cinematic history. But it's still not as good as the book.

Sadly this is typical of todays teens and in fact a lot of Americans. Reading a novel or collection of short stories is far down the list for most Americans in the fast paced Twenty-First Century world. But in a Harris Poll from 2008, over one-third, 37% to be exact, claimed to read over ten books a year! That's wonderful news to my ears. I average about 14 and encourage my kids to read at least a book a month. I grew up being encouraged to read by my parents and have always enjoyed the great pleasure I derive from getting lost in a book or story. I find reading possibly the most rewarding hobby I have.

So what's the point to this blog you ask? Well I'll tell you. There are many, many more fine writers in or from the south today. Many are far more "accessible" to the general reading public as well. Obviously names like John Grisham, Pat Conroy, Tom Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy and Anne Rice are world renowned, but there are others that should be as well known. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites that if you, like me, enjoy reading, then you should check them out.

Now I'll make no claim that the following writers are "literary giants" like the ones I've listed above, but if you enjoy reading stories set in the south or with a southern twist, that are not difficult reads, then I highly recommend these fine authors.

1. James Lee Burke - Ok, so Mr. Burke is a well known commodity in some circles, but it still amazes me that more people from LOUISIANA don't know who this gifted writer is. Sure, I know his novels are mostly crime fiction, but the man writes like a painter. You can smell the damp humus of the Louisiana swamps and feel the deep orange sunsets as he weaves his prose through the pages. His novels have not translated well to the big screen, but skip those and go straight to the novels. Recommended: Neon Rain, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning For Flamingos

2. Greg Iles - A fellow Mississippi native, Iles stunned me with his debut novel Spandau Phoenix, a story based on the mysterious story that Nazi commander Rudolph Hess flew to Britain during WWII to meet with and possible provide information to the British. Greg's more recent books are all set in or near his home town of Natchez, Ms. He writes tight stories that make Natchez, New Orleans and Mississippi major characters in his work. He has not allowed himself to become formulaic in his stories and has stretched himself  as a writer in some of his more ambitious tales. Recommended: Spandau Phoenix, Mortal Fear, Dead Sleep

3. Stephen Hunter - Most folks consider Maryland in the south, I don't. But for today's exercise I'll include it because I love Hunters work! He's a well known movie critic, but has made his bones as a writer of tough guy novels with his main characters Bob Lee and Earl Swagger. His stories are not all set in the south, but his characters retain that southern culture wherever he may base them. Recommended: Dirty White Boys, Hot Springs, Pale Horse Coming

4. Steve Berry - Berry writes what I call historical mystery novels. Most of his stories are based on some well known historical unsolved mysteries that his characters look to solve. He writes nice fluid stories interwoven with true historical fact and characters beside his fictional plots and twists. He doesn't write traditional southern stories, but since he's a writer I like and from the great southern state of Georgia, he's on my list. Recommended: The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy, The Charlemagne Pursuit

Others to check out: Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes), Ace Atkins, Tom Robbins, Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), Richard Ford, Tim Gautreaux, Ernest Gaines, Nevada Barr, 

I hope you will look to grab a novel by one of these fine writers in the near future. Happy New Year and happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. Scott, Great suggestions to add to my reading list.

    Have you ever read Jim Metcalf?? He's a poet but he tells such vivid stories. He had a tv show on Sunday nights where he showed beautiful photos and told his stories in his Lou Rawls type voice... I used to beg Mom to let me stay up to hear him! Sadly, he died when we were in high school but his publisher has combined his four books into one printing. It's a very moving read.