Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Life 15: Deep South Musings

I can always tell when I am the most homesick. The radio stays tuned to country, and my reading list tends to be filled with books somehow attached to Alabama or the South in general. Case in point: Confederates in the Attic and The Devil Amongst the Lawyers.

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Despite my upbringing in the Heart of Dixie, I have never been a Civil War buff. In fact, I tend to ignore it as much as possible for sheer annoyance factor. Once you've listened to your paranoid, racist stepfather discuss the technicalities of Pickett's Charge or why the CSA should never have lost this or that battle ad nauseam, you start to hate the topic. That being said, I've always been fascinated by the obsession with the War Between the States, or "War of Northern Aggression" depending on who it is you're talking with, and the people who are basically knee-deep in it 24-7. Horwitz was as well, and wrote this fabulous book. My first concern when I pick up any book about the South is how the author is treating it, especially if they themselves are not from the South. I shouldn't have worried about this one. Horwitz does the near impossible in that he manages to give a fair view of some of our, shall we say, less-enlightened citizens while describing the rest of us and our home as it is. I don't mean that he's whitewashed over our failings; no, he includes those. However, he also does not sweep in as the city intellectual and talk about the areas he's visiting as Deliverance II. Even if you hate the Civil War, this is worth the read.

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb

"There is no more vicious bigot than a city intellectual contemplating someone to whom he feels intellectually or morally superior."

This is the latest of McCrumb's amazing Ballad Novels, set in the Appalachians of Tennesee and the surrounding areas of Virginia and the Carolinas. If you've never read anything of hers, stop reading this right now and go order everything in the Ballad series first, then everything else. Not only are they excellent mysteries, they are addictive as hell. This is the first book I've read in a long while that I could not make myself put down. I read the entire thing (minus the first 50 pages whoch I read before falling asleep sitting up last night) this morning...admittedly not an unusual occurrence for me, but still. McCrumb, like my favorite sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler with feminist problems, manages to work complex issues of poverty and rural life into the narrative without getting preachy or heavy handed. I honestly cannot say enough wonderful things about these novels.

Anyone who knows me (or hell, anyone who's paid attention to this blog) knows that the misrepresentation of the South, particularly the mountain and rural South, is one of my pet projects. Women's Studies failed me on these points, and I abandoned it as a graduate pursuit partially because I could not stand the thought of ramming the topic into conversation for the next 30 or 40 years. More importantly, I had conflicts over this very issue on at least a weekly basis in classes across my particular academic spectrum. (See this blog for the last one of the spring semester.) I honestly don't know what this means for my future in academia. Maybe it's just particularly bad down here in Florida, who knows...All I do know is that I am relieved and overjoyed to find books that don't paint all of us as slack-jawed morons.

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