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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nancy Pearl's Southern-Fried Fiction List

In one of the journal that I regularly read, Nancy Pearl, the well known NPR librarian reviewer developed a list called Books to Read Before You Die. These are 12 good reads set below the Mason Dixon line. Some are old and one comes out this month. Some authors will be familiar to you and some won't. Check them out if you like southern fiction.

Doris Betts is a well known North Carolinian. Her titles are in our Southern Literature collection in the reference area. The title Souls Raised from the Dead was published in 1994 and it is a terribly emotional read about a family and small town reacting to the loss of a child. Mary Grace Thompson is about to turn thirteen, horse-crazy, doted upon by two sets of feuding grandparents and living with her divorced father. She is just beginning to come into her own when she received the diagnosis. This story will definitely touch your heart.

No list of southern fiction would be complete with Olive Ann Burns' Cold Sassy Tree. Published in 1984, it began as a series of family stories that Burns changed into the novel after her diagnosis of lymphoma. It is her one single complete novel. After it was published, she received so many letters requesting a continuation that she started Leaving Cold Sassy but it remained unfinished at her death in 1990. Truly a story of life in a small town in Georgia in the early 20th century told with humor and compassion.

Another older one by Babs H. Deal, an author born in 1929 and raised in Scottsboro, AL. Deal published 12 novels between 1959 and 1979, this title was published in 1968. One of Deal's short stories was  televised as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.  In 1979, Friendships, Secrets, and Lies, a movie version of this novel was broadcast on NBC-TV.The Walls Came Tumbling Down captures the feel of life in a small, Southern university town. 7 women spend the summer of 1944 in a sorority house. Twenty years later when workmen are tearing down the house, a dead baby is found in the wall. Who done it?

Franklin was born and raised in Alabama but now teaches at the University of Mississippi. Crooked letter, Crooked Letter was published in 2010 - a relative new title. If you haven't read this one yet, please give it a try. The story pulls you in and you know and understand these people. Larry Ott is and stutterer and the child of a middle class white couple. He has always been an outsider. Silas Jones, the son of a poor, single, black mother, was a gifted athlete who was well liked. Somehow, as boys, they formed a friendship of sorts. Silas goes off to college on a scholarship - Larry stays home having been accused of a crime he did not commit. Silas comes back when an injury takes him away from sports and becomes the sheriff in town. When another crime is committed - everyone thinks Larry is guilty and someone takes action. This story of friendship, truth and compassion is wonderful.

Iles was born in Stuttgart, Germany, the son of a military doctor, but was raised and still lives in Mississippi.
24 Hours was published in 2000. In 2011, Illes sustained life-threatening injuries in a traffic accident and ultimately lost part of his right leg. He has since recovered and is again writing. In fact, I saw him on stage at the last performance of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band consisting of Iles, Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry and others. He was sitting most of the time but not all of the time and performed several songs at the mike. This title takes place in Mississippi as most of his titles do. 24 hours is how long it has taken a madman to pull off the perfect crime. He's done it before, he'll do it again, and no one can stop him.
But this time, he's just picked the wrong family to terrorize. Because Will and Karen Jennings aren't going to watch helplessly as he victimizes them. And they aren't going to let him get away with it.
All of Iles books are action packed with violent action. If you like fast paced with a Mississippi atmosphere, this one is for you.

Tayari Jones was born and raised in Atlanta and studied at Spelman College where she worked with Pearl Cleage.. Silver Sparrow was published in 2011. It tells the tale of a bigamist, his first family is the result of youthful reckless behavior and following the directions of his mother to make things right. Family number two is formed by falling in love as a grown man, but perhaps one who has not matured very much. This man is at the center of two families but the story focuses on the women in his life - his wives of unequal billing and primarily their daughters who had no say in how their dangerously connected families came about. Over the course of the narrative the half sisters learn that family is not so much a matter of blood, as one of choice of loyalty. This title was chosen as one of the 10 best books of the year by Library Journal.

Attica Locke has spent years as a screenwriter in California but she published her first novel in 2009 and the award nominations came rolling in. The Cutting Season was released today, September 18. The buzz around the publishing and library world has been really, really loud and excited. It takes place in Southern Louisiana on the Belle Vie plantation. Caren Gray is the current plantation's manager and her ancestors had worked the land as slaves.When a dead woman's body is found at the edge of the plantation, the police start concentrating on a suspect that Caren believes in innocent. She starts following her instincts and learns things she wish she hadn't. Everyone says this is a magnificent, sweeping story of the south.

Michael Malone is a North Carolinian who places most of his works in the Piedmont area of the state. He was also the head writer for the daytime soap opera from 1991 to 1996. Time's Witness was published in 1989. Street-smart and straightforward police chief Cuddy Mangum and his refined homicide detective Justin Savile V are determined to keep their town's cultural, political and racial divisions stable-even peaceful. But when a young black activist is murdered while in the process of fighting for his brother's freedom from death row, the lines keeping Hillston, North Carolina, in balance start to crumble. This book is a mystery but also a great character study.

There must be something magical about the Triangle portion of North Carolina because Michael Parker is from Greensboro and he teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Watery Part of the World was published in 2011 and is based partially on facts. Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston, disappeared in 1813 while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York. Also, there were two elderly white women and one black man that were the last townspeople to leave a small barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Parker combines these two facts and creates a book that explores the ties that people have to specific landscapes and places. It is a grand mixture of love and duty, of the relationship between black and white people in the South, of the toughness and will to survive. If you love the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this is the book for you.

Everyone has head of Anne Rivers Siddons. The native Georgian and Auburn graduate now lives in South Carolina but her books all have that Southern atmosphere. Heartbreak Hotel is actually her first novel published in 1976. This takes place in the south (Alabama for the most part) during the the budding civil rights movement. Siddons takes a naive southern girl--the epitome of the proper southern belle--and compares and contrasts her against an angry black man accused only of the crime of being black.

Another of those classic Southern authors is Lee Smith. Born in the Appalachian Mountain area of Virginia, she has become a North Carolinian. Black Mountain Breakdown is actually the first of Smith's full length novels. It shows some of the choppiness of a first time novelist but the atmosphere of Appalachia and the characterizations of quirky southerners teetering on the edge of insanity are fascinating. Interesting suggestion from Pearl on this list as many think Smith has gotten better with time.

Last on the list is a title that was overwhelming popular several years ago. Wells was born and raised in Louisiana and now lives in Seattle, Washington. She wrote a series about this strange group of family and friends beginning with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in 1996. This novel was so popular that they made a movie of it starring Sally Fields. It tells the story of a group of privileged Southern female friends and one daughter in particular who has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother. I loved it when I first read it but I think you have to get in the southern frame of mind to appreciate it. It has, in many ways, things in common with Prince of Tides.

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