It’s your boss’ birthday, your nephew’s graduation from high school, your cousin’s promotion at work, and you need to buy a gift. You enjoy reading and books, and want to give them a present in line with your own interests.
In The Jealous Kind (Simon and Schuster, 2016, 400 pages, $27.99), novelist James Lee Burke drops his readers into Houston, Texas, in the 1950s: drive-in restaurants, jukeboxes, duck-tailed punks, jacked-up cars, and teenagers discovering the tangled moral code of the adult world into which they are about to enter.
Readers of this column know I am a sucker for books about books. Novels like The Little Paris Bookshop, collections of reviews by such notables as Michael Dirda and Nick Hornsby, books touting other books like Book Lust, memoirs like The Reading Promise: My Father And The Books We Shared, all reach out from the shelves of bookstores or libraries, grab me by the shirt collar, and demand to be taken home, read, and reviewed.
For some, that name evokes a city in Morocco, an urban center of four million people quartering one of the more important economies in all of Africa.
In True Stories At The Smoky View (She Writes Press, 2016, 325 pages, $16.95), Vrai Stevens Lynde — the “Vrai” is short for Vraiment — finds herself and a 10-year-old runaway boy trapped in a room at the Smoky View Motel near Bristol, Tennessee, during the great blizzard of 1993. Snowbound for several days — the monster storm has completely closed I-81, and the motel desk clerk delivers food to the stranded travelers on a tractor — Vrai and Jonathan begin comparing notes and sharing stories from their life, an exchange of information resulting in a lifelong friendship and a mutual decision to embark on a crusade to right an injustice.
Some authors and critics sniff at best-sellers. I suppose the idea is that a novel appealing to so many thousands may contain vivid action or fascinating characters, but somehow fall below what critics may regard as the “standards of literature.” In the last hundred years in particular, we have seen a shift in favor of the new and revolutionary in literature over more traditional forms of storytelling. Most critics, for example, would regard Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury as literarily superior to best-selling Erich Marie Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, both of which appeared in 1929.
“Southern Appalachia is a region about which, perhaps, more things are known that are not true than any other part of the country.”
— John C. Campbell
Early in J. D. Vance’s passionate tribute to his “hillbilly roots,” the author recalls “the Hillbilly Highway.” The term was applied to the network of roads that ran from the Southern Appalachians to the industrial towns of the North. Vance notes that this stretch of highway became famous due to the awesome numbers of cars with tags from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas that packed the roads to Dayton and other northern cities on the days before and after holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Usually, the term is derogatory, coined by alarmed northerners who saw their cities flooded by hillbilly transplants.
Let’s go exploring.
More specifically, let’s explore the American South.
New Year’s resolutions and I make for poor company.
Like many reading this column, I have in the past made resolutions designed to correct some flaw in my character or my habits, which often are the same creature. I have rung in the new year vowing to lose weight, to give up drinking, to write more letters and emails to those I love, to keep my big mouth shut when the desire to offer advice wells up in my throat, to exercise more, to eat healthier foods, to pray more, in short, to write out and act upon some proposed change aimed at self-improvement.
Opposites attract, so the old saying runs.
We’ve all known friends, husbands and wives, and lovers who match this adage, and the same can sometimes hold true for books. This week, for example, rupi kaur’s milk and honey and William F. Buckley Jr.’ s A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century snagged my attention. I can hardly imagine two books more different from each other.