Arts & Culture

Best New Books for August 2019

Powerful short story collections, music memoirs, photos of enviable cabins, and probing insights into a true Southern character—the mosquito.

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Everything Insideby Edwidge Danticat

In the six and a half seconds it takes Arnold to drop five hundred feet from a rickety scaffolding, he recounts, in his mind, how he fell in love with his partner, how she found him on a Miami beach after a harrowing boat ride from Haiti, the paper airplanes he made her son, and the dreams he had for the boy’s future. This story, called “Without Inspection” is one of eight in the new and stunning collection of short pieces by Edwidge Danticat, a National Book Award Finalist and a MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient. The Miami-based author writes with a clarity and emotional intensity that never once veers toward saccharine.

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons, by Ben Folds

Before the 1997 hit song “Brick,” and before he performed with symphonies across the country, the piano player and songwriter Ben Folds was a self-described “weirdo” who listened to records eight hours a day and learned to play multiple instruments while growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In this memoir, Folds weaves stories about his family and his own life with unvarnished just-do-it advice to writers, musicians, and creative folks of all kinds, weird or not.

 

The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom

Less than ten miles from the vibrant French Quarter, the struggling New Orleans East neighborhood doesn’t appear on tourist maps. And the shotgun house where Sarah M. Broom’s mother raised twelve children doesn’t exist there anymore since the city deemed it a danger and demolished it after “the Water”—Hurricane Katrina. Inspired by a favorite James Baldwin line, “I decided to return here because I was afraid to,” Broom’s first book mines her family’s relationship to New Orleans, and the house—a place her body can never revisit but where her mind wanders still.

Cabin Style, by Chase Reynolds Ewald

The private rustic retreats featured in Cabin Style conjure visions of lazy late-summer mountain escapes, as well as serious house envy. One Tennessee cabin’s porch extends over a clear lake. Beneath timbers of reclaimed chestnut, the breezy screened-in paradise houses an antique daybed, which, as a caption describes, “provides the perfect fall-asleep-while-reading spot.”

 

Little Local New Orleans Cookbook, by Stephanie Jane Carter; Little Local Texas Cookbook, by Hilah Johnson

These cookbooks manage to pack beautiful illustrations, historic food tidbits, and dozens of recipes for Southern classics—chicken-fried steak and bourbon pecan pie in the Texas cookbook and brandy milk punch and blackened redfish in the New Orleans edition—into a charming back-pocket-size format.

Summerlings, by Lisa Howorth

In her novels, Lisa Howorth, who co-founded Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, nails the details of time and place elegantly—in this case, the summer of 1959 in a D.C. neighborhood where Cold War paranoia reigns. It’s also the era of Bazooka gum, hula hoops, innocent backyard barbecues, and teenagers spiking the punch. A lovely time capsule, this coming-of-age story is in turns nostalgic and bittersweet.

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, by Timothy C. Winegard

Writers use the word “pesky” to describe mosquitos so often that it’s a cliché—and it doesn’t even come close to describing the major effect the insects have had on humanity. This book tells a fascinating full history of mosquitos, and includes plenty of trivia about their story in the South, such as how the pests helped George Washington win at the Battle of Yorktown.

The World Doesn’t Require You, by Rion Amilcar Scott

Rion Amilcar Scott’s second dose of short stories follows Insurrections, which won the 2017 PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. In lyrical and affecting prose, he crafts surreal storylines set in fictional Cross River, Maryland, which was founded by the leaders of the only successful slave revolt in U.S. history. Its residents include musicians, academics, screeching birds, and a robot. Darkly comical and totally inventive, Rion Amilcar Scott is a writer on the rise.

The Deep End of Flavor, by Tenney Flynn with Susan Puckett

The New Orleans chef Tenney Flynn is a co-owner at seafood haven GW Fins. In his deep-in-the-Gulf dive of a cookbook, he spends a bit of time on impressive show-off dishes such as lionfish ceviche and a creative tuna muffuletta niçoise salad, but quickly removes his starched toque and gets a little more comfortable with recipes for smoked oysters, boiled shrimp in the shell, crawfish fritters with red pepper jelly, plus tips on making fish and shrimp stocks, gumbos, and every dipping sauce imaginable—Tabasco butter, and Steen’s cane syrup vinegar mignonette.

Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort

It’s been almost thirty years since the celebrated guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash. But among musicians, especially those in his native Texas, his music plays on, and his biography was overdue. Andy Aledort, a fellow musician who jammed with Vaughan and interviewed him over the years, teamed up with Alan Paul, who wrote One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band, to interview Vaughan’s family, friends, and bandmates for this entertaining read.

Things You Save in a Fire, by Katherine Center

Not just a love saga and not just an ode to forgiveness, this big-hearted page-turning novel centers on Cassie Hanwell, an Austin firefighter who has no problem helping others but takes longer to stand up for her own story. The author Katherine Center is a Texan herself.

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