Arts & Culture

January Book List

Start 2019 with notable debut novels, stories about tough women, meditations on nature, and a touching memoir about a Southern-fried life
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The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, by Tommy Tomlinson

Raised on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, G&G contributor Tommy Tomlinson has early memories of fried catfish and biscuits. At the University of Georgia, he made friends over bourbon and Cokes. By the time the Pulitzer Prize finalist and long-time Charlotte Observer columnist was fifty, he weighed 460 pounds. Here, he shares his moving and at turns funny account of what life is like for a Southerner who carries extra weight.

The Gown, by Jennifer Robson

Author Jennifer Robson interviewed the last surviving seamstress who sewed Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown and visited master embroiders in London to research her engrossing historic novel that is tailor-made for fans of the Netflix smash The Crown. And Robson knows the South loves a good royal story—her book tour includes stops in Houston and Woodstock, Georgia.

The New Iberia Blues, by James Lee Burke

The prolific Texas-born author of the Dave Robicheaux series returns with another mystery, now with Robicheaux pursuing an escaped Texas inmate and piecing together a Hollywood director’s life in Louisiana. James Lee Burke has so many loyal readers, we’re guessing plenty of Southerners gifted this to themselves for the holidays (via pre-order.)

Sugar Run, by Mesha Maren

Mesha Maren’s debut novel mines the life of a queer working class woman as rugged as the West Virginia mountains where she was raised, and where we follow her difficulties returning home after nearly two decades in prison. Crisp as mountain air and full of grit and heart, Maren’s writing announces a new voice in the Appalachian noir genre.


Deep Creek, by Pam Houston

This nature-fueled memoir is set mostly on the author’s ranch in Colorado, buzzing along with gorgeous odes to the rural life. But Houston forays south, too: stowing away in a cargo plane to the Bahamas; experiencing a nearly religious paddle-board encounter with a Florida manatee who leads her to a cove filled with his slowly dancing sea cow friends.

Possum Living, by Dolly Freed

“I refuse to spend the first 60 years of my life worrying about the last 20,” said the plucky writer Dolly Freed in her 1970s tribute to scrappiness, Possum Living. Thirty years after it was first published, this frank and no-nonsense manifesto about skipping out on office life and surviving off the land (and roadkill!) in rural Pennsylvania is being re-released with new insights from its salt-of-the-earth author, who now lives in Texas and post-Possum publication became a NASA engineer.

Bluff City by Preston Lauterbach

Memphis native and photographer Ernest Withers captured some of the most iconic images of the 1950s and 60s, including snaps of Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, and the famous “I Am a Man” posters held by striking sanitation workers. Bluff City examines not only that legacy, but how it intertwined with Withers’ secret side gig as an FBI informant.

The Weight of a Piano, by Chris Cander

At a book club, the Houston-based author Chris Cander overheard a reader mention she had finally found a home for her family’s piano that she never learned to play, although she felt guilty about getting rid of it. Inspired by that scrap of story, Cander’s latest novel plays out a tale that follows one instrument across the Soviet Union and to California, where it links the lives of two women through time.

We Cast a Shadow, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

An ambitious debut novel, We Cast a Shadow is a surrealistic satire about identity, race, and family relations in an unspecified Southern city in the near future. Ruffin, who is a New Orleanian, counts among his influences Toni Morrison, and is a talented, genre-bending writer to watch.

Brides in the Sky, by Cary Holladay

Cary Holladay, an author and writing professor who lives in Memphis, penned a collection of short stories and a novella to imagine the lives of women who participated, unnamed, in so much of American history. Backed by a beautiful sense of place, the work introduces characters such as two Virginia sisters who, in the 1850s, marry brothers and together journey along the Oregon Trail.