Arts & Culture

May 2019 Reading List

May brings the year’s first crop of beach reads, a slew of almost-summertime cookbooks, and powerful odes to Southern history
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Orange World and Other Stories, by Karen Russell

In the opening tale of Karen Russell’s Orange World, two Florida girls flee hotel jobs, go prospecting for adventure out West, and take a chairlift to a party in an avalanche-crushed lodge where their dance partners are ghosts with eyes of gold. That kind of surreal storytelling made the Miami-raised author’s debut novel, Swamplandia!, a Pulitzer finalist, and blooms madly again across these eight stories. It’s tempting to say Russell showers Florida funk on the rest of the world, but her writing knows no bounds—it’s otherworldly.

All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters, by Joe Namath with Sean Mortimer and Don Yaeger

NFL icon Joe Namath might be known for his years with the New York Jets, but his career was deeply shaped by his time in the South. “There was a price to pay to stay on Coach Bryant’s team,” he writes of Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant in his new, fast-moving, and entertaining tell-all autobiography. “This was a bonding experience and everybody that lasted had to earn their way.”

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep

Fans of Harper Lee might not know this about the author: After To Kill a Mockingbird, she worked tirelessly on a true-crime book about an Alabama serial killer. This riveting account of both the murders and Lee’s reporting, writing, and editing process is fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at one of the South’s cherished creative minds.

Southern Smoke by Matthew Register and Whole Hog BBQ, by Sam Jones and Daniel Vaughn

Two North Carolina pitmasters release in-depth barbecue books this month. The owner of Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland, North Carolina, Matthew Register honors his native vinegar-sauced slow-smoked pork cue as well as shares the recipe bounty of his research trips throughout the South—Lowcountry-inspired roasted oysters and the Mississippi Delta’s dry-rubbed ribs, as well as universally beloved sides like grits, okra fries, and skillet cornbread. Two hours north of Garland, pitmaster Sam Jones runs the heralded Skylight Inn in Ayden. “Where I grew up, you do whole hog over wood, and if you don’t do that, it’s not barbecue,” Jones told G&G in a recent interview. “Billy Graham himself couldn’t save you if you didn’t do whole hog over wood.” In Whole Hog BBQ, he spins family yarns and very generously explains the entire step-by-step process for Skylight Inn’s beloved whole hog smoking technique.

Gather at the River: Twenty-Five Authors on Fishing, edited by David Joy and Eric Rickstad

“All I know of beauty I learned with a fishing rod in my hand,” David Joy writes in the introduction to Gather at the River. The essay collection coedited by the North Carolinian includes J. Drew Lanham’s ode to fishing holes; Ron Rash on Appalachian trout; and Jill McCorkle mulling over mullet.

Biloxi: A Novel, by Mary Miller

G&G readers will enjoy this book for its subject matter—a crotchety old man meets the dog who helps him reconnect with the world (and start buying extra bologna)—and just might find themselves new fans of rising Southern literary star Mary Miller. She was a Grisham Writer-in-Residence in Oxford, Mississippi, and has a knack for creating nuanced, frustrating but lovable characters across simple but poignant scenes of everyday life.

The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas, by Eric Silverstein

Eric Silverstein—the personality and chef behind the beloved Austin restaurant the Peached Tortilla—grew up in Japan and Atlanta, and brings both Southern and Asian influences to his menu of inventive tacos and noodle dishes. In addition to perfect rice tips, here the chef shares standout recipes for bacon and shrimp okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake) and his restaurant’s customer favorite deep-fried brussels sprouts smothered in bacon jam.

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, by Tony Horwitz

Before he became America’s most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted was a journalist who traveled the South for fourteen months in the 1850s. In a can’t-put-it-down travel narrative through the deep South, author Tony Horwitz retraces Olmsted’s path, noting the influences of Southern plants on many of Olmsted’s later designs, and adding his own observations and musings on the changes—and consistencies—of the South.

The Posy Book: Garden-Inspired Bouquets That Tell a Story, by Teresa H. Sabankaya

A posy is like a floral greeting card, says the Texas-raised florist Teresa H. Sabankaya. The miniature bouquets of flowers, plants, and herbs she shares in this charming how-to book are designed as teeny gifts. Just one of the many ideas that would make a perfect Mother’s Day present—a tiny handful of rosemary, sweet pea, and narcissus blooms.

Pâté, Confit, Rillette: Recipes from the Craft of Charcuterie, by Brian Polcyn with Michael Ruhlman

Chef Jacques Pépin gives his seal of approval in the foreword to this impressive book on one of the branches of the charcuterie tradition by expert Brian Polcyn. With detailed descriptions, dishes like pheasant and Pernod terrine with fennel confit feel slightly less intimidating for the at-home cook. A standout surprise: the beautiful terrine of sweet potatoes and russet potatoes stacked in alternating bands of savor, ideally served with a rich truffle cream. Polcyn offers charcuterie classes, and this book’s launch involves a culinary-event series, including a Southern stop on June 1 at the Shellmore in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, for An Evening with Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Light from Other Stars, by Erika Swyler

Your first beach read of the summer: This fantastical, powerful novel involves an eleven-year-old Florida girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut, and her former NASA-employed father as they examine their dreams, past and future, together.

Perfect Pan Pizza: Square Pies to Make at Home, from Roman, Sicilian, and Detroit, to Grandma Pies and Focaccia, by Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart is a North Carolina-based James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and baker who runs the everything-pizza website Pizza Quest. In this beautifully photographed (by G&G contributor Johnny Autry) cookbook, Reinhart divulges the secrets behind traditional pan pizzas—from masterful crusts to his go-to sauce using canned whole tomatoes crushed by hand.

Like Lions: A Novel, by Brian Panowich

As a firefighter in Augusta, Georgia, Brian Panowich already had an action-packed profession. Now, he’s a bestselling author and the thrills keep coming. The follow-up to his powerful debut Bull Mountain involves a small-town Georgia sheriff and the loyalty of families. In the vein of Grisham and Burke, Panowich zips readers along with action backed by delightfully rhythmic storytelling.