Arts & Culture

October 2019 Reading List

Fall brings brand-new Grisham, the latest from G&G, zippy novels, a haunting memoir, and one entertaining ode to last calls
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Preserving Our Roots: My Journey to Save Seeds and Stories, by John Coykendall, Christina Melton

Preserving Our Roots ambles like a soul-affirming front-porch conversation with a country grandpa who has earned each of his life lessons and is happy to share them. Every fall for more than forty years, John Coykendall, master gardener at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, returns to Washington Parish, Louisiana—a tight-knit community he first visited in the 1970s—to tend to his friendships with farmers, trade stories and seeds, collect recipes such as wild duck braised in satsuma juice, and record it all in his journals. He presents those pages in this cookbook–memoir–garden guide, revealing his sketches, notes, tidbits like how to tell goobers from peanuts, and this jingle about watermelon: “Eat the meat— / Preserve the rind, / Save the seeds / til plantin time.”

The Guardians: A Novel, by John Grisham

Grisham is back with another sure hit, this one based on a lawyer’s murder plus a case of wrongful conviction set in the fictional small Florida town of Seabrook. The setting may be partially inspired by Grisham’s time on Amelia Island, Florida, a place he paid tribute to in this ode for G&G.

Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy, by Cassandra King Conroy

In a moving tell-all, the widow of author Pat Conroy and an accomplished writer herself, Cassandra King Conroy reveals the charming story of the pair’s first meeting over the food table at a party, and details the life of love and literature they shared before Conroy’s death in 2016. Read an exclusive excerpt here

Railsplitter, by Maurice Manning

Poet Maurice Manning’s Our Kind of Place piece in the latest issue of Garden & Gun tells about the Kentucky warehouse workers who tuned his ear to the nuances of the English language. Find the Pulitzer-finalist putting those Southern rhythms to use in his latest collection of poetry, as when he writes in “On Silence”: Poetry is the art of silence, / the art of knowing when to stop / a word or phrase and let it hang / like a sheet billowing on the line.

Blood: A Memoir, by Allison Moorer

Americana singer-songwriter Allison Moorer’s early life was marked by unspeakable tragedy when, near Mobile, Alabama, her father shot and killed her mother and then turned the gun on himself. Moorer has addressed the story through her music, including in her new album. Her book is a raw look at her parents’ deaths, but also a bittersweet homage to how they lived and inspired Moorer and her sister, the singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne, to wrap themselves in the healing power of music.

Southern Women: More Than 100 Stories of Innovators, Artists, and Icons, by the Editors of Garden & Gun

The latest book from Garden & Gun celebrates the creative and inspiring women of the South through photographs, essays, and interviews. Among the women honored are comedian Amy Sedaris, Sissy Spacek, Loretta Lynn, the Texas rancher Minnie Lou Bradley, and Mary Margaret Pettway, the Gee’s Bend, Alabama quilter who guides love and memory with each stitch.

Watershed, by Mark Barr

For fans of Ron Rash and Charles Frazier comes Mark Barr, a rising voice in historic Southern fiction. His confident and elegantly written debut novel is set in rural Tennessee in the 1930s, when the arrival of electricity coincides with one small-town woman’s newly awakened desires.

Janis: Her Life and Music, by Holly George-Warren

The new—and definitive—biography of Janis Joplin begins with her tumultuous youth in a conservative Texas oil town, where, as George-Warren writes, “Joplin’s first transgressive act was to be a white girl with an early passion for the blues.” She later became a symbol of countercultural San Francisco, but her short life—and soul-stirring music—was shaped by the South.

The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Forever, by Kevin Robbins

The Austin, Texas-based sports journalist Kevin Robbins mines the life of beloved golfer Payne Stewart, known for his flamboyant style and beautiful fluid swing. Stewart died twenty years ago in a plane crash just months after he won the 1999 U.S. Open. Robbins’ deep research cements his legacy, and gives context to Payne’s formative years at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

All This Could Be Yours, by Jami Attenberg

As a father lies on the brink of death in a New Orleans hospital, his family members recount the ways his life has shaped—and hurt—them. Novelist Jami Attenberg, who lives in the Crescent City, and whose 2012 novel The Middlesteins was a bestseller, explores the nuances of family dysfunction with searing honesty and at times, tenderness.

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson

The children at the center of this story are literally on fire—that is, they burst into actual flames when they are upset. Kevin Wilson, who lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife and two sons, delivers an inventive and hilarious storyline: a big-hearted look at anxiety and growing up, and bursting with surprises.

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, by Natalie Eve Garrett

In this collection of short essays and recipes, writers serve up stories about the dishes that have comforted them in times of growth and sorrow. Find Miami-based writer Edwidge Danticat’s tribute to rice simmered with coconut milk, which will always remind her of her late father and their beautiful, complicated family history in Haiti and South Florida.

Cooler weather brings a crop of new cookbooks from Sean Brock, Nathalie Dupree, and other leading Southern culinary lights. Find the full list here

Last Call: Bartenders on Their Final Drink and the Wisdom and Rituals of Closing Time, by Brad Thomas Parsons

The staff at the Jasper in Richmond, Virginia, take shots of sherry on Friday and Saturday nights. And at Kimball House in Atlanta, bartender Miles Macquarrie leads an end-of-the-night song on an antique toy xylophone. Last Call shares these and other traditions and habits of bar staffs in a fascinating present-day exploration of beverage culture across the country, especially at closing time.