Arts & Culture

New Reads for Right Now

Southern novels, armchair travel guides, rip-through-’em memoirs, and an ode to Foxfire’s enduring legacy
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Everything Is Under Control: A Memoir with Recipes, by Phyllis Grant

Turn to page 206 and begin making the braised chicken, and at the part where the wish-you-could-be-friends-with-her chef Phyllis Grant says, “Slide the pot to the back of your stove for a few hours,” start at the beginning of this poetic food memoir that is as genuine as a phone call that accidentally lasts hours. In quick vignettes followed by recipes, Grant tells the story of how she went from Juilliard ballerina to pastry assistant to lauded chef, mom, and friend to many. Tear through it, and then tear into that chicken.

Always Italy: An Illustrated Grand Tour, by Frances Mayes, with Ondine Cohane

Armchair-wanderlusting at its finest: Let the Georgia-born Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun (and this recent essay about keeping her Southern accent in the latest issue of G&G), be your guide to Italy. With co-author Ondine Cohane, a travel writer who lives in Southern Tuscany, this book is a primer on every hidden pocket and charming café you dream of sitting in right about now.

The Last Taxi Driver, by Lee Durkee

Over one fever-dream day in Mississippi, a cast of misfits rotate through cabdriver Lou’s Town Car, beginning with a fresh-out-of-Parchman convict palming a twelve of Bud Light. Blotted with jet-black humor, The Last Taxi Driver is the lauded author Lee Durkee’s first novel in twenty years. This ride is worth the wait.

Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline, by Loretta Lynn

The three names on this cover seal the deal: It’s Loretta Lynn writing about her friendship with Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton pens the foreword. And beneath it all, Nashville itself grows and blossoms and changes as its own character. Enough said—this one is a tender balm of a read for Southern music lovers.

Camino Winds, by John Grisham

When all feels unpredictable, take refuge in the dependably page-turning entertainment of the latest John Grisham novel. Camino Winds takes readers to fictional Camino Island (likely based on Grisham’s beloved Amelia Island), where a hurricane is barreling down, a novelist and a book store owner are planning to ride it out, and there is plenty of time for the plot to twist.

Foxfire Story: Oral Tradition in Southern Appalachia, edited by T.J. Smith

“Bubbles in coffee mean money” and “If the cows are lying down, bad weather is going to come.” So go just two of the many bits of folklore and timeworn tips from Southern Appalachian mountain dwellers collected in this latest tome from the beloved Foxfire series. This new trove feels both timeless and curiously of the moment, as shown in one long collected oral history about the 1918 flu pandemic, a time during which Southern Appalachians came together in ways big and small. “People would wear masks over their faces,” a woman named Bessie Kelly recalled, “and cut wood for people and put the wood on their porches.”

Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, by Melissa M. Martin

Before cleaning the crabs, stirring the oyster bisque, or gathering ingredients for any of the other delightfully Deep South recipes in this book, find a cozy chair and rejoice in the photographer Denny Culbert’s evocative images and the chef Melissa M. Martin’s poetic storytelling. “Louisiana’s coast, a thick, ever-changing blanket of marsh, is disappearing, and our wetlands and bayous are disappearing along with it,” writes Martin, the daughter of a fisherman and granddaughter of oyster farmers. “I want to make sure we put the Cajun food I grew up with and the people responsible for it on record.” Shrimp, oysters, crawfish, or redfish usually grace her Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans, and all of them give star turns in this stunner of a cookbook.

Saint X, by Alexis Schaitkin

This mesmerizing debut novel about a young woman and a murder on an unnamed Caribbean island is a fast-paced exploration of race, class, and the mysteries that linger between sisters, even after one’s death.

Blackwood, by Michael Farris Smith

“Only two living creatures didn’t look at me strangely back then when I said I wanted to become a part of the literary tradition of Mississippi,” the novelist Michael Farris Smith wrote in his recent Good Dog column, about his confession to his Lab mix named Black. “One I later married. The other was Black.” In his latest novel, Smith proves that grand ambition has come true, and his Southern Gothic chops are honed sharp—Blackwood is set against a small Mississippi town in 1976 that swarms with secrets beneath creeping kudzu.

The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke, by Sallie Bingham

Doris Duke, the only child of tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke (yes, the same Dukes of Duke University), seemed to have lived a gossip-column-fodder of a life. But when the author Sallie Bingham got access to Doris’s papers at Duke University, she finally gave the heiress a fair shake in this fascinating biography of a woman whose job titles and passions went beyond “glamorous socialite” to include newspaper correspondent, surfer, art collector, jazz pianist, philanthropist, and horticulturalist. 

Pride of Eden, by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s fantastical tale of wild animals, poachers, and protectors spans from the savannas of Africa to Savannah, Georgia. Brown layers primal drama atop surreal sights of the South, as when “a lone pony, feeding from a bed of delicate ferns on the putting green,” catches a whiff of a lion.

There I Am: The Journey from Hopelessness to Healing—A Memoir, by Ruthie Lindsey

Lindsey grew up in Louisiana, six feet tall by age thirteen, popular, and curious about everything life had to offer—until a car accident her senior year of high school, after which doctors gave her a 5 percent chance of survival. She lived, but the years of pain that followed gave way, ultimately, to hope, and to this unvarnished look at possibility from an earnest and open-hearted writer. 

The Prettiest Star, by Carter Sickels

The publishers at Hub City elevate Southern voices from hollers to hills, as they explained in a recent piece in G&G’s Southern Heroes issue. The latest novel from the South Carolina–based press tells of the emotional and lesser-known stories of the men who returned to their rural communities in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

A Garden for All Seasons: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood, by Kate Markert

Although the beautiful Washington, D.C., estate of the heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post is temporarily closed, you can still wander its lush gardens in this gorgeous coffee-table book. Orchids bloom in the greenhouse, and fifteen rose cultivars wind through a fragrant garden awash in pink, red, white, and yellow blooms. Another note of loveliness: The beloved Virginia-based interior designer Charlotte Moss writes the foreword. 

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller

A science writer and cofounder of NPR’s Invisibilia show, Lulu Miller begins her nonfiction debut with a true story of chaos: David Starr Jordan, an early twentieth-century taxonomist, tries to sew labels onto his fish specimens when the thousands of jars housing them crash to the ground during an earthquake. The riveting and rollicking read that follows combines memoir, scientific advancements, history, and total magic.

Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier, by Victoria James

Raised in Virginia and Maryland, Victoria James had her first restaurant job by age thirteen, and by age twenty-one, she was certified as a sommelier—the youngest in America. But this is no straight-shot story. Cheer her through early family drama, beyond the big-ego-run restaurants, and past the bad bosses and abuse to where she emerges: at the top, as the beverage director at Cote, a Michelin-starred steakhouse, where she sets her terms.