Arts & Culture

New Books We Are Loving This Winter

Cozy up with a funny new novel, a collection of nearly forgotten stories, fascinating biographies, and a beautiful look-ahead to spring gardening
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Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance, by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston may have moved to New York and become a major player in the Harlem Renaissance, but the author and anthropologist was a Deep South daughter through and through. This jewel of a collection gathers 21 of the late, great Eatonville, Florida-raised writer’s short stories—eight of them nearly forgotten in archives—into one worthy read for fans of her beloved novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and for anyone new to her matchless command of Southern dialects and characters.

Grow Fruits & Vegetables in Pots: Planting Advice & Recipes from Great Dixter, by Aaron Bertelsen

Just the opening spreads of images of leafy gardens and stacks of terracotta planters in a romantically lit potting shed are worth pausing over on a cold winter morning. The follow-up to the English countryside-based gardener Aaron Bertelsen’s bestselling The Great Dixter Cookbook, this lovely tome shares container gardening tips that are as practical in Birmingham, England, as in Birmingham, Alabama, plus fifty recipes Bertelsen discovered on his travels, including to Texas and Tennessee. From a friend in Memphis for example, he learned how to sneak as many garden-grown greens into a bowl of soup as possible—and he saves stirring time by baking the soup in a trusty Dutch oven. 

The Regrets, by Amy Bonnaffons

For those readers who sort of dread Valentine’s Day, here’s a hot take: Girl meets boy. Passion ensues. Except boy is mostly dead, and while he waits in limbo to be fully dead, he engages in a steamy, weird romance that stirs questions about tenderness and togetherness and gives fresh meaning to the term “ghosting.” The brilliantly imaginative writer Amy Bonnaffons, who lives in Athens, Georgia, and is pursuing a PhD in Creative writing at UGA, delivers this funny gem, her first full length novel.

Marjorie Merriweather Post: The Life Behind the Luxury, by Estella M. Chung

This is how-the-other-half-lives daydreaming at its finest: a coffee table book of stories and photographs of life’s beautiful luxuries as curated by Marjorie Post (1887–1973), owner of Post Cereal. Snoop through images of her fine-china cereal bowls blooming with handpainted lilies of the valley; a French Boin-Taburet silver coffee service for parties at her Hillwood Estate in D.C.; the Vickers Viscount model 786 airplane that she outfitted with apricot and gray swivel chairs to travel between her Washington, D.C. home, Hillwood, and her Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen, by Alexander Smalls, Veronica Chambers

Alexander Smalls wears many hats—literal hats, yes, he does love a dapper bowler—including those of writer, chef, and vocalist. He won both a Grammy and a Tony for his cast recording of Porgy and Bess, and he earned a James Beard Award for last year’s cookbook, Between Harlem and Heaven. Now, find him bringing all his interests together in his symphony of a cookbook, which he described in a recent G&G interview: “None of the recipes in this book are heirlooms—this is not your mama’s kitchen,” he says. “I’m older, I have a view, and now I’m presenting that to you.”

Tiny Love: The Complete Stories, by Larry Brown

Now counted among the titans of modern Southern storytellers, Larry Brown had been a firefighter, a plumber, and a truck driver before devoting his hours to writing fiction in Oxford, Mississippi. This complete collection of his darkly comic short stories stars smart and salty workaday Southerners. In the book’s foreword, Garden & Gun books columnist Jonathan Miles shares a moving tribute to his friend Brown, who went on to author nine books, and who died in his sleep in 2004 at age fifty-three.

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, by Emma Copley Eisenberg

Two true tales wind together in this Appalachian noir page-turner: That of an unsolved double murder in 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and the writer’s own coming of age and fascination with the mountain South that began when she volunteered at a summer camp in the same county where the murders occurred.

Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther, by Craig Pittman

Longtime Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman shares a deeply researched and entertaining look at how a group of scientists brought the Florida Panther back from the brink of near-extinction. “It’s a punchy, riveting story,” writes Jonathan Miles in his review in G&G here.

Texas Seafood: A Cookbook and Comprehensive Guide, by PJ Stoops, Benchalak Srimart Stoops

This is the cookbook that should be on every fisherman’s reading list this spring, dog-eared and sauce-splattered—an encyclopedic look at delicious fish species and edible marine plants, plus thorough advice on cleaning and prep, and recipes for everything from Southern-fried redfish to spicy shrimp with okra and tomatoes to a flavorful simmered stock with a base of roasted eels.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir, by Jenn Shapland

Carson McCullers was just twenty three when she completed her Southern Gothic masterpiece, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Much of her personal life remained unexamined until a curious intern at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center archives discovered her personal love letters and pieced together a more complete picture of the author’s queer life.

Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, by Joe Yonan

Whether cooking with red beans in New Orleans or field peas in the Mississippi Delta, Southerners have long known the power of legumes. Joe Yonan, food editor of the Washington Post and a native Texan, collects recipes spanning the globe and celebrating chickpeas, favas, and dozens of other standout beans. Find recipes for a delightful succotash ravioli, Southern baked beans inspired by the late Virginia-born culinary matriarch Edna Lewis, and a bowl of red beans like Yonan had as a kid in Texas.

The Great Blue Hills of God: A Story of Facing Loss, Finding Peace, and Learning the True Meaning of Home, by Kreis Beall

Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, is a down-to-every-last-beautiful-detail luxury resort and foodie mecca, and the family who runs it planned it that way. This warm and personal tell-all by Blackberry co-founder Kreis Beall and mother of the late proprietor, Sam Beall, is an emotional memoir of the family’s vision, which continues to inspire the highest form of Southern hospitality.

 

The Story of Trees: And How They Changed the Way We Live, by Kevin Hobbs, David West

A beautifully illustrated coffee-table book shares the histories behind the world’s most beloved evergreen, fruit, and hardwood trees. Just one example: Long before the battle over peach-state dominance between South Carolina and Georgia, peach trees grew in the Mediterranean and in China an astonishing 2.5 million years ago.

Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, by Jerry Mitchell

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting journalist Jerry Mitchell dug into a slew of murder cases gone cold from the Civil Rights era for this personal history that moves with force. “It is, on one level, the closest memoir can get to a John Grisham thriller,” writes Jonathan Miles in his review in the February/March 2020 issue of Garden & Gun. “On another level, it’s a profound firsthand testament to how, per Faulkner, the past is never dead, but neither is the need for justice.”

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