Opinion Columns & Blogs

‘Natchez Burning’ best read in 2016


Dink NeSmith who sent it in October, said it best: “Larry, along with your glasses, put on your XXX filter – Greg Iles’ writing is good, but rough! Enjoy.” I rated Iles’ book, “Natchez Burning,” a 9.8 and the best read of an anemic 25 read in 2016.

I finished “Natchez Burning” on Christmas Day. It’s long (791 pages) and of very fine type (believe me). Stephen King wrote this about it: “Extraordinarily entertaining, and fiendishly suspenseful. I defy you to start it and find a way to put it down.” I agree.

I believe I’ve read more in 2016 than any year of my life (except the three years when I was at University of Georgia law school), but I read fewer books than usual. Still, there were 14, including “Natchez Burning,” that I rated a 9 or higher on my 10 scale. Here they are:

“Been There, Done That” by Al Roker and Perry’s Deborah Roberts: This is what I wrote in the front of the book on Jan. 28: “This is an excellent book and very readable … I started it on a Friday and finished it on a Sunday morning … very well written and instructional …” My rating: 9.75.

“Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear” by Minor Ferris Buchanan: A 9.5. I wrote on Feb. 20: “… I thought I would like Part One the most (about the Confederate Army, etc.), but, in fact, I enjoyed Part Two (the hunts, President Roosevelt, the Teddy Bear) more….a remarkable man, Holt Collier.” Jim Cole bought this book for me at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, on Dec. 19, 2015.

“Father and Son” by Larry Brown: I rated it a 9.25, and wrote: “… brilliant writing … typical book from that Oxford, MS firefighter, now deceased.” John Grisham said this about Brown: “He has an ear for the way people talk, an eye for their habits and manners, a heart for their frailties and foibles, and a love for their struggles and triumphs.”

“My Brother Bill” by John Faulkner: A 9.5 and I wrote this in the front of my book: “John Hulbert loaned me his book. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy …” I couldn’t write in John’s book, but I could and did in mine!

Now, like I did in April, let’s enter my “Harry Crews Period.”

“A Childhood, the Biography of a Place” by Harry Crews: After rating it a 9.5, I wrote: “… Harry Crews is a great writer, in Rick Bragg and Larry Brown’s class. He has lived what he writes …”

“Blood, Bone and Marrow, a Biography of Harry Crews” by Ted Geltner: Only a 9.0, but with these words on April 23: “This is a very well-done and interesting book, about a complex and rough man and, therefore, is a graphic and rough book…”

“Blood and Grits” by Harry Crews: Don Daniel gave me this book. A 9.0 and I wrote this on May 16: “Typical Harry Crews. If you can stomach the stench of his vulgarity, read it.”

“The Ponder Heart” by Eudora Welty: This book, a 9.25, was recommended to me by my friend, Charlotte Moore. I wrote: “I finished this unique and very well written book on May 22, 2016. I enjoyed it very much and would like to read more of Ms. Welty’s works.”

“Mule Trader: Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men” by William R.Ferris with foreword by Eudora Welty: Billy R. Wilson, a Federal District Court judge in Arkansas, sent me this book. I wrote this on June 19: “…I really, really enjoyed this book. If you want to know, or already know, about mules and horses … read this one.” A solid 9.

“Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers — Interviews by Dannye Romine Powell.” My friend, Connell Stafford, gave me this book. A 9.75. I wrote: “Read it! Some of the most interesting interviews were of authors I did not know, although I probably enjoyed Shelby Foote the most, with Eudora Welty a close second.”

“Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry: Another 9.75 that I finished on Oct. 30th. Let’s see what The New York Times Book Review wrote. “Jayber Crow … relates the life story of a young man who abandons his plans to become a minister and becomes the town barber instead. … By the end, this melancholy barber has won both our attention and our hearts.” Yes!

“The Whistler” by John Grisham: I finished this book on Nov. 18. A 9.75. Possibly Grisham’s best ever.

Lastly, my “surprise book” of 2016 is “Slide Mountain: Or the Folly of Owning Nature” by Theodore Steinberg, given to me by my friend, Abby Sue Hunt Ginn. A 9.75! If you have ever done “title work” or just owned property, try this one. It’s interesting and funny. Maybe this quote will help. It’s on page 174. “Property law is a vast exercise in what Goldenweiser called ‘technical hairspliting’ ” Indeed! Thanks Abby Sue.

Perhaps next week: some all time favorites, many of which you’ve never heard.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly, and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.