Opinion Columns & Blogs

10 must read books to understand Southern culture

No doubt about it, the South that I knew as a child and young man is rapidly changing. Some of the change is good — and in my opinion — some is sad. Southerners are losing our uniqueness, the things that made us different from New Englanders and Californians. Of course, if we were different, they were too.

If you would like to understand how the South used to be — and at the same time read some really outstanding books — let me suggest these to you. Clip this column and save it. Also, send it to your cousin who used to live in Moultrie, but is now working in one of those TBTF (too big to fail) banks in New York.

I rank these books like I felt about them when I wrote this. My list didn’t even includeDollar Cottonby John Faulkner or anything by Lewis Grizzard. I’ll get them next time.

Here they are:

10. “A Childhood – The Biography of a Placeby Harry Crews. I just read this book about the author, Harry Crews, growing up in destitute circumstances in Alma, Bacon County, Georgia. Find out, or be reminded, of how so many tenant farmers, black and white, used to subsist in the South. Believe me, it is still part of the warp and woof of our part of the world.

9. “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy. My favorite Conroy book is “My Losing Season(I can relate to it), but this one might have been Conroy’s best. You will learn or be reminded of people trying to find out about who they are and why they are.

8. “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham. Grisham has authored numerous best sellers that have sold over 300 million copies, but this one — his first one — might be his best. It’s rape, race and violence in the mostly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi. It’s fiction, and, then again, it’s probably not.

7. “To Dance with the White Dog” by Terry Kaye. I have nine of Kaye’s books and have read all of them except “The King Who Made Paper Flowerswhich was published in 2016, that I just bought. Kaye, a Georgian, does great writing, but I think “To Dance with the White Dogis his best. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you’ll understand life differently.

6. “My Dog Skip” by Willie Morris. A small book, but a big read, by another great Mississippi author. It’s just 118 pages, but it’s about a boy, a dog and small-town America and the South. It’s about a place and the times.

5. “Big Bad Love” by Larry Brown. I’ve read eight of the books by this now deceased Oxford, Mississippi fireman. This may or may not be his best, but it’s mighty good. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said this: “Big, bad and wonderful . . . A stunning collection of stories about real people and real life.”

4. “Ava’s Man” by Rick Bragg. It’s no secret that Bragg is my favorite author. I’ve read six of his books. Why “Ava’s Man”? Good question, best answered again by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Celebrates the working people of the deep South with the passion of a novelist and the precision of a memoirist.”

3. “The Nashville Sound- Bright Lights and Country Music” by Paul Hemphill. I read it first about 40 years ago and, then again in 2015. If you are not a country music fan, you’ll like it. If you are a country music fan, you’ll love it.

2. “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. I take this from Google books: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this classic book is generally regarded as the finest novel ever written on American politics. . .” I read this book in Fort Worth, Texas in the summer of 1963 and have never forgotten it. If you read it, you won’t forget it, either.

1. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. This book, to me, is about the soul of the South. Atticus Finch, one of my heroes, is as real as if I had practiced law with him in Perry. Over 40 million people who have read Lee’s book would agree that Atticus was real and was an American hero.

Let’s see: authors from Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Kentucky. Read these 10 books and you’ll better understand our South and how it used to be — and to some extent still is.

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.