Opinion Columns & Blogs

Let’s talk Southern books, again

Last Sunday’s column on 10 books that “all Southerners should read” stirred a considerable amount of interest. Everyone who contacted me liked my choices, but several had suggestions of books that should be added to the list and, I presume, to replace one of my 10, although none said which one(s) should go.

I got a very nice email from Polly Duden, now living in Minnesota having “married a Yankee 46 years ago.” These are some of her words: “But, I think one book was left off your list, ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ by John Berendt.”

My response, in part: “Indeed, ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ is very good ... I could probably make a list of 50 that are not included in my Top 10. And they will change as I read more books.”

Frank Fields emailed suggesting “The Education of Little Tree” by Forrest Carter and “The Old Man and the Boy” by Robert Ruark. I responded that these two were outstanding and that I had read both, including “The Old Man and the Boy” twice.

And, then, R. Andrew Bailey thought it was a “grievous oversight in your list (which I am sure you’ll correct in the next column)” when I did not include Ferrol Sams’ ‘Run with the Horseman,’ which Bailey cited as one of the finest books in Southern literature portraying life in rural Georgia during the 1920s and ‘30s.

I thought Bailey’s words, “grievous oversight” were a little strong given that he immediately followed by acknowledging the list as my list. However, I recognize the strong feelings people have about “their” books, and as I have read “Run with the Horseman,” I concede that it’s very good and funny, if not hilarious.

So, just here, you have my 10, plus one by Duden, two by Fields, and one by Bailey. That’s 14 for a 10 book list. And, that doesn’t include suggestions received from others.

What to do?

I’ve got it! Let’s make a “List of 20 books that all Southerners should read.” I’ll use my 10 of last week (I hope that’s reasonable) plus Duden’s one, Fields’ two and Bailey’s one. Then, since it’s my column, I’ll add six more and we’ll have 20 books that all Southerners should read.

I haven’t decided whether to put them in order, but will decide before I finish.

So, first, my six additions: I’m going to add “Song of the South” by Joel Chandler Harris. Now, that one goes a long way back. Next, it will be another Rick Bragg book, “My Southern Journey — True Stories from the Heart of the South.” Also, “Dollar Cotton” by John Faulkner (Williams’ brother ) and don’t try to find this book unless you are willing to put about $100 in a good used copy. You might find a paperback for a little less.

Also, I’ll add “The Earl of Louisiana” by A.J. Liebling, “Cotton Tenants” by James Agee and “Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell” by Michael Gray. Now, we have 20 books, but no order. Let me suggest this order with, of course, “To Kill a Mockingbird” first.

1. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee; 2 ...

I’ve changed my mind. They are all very good, and indeed, some could be and will be replaced by others. I welcome your additional suggestions, but don’t promise another column soon. And, another thing, I don’t know where to rank the suggested books by Duden, Fields and Carter. I know I can’t make all three of them happy, so I’ll just leave it as 20 great books with, of course, Harper Lee’s classic being No. 1.

Happy reading.

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.