In 2009, the OA asked 134 judges what they considered to be the best Southern books of all time. They came up with a list for fiction and nonfiction, choosing from more than five hundred titles. This is the underdogs list, the books that didn't make the cut for "best" but are more than worth adding to your bookshelves.
Why has Barry Hannah—though considered by many writers and scholars to be the current Great One of Southern Letters (and most would drop the modifiers “current” and “Southern”)—continued to fall under that lackluster rubric, the Writer’s Writer?
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial does not move us to think about the creative spirit so much as it moves us to think about everyday life. Cleave it from its ties to literary celebrity and it becomes replete in and of itself: Come see how, in a certain place at a certain time, some people lived, and some made a living.
"Rereading the novel on my own the summer before teaching it, I was stunned once more by its complexity. Absalom is not an easy read, and it resists casual intimacy. Sentences swell and loop, wind-ing into rhetorical knots. Narrators speculate, are ignorant, or just plain lie. Faulkner himself rarely appears, and he never brings answers. Sixteen-year-olds, I knew—even the most clever ones—tend to read in anticipation of Aesopian morality, a thematic deus ex machina, and Faulkner simply doesn’t provide one."
In 1995, when the late Larry Brown first published (in the Oxford American) the essay "Billy Ray's Farm" about his son's farm in Lafayette County, Mississippi, he was both realistic and optimistic about the challenges of farm life. He could not have known that one day his friend, the renowned chef John Currence, would open Big Bad Breakfast, a new kind of diner featuring local ingredients, including dairy products from Billy Ray's heifers. John T. Edge recently visited Billy Ray and his milking cows at the Brown Family Dairy.
An open letter to the man who put together one of the many collections of America's Greatest Hits: "If you’re really going to anthologize America’s Greatest Hits—your title, certainly not mine—you’re going to need someone who has seen a lot more of the world than the Ivy-League American-Studies major I assume you think you’re looking for."
Reminisces of eating rat-trap cheese: "We ate it in the parking lot, with sleeves of crackers and tins of sardines, its hue a not-of-this-world orange, with a texture that straddled cheddar and polyester. And a red wax rind. Stored beneath a see-through plastic dome. Sliced into wedges with a countrified guillotine."