Monday, March 30, 2009

Much Ado about Reading

I like Lucinda William's music but was surprised to see an article about her in the latest issue of Garden and Gun. I know, only in the South would you find a magazine with "gun" in the title but you should give it a chance. It's honestly a beautiful magazine with well-written, interesting articles and stunning photography. It's one of the few magazines that I read every single article and I always come away fascinated and even a little bit in awe. Anyway, back to my surprise. I wondered why there was an article on her in this magazine. Was Lucinda Southern? 

As it turns out, Lucinda is very Southern. She hails from Louisiana and has an incredible family history that I think people would enjoy knowing about. Firstly, her father Miller Williams is an award-winning poet and was Clinton's inaugural poet in 1997. When you think about it now, it seems rather appropriate that one of our best American songwriters sprung from the seed of a highly respected American poet. Occasionally, they meet on stage and trade songs and poems for those who come to listen and enjoy. Secondly, Miller shared a drink with another Williams, the amazing Hank Williams, one night in Louisiana after a concert where Hank told Miller that he had a "beer-drinking soul" (and afterwards Miller decided to give up drinking scotch). Hank died just a few weeks later. Thirdly, one of Miller's dear friends was the great Southern writer Flannery O'Conner, and Lucinda would go and play at her house as a little girl and chase after her peacocks. Ms. O'Connor would become one of Lucinda's heros when she finally discovered her writings at the age of 16 and aspired to write songs like Ms. O'Connor wrote short stories. Lucinda commented, "Flannery O'Connor's writing and Hank William's music explain everything you need to know about me as an artist." I finished the article and, as I stated previously, was a little bit in awe. 

In the same issue, there was a sidebar about a new biography on Flannery O'Connor that has just been published. Ms. O'Connor is considered one of America's greatest fiction writers and certainly one of the best Southern writers (although she would cringe at that label). But in truth most American literature is regional because good writing begins at home. And for the truly gifted writers, these snapshots of home can be read and appreciated in a universal light. I'm probably drawn to many Southern authors because of my own personal history and experiences with that region, but I seriously doubt that only a Southerner would appreciate these following authors and some of their fine works, which include beautifully woven tapestries of characters, food, religion, music, politics, family, colloquialisms, nature and often bizarre behavior. There are so many amazing Southern writers to choose from. I mean even the short list is ridiculous: William Faulkner, Margaret Mitchell, Alice Walker, Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams. It's stressing me out to even pen a list. It's a kin to trying to choose the Best Actor Oscar in a year of standout performances. How do you decide who even makes the cut with competition like that? And how do you decide who is the best? It's an impossible task so let me be clear that my list is not the best Southern books and authors of all time, but rather a sharing of books that I love and hope you will too should you ever ever decide to peel back one of their covers and lose yourself. 
I believe that literature is very subjective. It's like wine--everyone has their own preferences and none of them are wrong. So by all means, let's add your Southern favorites to the list. [Disclaimer: OK, if I'm being completely honest, I'd prefer to not have any white zin on the list.]

P.S. I just devoured Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. I know that may sound overly dramatic but I think it is a very apt description. Like a good meal, I was sorry when I was finished and wished that I still had some left to savor. I'm actually mourning a bit at the moment realizing that I have no more pages to turn. It was delightful, engrossing, honest, and centered around food. Talk about a winning formula . . . . I dog-eared dozens of pages of her recipes that I look forward to trying and creating my own personal story with. If you also believe that life and food are undeniably linked, then I'm sure you'll love it too. 

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