As we strive to adjust to life under the specter of COVID-19, social distancing and self-quarantine have become the new normal. But there’s only so long someone can hole up alone doing nothing before they start chewing the wallpaper. The only way to stave off mind-numbing boredom is to keep the brain occupied, and we don’t just mean watching Netflix. Reading is a pastime ready-made for isolation. If you’ve ever used the excuse of not having enough time for not reading books, you’re in luck because now there’s little else to do. Here are five relatively new books by Southern authors we recommend to pass the time during the pandemic.
In the summer of 1980, two young women — Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19 — hitchhiked their way through rural West Virginia on their way to a hippie festival called the Rainbow Gathering, but they never made it. They were killed by gunshot and their bodies were abandoned on a remote road. A group of nine or more local men were suspected to be connected. Thirteen years after the murders, one man was tried and convicted for pulling the trigger. But many questions lingered, not the least of which was doubts surrounding the motivations of the prosecution’s witnesses. When writer Emma Copley Eisenberg moved to the area in 2009, she grew fascinated with the case. Combining elements of reporting, memoir and social criticism, she explores what happened that fateful day through the prism of class and gender. (Hachette Books, $27)
Much has been written about the number of people imprisoned in the United States, but twice the number of people — 4.5 million — are on probation and parole. A former high school English teacher and MFA graduate, Jason Hardy spent four years as a parole officer in his hometown of New Orleans. This is a nonfiction account of how people with no housing, health care, income and drug or mental health treatment attempt to survive — or more often fail to — after a run-in with the law. Hardy shares heartbreaking case studies of clients doomed to recidivism by the system, as well as success stories that demonstrate how a reliable support system can turn a life around. His book also details how the complex system of parole and probation operates and introduces readers to some of its memorable players. (Simon & Schuster, $27)
Kentucky author Leesa Cross-Smith garnered much attention for her 2018 debut novel, “Whiskey and Ribbons,” about a new mother who is widowed when her husband, a policeman, is killed in the line of duty. Her highly anticipated follow-up is a collection of 42 short stories about women and girls who get caught up in the drama of romantic passion, both real and imagined. Intriguing titles promise untold delights: “The Great Barrier Reef is Dying but So Are We.” “Girlheart Cake with Glitter Frosting.” “Two Cherries Under a Lavender Moon.” “A Girl Has Her Secrets.” The subjects of her stories include Minnie, a wife and mother who is eaten up with jealousy over her husband’s ex-girlfriend, all the while carrying on an affair of her own with a co-worker. Or Ruby, a young teen who goes joyriding with her sister and some boys and witnesses a sobering event that casts a pall over her girlish romantic imaginings. (Grand Central Publishing, $26)
The new memoir by Floridian Glennon Doyle, author of the New York Times bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club Pick “Love Warrior,” is a bold call to action that challenges and inspires women to live life to the fullest on their own terms. Consisting of vignettes of varying lengths that jump around in time and place, “Untamed” touches on all aspects of Doyle’s life including childhood, parenthood, marriage to her husband, divorce from her husband and marriage to her current wife. In between is commentary on current events, pop culture, the joy of not wearing makeup, letters from readers and being “cream cheese parents,” who want the best for their children perhaps to their detriment. (Random House, $28)
It isn’t often that genre fiction like Southern noir manages to be literary, too, but that is what Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith achieves with his latest novel. Colburn is a metal artist who moves to Red Bluff, a small town in rural Mississippi, and takes up with Celia, who owns the local bar. Colburn tries to keep it to himself, but he isn’t really new to town. He was living there as a young boy when his father hanged himself. Also new to town is a family of drifters who have an encampment hidden from view in a thicket of kudzu. The town is so sleepy, Sheriff Myer keeps a watch on things with one eye open. But the action heats up when a pair of twin boys disappear in the kudzu. Then the stakes get raised when Celia goes missing, too. (Little, Brown & Company, $27)
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