New Southern books we’re eager to read in fall 2020

New Southern books
New Southern books

Credit: Suzanne Van Atten

Credit: Suzanne Van Atten

Humor, race and immigration are top of mind for authors this season

In a stroke of serendipitous timing, several new books by Southern writers coming out this fall boast a big dose of humor, something we can all use more of right now. Veteran raconteurs Fannie Flagg, George Singleton and Rick Bragg all have new releases, as do the very funny M. O. Walsh and Dan Mathews. Among the more serious fare are a highly anticipated biography of Jimmy Carter and a memoir by Atlanta businessman and philanthropist Arthur Blank. In addition, a couple of books take a deep look at the complexities of race and immigration in the South. It’s a mixed bag of literary offerings that promise to educate, entertain and enlighten us as we ride out the rest of 2020, aka the year that COVID-19 stole.

‘Like Crazy’

“Life With My Mother and Her Invisible Friends” is the subtitle of Dan Mathews’ memoir, a darkly comic, bittersweet tale about renovating his 1870 Virginia townhouse while living with his 78-year-old schizophrenic mother. Senior vice president of PETA, Mathews’ first book, “Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir,” focused on his life of activism. His follow-up is in the vein of the late George Hodgman’s “Bettyville,” also a memoir about a gay man living with his elderly mother in the South. Only in Mathews’ case, the mother is mentally ill. Although it deals with a serious topic, “Like Crazy” manages to find the humor in the heartbreak and ends on a life-affirming note. What better time than a pandemic to read a book that pokes fun at a dark reality? (Atria Books, out now)

"Like Crazy: Life With My Mother and Her Invisible Friends" by Dan Mathews.
Contributed by Atria Books
"Like Crazy: Life With My Mother and Her Invisible Friends" by Dan Mathews. Contributed by Atria Books

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

‘The Big Door Prize’

New York Times bestselling author M. O. Walsh deploys a breezy writing style and a sharp sense of humor to explore some of the darker corners of human nature. Cherilyn Hubbard is a discontented, middle-aged housewife who questions the choices she’s made in life. High school student Jacob Richieu is mourning the death of his twin brother and bewildered by sexual advances from his brother’s girlfriend. Their lives, along with others in the small Louisiana town of Deerfield, are upended when a mysterious machine appears at the grocery store that’s purported to determine a person’s true potential. Armed with a new confidence and visions of previously unimagined possibilities, the good people of Deerfield explore the eternal question of “what if?” (Putnam, Sept. 8)

"The Big Door Prize" by M. O. Walsh. 
Contributed by Penguin Random House
"The Big Door Prize" by M. O. Walsh. Contributed by Penguin Random House

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

‘Transcendent Kingdom’

Yaa Gyasi garnered high praise for her 2016 literary debut, “Homegoing,” a historical novel told in linked stories. It was named best first book of the year by the PEN/Hemingway Award and the National Book Critics Circle. For her sophomore novel, the native Ghanaian who grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, turns her attention to contemporary concerns. Gifty is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Stanford who hopes science can help her figure out why her immigrant family is in so much pain. Her brother is hooked on opioids and her mother is suicidal. In the process of trying to reconcile her family’s losses, Gifty begins to long for the evangelical faith of her youth. (Alfred A. Knopf, Sept. 15)

‘Good Company’

Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, shares his life story in this memoir that covers the highlights of his extraordinary career as a businessman, a sports franchise owner and a philanthropist. Topics include how he helped build a $50 billion company and why he left it, how he transformed the low-ranking Falcons into a Super Bowl contender and how he turned Atlanta into a soccer-loving town. Blank also reveals his thoughts on the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal, NFL player protests and Super Bowl 51. (HarperCollins, Sept. 15)

‘You Want More’

George Singleton of Spartanburg, South Carolina, looks a lot like the characters he writes about — middle class good ol’ boys who fumble their way through the small victories and defeats of daily life. But he’s also a Southern sage who brings an astute insight to human nature as well as a wicked sense of humor. This career-spanning collection of 30 short stories culled from eight books represents 20 years of publishing and includes a foreword by author Tom Franklin. Expect Southern-style storytelling at its best. (Hub City Press, Sept. 15)

"You Want More" by George Singleton.
Contributed by Hub City Press
"You Want More" by George Singleton. Contributed by Hub City Press

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

‘His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life’

Touted as the first full-length biography of the peanut farmer from South Georgia who became president of the United States, “His Very Best” is penned by Jonathan Alter, an MSNBC political analyst and former senior editor at Newsweek who’s written books on Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama. The life story of a man known for his gentle smile and fierce intelligence makes the case that Carter’s presidential legacy is unfairly underrated. Overshadowed by the bad economy of the ’70s and the capture of American hostages in Iran, Carter’s presidency actually made many significant achievements, including gains in environmental protections, human rights and international relations, Alter contends. (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 29)

‘A Measure of Belonging‘

Edited by memoirist Cinelle Barnes, this collection of essays by writers of color from the South addresses issues of race and immigration by asking the question, who belongs here? The answers range from heartbreaking to humorous in the hands of writers including “Heavy” author Kiese Laymon and Latria Graham, a contributor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Several writers with Georgia ties are included. “Unmarriageable” author Soniah Kamal contends in her essay, “Face,” that burying her unborn child’s ashes in a place binds her to it forever. “The Atlas of Reds and Blues” author Devi Laskar ponders the toll of being asked: “Where are you from? No, really. Where are you really from?” in her essay, “Duos.” In Kennesaw State University professor Regina Bradley’s essay “Outta the Souf,” she experiences a different kind of racism when she leaves the South for the first time to attend school in Indiana. (Hub City Press, Oct. 6)

‘The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop’

Southern storyteller Fannie Flagg returns to the Whistle Stop Café of “Fried Green Tomatoes” fame for her latest knee-slapping novel of plucky, small-town folks pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. Now that the railroad yards have shut down, Whistle Stop, Alabama, has all but closed up shop. But when Bud Threadgoode returns to the café that his mother, Ruth, and “aunt” Idgie once owned, he discovers things he never knew about his family and the town. In the process, he triggers a series of events that could significantly change his life and the life of his daughter, Ruthie. (Penguin Random House, Oct. 27)

‘Where I Come From’

“Old Men Behaving Badly.” “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” “Let’s Eat Pig’s Feet.” The titles alone are a good indication of what to expect from this latest collection of essays by Rick Bragg. Previously published in Southern Living and Garden & Gun, the 50-plus essays make humorous observations about Southern social norms, Southern cuisine and Momma, among other topics. But there are also thoughtful elegies to Pat Conroy, Harper Lee and Billy Graham, as well as a whole section of Christmas-themed pieces. Just reading Bragg’s description of eating the bread pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is enough to make this displaced Southerner want to book an airline ticket home. (Penguin Random House, Oct. 27)

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