4 new Southern books for fall reading

Courtesy of University of Kentucky Press and NewSouth Books

AJC Bookshelf

Several book launches were delayed this past summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps that’s why fall is proving to be a more robust season than usual for new book releases this year. Here are four new books I’m eager to read.

‘Even As We Breathe.’ The publishing industry has made strides in recent years to increase the racial diversity of its authors and to broaden the kinds of stories it tells. One benefit of that effort has been an uptick in indigenous American authors. Top among them is Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, whose debut novel tells the haunting tale of Cowney Sequoyah, a 19-year-old Cherokee youth working a summer job at the posh Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II. There he meets a beautiful young Cherokee woman named Essie Stamper. Deep in the recesses of the stone resort, they find a secret room where they meet and share their hopes for the future. Among the guests in the hotel are diplomats representing the Axis powers and their families, who are being held prisoners of war. When one of their daughters goes missing, Cowney falls under suspicion because of the color of his skin. (University of Kentucky, $24.95)

Courtesy Penguin Random House

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Sleep Donation.’ Miami native Karen Russell is one eclectic writer. For the New Yorker, she pens intriguing investigations into topics, such as how video games can help those who have suffered a stroke and how the coronavirus is changing our language. She’s written three collections of short stories, many of which straddle the line between hyper-reality and the realm of the otherworldly. Her sole novel, “Swamplandia!,” is a harrowing tale about the child of a family of alligator wrestlers who gets lost in the swamps of Florida. And her latest is a straight-up sci-fi novella. Originally published in 2014 as an e-Book, it’s just now been made available in print and is supplemented with illustrations by Ale + Ale. Set during a lethal insomnia epidemic, “Sleep Donation” centers on Trish Edgewater, a recruiter for Slumber Corps, whose job it is to get volunteers to donate slumber to sleep banks, which distribute much-needed sleep to insomnia sufferers. But when she’s confronted by a couple of donors, Trish begins to question the altruistic nature of her employer. (Penguin Random House, $16)

‘The South Never Plays Itself.’ The subtitle says it all: “A Film Buff’s Journey Through the South on Screen.” Author Ben Beard may not be a well-known quantity in the world of film criticism, but he’s clearly seen a lot of movies, and although he now lives in Chicago, he has a deep understanding of the South. He’s put together an exhaustive compendium of movies that depict the region, spanning from D.W. Griffith’s often reviled 1915 pro-slavery epic “Birth of a Nation” to the revered 2018 Academy Award-winning “Green Book.” And no genre gets left behind. The book is light on critical analysis, and there’s no underlying thesis to speak of, but there’s a lot of well-crafted descriptions of movies you might have forgotten, as well as some thought-provoking observations and personal asides. It’s easy to fault the text for the few movies it overlooks. (What, no “The Florida Project” or “Sunshine State” in the Florida chapter?) But all can be forgiven for Beard’s commentary on “Junebug,” a 2005 indie about a Southern Baptist family in North Carolina that is so authentic it could have been filmed at one of my family reunions. About it, Beard says, “If you only watch one movie that appears in this book, I would recommend this one.” I couldn’t agree more. (NewSouth Books, 28.95)

Courtesy NewSouth Books

‘Whereabouts.’ Scott Gould made his literary debut in 2017 with “Strangers to Temptation,” a collection of short stories linked by a 13-year-old male protagonist set in South Carolina in the ’70s. Anjali Enjeti called it a “compulsive read” in her review for the AJC. Gould’s debut novel, “Whereabouts,” is also a coming-of-age story set in ’70s-era South Carolina, only in this case it’s told from the perspective of a girl. Missy Belue’s small world implodes when her father dies unexpectedly, and her mother, who starts her days with a dollop of vodka in her OJ, quickly rebounds by marrying the obsequious funeral home director who has some peculiar sexual proclivities. Missy looks for an escape and finds it in a dusty red pickup truck on long aimless drives in the country with her much older third cousin, Skyles. When Skyles tells Missy he’s taking off for a while and isn’t sure when he’s coming back, she talks him into bringing her along on a journey west that will change her forever. (Koehlerbooks, $29.95)

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. svanatten@ajc.com

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