South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature by Margaret Eby

A selective survey of Southern literature and its value to the South and the world.

south toward home

In her introduction to South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature, Margaret Eby points out that “there is no popular category known as Northern literature.” The South and its literary products have been admired and maligned; it is a region and a body of work that are considered sometimes inspired and sometimes devoid of culture and intelligence. But for a Southerner, it is simply (or complexly) home. Raised in Alabama, Eby undertakes a tour of the literary sites that speak to her, acknowledging that the authors whose legacies she ponders make a less than comprehensive list.

Eby visits the well-preserved homes of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, along with the sadly less appreciated (or appreciative) areas in which Richard Wright and Harry Crews grew up. She contemplates the complicated relationship of Harper Lee with her birthplace; John Kennedy Toole’s mysterious life story; and the recent marks left by Barry Hannah and Larry Brown in Faulkner’s hometown. In making a physical journey, Eby breathes the air of these literary greats, and takes the time to share their histories in coming to tentative conclusions about what their work contributes. She also includes a list of recommended reading. As its title (a reference to Willie Morris’s North Toward Home) suggests, this study pursues a sense of Southern identity through its literature, and along the way helps to elucidate what makes Faulkner’s challenging writing so rewarding and why Toole’s New Orleans lives and breathes. South Toward Home is a thoughtful, well-informed evocation of both South and home.

This review originally ran in the September 18, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 peacock feathers.

on Rick Bragg

Sometimes it happens this way. I decide I need to read a book – not put it on the TBR shelf to grow musty for two to five years to never, but really read it – and (as in this case) I put myself on the local library’s hold list for it. It comes my turn, and I go to the library and pick it up off a special shelf where it’s been filed under my name. I take it home, and I go back to reading the books I’ve been assigned, for work, for a living. I read another 6, 8, 10 books; some of them are really good, and I get involved and distracted. I interview a few authors, which is often, not always, engrossing. I go online to renew this book that I haven’t made time for yet, and find that – of course – someone else is on the hold list, behind me in line. I have to turn it in in four days. If you have forgotten this about me, I am a librarian. I’m no longer employed as such, but that blood pumps through me still.

So I put down the book I had just begun reading, for work, with a deadline. That book, by the way, offered an epigraph by the author of this book. And I pick up All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg.

Bragg blew my mind with My Southern Journey (which will publish in two weeks or so; look out for my review then), and although I’d heard his name before, I never knew that he would be a writer to reach into me in such a way, to pull on me and make me nostalgic for a place that is not my home: foreign language words like fernweh, sehnsucht, saudade seem to touch on it. Bragg’s travels capture me; how will I ever go back to that other book, let alone my life, when this is done?

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

A vibrant, thought-provoking literary puzzler about identity and self-determination.

diver's clothes

“You stand in the middle of the small square, thinking about your options.” Vendela Vida’s (The Lovers) vivid fourth novel, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, is surprising in several ways, beginning with its unusual second-person perspective: you are the protagonist.

“You” are a woman traveling alone from Florida to Casablanca, fleeing troubles at home that are only gradually revealed to the reader. What you seek is unclear: a vacation? An escape? But what you find instead is the immediate theft of your passport and wallet–in short, everything you need to travel or return home. This abrupt change in circumstances is terrifying but also strangely freeing.

As the rest of the story unfolds, the unnamed protagonist spontaneously reacts to situations as they present themselves. You accept a passport and wallet that was stolen from another American woman, offered by the Casablanca police in lieu of your own, and take on that woman’s identity. You accept an unlikely job offer as the stand-in for a famous American actress. You hang out backstage with Patti Smith, date an older Russian businessman, even undertake a little acting. When circumstances get hectic, however, you are tempted to use your newfound skills in spontaneity and anonymity to disappear again.

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a complex, enigmatic fable about starting over, the nature of identity and the possibility of escaping the past. Vida’s meticulous release of details, knowing use of suspense, colorful evocation of Morocco and tantalizing characterization make this a singular, revelatory and deliciously satisfying novel.

This review originally ran in the June 16, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 cameras.

house hunting

Or some family?

with Mom

with Mom

with Pops

with Pops

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday. Thanks for your patience.

house hunting

Or a beach…


house hunting

Or what about…


house hunting

Or this…



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