Georgia’s on my mind.
We spent so much time in California, with 13 books read (!), that I knew I had to head somewhere completely different–and soon! So I decided to head to the Deep South.
But what to do when I’ve already read most of the books that top everyone’s list for Georgia? Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. If I had only seen the movie versions of Gone With the Wind or The Color Purple, I’d go ahead and add them to my reading list anyway, but I’ve read the books as well.
So my Georgia picks may be a bit less well-known, but they’ve got my interest really piqued just the same.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018) – The finalists for the 2018 National Book Awards were announced October 10, and while I was looking over the finalists and the long list, I discovered An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I realize I’m a little late to that party, as it’s on Oprah’s Book Club list already, but I really want to read it, so I’m adding it for Georgia, though it could also be added to Louisiana, as the story is split between the two states. And I will probably be adding one or two more books by Tayari Jones to my To Read list! If you have a favorite, let me know. Goodreads link for An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.
A Cry of Angels by Jeff Fields (1974) – Goodreads link – A set of misfit residents of a slum boardinghouse in Georgia rebuild their home and their lives, helped by a local architect and hindered by a local “big man.” With themes of race, poverty, self-sufficiency, rebellion and community, this looks like a great read. Originally published in 1974, it sounds like this book has a bit of a cult following. UPDATE: I have read A Cry of Angels, and I loved it, but with the holidays, I’m having a really difficult time writing up a full review. This one was fantastic for my challenge–we finally have a bit of red clay, as well as some granite quarries, and a wonderful story. It’s a bit slow at times, but in the end it’s worth it, and I should say that it is a lot bigger than just the residents of the boardinghouse–it’s the whole black slum (plus the elderly, white boarders and a gigantic Native American drunk/hero) rising up against the black overlord who keeps them down with the blessing of the white supremacists in town. The race dynamics are a whole lot messier than they’re often drawn in fiction, which, to my mind, actually makes them a whole lot more realistic.
Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson (2006) – Goodreads link – Between is not only the name of the town, but also where the main character, Nonny, finds herself. Caught between two mothers, two men, and two families in a small town family feud rife with family secrets. One of the moms is deaf and blind, and Nonny is an interpreter, so I’m interested in that aspect as well, but I also noticed that several reviews bemoaned the idea that the South is so full of quirkiness. I have to admit that I sometimes feel this way too, but it’s part of the whole Southern Gothic sub-genre, and when it’s done right it doesn’t come across as annoying–it just blends in seamlessly as part of the setting. So I’ll be interested to see how well it’s done here.
The Last Buffalo Soldier by Michael S. Nuckols (2015) – Goodreads link – This one appeals to the history buff in me, as it discusses race not just on our home soil and in the South, but also in our military over the course of several wars. It’s a multi-generational saga as well, with a grandfather trying to connect with his rebellious granddaughter. I’m really excited about this one!
This Side of the River by Jeffrey Stayton (2015) – Goodreads link – How can I resist a book with the premise of a bunch of Confederate war widows marching north from Georgia to burn Sherman’s house? I’m not sure how much of this will actually be set in Georgia, but it just sounds like a lot of fun, while, obviously, dealing with some very serious issues that still resonate today. UPDATE: I’ve moved this one to my Abandoned Books shelf. The military commander of this fictional army of Confederate war widows sexually assaults and rapes many of the leaders of the widows, who are telling the story in first person accounts. I couldn’t finish it. I hope the widows end up lynching him, but from what I read, I doubt that happens. Very much NOT the fun read I was hoping/looking for and definitely NOT recommended.
Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb (2016) – Goodreads link – Another book with a really intriguing premise: a Holocaust survivor comes to Savannah to live with family and tries to settle into the Jewish community in Georgia. The story is complicated by divides among the Jewish community–which have little significance to a survivor of the concentration camps–and the fact that he sees parallels to his experiences in the racial divides he witnesses in Savannah.
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2004) – Goodreads link – This one showed up at a Little Free Library near me a while back, and I snatched it up because it can be hard to find Young Adult and Young Reader books with a clearly defined setting. This one is a Newberry winner, and I suspect we’ll find it reminiscent of Bento Box in the Heartland from Indiana, because it tells the story of a Japanese family who move from an Asian community in Iowa to Georgia, where they are the only Asian Americans around.
Alternates for Georgia
Cane by Jean Toomer (1923) – Goodreads says, “The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.” Based on this description it should be perfect for my challenge. The style is a bit different–more like vignettes or a mixture of poetry and prose–but we’ve had some recent success with Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, written in sonnet form, so I’m willing to give this a shot.
Earl In the Yellow Shirt by Janice Daugharty (1997) Goodreads link – I picked up this one at the same time as Kira-Kira, but other than both being set in Georgia, they aren’t much alike! This seems to be written in the style of Faulkner, where each chapter tells essentially the same story from a different point of view, but in such a slanted way that we aren’t really sure of the full story until the end. (Disclaimer: I’ve actually never read Faulkner, so we’ll definitely do one for Mississippi!) Some reviews said it was hilarious and others said it wasn’t–my guess is that there’s some gallows humor, which also seems to be a hallmark of Southern Gothic. We’ll see.