On the Southern Literary Trail discussion

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General Bookishness > What do you consider your first Southern Literature reading experience?

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message 1: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
I was visiting my next door neighbor this afternoon. He's 76, one of my former psychology professors, and a man with more PhDs than I can count. And he loves to read. We generally talk books more than any other subject.

We were talking books this afternoon, particularly Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor. We got to talking about our first Southern Lit experience. Both of us agreed it was Mark Twain.

But when we got on to the subject of where Southern Lit began, we both agreed there was an earlier starting point. Howard wasn't quite sure where it began. My only answer was what Dr. O.B. Emerson, my Southern Literature Professor had taught me, that he considered Edgar Allan Poe the father of Southern Lit. He assigned us The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket & Related Tales as his "proof" of his theory.

So, a two prong question here: What do you consider your first Southern Lit read, and why do you think so?

On a broader level, just what IS Southern Literature? Let's get some chatter going on here, group.

My first Southern read was "Tom Sawyer." I didn't consider it Southern Lit. I didn't even know what "Southern Lit" was. I would say I was 8 years old when my Aunt took me over to Andan's Book Store in the old "Heart of Huntsville" shopping center, which was a big deal at the time. Mall, it wasn't. It was one of those lonnnggggg strip malls with one shop after another lined up side by side.

Andan's was a narrow shop in width but deep in length. I'd never seen so many books in one place in my life, not even our local library. Not even my beloved Lustig's Bookstore back in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Huntsville was a bustling place. Subdivisions were being thrown up all over the place. Because of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on the grounds of the old pre-world War II "Arsenal Grounds," Huntsville had been tagged as "The Rocket City."

Werner Von Braun was in residence. At the main entrance to "the Arsenal" were V-1s and V-2s. They were an ominous sight. But I was fascinated by them.

Although I was crazy over the possibility of space flight, though, my favorite spot was Andans. On this particular day, my Aunt told me to pick whatever I wanted. I picked "Tom Sawyer." It was the cover that did it. I still have the book. It was a Grossett and Dunlap edition with a bright orange dust jacket. Tom and his friends were working on painting Aunt Polly's fence, or rather, Tom was relaxing while his friends slapped the whitewash on the fence, gotten out of the work, and had made profitable trades from his workers in the bargain.

I was a romantic from a young age. Becky Thatcher made me swoon as much as she did Tom. I probably wouldn't have been as cool on the subject as Tom was able to make out. I felt sorry for poor old Muff Potter, thought Injun Joe was the meanest man that ever was, knew enough to laugh at "Jesus wept," and shuddered through Tom and Becky being lost in the cave.

So, that's mine. What's yours?

Lawyer Stevens


message 2: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus (expendablemudge) The Yearling...my mother was a book lover, and a Southren belle, and old (40) when I was born. She wanted peace and quiet, poor lamb, and had herself a boy completely by accident. She figured the best way to keep me quiet was to hook me on books and reading, so she set about it with great cunning and a good deal of success.

A side effect of her nationality and age was that I read a lot of stuff most boys raised in my generation never heard of. They read Run Silent Run Deep and I read The Yearling. Being a belle, Mama insisted that I acquire a few of the manly arts so she could brag about them, notably for this conversation deer hunting...I protested that I didn't want to shoot Flag, and Mama said, "then you don't want that last piece of sausage?" Venison. Deer. OH.

Bye bye Flag! Hello backstrap for dinner. I'm not terribly squeamish.


message 3: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Ah, yes, The Yearling byMarjorie Kinnan Rawlings, was also an early read for me.

I did not grow up hunting or fishing. Of course, I was inevitably given my first B-B gun by my grandfather. I wish I understood why boys have to find out at an early age what it means to kill something. Of course, Atticus told Jem on giving him his first weapon, a .22, I believe, that it was "a sin to kill a mockingbird."

It wasn't long after my grandfather had taught me to shoot, that I had the urge to know what it was like to kill. I was in the back yard. A dove was sitting on the telephone line. I facetiously said, be still, I'll be right back. It'll all be over in a minute. And he was still sitting there when I came back with my Winchester model Daisy rifle. I lifted the rifle, aimed as I had been taught and pulled the trigger.

I was right on target. It was the perfect shot. The dove fell of the line backwards and landed with hardly a sound when it hit the ground. I went over to investigate what I had done and realized for the first time what "dead" meant. I never shot another bird.

Now, I'm not opposed to hunting for food. But I didn't eat that dove. Perhaps I would have felt better if I had.

I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't kill the meat I eat. Someone else gets their hands dirty doing that job for me.

Years later, I gave my son his first B-B rifle. It was much like my first. He insisted on shooting a squirrel. I told him he wouldn't feel good about it, but I wouldn't stop him. He had to find out for himself. He only winged the squirrel. It was writhing on the ground when we walked up. My son began crying when he realized he had hurt the small animal and that it was in pain. "What do I do," he asked.

"Son, you have to finish what you started."

"You do it."

"I'm sorry. But it's up to you."

He sobbed as he killed the squirrel with a shot to the head. I don't think he ever killed another animal for "sport."

I'm a catch and release fisherman. Those that aren't released are cooked the day they're caught, while I'm camping out.

My daughter wanted to go fishing. I took her to a well stocked catfish pond. First cast, she got a strike. It was a fairsized fish for a little girl. She promptly named the fish "Fluffy." Although she had always loved to eat catfish, she never did after I cleaned and filleted "Fluffy."

My grandfather grew up in the country, born in 1908 in North Alabama, near the Tennessee line. His father diedeat a young age and it was up to Papa to keep meat on the table. Squirrels, rabbits and, yes, raccoons, which he said was quite good when properly cooked and served with yams and greens.

I've eaten much venison in my life. It makes a good meal. I have no problems with hunters who take game for food. However, I have no care for those that kill a buck for the rack of trophy antlers. I've seen many sets of them. A girlfriend of Martha Jo's was dating a fellah who took her to his home after dinner. She asked him why he shot the dear whose impressive head and antlers were mounted on a plaque over a roaring fireplace. Ah, Man pad. His answer, "Oh, I don't know. At the time I felt very angry at him." Un-huh. Right.

Of course, I remember striking a jury. As a preliminary matter, jurors stand, identify themselves, indicate married or single, and what they do for a living. The big guy stood up, and had that look my grandmother said wasn't quite right in the eyes. He gave a guttural chuckle. Joe...., single, Ahm'a chicken killer at Peco, the local poultry "processing" plant. The man obviously enjoyed his work. The defense struck him. I would have if the defense hadn't. Kinda put me off chicken for a while. But, I'm one of those guys that's gotta have his protein.

So it goes. But it does kinda put you in mind of the story "To Serve Man," by Damon Knight.


message 4: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 127 comments Hmm, I think it was The Yearling for me too. I had all of my parents' old books from when they were children, but I don't recall anything Southern (my mother was from L.A., my dad from New York City). I got The Yearling as a gift for my 11th birthday and I remember loving it. I was a big re-reader in those days (I could read at a ridiculous clip back then) and The Yearling definitely got more than a few repeats.


message 5: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Everitt wrote: "To answer the second part of the question first I’ll say that like most Americans my first exposure to Southern Literature came through Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My 9th Grade..."

Everitt, thank you for a very well thought out piece of work.

In psychology, a person is said to be in touch with reality if he is oriented to person, place and time. Such might be applied to Southern Literature.

Many might take exception to the statement that there is no Northern Literature, Mid-Western Literature, or Northwest-Pacific Literature. Perhaps, it might be more correct to say that Southern Literature offers a unique perspective on life based on its people, the place in which they live, and the times in which they lived.

Southern literature offers a definite orientation to person, place, and time. The person in Southern literature is controlled by the place of his birth, and the time in which he lives. But it is a more complex question regarding time, because the times in which he lives are definitely more steeped in the past and colored by history.

The history of southern literature ebbs and flows through time reflecting the influences of the passing eras. As such, there is just no one southern literature, bur a veritable grouping of sub genres. That is one of the things that makes it such a fascinating area of study for me.

For a very good exposition of the genres within Southern Literature, see: http://southernspaces.org/2004/genres... by Lucinda Mackethan.

Also see the wonderful article, Walker Percy and Southern Literature at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy/makowsk... written for the Walker Percy Project.

Then peruse A Southern List: 125 Great Southern Books at http://www.ageefilms.org/southern_boo... .

Agee Films was created in 1974 in honor of James Agee. One of its best documentaries is Tell About the South: Voices in Black and White. Divided into three parts, the documentaries are:

As taken directly from the website:

"I. Tell About the South - Part One tells the story of modern Southern Literature before World War II. It features William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Erskine Caldwell, Margaret Mitchell, the Fugitive Poets, the Blues poets and many more. Tell About the South was screened on national PBS in summer, 1998.

II. Prophets and Poets - Part Two of the series tells the story of Southern Literature from 1940 until the Civil Rights Movement. It features Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Robert Penn Warren, Ralph Ellison, Lillian Smith, Flannery O'Connor and many more. Prophets and Poets premiered at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March, 1999.

III. Let Freedom Ring - Part Three of the series tells the story of Southern Literature from the Civil Rights Movement until the present. It features Walker Percy, Alice Walker, William Styron, Ernest Gaines, Reynolds Price, Alex Haley, Margaret Walker, Lee Smith, Larry Brown, Clyde Edgerton, Pat Conroy and many more. Let Freedom Ring premiered in February 2000."

A great study guide is also available online for this documentary.

"Lawyer Stevens"


message 6: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus (expendablemudge) OMIGOSH Elizabeth Spencer!! I'd completely back-burnered her in my little pea brain. The Voice at the Back Door was a favorite read of mine.

That Agee Films list is stellar, thanks for linking to it, Lawyer.


message 7: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Richard wrote: "OMIGOSH Elizabeth Spencer!! I'd completely back-burnered her in my little pea brain. The Voice at the Back Door was a favorite read of mine.

That Agee Films list is s..."


Yeah, Richard. There's some fine memories on that list. It's one of the best directly related to Southern Lit that I've found.


message 8: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
Thinking back, it was probably "The Yearling" as a child, but I guess "Fair and Tender Ladies" by Lee Smith would be my most remembered book as an adult.


message 9: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Everitt wrote: "con't...

This brings me to my latest question, which is admittedly a bit cynical. In contemporary America, is the idea of Southern literature a distinct part of American literature, a genre unto i..."


Everitt,

Many thanks for a hearty laugh this morning. Not only do dead mules play a part in our genre, but so do live ones. Ferrol Sams in Run W/The Horse -Op/35 offers the immortal scene of our young protagonist lighting a mule's gaseous emission resulting in a goodly number of good rows of crops being destroyed by said action.

Of course, some Southerners take great pride in their mules. Mule Festival are a common event across the South. The nearest one to me is in Gordo, Al., about 25 miles from Tuscaloosa. It is an annual event and during an election year you can bet your bottom dollar that every politico in the State shows up to see and be seen. Here's the link to the Gordo event. http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article...

I always enjoy your commentary and input with the group. We're growing slowly, but surely. And I truly wish this to become a vital community for the purpose of spreading interest in the genre of Southern literature. The area is so broad now. We are blessed with so many voices from the past. But we are equally blessed with newer and vibrant voices that carry on the tradition in their own way.

By all means, please continue your very, very good input. I thank you for your work.

Sincerely,

Lawyer Stevens


message 10: by Marlene (new)

Marlene (marlene1001) First: Very impressive text. There's nothing I could add.

Second: Did I just really read an even longer text about "Equus caballus x asinus (defunctus)"? And did I find it interesting?
I thought so.
I have to admit that I came across a dead mule once too, which means (at least according to the mule-man) that is was a piece of Southern Literature. The bad thing is just that I don't know where exactly I read it anymore. Too bad.


message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus (expendablemudge) Good lawsy me! I can see that this is a group with some brain-heft. I should go now....


message 12: by Marlene (new)

Marlene (marlene1001) No, stay! Don't leave me alone among all those intelligent people!

Okay, back on topic. My first Southern Literature Experience... that's quite difficult, because I'm sure I've read books of this genre without knowing they belonged to it - which makes it difficult to say anything about it.

The first book I read, which was written by a southern author (or two even) was a fantasy-novel. The main plot is about casters living hidden in a southern (very) small town. Nothing I'd consider a classic, but there were some things I regognized as typically for the south - even though, as I mentioned, I'd never consciously read a book from Southern Litearture before. Beautiful Creatures had many aspects in there.

The first book I read consciously was To Kill a Mockingbird, which just proves that it's one of the first books one reads.
At this point I have to admit that I first read it in January this year...
I don't know much about the genre yet, but I'm sure a few month in this group will see to that. If not, I just have to look for dead mules.


message 13: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus (expendablemudge) It's the living mules that worry me.


message 14: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich (spenkevich) | 18 comments Marlene wrote:The first book I read consciously was To Kill a Mockingbird, which just proves that it's one of the first books one reads...

Mockingbird was also one of the first Southern Lit book I read as well. I like how you mention it is a book one first reads 'consciously', it seems to be one of those books that really gets people noticing deeper meanings and symbolism, at least it was for me. Another that works for that could be Tom Sawyer. I remember in 6th grade we read that and the teacher asked the question 'what does the water dripping in the cave symbolize?'. This was my big epiphany of literature at a young age realizing, 'wait, he didn't just write that because it sounded nice and just to make money?!'. I was hooked forever. So I suppose Twain was actually my first Southern Lit experience back when I was 11. Didn't remember any of that until just now.


message 15: by Marlene (new)

Marlene (marlene1001) "Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin" is standing on my bookshelf. It has stood there for a few month now and I'm going to read it soon. Promise!


message 16: by Daniel (last edited Feb 20, 2012 09:06PM) (new)

Daniel I might have read Tom Sawyer in High School. More likely I didn't read it and said I did. I was like that in High School.

The first time I read something knowing it was southern was in 1982, I think, a girl I knew gave me A Confederacy of Dunces. The girl was a dud but the book was a lot of fun. And is again as I read it now.

As to the mules, the first time I remember thinking about mules while reading something Southern was The Unvanquished with granny stealing mules from the Yankee Army and then selling them back to it.


message 17: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (mctigueamanda) | 3 comments Having been raised in part in the Blue Ridge, my FIRST Southern lit book would have to be the Bible. You who came up in that neck of the woods know what I mean: that is the first book in a Christian home and it comes forward to a child in a particularly Southern way--as much literature as religion, read aloud and recited for its language etc. Then there were campfire stories, cautionary tales and the endless family lore on the porch. It was in school in the North, probably in junior high, when I read Miss Eudora Welty's "The Wide Net." Taught to me by a teacher from the South who had us read it aloud. That was the beginning of a life-long swoon into the music of my still favorite writing and writers. Thanks for a great question. I've enjoyed wandering through the soulful responses above.


TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez (Madly77) | 5 comments I guess for me it was Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," which I immediately fell in love with. First book might have been Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Next would have been The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty. Love them all.

Thank you for all the valuable information about Southern literature in this thread.


message 19: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
G wrote: "I guess for me it was Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," which I immediately fell in love with. First book might have been Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Next would have been The Opt..."

G, you had a very good introduction, indeed. I love each of the titles you mentioned. And there are so, so many more. I ran into a young lady and her mother in Square Books in Oxford, Ms. Her first Faulkner was The Sound and the Fury. She was wondering which Faulkner to read next. You can see our conversation at a review I did of "Light in August at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... . That conversation was one of the main reasons for my starting this group.

Lawyer Stevens


message 20: by Franky (new)

Franky | 327 comments I think I agree with G. It had to be reading "A Rose for Emily" during high school (what an ending!) and then later reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of my favorites. Later on, when I read O'Connor, Welty and Walker in a Southern Lit class, I found I really enjoyed the genre.


message 21: by Jessie J (new)

Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Amanda wrote: "Having been raised in part in the Blue Ridge, my FIRST Southern lit book would have to be the Bible. You who came up in that neck of the woods know what I mean: that is the first book in a Christian home and it comes forward to a child in a particularly Southern way--as much literature as religion, read aloud and recited for its language etc. Then there were campfire stories, cautionary tales and the endless family lore on the porch...."

I understand what you mean, Amanda, and it's why I avoided Southern literature for so long. With other genres, there was an element of escape while learning a different culture or time period. I always felt with Southern lit that it was capturing something I knew...and had no desire to revisit.

I know that's not entirely true, rationally, more of an emotional response. Maybe this group is therapy for me!

Jessie


message 22: by Mary (new)

Mary (marybt) | 46 comments It was when my mother handed me a copy of "Rainey" by Clyde Edgerton. I didn't recognize it as Southern Lit at the time, but I realized I wanted to read more like it. Rainey


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments I guess I distinguish in my mind between books I was told to read in school and those I came across on my own (and feel more like "mine.") My Mom had me read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel and all the other books in that series as a child, set in 19th century North Carolina, with a girl who was alf Cherokee, I'd hate to go back and read them now for fear of implied racism, but as a child in Oregon they were simultaneously a different world and what I imagined in my own woods. I live two hours from Cherokee, NC now, and in view of the Smoky Mountains, and the books are still there in the back of my mind. It amazes me that books can be so formative!

As an adult, my first southern reading experience (once I finished grad school and had time to read again) was The Secret Life of Bees. I heard the author speak a few years back; a real treat.


message 24: by Alison (new)

Alison Law (alisonlaw) Where the Red Fern Grows I consider my first introduction to Southern literature my third grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, reading aloud from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.


message 25: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Mary wrote: "It was when my mother handed me a copy of "Rainey" by Clyde Edgerton. I didn't recognize it as Southern Lit at the time, but I realized I wanted to read more like it. Rainey"

Mary, please accept my apology for delay in response. I was in Nevada this past week helping a family on a case.

You've hit on, probably, my favorite Clyde Edgerton novel. It's a toss up between that and Walking Across Egypt. I've read both aloud to my wife Martha Jo. She adored both. I already did adore them and continue to do so. Your mother got you off to a fine start. Edgerton is a great guy to see and speak with at a book reading/signing.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 26: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Alison wrote: "Where the Red Fern Grows I consider my first introduction to Southern literature my third grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, reading aloud from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls."

Thank you for providing me with some very pleasant reminiscences. I read to each of my children as they were growing up. Your introduction to Southern literature was also theirs. Each loved the book, and it was requested more than once. I don't know whether my son or daughter ended up with our copy, but I'm sure both own a copy and will read it to my grandchildren.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 27: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Jenny wrote: "I guess I distinguish in my mind between books I was told to read in school and those I came across on my own (and feel more like "mine.") My Mom had me read [book:Mandie and the Secret Tunnel|1561..."

Jenny, thanks for steering me to a series I'm not familiar with--I must investigate! The Secret Life of Bees has been on my shelf for several years. I'll have to move it up the stack.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 28: by peg (last edited Apr 03, 2012 03:08AM) (new)

peg (mcicutti) | 10 comments My first introduction to southern lit was Flannery Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find,and other stories" in seventh grade and I remember thinking that the south must be a pretty scary place. My anxieties were extinguished when I read "To Kill A Mockingbird" that same year and I have been hooked on southern lit ever since.


message 29: by Mary (last edited Apr 03, 2012 05:39AM) (new)

Mary (marybt) | 46 comments No need to apologize, I didn't take it personally or anything. lol.

I remember reading Where The Red Fern Grows. I was in my 20's. Somehow, I made it all the way through high school and never read it. Now I knew the dogs were going to die because, for some reason, authors believe their heads will explode if they don't kill off every dog in every story. But I was enjoying the story pretending like they weren't going to die. My sister (who was 13 at the time probably) comes in and says, "I hate that book. The dogs die." Thanks a lot! lol.

There's no way I could ever read it out loud to my kid. I bawl too hard.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments Where the Red Fern Grows was the story my 6th grade teacher read every year.. he'd cry.. the class would cry.. what the heck!


message 31: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new)

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
peg wrote: "My first introduction to southern lit was Flannery Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find,and other stories" in seventh grade and I remember thinking that the south must be a pretty scary place. My a..."

Now, that's a tough introduction to Southern literature! I would have thought "To Kill a Mockingbird" would have been the first before dropping a seventh grader into the presence of the Misfit. *grin*

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 32: by peg (new)

peg (mcicutti) | 10 comments I know! That particular teacher also loved Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
It was a very scary year :-)


message 33: by Job (new)

Job van der Kooij I guess my first introduction to the southern literary trail was McCarthy's "Blood Meridian". I didn't like it very much on first read, I missed lots of the story due to the difficult southern vernacular style. Which is particularly hard to read for any non-native English/American. It was a few years later that I reread it and began to understand the epic sweep and gargantuan horror of the work, notably the ghoulish Judge Holden.

This book had me searching for its place in the grand scheme of American literary history, which eventually led me to Southern Gothic. So in the end Blood Meridian was my first mistake, and my first love at the same time.


message 34: by Franky (new)

Franky | 327 comments peg wrote: "My first introduction to southern lit was Flannery Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find,and other stories" in seventh grade and I remember thinking that the south must be a pretty scary place. My a..."

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" I remember reading this one in college. Great story.


message 35: by Amy (new)

Amy Hearth Mike wrote: "I was visiting my next door neighbor this afternoon. He's 76, one of my former psychology professors, and a man with more PhDs than I can count. And he loves to read. We generally talk books mor..."

I read "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn" while attending elementary school in Columbia, South Carolina in the 1960s. I identified so strongly with Huck that I turned into a full-fledged tomboy. I even tried my hand at building a raft on the small lake by our home, pretending that I was on the mighty Mississippi.


message 36: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Duffy Thomas (kathy_duffy_thomas) | 18 comments I read The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy when I was in high school. I guess I started reading his novels soon after that, and then as they came out. I read Southern Ladies and Gentlemen by Florence King the first time I was in college. Not a novel, I guess, but southern. I suspect that I read other books that I haven't thought of as "southern." I'm working on a sort of spirtitual autobiography through books I've read but I haven't gotten very far.


message 37: by Susan (new)

Susan | 30 comments Just came across this thread and it's interesting to think about. I grew up in Charlottesville, Viriginia in the 1960s and '70s with Northern parents and didn't think of where we lived or myself as Southern (how wrong I was!) But when I had to move to Columbus, Georgia during my junior year of high school, I soon learned that Carson McCullers had grown up there. I was a big reader, so I set to reading her work (plus visiting her old neighborhood, not too far from the old library in town). What else could I do, as I knew no one!? That was my first consciously Southern lit, and somehow it helped me appreciate the very different beauty of that part of the South, with its wide muddy red rivers, endless pines, and courtly ways. I haven't lived in the South for decades, but am now visiting it all over again, with writers I somehow missed or skimmed over in the past - Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, Faulkner! Rich stuff.


message 38: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 126 comments I just now happened upon this thread also, and as usual it is fascinating to read about all things Southern. I had no idea mules were a Southern phenomena.

I come from Midwestern stock and was raised in California. When I was 13 or 14 I read Gone with the Wind for the first time, and it was my first conscious exposure to Southern lit. I'm pretty sure I'd read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and Where the Red Fern Grows before that, but I don't remember having any real understanding of the geography involved.

I remember being astonished by a history and lifestyle that was as foreign to me as if the South was a different planet. I was fascinated with the history, and it was my first and probably most in depth exposure to the Civil War from the Confederate point of view. With GWTW was born my love of American historical fiction.

I often find myself in arguments with people who are either deathly opposed to GWTW because of what is perceived as Mitchell's racism, or I'm arguing with people who have romanticized GWTW and Scarlet so thoroughly they make Scarlet their worshipped heroine. For me, neither of these attitudes touches on Mitchell's brilliance in writing this novel.

My takeaway from this book, even at the age of a tween, was a tremendous lesson in the need to wake up to what was happening in front of you - that a life spent dreaming and building lifestyles based on traditional fantasies could leave you both bloody and broken-hearted.

Scarlet was the picture of the kind of ego females would need to develop in order to take their place in the world, and while that would eventually prove to be necessary, she also did nothing but get in her own way in the face of her ambition and her fear. As a young female just discovering what the world was about, I saw that as nothing but a dire warning - be careful you don't sacrifice yourself and all those around you in your rush to achieve. And wake up to what is happening in front of you.

I actually don't know how many times I have read GWTW, and in truth each time I pick it up I am once again gobsmacked by Mitchell's skill and ability, and I am finally beginning to detect some of her incredible subtleties that continue to make this one of the great American novels. Someday I am going to write the review of Mitchell's novel that I feel it deserves.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments Janice (JG) wrote: "I just now happened upon this thread also, and as usual it is fascinating to read about all things Southern. I had no idea mules were a Southern phenomena.

I come from Midwestern stock and was rai..."


I’m currently reading it for the first time! This is a helpful perspective.


Cathrine ☯️  | 642 comments Janice, can I steal most of your second paragraph?
Part of my problem with remembering what I did or did not read as a child is due to movies. Did I read Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer or see the movies or both? My first Southern movie was To Kill A Mockingbird and it would be decades before I read the book.
But definitely GWTW read in High School was my first Southern impact novel. Up till then this California girl had no clue about the South or it's existence apart from school geography maps.
My first Southern word was Mississippi which I learned after being challenged on the school yard to spell (and failed). I had it memorized by the end of the day but had no clue what it was or meant. But the first Southern state I visited? MI SS I SS I PP I.


message 41: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
Janice, I think that's a great assessment of GWTW, and a lot of people miss that. I grew up in NC, so everything we read in school had a southern theme. It wasn't till high school that I was introduced to the rest of the world. What a shock! And my first visit North as a young adult was even even more so. No sweet tea! No hushpuppies! No waitresses calling me Honey! And the voices, not even understandable!
These days I do most of my traveling through books, but I will never forget that first trip to another country, The northern U.S. Total culture shock.


message 42: by Beth (new)

Beth | 1 comments As a young child growing up in the South, but not in Mississippi, I was taught to spell it using the following little ditty: M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humped back-humped back-I.


message 43: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 126 comments Cathrine ☯️ wrote: "Janice, can I steal most of your second paragraph?
Part of my problem with remembering what I did or did not read as a child is due to movies. Did I read Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer or see the movies or b..."


Sure : )


message 44: by Tracey (last edited Sep 07, 2019 02:12AM) (new)

Tracey (traceyrb) | 33 comments I didn’t know what Southern lit was and maybe still don’t exactly. As a Brit my reading was mainly European but I would say Uncle Tom's Cabin was my introduction to American literature. Once I read that I looked at American lit more often and found my way to To Kill a Mockingbird which I think was my first real southern lit.
Working my way through Willa Cather, who I love, and Edith Wharton, John Steinbeck and others, eventually lead to the more challenging The Sound and the Fury and The Violent Bear It Away
It is the passion and unflinching look at family life, with all the complex results of parental brokenness, the sins of the fathers, and struggles against the unfairness of life, that speaks so deeply to me.


message 45: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
Wow, Tracey, what a great start you've made. Your favorite authors are some of mine too, though I must admit I've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin.


message 46: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new)

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Hell at the Breech is a favorite but love every author you mentioned.


message 47: by Howard (new)

Howard | 407 comments "Cotton in My Sack" by Lois Lenski. I was in the second grade. I even reviewed it that year (book report) and also here on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 48: by Zorro (last edited Sep 07, 2019 07:24PM) (new)

Zorro (zorrom) | 177 comments Storybook -- Little Black Sambo
Novel -- To Kill a Mockingbird

By the way, Missouri was a “border state”, not a Southern State, so why do you all consider Tom Sawyer at Southern novel?


message 49: by Howard (last edited Sep 08, 2019 06:10AM) (new)

Howard | 407 comments Zorro wrote: "Storybook -- Little Black Sambo
Novel -- To Kill a Mockingbird

By the way, Missouri was a “border state”, not a Southern State, so why do you all consider Tom Sawyer at Southern novel?"


Probably because Missouri was a slave state. It was settled primarily by people from the South -- Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas. And although it did not secede, the state was evenly split between those who supported the Union and those who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The area along the Missouri River (excluding St. Louis) and to the south was and is as southern as northeastern Arkansas or the Arkansas Ozarks. The extreme southeastern corner of the state, called the Bootheel, is a major producer of cotton, which is a crop that has always been identified with the South. It is also located in the northernmost section of the MIssissippi Delta.

But your point is well taken. Mark Twain was not from the southern part of the state. His home of Hannibal is well north of St. Louis. So one could make the argument that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," which is set in the Hannibal area, is not a southern novel. Much of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," on the other hand, is set in the South and could be classified as a southern novel.


message 50: by Zorro (new)

Zorro (zorrom) | 177 comments Howard wrote: "But your point is well taken. Mark Twain was not from the southern part of the state. His home of Hannibal is well north of St. Louis. So one could make the argument that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," which is set in the Hannibal area, is not a southern novel. Much of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," on the other hand, is set in the South and could be classified as a southern novel"

I have never even thought of Tom Sawyer as being a Southern Novel and was so surprised when I saw everyone talking about it!


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