Southern Squared Reads

Many of my friends and family know that I am a voracious reader. As a child, I could usually be found reading a book, even when it was bedtime, and I hid under the covers with a flashlight. No meal was complete without a book in front of my plate. No road trip could begin without a stack of books to keep me busy in the back seat of the station wagon. The running joke with my brother and his friend was that when I turned 16, I would hire a chauffeur and buy a station wagon so I could have the library in the back, and read while I was driven around town. That sounds like something I would still do at almost 42 years old.

Whether the books are for enrichment, education, or just a guilty pleasure, I feel fulfilled and complete when I turn the last page. I have tried audiobooks and e-readers, but reading the physical book still gives me such a thrill, from the first few pages when I am introduced to the setting, characters and the start of the plot, to the conclusion where I have to say goodbye to the characters. Whether it was the Nancy Drew series, Babysitters Club, Boxcar Children, Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary books I read as a child, to the American and World Lit books I read in high school and college like Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Catcher in the Rye, Tender is the Night or A Room With A View, to the modern books I am reading now, I know I have new adventures waiting with every book I open and finish.

Some of my library

Now that we are going to be home-bound for at least a couple of weeks, I thought I would share some of the books I plan to read during this period, and what I have been reading in the past few months. Normally, I keep a book at work to read on my lunch break (when going to work was a thing), one on the nightstand, and one for when I travel.

Travel

I just finished Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. Just in case I didn’t already love books, Colgan made me fall in love with them again with how she described what words did to the main character. Some excerpts:

Children were evolutionarily engineered to listen to stories, because it stopped them from wandering off into the woods and getting eaten by hairy mammoths.
— Jenny Colgan, Bookshop on the Corner

Books had been her solace when she was sad, her friends when she was lonely. They had mended her heart when it was broken, and encouraged her to hope when she was down.
— Jenny Colgan, Bookshop on the Corner

Next on the list to read when I travel (whenever that can happen again) is What Unites Us, by Dan Rather. I picked it up at the Chicago History Museum last fall. It was nestled between biographies of other American greats like Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, but this one piqued my curiosity because it was by a journalist.

At Home

Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes. I read Under the Tuscan Sun years ago when the movie came out. They are both set in Tuscany and have strong female protagonists who are in the second stage of their adulthood, recovering from painful breaks in relationships. Mayes came to the Atlanta History Center last fall for Author Talks and to sign books. This is my guilty pleasure, and I love reading five or six chapters before I go to bed.

At Work

Beach Music by Pat Conroy. I really enjoy Southern authors, because I am one myself, and because I feel a kinship to their style of writing, the topics, and the locations they write about. Beach Music is one of my favorite books to read and re-read; this may be my 10th reading. It reminds me of how wonderful it is to hold a book and immerse yourself in someone else’s words and world.

I smelled the books and in so smelling realized that I was breathing the smell of myself, the familiar incense of the past coming to me in an envelope of aromas: wood smoke, law books, floor wax, sea air and a thousand other lesser scents that went into the making of this strange wine of air and memory.
— Pat Conroy, Beach Music

To Be Read

Books
My “To Read” stack

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. I come from a family of healthcare providers, and realize the life-threatening situation that physicians put themselves in to aid in our recovery from COVID-19, but know it is vital to our survival. I’ve seen this book in my dad’s library for years, and finally snagged it during my last visit. Gawande examines how physicians have to evaluate limited resources, fatigue and uncertainty when taking care of patients, and how to lessen the gap between best intentions and best performance. I wonder how Gawande would describe what healthcare providers are seeing now in hospitals with COVID-19 compared to what he described in military situations, urban hospitals and malpractice cases in court in the book.

Little Fires Everywhere & Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I won’t lie. I had never heard of these books before I started reading from Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Add to the fire (haha), the series has just been released on Hulu, so of course, I have to read the book before I watch the show! I’ve read quite a few of her other recommendations, including One Day in December, The Giver of Stars, The Last House Guest, The Proposal, and Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows (see below). Others on the list that I want to read include When We Left Cuba and The Library Book, which I already have, but haven’t started yet!

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. This is one of a few books I want to read that will help me with professional development and making better life and career choices. Gates takes stories from around the world to illustrate how women have been stepped over, diminished and held down. She explains the steps necessary in homes and the workplace to change how women are perceived in the family and the workplace, as well as in their own minds. I am also listening to HBR podcasts and reading leadership books that HBR publishes to further my personal and professional interests.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Another Southern author writing about locations and subjects that I know well, and another Reese’s Book Club selection! I am really looking forward to this one since I just ate a pound of crawfish when I was visiting family in Louisiana last week. I love the plot, the setting in the wilds of North Carolina, the strong female protagonist, and the shy introvert being pushed into an unknown world. I was hesitant to read this given that I like to surround myself with happiness, and reviews said it was a “hearbreaking story” but that it was also “a beautiful story”. I am looking forward to reading more about hope more than sadness in this book.

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor. I have read a few books about India’s independence, British occupation, and India’s history before British occupation. For some unknown reason, very little was written about India’s history before independence, whether it was hesitation to speak out against the British, or lack of interest in India’s history. Tharoor explores how India’s economy thrived before Western occupation, and how the subcontinent was raped and pillaged by Western colonizers. Authors like Tharoor and Madhusree Mukerjee (Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II) were confronted with lack of resources and research readily available except from the Western perspective. I am amazed how they were able to find the information, and the amount of time and effort that had to be put into conducting the research for these books.

More of my library

Just Finished

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes. Moyes is most well known for writing Me Before You, a romantic drama that was made into a movie, but she got her start in historical fiction, a genre which she returns to with her latest book. The Giver of Stars follows a British woman who moves to rural Kentucky with her new husband, and becomes involved with a mule-pack traveling library during the Great Depression. As with Bookshop On the Corner, The Giver of Stars shows how a person is affected by reading and books, and how educating oneself through reading can change your life.

America’s First Daughter & My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. I read both of these books after Dray and Kamoie spoke at Author Talks at the Atlanta History Center a couple of years ago (if you don’t live in Atlanta, find similar programs in your town). America’s First Daughter is a fictional story of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, who served as his First Lady when he was President. She follows her father as he builds Monticello, goes to Paris as the Secretary of State, and then to the White House. My Dear Hamilton follows a similar prescription with a fictional story of a historical female figure, Eliza Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife. She came from a fairly well-to-do, politically connected family, but her family had concerns when she married the poor immigrant statesman. The authors used letters, biographies and state documents to research for the books, but did take some artistic liberties with the novels. They chose these stories because so much has been written about the male counterparts, but they did not find much material for the wives and daughters of America’s Founding Fathers.

On my to read list is a collaboration of SIX authors, Kate Quinn, Sophie Perinot, E. Knight, Heather Webb, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie – Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution. Like the two books above, this is a historical fiction, but unlike the collaboration between Dray and Kamoie, these authors chose to tell stories of different characters who are somehow tied together. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet since I got the book at Atlanta History Center’s Author Talks program, but I’m looking forward to diving into this novel about the female heroes of the French Revolution!

The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation by Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of former Alabama governors George Wallace and Lurleen Burns Wallace. I had planned to do a “Civil Rights Tour” of Alabama, visiting sites of interest around the state that were crucial to the Civil Rights Movement, like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Brown Chapel AME Church, the Montgomery Capital Steps, 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. Since it looks like my plans are on hold, I read Kennedy’s book which I had purchased before Christmas. While her father was well known for his segregationist views and for blocking entry to the first black students at the University of Alabama, among other situations, Kennedy is making amends for his actions now with this book, and as a civil rights activist and supporter. The book covers the lives of both Kennedy’s mother and father, and their respective careers in politics, and the effect that George Wallace’s segregationist policies had on her, and how she saw them as a child, now as an adult, and what she had to teach her children as a result. The Broken Road offers a very enlightening perspective, and one that she brings full circle to the current racial and political climate.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal, a fellow brown female author like myself! Jaswal’s books are based in the UK, and follow young women of Indian ethnicity as they face multi-cultural issues like being single and staying single despite parents wanting you to get married, “love marriages” and generational differences with parents and in-laws. I highly recommend the other novel of Jaswal’s that I read as well, Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows. I have her other novels, Sugarbread and Inheritance, on my to read list as well.

Redhead in a Blue Convertible by Ivan Scott, a former co-worker who pursued his dream of publishing his first novel – self-published AND self-marketed! It is available for sale in local bookstores (when they re-open) and through Amazon. A woman goes through a life-changing career situation, and is forced to confront her relationship with her mother and hesitation with romances as she befriends an unlikely man. This book is set in Atlanta, so prepare for some familiar destinations as you take a ride with the redhead in her blue convertible!

Feel free to check out other books I’ve read or plan to read on my Goodreads account.

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