Arts & Life

Wicked City

Apr 22, 2008

In Wicked City, he fictionalizes actual events in the Phenix City of 1954, a place so awful, Atkins writes, "no author could ever exaggerate the sin, sleaze, and moral decay of Phenix City, Alabama, in the fifties or the courage of the people who stood up to fight it."

Ace Atkins' career has tacked this way and that over the years, but has never strayed very far from crime, especially murder.

Family Bible

Apr 22, 2008

This is not for the most part a volume full of blame or revenge, although there are more than enough guilty parties. This is Delbridge's own story, her very particular growing-up story, and while it is comical at times, these essays are laced through, as many memoirs are, with real pain.

The book closes with a recipe for "Cornbread Southern Style." Besides the obvious ingredients, this recipe calls for one tablespoon of sugar. Since "Pig Iron Rough Notes" was edited by an Alabamian and published in Alabama and the recipe came from J. M. Brown of Edgewater, Alabama, I take it to be the last, final, definitive word on cornbread. One tablespoon sugar.

Work Shirts for Madmen

Mar 17, 2008

Singleton has published three collections of stories, mostly funny, and then had only a semi-success with Novel: A Novel, in which he made fun of writers' colonies. In Work Shirts for Madmen, he has adjusted to the longer form, and this novel is a treat.

Tartts Three is a collection of twenty-three stories. One-hundred-seventy story collections were submitted to the third annual Tartt First Fiction Award contest. After choosing the winning collections, the editors went on to select the twenty-three best individual stories from the hundreds of stories entered. There is not a loser in the bunch.

Blonde Faith

Mar 3, 2008

Blonde Faith is the tenth Easy Rawlins mystery. The character, based on Mosley's own African-American father, was born and raised in Houston, saw fierce combat in the European Campaign in WWII, especially the Battle of the Bulge, and returned home to find he could not live in overtly bigoted Houston, so moved to make his life in LA, where the prejudice was more subtle and somewhat less lethal.

This is not another general history of the civil rights movement but rather a focussed study of the role played by reporters, newspaper editors, radio reporters, still photographers, and, finally and most importantly, television reporters and their crews: cameramen and sound technicians.

Gene Roberts and Alabamian Hank Klibanoff have won the Pulitzer Prize for The Race Beat, so it is not risky for me to say it is terrific. But it really is.

This is an insider baseball book, and this is the perfect month for baseball fans to read The Entitled. Since the World Series, fans have survived on the methadone of football. Now that the Super Bowl is over, there is nothing.

Capote in Kansas is not a terrible novel. Things happen. Truman has a lover, a married air conditioner repairman. He sends ghoulish collages and tiny handcarved coffins through the mail. On the phone, Truman and Nelle reminisce about their childhood in Monroeville. The characters are believable; the plot moves. It's not a terrible novel; it's an offensive novel.

The letters, warm, smart, loving, honest, useful, are now a book, and well worth anyone's time, pregnant or not. (I suspect that Fennelly's agent thought, as I do, that this is a book that could have legs, as they say in publishing, and sell for decades.)

This memoir is more cameo than epic and Elder's story might have been told better. But it is fascinating to see how he was determined to put his experiences on the record and name names. And we should bear in mind this all happened in the 1970s, not the 1930s.

Organized state by state, this is a guide to the finest . . . what shall we call it? Down home cooking? Country cooking? Soul food? Traditional southern fare? This is a guide to BBQ, fried chicken, fried catfish, sausages, oysters raw and cooked, crawfish, hushpuppies, Brunswick stew, smoked mullet, collard greens and pot likker, and a dozen different kinds of biscuits, cornbread, and rolls.

Southern Belly

Short story anthologies are stepchildren in the publishing world. First, they are, I think, unfairly associated with the classroom. That's always too bad. And one is more likely to read a collection by an author one already knows and admires, say John Updike or William Gay. People also favor collections that are thematically based?hunting stories or stories set on Cape Cod, or stories about dogs, although there should be a moratorium on those.


Dec 31, 2007

There are certain venues?times and places?that are problematical or, alternatively, rich for a novelist. If, for example, a novel is set in Honolulu on Saturday, December 6, 1941, any conversation between characters about what they plan to do tomorrow, go on a picnic, say, is fraught with meaning?to the reader, not to the characters. The same holds true for New York City in early September 2001, and so on. Carolyn Haines sets her new novel, Revenant, in August of 2005 on the Mississippi Coast, in Biloxi.

The Far Reaches

Dec 24, 2007

This is an action-adventure novel, a thriller, a yarn, and needs to be taken as such. In the first chapters Thurlow is part of the Marine landing on Tarawa, one of the nastiest battles of all the nasty battles of the Pacific. The Marines went ashore on the wrong tide, the Higgins boats got hung up on the reef and shelled to pieces, and many Marines drowned trying to walk to shore in battle gear. The defending Japanese marines either died in combat or committed suicide. There were nearly no prisoners.

Supreme Conflict is more than a history of the findings of the court for the last fifteen or so years. Based on interviews with nine justices, over a dozen federal appeals court judges, scores of officials from several administrations, and years of research in the Library of Congress and the Reagan and Bush presidential libraries, this is a reliable behind-the-scenes account of how the court's decisions got made and, more importantly, why and how the new justices of the last decade have been chosen.

The Bellmaker's House

Dec 10, 2007

But the novel's great strength is in the freshness of the material, the subject matter. As a number of us have been saying for some time, there are more stories in Alabama than high school football, losing your virginity, and the relationship between the races. This, like Roy Hoffman's fine novel of the Jewish-American experience in Mobile, Chicken Dreaming Corn, is another piece of the Alabama mosaic

The Bellmaker's House

The Holiday Season

Dec 4, 2007

Michael Knight, of Mobile, has written a pair of novellas about the holidays. One, the title story, covers Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the other, "Love at the End of the Year," New Year's Eve, the party that always disappoints.

Ah, the holidays. Family. Food. Good times. We look forward to the gatherings and remember them fondly. Sometimes maybe more fondly than they deserve. Often, they disappoint. Expectations too high?

King of Country

Nov 30, 2007

The real king of country was, of course, Alabama's Hank Williams. To make sure the reader understands that his protagonist Bobby Lee Butler is not a thinly veiled Williams, the first scene in the novel is young Bobby Lee attending Hank's famous funeral in Montgomery. Bobby Lee is also from Georgiana, knew Hank, has the music in his blood, and is a skinny, poor, white boy with no power or connections in this world. Life will be hard.

American Wars reads fast, like running downhill, like reading Philip Roth or Saul Bellow. Beidler has great skills at historical summarizing and drawing together the political and the popular arts, but he is never better than when he is writing the personal, the events that happened to him, the issues that enrage him.

Dog books are a genuine subgenre. There is no parallel category for cat books, as cats will not bring you your slippers or newspaper, greet you enthusiastically when you come home from work, ride in the car with their heads out the window, or keep you company while you write book reviews. Cats have made their choice. They are famous for being aloof and needing nobody. Fine, they just won't get many books written about them.

This book is for fans, and I might say, fans only. It is loaded with statistics and relentless game-by-game, quarter-by-quarter, score-by-score, and even play-by-play summaries. Let me say simply that the statistics are incredible. Alabama teams went up to twenty games without a loss, without even been scored upon. In 1930, Alabama scored 247 points, opponents 13.

Wallace Wade: Championship Years at Alabama and Duke

Madison House

Nov 1, 2007

Madison House is Donahue's novel of the turning point, the decisive historical moment in the history of Seattle, between 1885 and 1910. In a short time, the city will change from an outpost, a fairly obscure place, almost a frontier town, into the modern metropolis of the twentieth century.

The Sooty Man

Oct 9, 2007

There are now, as all the world knows, loads of lawyers who also write. There are even a few MD's?like Michael Crichton?who write. To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Steven Rudd, MD, of Birmingham, practicing neurologist and attorney, is sui generis, the only one of his kind.

Greeks are famous for choosing self-employment over working for others. That is a commonplace. There's more money and freedom in owning your own business, however humble, and being the boss. In any case, these Greeks took a look at the coal mines, where miners were killed in ceiling collapses and explosions, and at the foundries, where workers slaved away in the summer near furnaces in unimaginable heat, and "discovered they were better suited for the restaurant and food service industries."

Albertville, AL – America's largest minority population is making its footprint in this state. In the past 15 years, Hispanic Alabama has arrived. We'll explore this growing segment of our society in a series of reports. Amanda DeWald begins the journey at a caf in downtown Albertville.

Albertville, AL – In downtown Albertville, Hispanic entrepreneurs have flourished, thanks in part to an influx of immigrant labor to the Sand Mountain community. Amanda DeWald reports.

Birmingham, AL – The state's growing Hispanic population brings a growing need for Spanish-language media. Those radio stations and newspapers are key players in helping immigrants integrate. Amanda DeWald reports

Operation Homecoming

Sep 24, 2007

It was the intention of the editorial board and the NEA that this volume be neither for nor against the Afghanistan/Iraq wars. And it succeeds. But I can't see how anyone could read these heartbreaking accounts without becoming determined that no war should be begun without absolutely good, unimpeachably good, in fact nearly perfect justification.

Operation Homecoming

If you read only one book about America at war since 9/11, let it be this one.


Sep 21, 2007

In these stories, the mountain folk have to deal with divorce, the breakup of families, and, in general, the steady erosion of a way of life that was hard but had a wholeness to it. Ron Rash is capturing this moment of transformation and making it into art.