Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oxford American's Southern Literature Issue

When I saw that the most recent issue of Oxford American was on Southern literature, I ran right out to get it. I'm woefully deficient in Southern lit, and since a topic you don't know much about can be overwhelming, I knew they would have suggestions for how to approach something so vast. Besides including numerous essays dedicated to the topic, Oxford American polled Southern writers, editors and publishers to compile lists of the top 10 fiction works, the top 5 non-fiction books, and a list of underrated books that have come out of the South.

Of the top rated fiction books, I've read two — To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn. The former I read in ninth grade and the latter in sixth grade, which means it's been awhile since I picked up something from this list. (I very recently read The Member of the Wedding, which I loved, so I guess it hasn't been that long since I've read something that came out of the region.)

William Faulkner got three books in the top 10, including Absalom, Absalom!, which came in first in the poll. Faulkner tops the list of authors that I am embarrassed I haven't read (Toni Morrison is also on that list), and reading about why he's so brilliant encouraged me to pull my copy of Light in August off my shelf, where it's been languishing unread since my 23rd birthday. I'm at page 50, and love it so far.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men gets the nod for top non-fiction work, and it's a book I've been wanting to pick up ever since I found out that my favorite artist William Christenberry garnered inspiration from it for his own work. There's also a handful of essays about writers I'm deficient in (Thomas Wolfe), an essay about teaching Faulkner, and a piece (which I can completely relate to) about the concept of "notwriting" (wherein a writer spends time actively not writing in pursuit of "inspiration").

While the idea of rankings is always tricky, since books inevitably get left off and everyone has their own opinion where a book belongs, there's value to doing something like this — people start talking and debate the merits of one book over another, hidden treasures get unearthed and new reader/writer relationships begin, and people like me get driven into the arms of writers like Faulkner. I'd love to see some sort of similar treatment for Western writers and Midwestern writers. I think I've got a lock on what could be termed "Northeast Literature," but I'm deficient in every other region of the country.


  1. I don't think I've ever read anything by Faulkner either. If I have, it was in high school and iI wouldn't have appreciated it.

  2. I'll let you know what I think of this one. I'm starting to think that none of us really appreciate anything read in high school.

  3. Oh and I have a stack of books to give you this week while I'm thinking of it. Remind me!