At any given moment, you can find a stack of books on my desk ranging from something about the Civil War (Lord, hasn't everything been written about that by now?) to gardening tools to reference books to really good biographies and novels. And a few not-so-good.
Right now there are a half dozen piled up, all with Mississippi connections. I've read a couple of them; I've read some from a couple of them; and I've thumbed through a couple of them.
Herewith, my thoughts:
- Obviously, we'll start with Larry Brown's latest work. There are precious few writers in Mississippi or, for that matter, anywhere with the storytelling skills of Brown.
That said, "Rabbit Factory" (Free Press, $25) is far from his best work. It's good; I mean Brown, who's a really nice guy, could rewrite the Yellow Pages and make it sound interesting. But this isn't vintage Brown. It's certainly not "Fathers and Sons" (what book is?), nor is it "Fay" or "Joe," his highly successful previous novels.
There are a lot of interesting characters in "Rabbit Factory" - lots and lots of them - and they do some reasonably interesting stuff. But in the end ... well, that's just it, there doesn't seem to be any kind of ending to the most of the story lines. You just kind of run out of pages.
But Brown fans shouldn't take my word for it. A not-so-good Larry Brown is like Tiger Woods on a bad day. He's still Tiger Woods.
By the way - Brown will sign copies of "Rabbit Factory" from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Square Books in Oxford.
- Then there's "Ever is a Long Time" by W. Ralph Eubanks (Basic Books, $24.95). Its subtitle is "A Journey into Mississippi's Dark Past," and this is a story every Mississippian (and others, of course) should read.
Eubanks, a native of Mount Olive in South Mississippi, is now the director of publishing at the Library of Congress. "Ever is a Long Time" is his story of returning to his Mississippi home after finding his parents listed in the files of the Sovereignty Commission.
The remarkable thing about this book is that Eubanks, while being brutally honest about growing up black in Mississippi, writes about it without bitterness.
In the epilogue, Eubanks, an alumnus of the University of Mississippi, notes there are still pockets of bigotry and longing for the days gone by. Yet he writes: "It's uncomfortable, to say the least, to witness the mentality of the segregationist era at work. What reassures me is that the powers of justice and redemption are harder at work among the people in Mississippi than these forces of the past. I know it, I feel it, I see it."
Eubanks will be at Square Books to sign copies of "Ever is a Long Time" on Oct. 10.
- "Jubal" by Gary Penley (Pelican, $23) is a novel that tells the story of Jubal "Dummy" Jefferson, a big, black man in Linville, Miss. Though its story line is fairly predictable, Younger readers will probably enjoy "Jubal."
For a retired geologist from Colorado, Penley has turned out a pretty good story about the South.
- One that you'll be reading more about is "Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives" (Univ. of Georgia Press, $22.95).
"Mississippi Women" is a collection of mini-biographies of 17 truly remarkable women, all, of course, from Mississippi: Felicite Girodeau, Winnie Davis, Nellie Nugent Somerville, Belle Kearney, Pauline Van de Graaf Orr, Kate Freeman Clark, Blanch Colton Williams, Elizabeth Lee Hazen, Burnita Shelton Matthews, Minnie Brewer, Eudora Welty, Sadye Wier, Hazel Brannon Smith, Margaret Walker Alexander, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mae Berth Carter, and Vera Mae Pigee.
How in the world could a book about these women be anything but intriguing? It couldn't, and it isn't.
"Mississippi Women" was edited by Martha Swain, Elizabeth Anne Payne, Marjorie Spruill, and Susan Ditto. Some or all of them will be in Tupelo on Nov. 22 for a signing at Reed's Gum Tree Book Store.
- "Mississippi: A Documentary History" edited by Bradley G. Bond (University Press of Mississippi, $45) is a book every Mississippian should have - really. If the price is affordable, that is.
Bond, an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, has put together this sort-of encyclopedia of our fair state in an interesting manner: It's a chronological documentary, including public records, newspaper articles, academic papers, correspondence, ordinances, constitutional amendments, journal entries, and other documents.
There's some funny stuff in "Mississippi." There's some tragic stuff in there, too. But we knew that, didn't we? More than anything, there's a lot of interesting stuff, a history we need to make sure our children know.
- And finally, there's "All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America" by Glenn C. Altschuler (Oxford University Press, $26).
It's a great book about the impact of rock music on our country but its main Mississippi connection is the cover. It's the famous photo of Elvis Presley performing at the now defunct Alabama-Mississippi Fair and Livestock Show at the old Tupelo Fairgrounds. Among all those screaming female teenagers reaching out to Elvis is young Wynette Pugh of Itawamba County. A few years later, we would come to know her as Tammy Wynette.
How's that for a Mississippi connection?
Danny McKenzie is associate editor of the Daily Journal, where his duties include reading and writing about books. Bless his heart. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.