01 November 2010

Great fall reads on the radio, Part the First

So, tomorrow morning I'm going on the radio (www.wamc.org  90.3 FM) at 10:07 am with my coworker, Marika McCoola, to talk about our favorite fall books.  Here are two of mine:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.  This is one of the finest letter collections I have ever read.  Thanks to the book (& film) Julie and Julia, most of us are now familiar with the story of how Julia Child, with the help of Avis DeVoto, made French cuisine accessible to the average American for the first time.  Now with these letters, we are given an intimate glimpse into the more private side of these extraordinary women.  Julia Child was living in Paris when she read an article in an 1959 issue of Harper's Magazine, written by Bernard DeVoto, in which he admitted that his avowed crusade was to convince the American housewife that she was in need of a sharp kitchen knife.  Julia was so taken with his article that she wrote a fan letter and included with it a very sharp kitchen knife.  That prompted Bernard's wife, Avis, who acted as her husband's secretary, to answer the fan letter, and the rest, as they say, is history.  That was the beginning of a prolific correspondence that was by turns irreverent, thoughtful, and ambitious.  Their letters are witty, warm, and eloquent, and along with the expected forays into food culture, we get meandering commentaries on politics, pop culture, and the evolving social & sexual mores of their time.  This book is perfect for people who are already fans of Julia Child, but it's also great for readers who enjoy well-written biographies or memoirs of interesting people.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.  In his most mature work to date, Franklin takes a hard look at a small Mississiippi town in the 1970s and today, following the lives of Larry Ott and Silas Jones, a pair of unlikely friends.  Larry Ott is a reclusive, sensitive white boy who seems doomed to fulfill his father's disappointment in him.  Silas Jones is a black boy whose skill on the baseball diamond is his ticket out of town via an athletic scholarship to college.  Their friendship ends the night Larry goes out on a date with a girl next door, who is never seen again.  Twenty years later, the disappearance of another girl causes their  paths to cross once more.  Franklin's uncanny ear for dialogue rings clear and true, but what impressed me about this novel is his restraint.  He actually reveals far more about the complications of race and class in this small Mississippi town with his oblique approach (or as we Southerners might say, a cattywhompus approach) than he could with a direct one.  His trademark violence is present but subdued; here it's an undercurrent of menace that pervades the novel and proves Franklin a master storyteller.  It's one of the best books out this fall and the Odyssey still has signed first editions available.

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