The South can’t be captured with the clumsy strokes of a crayon. Instead, only fine, well-curated details can vividly render the region in all its richness and depth. No one knows that better than Margaret Renklauthor of “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South,” which is a collection of medays meditating on everything from a skink sunbathing in the wilds of her Nashville backyard to a visit to the faded glamor of Elvis’s Graceland.
Renkl, a columnist for the New York Times, calls her book a “patchwork… made with mismatched parts,” which is an apt description. Readers will meet teenagers organizing a Black Lives Matter march, parishioners who shelter the homeless, an urban shepherd whose sheep devour invasive plants and many more. Reading Renkl’s essays is like sampling bites from a bountiful, diverse feast; each morsel further illuminates the distinctive flavor of the South.
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THERE’S JUST something about a house with a porch, especially one that’s fragrant with honeysuckle and sits under the shade of a plum tree, providing a cool spot for snoozing cats.
For 10-year-old Joan, the protagonist of the novel “Memphis,” the porch of her mother’s ancestral home represents a refuge from her father’s temper. It’s also a home with a tragic history. Joan’s grandfather built the house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass, only to be lynched days later.
But for Joan, the porch, the house, and the city of Memphis serve as a window into the history of the women in her family. The young girl is a fledging painter and over the years, not only does she capture her subjects’ images on canvas, she also learns their secrets which give nuance to her evolvement as an artist.
“Memphis,” is Tara M. Stringfellow‘s debut novel which begins in 1995 but toggles back and forth over seventy years. Yet despite its ambitious time coverage it still maintains the intimacy of a summer chat on a porch swing. It’s also an engrossing exploration of the strengths of female bonds and a tender love letter to Memphis, the author’s hometown.
PRINCESS MARGARET threw risqué beach bashes there. Raquel Welch romped its sandy shores, and Mick Jagger built a villa overlooking its cerulean waters. Now Winston Salem author Sarah McCoy has written a novel about this exclusive celebrity enclave called “Mustique Island.”
It’s January 1972, and Willy May, a former beauty queen from Texas, seeks out Mustique for its remoteness and hopes the serene setting will help repair her fractured relationship with her two daughters. Unfortunately, the perpetually sunny days on Mustique mask its dark decadent side, and Willy becomes ensnared in the non-stop party with the island’s royal residents, rock stars and other notables. Not the ideal environment to heal family ties, but beyond the calypso beat, skinny dipping and fruit-festooned libations lies hope for growth and reconciliation. If you’re looking forward to a summer of beach books, “Mustique Island” is the perfect tropical treat to whet your appetite.
Local book news
If, like me, you’re mourning the season end of the HBO series, “The Gilded Age,” I have good news: Atlanta author Karen White along with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig have penned “The Lost Summers of Newport” a historic mystery spanning more than a century of the once-wealthy Sprague family residing in an extravagant Gilded Age home in Newport, Rhode Island. The authors will speak at the Augusta Country Club on May 25 beginning at 11:30 am The event is hosted by The Book Tavern. Ticket information is available by calling the bookstore at (706) 826-1940.
“For Those Who Dream” is a picture book by Augusta author Benjamin Carroll. Carroll, a father of three, wrote the book in hopes of encouraging and challenging kids to transform their dreams into reality.
Do you have local literary news? Email it to email@example.com. By the Book is published monthly.