Quote of the Day “History has remembered kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.” — Willie Morris
I had occasion to enjoy an overnight stay at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood on Saturday. It’s quite nice, and the staff is beyond question the friendliest I’ve ever encountered, and the rooms are cool. I was underwhelmed by dinner, though, which was a surprise considering its a Viking outpost. But breakfast was excellent, featuring some of the best biscuits this connoisseur has ever sampled. And after, I looked over the Alluvian’s impressive collection of books by Mississippians.
I started wondering how I’d rank the great Mississippi writers and also how many I could recall off hand. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- William Faulkner has to be number one. And I even like most of his books. Possibly his most famous is “The Sound and the Fury.” It’s been over ten years since I last tried that one, and I have to confess, I’ve never made it past the first chapter. Guess I’ll try again. I expect Faulkner would be pretty impressed with the Snopes’ foray in to myth-busting decades after his passing.
- Eudora Welty, I guess. I never read any of her work, and probably won’t any time soon. Maybe its good, who knows. All I know is she liked to go to the post office and the Jitney Jungle.
- Willie Morris should still be writing. I have read most of his books, some twice, and the guy was really good. Its curious that his fiction never took off. I guess truth was stranger. The one annoying thing about Willie is that so many people claim him as a runnin buddy. I bet he hated most of those dudes.
- John Grisham. Yes it is the fashion to dismiss his work because of the style of his best books. And yes, he went through some years where the obligatory blockbuster was pure junk. But recently he’s taken on some important and misunderstood subjects. I can’t even bring myself to read his latest, The Appeal, because I’ve been forewarned about just how true it is. And I know if its so, Grisham has the talent to raise my blood pressure past the point of comfort.
- Walker Percy wrote “The Moviegoer” which is widely cited by hipsters as the best of the Mississippi books and “The Last Gentleman” which is noted by no one. But Travellinbaen likes them both, and is saving a favorite quote from the latter for an appropriate post.
- Larry Brown wrote “Fay”, which I liked, and Barry Hannah wrote “Bats Out of Hell” which I read. They are/were both Oxonians and for awhile were part of the literary superiority complex coming out of that town; though both were far outsiders from the polite mythical society of which Oxford and its school are so proud. So I kind of like them both.
- Jimmy Buffett has written several novels and some autobiographical books. I have read all but his most recent, and I think they are hilarious. Jimmy will sneak some wisdom in when you’re not looking too. With Willie Morris gone, its an easy choice for Jimmy as the Mississippian I’d most like to get drunk with and talk to some dark and stormy night.
- Donna Tartt gets in the rankings because she went to some elite Northeastern liberal college and she seems really weird. The Secret History is good, and strange, and makes me wish I’d had enough college time to spend a year or two at one of those schools down east.
- Greg Iles wrote two historical novels revolving around World War II, but he apparently liked them a lot less than I did. He turned to murder mysteries, including the book “24 Hours” from which the Fox series with half the same name stole a great idea.
- And number 10 is reserved for whoever else I can think of. Robert Harris and his trilogy including “Silence of the Lambs”, Elizabeth Spencer who wrote one of my favorite sentences ever about the Mississippi Coast–one which she now needs to update. Margaret Walker Alexander and Richard Wright are supposed to be great, but I’ve not read them so I can’t move them higher. Stephen Ambrose wrote “Band of Brothers” and a lot of other historical books. He has been accused of being a plagiarizer, and I don’t know if its true, but if so, he stole some good stuff. I love all of his books. Ace Atkins is writing detective novels, and I need to check him out because I’ve read some magazine essays of his that were good. The last I can think of is Jill Connor Browne and those sweet potato books. For the most part I find her and her merry band of followers slightly ridiculous, but I’ll rank her because I once got the better of her by turning down the opportunity to fly in her chartered plane to Little Rock and watch her give a speech. I’ll always treasure the look of revulsion, shock, and suspicion with which she regarded me. But a sycophant, Travellinbaen ain’t.
Although Faulkner only lived in Charlottesville, Va. for a few of his last years, he made a huge impact and left a legacy at the University of Virginia library, including 45 tapes of lectures, discussions and readings. Part of a recent symposium at U.Va. presented the first of these tapes to be restored. The preservation department is still working on this project, with funding from the late Jill Faulkner Summers, the writer’s only daughter. These short excerpts are great for anyone who loves Faulkner or is the least bit interested to listen to:
Thanks for the cool link.
Faulkner, Morris, Buffet, Percy, et al., need no further kudos from little ole me. But Greg Iles is an often overlooked great story-teller. Yes, he’s had numerous NY Times bestsellers, but bring him up in conversation and you’ll often get blank stares. I’ve read everyone of his books. The endings tend to be somewhat fantastical, but they’re cliffhangers and he’s great at character development. In his last book, you find yourself rooting for the adulteress in a marriage because the husband goes ballistic on her. I was halfway through the book before I realized he was making a very valid point (whether he knew it or not) which is that most things are not black and white. And one person’s wrongs do not excuse another’s wrongful reactions. And he went to Ole Miss.